If you’re looking for a food trip excursion outside of Tokyo, Kawagoe, which is half an hour away from Ikebukuro, is filled with delicacies worth trying.
Where to eat in Kawagoe: Unagi, Pizza, Sweet Potatoes and More
Kawagoe’s famous unagi
Many have been converted to eating unagi (eel) and changing their perceptions that this dish is usually slimy and fishy after trying Kawagoe’s unagi. Many of the restaurants in the area are passed down among families, serving the community for nearly 200 years since the Edo period.
Here’s a fun unagi fact: Did you know that there are two styles of properly preparing unagi? The Tokyo and Osaka styles, with Mt Fuji serving as the dividing line between districts and the style they use (east of Mt Fuji uses Tokyo style and west of Mt Fuji uses Osaka style). In Osaka and surrounding areas, eels are flame-broiled or grilled slowly, making the surface crispy while the inside is fluffy. This style takes mastery in ensuring that the meat stays soft while in direct contact with charcoal.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo, the extra step of steaming the unagi before grilling gives you that soft, tender, and somewhat bigger-looking unagi. Kawagoe uses the Tokyo style of preparing unagi. When choosing an unagi shop in Kawagoe, Ichinoya, with its two branches (one in Kawagoe station’s Atre mall and another near Koedo), is at the top of the list. Just a heads up, the main branch of Ichinoya is quite popular among locals and tourists, so it’s advised to come early and wait about an hour on weekends or reschedule eating during the week.
Food trip at Koedo
If you’re looking for snacks while you tour, then taking the Koedo food trip is the way to go. You can rent a kimono or hakama and further immerse in the Little Edo architecture and vibes while you munch on sweet potato treats. Many of the shops along Kurazukuri Street offer something made of sweet potato, from thinly sliced and deep fried sweet potato (Koedo Osatsuan) to sweet potato flavored soft serve ice cream (Kasho Umon Toki no Kaneten).
You can also try Nakaichi Honten’s freshly grilled bonito flake onigiri or Mameya Kawagoeten’s bean snacks in various flavors like matcha and white pepper. There’s always something new to try in Koedo, and one trip is definitely not enough. You can also buy souvenirs so you can enjoy these delicacies back home.
Italian cuisine in Kawagoe?
A hidden gem in an alley by Kurazukuri Street is approved by an Italian chef whose pizza comes close to Napoli standard. Yes, it’s that good. Introducing Pizzeria Pino (closed on Wednesdays), with a pizzaiolo that puts so much skill and mastery on each dish that eating the pizza once a week isn’t enough. Don’t be intimidated by the pizzaiolo’s taciturn and intimidating façade, which is an observation many tourists have upon entering. This is his character, but it does not affect the most important aspect of the restaurant: the pizza. If you’re in the area, try Pino, and you won’t be disappointed. He recently added English names on the menu, making it easier for foreigners to order.
Where to eat along Crea Mall
Upon exiting Kawagoe station, you can either turn left or right, and you will have many restaurant choices, although there are branches available in other parts of Tokyo. If you turn right and go to Kawagoe’s outdoor shopping area, Crea Mall (similar to Takeshita), you have even more choices. If you’re feeling like getting a drink but with a hearty meal, Torotaku is an izakaya that’s open during lunch hours and serves excellent tendon and unaju.
Crea Mall is lined with restaurants like Gyoza no Ohsho and Dandadan Sakaba for dumplings, Happy Yakiniku and Yakiniku Lite for some meat, Hinoya Curry, and a couple of Korean restaurants like Handsome.
Japanese food classics in Kawagoe
Outside of Koedo or Kawagoe station, you have standalone restaurants that are worth trying, albeit they will require a car, bicycle, or a lot of walking. Restaurants like Shin-Uchi for some authentic and hearty udon or Niku no Mansei for some of the best hamburger steak are a few choices. If you’re in the mood to splurge and love sushi, Sushiwa (鮨和), located in an obscure street in Miyamotocho, has a 4.7-star Google rating.
The owner is a sushi chef with decades of experience, while his wife oversees service. It’s advised to reserve before dining due to the limited space at the restaurant. Take note that there is no menu here, meaning you inform the chef of your dietary restrictions or preferences and leave the rest to him. Needless to say, you won’t be disappointed as each item served is of the highest quality, coming from all over the world, depending on whatever is in season. Oh, and of course, you get fresh wasabi, the portioning that the sushi chef controls, so it perfectly balances the taste of each delicacy you eat. For two, expect to pay around ¥25,000.
Treat these recommendations as a guide for when you’re in the area. On top of the rich history behind Kawagoe, the city is also home to many authentic restaurants in their respective cuisines.