I ate at Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku, a Tokyo restaurant with a Michelin Bib Gourmand Award.
There was a 1.5-hour wait, but the food was worth the wait.
Plus, my three-course meal cost just $6.50.
I was visiting Tokyo for less than two weeks, and in a city with more than 135,000 restaurants, picking a place for every meal felt like a crucial decision.
Source: World Cities Culture Forum
I wanted to eat incredible food, but I also had a tight budget. So I turned to a list of Tokyo's cheapest Michelin restaurants.
And that's where I found Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku.
Although not Michelin-starred, the restaurant has earned Michelin's Bib Gourmand Award, which means it's one of the guide's "best value for money restaurants." Essentially, the restaurant is cheap and tasty — exactly what I was looking for.
It's also known as Tokyo's oldest onigiri restaurant. According to its website, it's been serving onigiri since 1954.
Source: Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku
The restaurant describes onigiri as rice balls wrapped in seaweed and stuffed with fillings like salted fish, pickled vegetables, and dried shrimp.
So on day three of my trip, I headed to the restaurant in Asakusa, a popular neighborhood in northeast Tokyo.
With its affordable price and award-winning status, I expected a crowd, and since it was already 12:30 p.m., I figured my odds of getting a seat were slim.
As I walked down the street — there wasn't a line in sight. Instead, a few people were mingling outside the restaurant's simple facade.
I popped my head inside the restaurant, and a host carrying a clipboard greeted me. I braced for bad news. But instead, he took my name, asked me how many onigiri I planned to order, and told me to come back in an hour and a half.
"Don't be late," he instructed me as I walked away. With 90 minutes to explore, I headed to the Sensō-ji temple, Tokyo's oldest Buddhist temple, according to Go Tokyo.
Source: Go Tokyo
I wandered through outdoor malls with restaurants, cafés, and souvenir shops.
I was thankful the restaurant had a reservation system instead of a line. I’ve read countless stories of people standing for hours in Tokyo to get their hands on steaming ramen or a trendy dessert.
The time flew by. As I headed back to the restaurant, I anticipated the delicious meal ahead. Prior to visiting the restaurant, my experience with onigiri was limited to 7-Eleven.
The convenience stores across Tokyo have a selection of affordable snacks, including onigiri. I had grabbed one a few days prior and easily devoured the rice ball.
I knew the Michelin-awarded Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku would be a different experience — even if the prices weren't much more than 7-Eleven.
As I approached the restaurant, I noticed a new sign posted on the front door: "Sorry ... sold out"
I was thrilled I had snatched a reservation, and after waiting a few minutes outside, the host from earlier ushered me to a table.
The restaurant was small. There were two tables and a bar where the chef was making onigiri. Together, 16 people could fit in the space.
At the bar, a glass case displayed all the onigiri fillings.
I was handed a menu that was as small as the size of the restaurant. The restaurant only sold miso soup and onigiri, and customers had a choice between 18 fillings.
I was dining during lunch, where a set menu includes two or three onigiri, a side of Japanese pickled radish, and miso soup. For two onigiri, it costs $5.90 (814 yen); for three, it's $8 (1,100 yen) without tax.
I ordered two onigiri and debated which fillings to try My options ranged from sake, or grilled salmon, to shirasu, which is boiled whitebait fish. Ultimately, I chose fillings that I hadn't tasted before: ueboshi, which is Japenese ume plum that was pickled in salt, and tarako, or salted cod roe.
Within minutes of placing my order, a bamboo basket with my first onigiri was placed on my table. The onigiri is served one at a time so the seaweed can stay fresh and crisp, I learned.
It was the salted cod roe. After a few bits of rice and seaweed, the salty fish eggs hit my mouth. The flavors and textures were balanced and delicious. The seaweed was crisp, the rice was moist, and the roe wasn't overpowering.
Before I could finish the first onigiri, I was handed my cup of miso, and shortly after that came my sour plum onigiri.
The miso was piping hot and had a strong umami flavor. It had a savory flavor that perfectly matched the rice balls.
Before devouring the plum, I ate a takuan, or Japanese pickled radish. Similar to pickled ginger, the radish was a palate cleanser before diving into my next onigiri.
The Japanese ume plum onigiri had a balance of sweet and tart flavors and a texture similar to dried prunes. I thought the flavors were fascinating, and the sour plum was unlike anything I've tasted before in a rice dish.
As I finished my lunch, I chatted with Yosuke Miura, the third-generation owner-chef. He told me I was one of his last lunch customers — the restaurant had sold out of onigiri.
I celebrated snagging a reservation, and then I celebrated some more when my check arrived. Including tax, the three-course meal was about $6.50 (891 yen).
I left the restaurant alongside Miura, who had a break before customers started arriving for the restaurant's dinner service. Full from the rice, fish eggs, and seaweed, I headed back into the neighborhood to explore some more.
I was shocked such quality foods could come at an affordable price and left convinced that every minute of waiting was worth it.
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