This article is part of a guide to Tokyo from FT Globetrotter
Pizza is unlikely to beat sushi or tempura on a must-eat list for those seeking the best culinary experience in Tokyo.
But in some respects, the way pizza-making has evolved in this country reveals the characteristics that underpin Japan’s reputation as a gastronomic capital — particularly the precision, rigour, and focus on local ingredients.
The fun part is the variety of pizza available, from the exotic to the authentic. Pizza was introduced to Japan after the second world war and it became a household dish in the 1970s by way of US chains such as Shakey’s and Domino’s. Its American roots are still widespread and you can find New York-style or even Chicago deep-dish pizza in Tokyo.
There are also the types with distinctly Japanese flavours, which you often come across in the seasonally adjusted menus of takeout pizza chains. These come with toppings such as potato and mentaiko (spicy cod’s roe), or teriyaki chicken with mayonnaise and black seaweed. If you want to try local specialities, some izakaya (pubs) serve pizzas topped with a mountain of tiny whitebait-like fish called shirasu.
But when considering this country’s love affair with pizza, it is hard to ignore the explosion of pizzerias in Tokyo in the past decade or so that specialise in the Neapolitan variety.
The making of these Neapolitan-style pies is a work of art, pursued with the same enthusiasm and meticulousness that has characterised Japanese attempts to master foreign cuisines from classic French and Italian to Thai curries.
Before the pandemic, it would have been nearly impossible to get a table without a reservation for some of the pizzerias I recommend below. But the ones I visited recently have been visibly less crowded. It’s best to call in advance, though, as they are likely to be shortening their operating hours under current restrictions.
2-6-4 kamimeguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0051
Good for: fans of Beatles music
Not so good for: people who prefer terrace seats or spacious dining
FYI: if you’re in the neighbourhood, it’s also worth trying out Kitchen Punch, a tiny 54-year-old restaurant. Locals queue well ahead of the 11.30am opening for classic Japanese comfort food such as omurice (fried-rice omelette) and hamburger steak (Website; Directions)
Seirinkan (known as Savoy until 2006) is tucked away in a back alley behind Nakameguro station, a part of Tokyo known as the mecca for Neapolitan pizza. Owner Susumu Kakinuma is particular about every detail here, from the decor and the background music (always The Beatles) to the making of the pizza. The restaurant is housed in a rusty, grey-green building, with the stylish interior inspired by Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The pizza is carried from an oven on the first floor to the second and third floors via a steep, iron spiral staircase.
Kakinuma is a legendary pizzaiolo who introduced the nation to Neapolitan pizza and was featured in Momofuku chef/founder David Chang’s Netflix series Ugly Delicious. While he never actually trained in Italy, Kakinuma taught himself how to make pizzas after visiting Naples’ pizzerias. Using Japanese flour, he offers only two classics: the marinara and the margherita. The puffy and chewy crust is quite salty but it enhances the flavours of the marinara. The delicious margherita has little tomato sauce and is topped with mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes, basil and a rich pool of olive oil.
Pizza Studio Tamaki (PST)
7-6-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032
Good for: high-quality ingredients
Not so good for: those who do not want to pay a premium price for pizza
PST is one of the city’s best-known pizzerias, and has been awarded a Bib Gourmand by Michelin every year since it first opened in 2017. Chef-owner Tsubasa Tamaki has built a strong fan base from his days working at Savoy (originally started by the above-mentioned Susumu Kakinuma) and later heading up Pizza Strada (see below). His pizza is Neapolitan in style, but he has established his own distinct take on it using an original blend of dough, mozzarella from Italy and salt made in his birthplace, Okinawa.
Starting at ¥2,240 (about £16) for the 33cm regular, the pizza here is on the expensive side but is definitely worth the experience. If you’re eating solo, you can try the 23cm half-size (from ¥1,330) at PST’s branch in Roppongi, Tokyo’s nightlife hub (the original branch is in Higashiazabu). There is a wide variety of choices, ranging from the classic margherita and the Bismarck (topped with pork sausage, mushrooms and egg) to the spicy tomato-based arrabiata with ’nduja and the cacciatore with homemade chicken sausage. But I would strongly recommend the signature Tamaki for your first visit, with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, pecorino Romano and basil. The finely charred crust is chewy and crisp with a rich flavour of tomato sauce, but the overall aftertaste is light. My favourite side dish is garlic broccoli, simply presented but spicy and addictive.
800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria
5 Chome-4-50 Minamiaoyama, Minato City, Tokyo 107-0062, Japan
Good for: choosing your own toppings
Not so good for: solo dining or those who don’t want large portions
Located in Omotesando, one of the city’s most elegant shopping districts, the pizzeria, housed in a stylish two-storied white building, is particularly nice when the sunlight pours in from its large glass windows. For a restaurant in Tokyo, the space is enormous, so you don’t have to worry too much about social distancing, and there are terrace seats as well. Once the pandemic is behind us and opening hours go back to normal, the restaurant also houses a cool bar that you can stop by for drinks.
Co-founded by chef Anthony Carron in 2012, the Los Angeles-based, build-your-own pizza chain opened its first store in Japan in 2016 and this is its second branch. Its pizza is baked in a wood-fired, 800-degree Fahrenheit (425C) oven and the menu features classics such as margherita and marinara, but the real fun is being able to create your own pizza with your choice of crust, sauce and toppings — try some of the local seasonal ingredients such as maitake mushrooms and edamame beans. Portions are large — on our last visit, my colleague and I ordered a capriccioso, mushroom truffle cheese bread and a Greek salad, which were all delicious but quite a lot of food for two people.
Tsukiji Tutto Bene
7-10-10 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0045
Good for: those want to eat pasta too
Not so good for: people who don’t like seafood
This pizzeria opened in 2015 as a sibling branch of Trattoria Tsukiji Paradiso, one of the most popular Italian restaurants in the old fish market and which received a Bib Gourmand from Michelin. Tutto Bene’s signature pizza, Paradiso, is named after it and is topped with so many types of shellfish that you can hardly see the base on which it is served. The juice from the seafood seeps into the tomato sauce and the flavour is rich and moreish (although the slices do become a bit soggy).
For those who do not like seafood, there are other great choices such as the nerano, with fresh zucchini and smoked scamorza cheese, and the macelleria, which features Italian tomato, homemade sausage, paprika and artichoke. While the pizzas can be slightly expensive in the evenings, there’s a generous combo of pizza and salad at less than $10 for a weekday lunch. If you aren’t eating alone, the other Italian dishes are highly recommended. There is a linguine pescatore version of the Paradiso pizza, as well as paccheri quattro formaggi with pistachio cream sauce and spaghetti with bottarga. I also love the prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella with strawberries and Italian rucola.
NS Azabu Juban Building 1F, 3-6-2 Azabu Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0045
Good for: eating and drinking outside
Not so good for: those who want to have lunch on a weekday
What I like most about Pizza Strada is its fun, casual atmosphere. Before the pandemic, it was filled with families and couples on weeknights and weekends, talking for hours over slices of pizza and drinks (there’s a good choice of Italian wines and other beverages). Even now, it is a great place to socialise outdoors, as it has a spacious and stylish terrace with heaters. If the restaurant is not crowded, it’s worth sitting at the counter to watch the pizza being baked in the huge oven.
Pizza Strada was originally headed by Tsubasa Tamaki (of PST) when it first opened in 2011, and Michelin immediately gave it a Bib Gourmand. You can taste the pizzas’ lineage with their similar signature base, chewy but crispy edges and the punch of salt that enriches the tomato sauce. The seasonal offerings — currently featuring Wagyu beef — are highly recommended, while there are vegetarian options too. Before you order your pizza, there is also a nice selection of appetisers such as fried calamari, tomato-sauce meatballs and marinated octopus and celery.
What’s your favourite pizzeria in Tokyo? Let us know in the comments
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