Welcome to Tokyo, where you can find magic almost anywhere—if you know what to look for. There’s the notorious, eccentric café in Ginza, famous for its pancakes. Rokujigen has excellent coffee, but I can’t promise that it will exist when you visit. The Sunny Hill café’s pineapple juice will quench just about any thirst, and the shop is even shaped like a pineapple! If you’re feeling down and need some inspiration, the old chef at Kikuya Ramen can tell you a story of triumph from the early ‘80s which you might never believe. There’s nowhere with more fantastic and mysterious café experiences than the land of the rising sun.
Kikuya, Kita-Senju, Tokyo
The best histories are steeped in legend. Long ago, a gang of children wandered into a newly-opened neighborhood ramen noodle shop and began ordering the entire young chef’s menu. He frantically cooked to keep up with their appetite, but the children would not become full. They vowed to return and eat all up of his food until the chef could make a meal that satisfied them. The young chef went home and created dishes to satisfy the children’s creative minds, as their bellies seemed bottomless. When the gang of children returned, the chef had all-new and imaginative dishes and the children were finally satisfied.
Forty years have passed and the now not-so-young chef still cooks his famous ramen dishes and tells the story of the local children. Kikuya’s most famous dishes are Battery Ramen (a health-code approved D battery dropped in noodle broth), Ice-Cream Ramen (soft-serve in a cone, thawing in soup) and a colorful selection of Blue, Green or Purple Ramen Noodles.
Café by the Shrine
Rokujigen, Suginami, Tokyo
Translated as “the sixth dimension,” Rokujigen café is a dreamy ode to jazz, coffee and literature. The books of the world-famous author, Haruki Murakami, are piled on the tables and line the café walls. The owner is an avid Murakami enthusiast and has crafted an artful atmosphere to more deeply connect with his works. Classic jazz fills the old wooded café, and it’s known as a destination for reflection, reading and discussion.
When you visit, the café may or may not be there for you. I visited three times before the entrance was open to me and I excitedly burst through at a full sprint, much to the annoyance of the few patrons reading silently. The café is rarely open and there is minimal signage. The entrance appears on the second floor of a residential building when a small metal number “6” hangs street side along the winding path to Ogikubo Shirayama shrine.
An Abundance of Character
Bridge Coffee, Ginza, Tokyo
Bridge Coffee is a grumpy, old-world diner that is Internet famous in modern Japan. The youngest generation comes to taste and Snapchat their cakes, parfaits, jellies and ice creams. The establishment’s exquisite masterpiece is their Mint Melon Pancake Stack. The chefs drizzle frosting and syrup over a green confectionery shell filled with melty pancakes, jelly and warm melon slices. These pancakes are delectable, indeed, but despite the Instagramability and deliciousness of their food, Bridge Coffee earns infamously negative feedback.
The reviews hint at a complex story. You see, Bridge Coffee has a troll problem: “One Star! An old man greeted us rudely and then threw our food on the table. The pancakes toppled off of the plate, and he grunted and walked off,” says one patron. Other customers report dealing with a hostess who creeps around the shop, slowly peeking over tables and around walls to watch you eat. The café’s eccentricity outshines its creativity, like so many failed geniuses. Their outstanding pancakes and the many faces who guard them tell the mysterious tale of a café filled with characters.
The Castle That Served Pineapple
Sunny Hills Minami Aoyama, Omotesando, Tokyo
You might mistake Sunny Hills for some big architectural firm’s headquarters. The building sits high like a castle at the base of a residential development, complete with a bridge and high walls. Its unique architecture (latticed wooden beams from top to bottom) resembles an abstract representation of a pineapple. Inside this sprawling, ultra-modern café with canopies of bamboo, they serve just one thing: pineapple juice. As the staff notes, “Yes, we only sell pineapple juice. Just pineapple.”
The line for this precious juice ($9.00 for a 12oz bottle) regularly wraps around the block. Happy people shuffle into the pineapple emporium like the steam bathhouse guests from Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. They sit down to enjoy complimentary tea and free pineapple bread, which they wash down with the expensive pineapple elixir. When it comes to whimsical business models, Sunny Hills Pineapple Café takes the cake.
Read More From Our November DOPE “Food Issue”…..
- Chef Miguel Trinidad: Food as a Living Art
- Purple Monkey by Green and Gold Supply Co.