At first glance, Japanese and Italian foods are wildly different. Yet the two cuisines actually share certain key similarities: both value high-quality, seasonal ingredients, simplicity and kitchen fundamentals — especially impeccable knife skills.
With this in mind, and as Tokyo continues to globalize and expand its food culture, Japanese chefs are embracing international cuisines and making those delicacies their own. For decades, in fact, many have dedicated themselves to studying Italy’s regional favorites (Michelin-starred chef Ryo Takatsuka is among the best, creating a sumptuous first-class menu for ANA’s Tokyo-to-Honolulu flight.)
Some chefs choose to incorporate local Japanese flavors into traditional Italian dishes, creating new delicacies, also known as itameshi. So, think sesame oil swapped in for olive oil, flying fish roe sprinkled over angel hair pasta or an insalata verde topped with the ginger garnish (myoga) typically served alongside sushi.
If your mouth is already watering, we’ve got you covered. Read on to learn about a handful of Tokyo restaurants serving up incredible Italian food.
Residing on the same block for almost 25 years, this Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant was one of the first to appear on the Tokyo food scene. Head chef Susumu Kakinuma is legendary and takes wood-fired pizza very seriously: the name Seirinkan translates to “the house of sacred wood.” The restaurant is best known for its wood-fired pizza margherita, complete with a signature “salt punch.”
2. Pizza Studio Tamaki
Pizza Studio Tamaki (aka PST) just might be Tokyo’s best new pizzeria. Though owner and chef Tsubasa Tamaki did not train in Italy, he already had a strong following of pizza lovers throughout Japan through his pizzaiolo stints at various Tokyo eateries before opening PST in early 2017. Here, Tamaki balances the pizza dough with a combination of Japanese and U.S. flours. And while the menu offers over a dozen choices of pies, the restaurant’s counter only offers ten seats — but the smoky-chewy crust is worth the wait.
3. Il Ristorante Luca Fantin
For Italian classics made with produce exclusively from Japan, look no further than Il Ristorante Luca Fantin. This elegant, contemporary Italian restaurant overlooks Tokyo’s swank Ginza district, offering sophisticated dishes to match the incredible view. Globe-trotting Chef Luca Fantin trained in Italy but was drawn to Japan’s ingredients and challenging flavor profiles. While Fantin isn’t serving up fusion cuisine, he creates seasonal menus packed with dishes that highlight Japan’s seasonal ingredients, perfectly paired with fine Italian wines.
At Falò, Chef Noritaka Kashimura offers a casual Italian dining experience that is just as much about the process as it is about the food. The unique restaurant layout features long counters that surround all four sides of a completely open kitchen, allowing diners to watch (and snack on sea urchin and grilled cutlassfish) as their dishes are prepared over a charcoal grill. The restaurant’s signature offering is porchetta, a classic Italian fatty pork belly that Kashimura imports from Italy.