Gunkan Higashi-Shinjuku: The Tastiest Social Apartment in Tokyo?
Joseph from Social Apartment here.
We all know that Gunkan Higashi-Shinjuku has some of the best access of any Social Apartment in the city being just 2 minutes from Higashi-Shinjuku, 12-minutes from Shin-Okubo Station and 10 minutes from Seibu-Shinjuku Station.
We all know that the lounge is looking brand spanking new after a complete renovation this March. Yes, we know these things already. So, I’m not going to bother talking about them.
This time, I want to talk about what it means to live in Higashi-Shinjuku. No, not about Kabukicho, Golden Gai, endless streams of tourists and duty-free drugs stores. The only thing I really care about is food and I’m darn proud to live in one of the most underrated food cultures in all of Tokyo.
First of all, if you like to cook, you’re in luck. There’s a 24-hour Maruetsu Supermarket (standard Japanese fare), Niku no Hanamasa (wholesale meat), Asian Superstore (Thai), Kankoku Hiroba (Korean), Gyomu Super (wholesale everything), Shiodaya (also wholesale), plus a whole slew of Chinese, Vietnamese and Nepalese mom and pop service stores with great and cheap local ingredients. Next, if you’re like me and can’t be bothered to cook all the time, you have one of the most solid and diverse lineups of eats and drink within 10-minutes of your front door:
This Nepalese spot on Okubo-Dori just above a Korean shaved ice cafe feeds a huge portion of the local Nepalese and from the second you walk in, it is easy to tell that this place is home to many in the community. The mutton curry and sides are some of the best you can get in Japan and super affordable at just 500yen for a set meal. The Soup Momo is also out of control. Just don’t get the chapati, they just bring out luke-warm flower tortillas.
Jinga is one of the older joints in Shin-Okubo that specializes in Budae, or Korean Blood Sausage filled with glass noodles and spices. They have some of the best banchan (complimentary sides) and I usually get muscle soup or budaejigae a homey sausage stew, but you can never go wrong with nakchi bokeum, or spicy stir-fried octopus with somen.
3. Norimaki Okoku
This is an extremely underrated takeaway spot just a few paces from Gunkan. Nothing here particularly stands out, but it’s a really good feeling mom and pop joint. They always remember me and throw in some extra sides for free. Favorite dishes include the squid stirfry over rice, chamchi kimbap (tuna norimaki), and odaeng (oden).
This is an extremely pleasant hideaway and solid date spot just behind Okubo Station. A little expensive, but by far the best Vietnamese outside of Takadanobaba. The claypot rice and Bahn Xeo (kind of like Vietnamese Okonomiyaki) are out of control. You have to eat it to believe it. The cocktails are pretty fun for dates too.
This is a heavily slept on teishoku (set meal) restaurant in the Nishi-Waseda area, a good 10 minute walk North up Meiji-Doori from Gunkan. They have all the classics, but you’d be a fool if you didn’t try their Nikujaga Taishoku. It has apparently been featured on TV. It’s also one of the few breakfast spots available to you that’s not the combini.
Another teishoku spot in the opposite direction towards Shinjuku San-Chome. I personally think Himawari is better taste wise, but Nekozen has the advantage because it’s open 24 hours 7 days a week. And hey, they both won’t cost you more than 800 yen.
8. Bahn Thai
This is a legendary Thai spot run by chef Mr. Bahn himself. You’ll recognize the restaurant from the life-size poster of the chef himself in front. It is officially ranked as one of the best Thai restaurants in Tokyo. I think it’s great, but judge for yourself. I did see the Japanese Olympic Swimming Team in here one time when I was on a date, though.
9. Thong Thai
This is my favorite Thai joint to go to mainly because it is like 1-minute away from Gunkan’s front door and the flavors are on point and real, real spicy. The clear pork soup with rice noodles is also one of the best hangover cures in the area. I personally love the Som Tam (Papaya Salad), Khao Soi (Coconut mixed noodles), and Beef and Thai Basil stir fry.
This is an extremely homey and affordable Taiwanese joint on the calmer side of Okubo Dori. If you’ve never had Taiwanese fried chicken, you’ve never lived. It’s so fragrant, so crispy, just a little sweet and the perfect amount of salt. Sorry karaage, but this is a superior food. The Taiwanese Maze Soba is also real cheap and real good.
Does your neighborhood have an Ainu restaurant? No, I didn’t think so. Do yourself a favor and get some deer croquettes from this place ASAP.
Kamiya is my only listing in Kabukicho, but man it’s one of my favorite spots. Yakiton (grilled pork on skewers) is only one stick for 70yen and the drinks are strong. The staff will try to force you to get a lot of food, but this is just a little bit of friendly service that is pretty needed in one of Shinjuku’s most unfriendly neighbors. I also love that there are no chopsticks in this place and that you just eat the pickles with toothpicks and don’t forget to talk to the younger chef on the grill about music and I bet he definitely knows a lot more about avant-garde Neo-soul and hip hop than you.
13. Biryani at Muslim Yokocho
Here’s a great place to get a 100yen shish kabob that’s easily 3x the amount of meat of the yakitori you get at the convenience store, plus it tastes so much better. Hands down, this is the best 100 yen snack in town. They also have couscous and biryani specials that are to die for.
No this isn’t your typical kebab joint. They got everything you love in a traditional Turkish menu and they make it just like they do back home. Everything from the tea to the tomato and mutton stir fry is so on point. The only thing that reminds you that you are in Japan is that the yellow rice is made from the Japonica variety.
15. Egg Coffee
Feel like taking a mini trip to Hanoi? Well, this is as close as it gets in Tokyo. This is a little coffee joint where all the Vietnamese exchange students in a 3-kilometer radius come to hang out for laughs, a cigarette, some casual guitar jams (there are random instruments strewn throughout the shop) and of course their signature Egg Coffee. What is Egg Coffee? It’s basically just egg whites whipped for 5 minutes into the perfect custard texture with ripping strong Vietnamese espresso at the base. So. So. Good.
Last but not least, Ryumon is my favorite Chinese spot in the area. Are there better Chinese restaurants? Definitely. So why this one? I think it represents the area really well. Ask the owners where they are from and they will say they are Japanese. Watch them in the Kitchen making fresh noodles and you hear that they talk to each other in Mandarin. Watch what the staff black bean their makanai (staff meal) and you’ll see that it’s all Korean. Better yet, it’s cheap, it’s open 24-hours and it’s good hearty food made with soul. I recommend the JangJangMyeong (black bean noodles) and Su-Buta (Sour Pork).
Of course, this is a highly personal list from having lived here for a year, but I am open to suggestions too!
Leave a comment on what restaurant you think is best near Gunkan!