tokyo burger blog

burgers in tokyo and beyond

an obsessive journey through Tokyo, Japan to find the best Japanese hamburger

Filtering by Tag: tokyo

Martini Burger

New York City is known for many things around the world. Rude cab drivers. Street hustlers. The people who sank the world economy. And all those are deserved parts of the city's reputation, but so is a particular talent for that simple creation - the hamburger.

Like many great things (the Mona Lisa, sex), hamburgers are deceptively simple at first glance, yet become exponentially complicated and wonderful with each successive look. Ground beef sandwiched between two pieces of bread - what could be simpler?

Japan's economy may have collapsed and the country may have lost most of its mojo to a 20+ year long depression, but hey - on the upside it now has a lot of good hamburger shops. These hamburger shops have a tinge of the East in them; they are wonderful, but they are Japanese. This isn't a bad thing. Reg-On in Shibuya makes a wonderful burger, but it's the Japanese interpretation of what an American 50's diner burger should be.

If you venture to the Kagurazaka area in Tokyo, known for French cuisine and French expats, you may find a hamburger shop called Martini Burger a short walk from the station. In an unlikely spot, this is a real New York hamburger shop. Inside it's not a run down joint like the amazingly grungy Paul's in the East Village, but instead has more in common with the hotel bar at the W or the Aloft (yes, I'm a Starwood guy).

The proprietor Eliot Bergman is as authentic as the burgers - a soft-spoken but blunt New Yorker who speaks fluent Japanese and somehow manages to keep these diametrically opposed cultures from imploding. Ah, a cynical Tokyo-ite, that rare breed.

The interior feels expensive, as does the burger. As opposed to a typically small $10 Tokyo burger, their creations start at around $15 and comes with a bit fancier sides as opposed to a traditional pile of carb-loaded fries. On my first visit I tried some roasted rosemary potatoes - delicious but a Japanese sized portion. The burger is the opposite - an American sized slab of beef, cooked medium rare unless otherwise requested. A great char and adequate salt and pepper seasoning - something that almost everyone gets wrong (except for his lordship Danny Meyer - hallowed be thy name). The mustard aioli nicely complements the rest of the expensive ingredients. The bun is light and chewy, although it could be a little more airy so it doesn't dominate the burger. Again, very few shops get the burger to bun ratio perfect (all hail Meyer).

This is one of the very few genuinely American high quality burgers in Tokyo. The texture is perfect, the seasoning is familiar and the English is flawless. The interior feels a bit more date-like than an everyday burger shop, but that's typical for Japan as burgers appeal to a very different demographic than in the USA. I feel like the interior could be a bit more comfy for dates, but the design is impressive with its modern feel. (Modern and comfy rarely coexist without friction).

I'm originally from New York, and despite being a devout In N Out convert, overall New York might win the burger war with quantity. Shake Shack, Minetta Tavern, Spotted Pig, Burger Joint, Paul's, etc. LA has In N Out, Plan Check, an overrated Father's Office, a very overrated Umami Burger, etc.

So, we're sorry we crashed the world economy, but you're welcome for the burgers. Goldman Sachs and Shake Shacks. Let's call it even.

Ambience 7/10, Burger 8.5/10, Fries N/A

All Orders

Photography is a peculiar job.

Thus I found myself on a Monday afternoon accompanying a photographer friend to the Nishi-Azabu area of Tokyo. He was shooting for a Chinese newspaper on strange places to visit in Tokyo. Unfortunately I had missed the Owl Cafe part of the shoot, so I joined him on his Japanese S&M Club visit. We had an hour to kill before the shoot and decided to further my cultural research at a nearby burger shop.

On the Japanese review sites, the All Orders burger shop had a decent rating. Not great, but not bad. Decent marks for food, but a low rating for ambience. The reasons for that soon became apparent.

As we took in the strange furnishings of All Orders, we really couldn't categorize it. Looking more like something you would expect to find in India, it felt like a cross between's someone's house, a bar and maybe a burger shop.

The front window was dirty, the furniture didn't match (and not in that most Japanese curated mismatched style), and they served curry, burgers, draft beer, Moet and Chandon champagne, diner steaks, etc. Even the vinyl exterior sign was all mixed up - advertising hamburgers, steak, antipasto and beer. Pretty much the definition of scattered.

With pretty low expectations, I ordered my usual avocado burger and my photographer friend decided on the diner-style steak.

The plating matched my low expectations. Although perfectly satisfactory and actually somewhat appetizing, I've gotten used to Japanese burgers looking like small little art installations. This just looked like…a burger.

And it tasted…like a burger. A surprisingly good burger. Nicely seared on the outside and well seasoned. A well matched squishy bun with fresh avocado. I don't understand how 100% of Japanese avocado is perfectly ripe and unblemished. Maybe the fries could have been crispier, but they were still tastier than I expected.

In short, I'd eat here again. Is the texture perfect? Nope. Are the fries among the best I've had in Tokyo? Definitely not. But it was very satisfying and I wouldn't hesitate to pop in again for the burger if I found myself in the area again.

The Japanese S&M club, on the other hand, wasn't worth a return trip. Quite bland and overpriced, unlike my peculiar friend All Orders.

(My friend's diner steak was reported to be quite satisfying, as was the Owl Cafe - two things to put on my to-do list).

Ambience 6.5/10, Burger 7/10, Fries 7/10

Burger Mania - Hiro-o

Japan has so many wonderful traditional approaches to cuisine from all over the world. More Michelin starred restaurants than Paris. Better Italian food than most of Italy. Yet somehow it still has a reputation for culinary weirdness.

Burger Mania's Cherry Cream Cheese Burger won't do anything to change that reputation.

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There are two Burger Mania shops in Tokyo, but only the Hiro-o branch serves the unusual Cherry Cream Cheese Burger. The Japanese have a longstanding love affair with special editions, limited time offers, etc. I just wrote up a review of one of McDonald's Japan's limited time offerings for the fine folks at Serious Eats.

As for Burger Mania, I had visited once before and they served a perfectly respectable cheeseburger. I'd say even beyond respectable. Possibly a bit unremarkable, though. The kind of burger you'd bring home to mom and dad, but simultaneously downplay the future possibilities to avoid raising their expectations.

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I usually get the standard cheeseburger for comparison purposes, being a big believer in fundamentals. Lately I've ordered a lot of avocado burgers just 'cause the Japanese do such a phenomenal job with them. I justify it by believing that avocado is a subtle enough flavor and fat source that it's similar to a mild cheese. Also it instantly turns a hamburger into health food.

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Anyways, I returned to Burger Mania with a friend one chilly winter's day and decided to try something different. Living on the edge! So I tried the Cherry Cream Cheese Burger - highly recommended by the staff. It starts with their usual 100% beef patty. If I understood the staff member, their meat is sourced from different parts of Japan depending on which cut they think is best from which place, and then it's combined into their own special blend.

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Then comes the interesting part. Some cherry jam-like substance sits on top of some softening squares of cream cheese. Under the burger are some of the more usual suspects like onion, tomato and lettuce.

How could this work? Cherry jam. Cream cheese. Beef patties. This is just crazy talk. And this is where food writing gets tough. I can show you pictures, but how do I describe the taste? Actually quite easily.

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It tastes exactly like simultaneously eating toast and jam, along with a bagel and cream cheese, plus a hamburger. The strange this is that somehow all these tastes exist separately yet harmoniously while you're eating. It's easy to identify all the flavors, but it actually pulls together into one very satisfying meal.

So if you're in Hiro-o, go try the Cherry Cream Cheese burger at Burger Mania. Then tell all your friends how weird Japan can be. Maybe also mention that there was a conservative cheeseburger on the menu, but you're the weird one who decided cherry jam and cream cheese should be on your burger.

Ambience 7.5/10, Burger 8/10, Fries 7/10

Reg-On Diner

Like many Japanese signs written in English, I'm sure Reg-On means something. It's probably clever. Like many Japanese signs written in English, it's also incomprehensible. I can spell it phonetically in Japanese katakana, but I have no clue what it means.

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Luckily, my lack of clues didn't stop me from tracking down the rather hidden Reg-On Diner in the back streets between Shibuya and Ebisu. It's not really close to any train station. Most train stations are about 20 minutes apart by foot, and Reg-On is about 10 minutes from the closest station.

Despite these terrible obstacles, I managed to overcome and with the aid of my trusty phone I found Reg-On Diner on a cold winter's night.

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This is probably the Japanese mental image of what a small American diner looks like. They got a few things wrong. First of all, nowadays it's tough to get a liquor license so possibly those bottles of Coors, Budweiser, Corona, Tecate and Brooklyn Lager wouldn't be there. Also, the immaculate bathroom wouldn't exist in an American diner (I'm not sure what to make of the July 2000 Mademoiselle cover featuring TLC hanging on the bathroom wall? Again, no clue.)

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Still, American diners sometimes make a pretty damn good burger, and so does Reg-On. The avocado burger I ordered might be a bit fancier than diner fare, but I'm okay with that. The avocado was perfectly ripe, like most Japanese burger joints. I don't know how they do it since I can spend 3.5 hours in an American Whole Foods trying to find one avocado with no brown spots. The tomato was nicely ripe as well, an almost mythical thing in American produce.

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The patty had a nice charbroiled flavor and good texture. There was even a hint of spice; just enough to give the aftertaste a bit of a kick but not change the flavor of the burger. The super springy buns that crushed down made for a good burger to bun ratio and the flavors all pulled together nicely.

I wouldn't have minded some more onions and I tend to like thinner fries as it's almost impossible to cook large wedges perfectly. These were quite crispy for the most part, with only a few undercooked stragglers. Some more seasoning on the fries would've been nice, too. Some tasty gherkin pickles rounded out the approximately $11 meal.

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I don't know what Reg-On means, I'm not sure why TLC had a place of honor in the bathroom, but I'm positive I will be back for another burger if I'm ever in the neighborhood. If it were 5 minutes closer to Shibuya station I'd be there all the time.

Reg-On, dudes.

Ambience 8/10, Burger 8/10, Fries 7/10