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A good friend of mine is in Tokyo right now and he wanted a shortlist of places to eat. As a tourist, you usually do want to be armed with a list from someone you know of where to dine while traveling. You don't want to get stuck in an awful, overpriced restaurant that caters to tourists -- I've had some of my worst meals ever in Venezia and New York City. While unpalatable, they sure are memorable.

But it always surprises me of how dining out in Japan is an anomaly. By no means should I say that every place is a great place to eat, but the odds are in your favor. The prices are fair, and while the service can get rushed, it's not as bad as some of the highest ranked restaurants here in the Bay Area (ehem!). More than anything, Tokyo is a sprawling, dense city where even taxi cab drivers have hard time locating addresses, which are often just a series of numbers and a landmark.

So instead of giving specific places to eat, I often just name genres. Yakitori is high on my list of must-eats in Japan -- casual, rowdy, economical and always delicious. The last time we visited Tokyo, we were brought to Bunraku, in Ueno, a bustling area where the night-life is HOT.

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It was a chilly evening in February, but that did not keep the droves of customers away on this weeknight.

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The plastic never really shields you from the cold. Drink up!

I started off the evening with shochu and Hoppy, a non-alcoholic mixer that tastes like beer. Hence, Hoppy.

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Hoppy is a really old-man, old-school drink but it continues to be very popular in Japan. Beer-flavored shochu?!?!? It is not to be dismissed.

They were known for their motsu-ni at Bunraku: miso stewed tripe with tofu. Add some shichimi (7 spice) and you're set.

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Cold spicy cucumbers:

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The yakitori parade begins:

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Shishito:

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Chicken liver!

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Shiitake:

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Atsuage (fried tofu):

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Bunraku's famous garlic chicken:

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After all this, you do as the locals do, and go somewhere else!

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Our host was Mr. Kumasawa (above left), owner of Kama-asa kitchenware shop in Kappabashi and the rest of the staff: Mr. Wada, Mr. Imai and Ms. Midori. His wife's family runs Bunraku! This was a special evening full of excellent food. We all left happy, warm, and wanting a bit more.

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BUNRAKU
6-12-1 Ueno, Taito
110-0005 Tokyo
T: +81 3-3832-031