I think of Suehiro as an archetypal Ginza establishment - luxurious, a blind imitation of the West, yet somehow Japanified in the process.
Just off Chuo Dori, Ginza's main avenue, Suihiro looks rather run down in comparison to its modern, sterile, neighboring shops. A large menu of various cuts of beef stands next to the entrance, along with a sign advertising a "500 yen hamburger lunch."
I came during lunch time, and was ushered to a table by servers wearing bobbed hair and 1960s style uniforms. The restaurant interior was in the same 1960s style. I'm not particularly fond of it, but that means that Suehiro hasn't seen the need to change anything for several decades.
Upon request I was handed an English menu which was about half as thick as the Japanese menu - a little worrisome. Steak ranges from 2,000-10,000 yen; quite expensive. However, virtually everyone in the restaurant, including myself, ordered the 500 yen hamburger special for lunch. I'd probably stick with this your first time.
The hamburger special included a hamburger patty over noodles, a plate of rice, salad, and a soft boiled egg to pour over everything. Pretty good, not fantastic.
Otoya is a tradition Japanese tei-shoku (meal set) with a healthy twist: all items are conveniently tagged with a calorie count, and overly heavy or fatty sauces aren't used. The food was really delicious - I spent less than 800 yen and selected a chicken rice bowl from the picture menu (there's no English, the servers don't speak English, but it's super easy to point to things). The rice bowl came out with water, tea, and miso soup. I noticed lots of people ordering small vegetable and tofu side dishes as well, but this was plenty for a 20 year old college student. Otoya was filled with chatty, happy Japanese business people. The seating is a little tight, but no trouble.
You order and pay first at the counter, before being ushered to your seat. Otoya was brightly lit, and had a casual, un-ostentatiously modern Japanese atmosphere. Great for bring family or friends along, or just going solo for a good lunch.
Overall I was really happy with Otoya and plan on going back. By the way, it's on the second floor, but there's an obvious sign.
Matsuya is a clone of the more recognizable and prevalent Yoshinoya, a cheap, Japanese version of fast food. The style is simple, nothing fancy - different variations of "gyudon," or bowls of rice topped with tasty beef. Unlike Yoshinoya, your rice bowl with come with a complimentary serving of miso soup at Matsuya. In addition, you can order any combination of rice bowl and side dishes at the machine by the door. There's no English, although the pictures are fairly easy to understand, and there are larger menus outside if you need to match the machine button with your meal of choice. After the machine prints your meal ticket, give it to a server and wait for your meal at the bar.
Matsuya and places like it are great for quick, inexpensive meals anytime, and the food is relatively tame for those not accustomed to Japanese tastes.
It's not especially family friendly, since usually the only seating is at a bar, although it's certainly do-able. Like most restaurants in this country, it's cash only.
Yoshida is really easy to miss: it's located on the 3rd floor of what looks like a residential building in downtown Akasaka. Yoshida specializes in high quality fish - at lunch time you can order the fish of your choice, which will arrive lightly prepared with a simple bowl of rice, salad, and miso soup.
The menu is in all Japanese and highly seasonal, but the hostess recommended either salmon or gimutsu. I tried both. The gimutsu was so buttery soft that it was difficult to eat with chopsticks. The cut was generous, and steeped in a delicious sweet sauce. The salmon was much drier and predominantly salt-seasoned. I preferred the Gimutsu, but both were edible.
Yoshida meals are very simple but quite delicious if you are looking for serious fish. Portions are a little smaller than standard in Japanese restaurants.
The restaurant is just barely full at lunch time, but if you are going with more than 2 people I would call ahead or go after the rush. The place is ascetic but quite cozy, and there's a window view at the large table.
The staff don't speak English, but will try to be as helpful as they can otherwise. Started at 1,200 yen per person.
Kirkutei serves simple, delicious plates of rice, cabbage, macaroni salad (it's actually a good combination), and your choice of pork or beef katsu. The server was one of the nicest I've had in Tokyo - she spoke English, was helpful and cheerful, but not patronizing. The menu is English and Japanese - no worries there.
Kirakutei should only seat about 10 people, put they cram in about 20 businessmen during the lunch hour - it's pretty popular.
Kirakutei is a league above the likes of Yoshinoya and Matsuya both in price and quality - the chef took about 10 minutes to cook my 1,700 yen pork plate. It was definitely worth it; I'm going back.
The oddly-named Tamaike Shokudou ("cafeteria") is a homely, Eastern-influenced French restaurant across the street from Tamaike-Sanno station. You need to go downstairs past a small sign and a plaster French chef-gnome. Inside, painted exposed beams and white walls give Shokudou a casual, comfortable atmosphere. Two people - one server and one customer - spilled food plates while I was there, but I have to chalk that up to a strange coincidence.
There are only 6 or 7 options for lunch, 3 of which are curry. I ordered beef curry; my friend ordered fish. I received a generous portion of rice and savory Japanese curry. I enjoyed it, although I usually expect wagyu beef to be higher quality, especially when it's advertised as such. Still, at 800yen you can't complain. The fish turned out to be delicious sea bass, flaky yet moist, in a tomato, olive oil, and pesto sauce. A plate of steaming rice too, of course. Very impressive. Our lunch "courses" were finished off with black tea.
I've decided I like French yoshoku.
I ate at Ore no Hambagu ("my hamburger") during one of the rainiest days this summer. The homely restaurant looked really inviting when I found it after nearly drowning in the rain, my pants soaked up to my calves. Ore no Hambagu's inside is just as cozy, with dented wood counters and hippy art evoking a bohemian Oregon coffeehouse. Most of the customers were young people who have probably never been to Oregon, though. In keeping with the restaurant's style, all the menus are hand drawn and pictures are pasted onto each page, arts and crafts style. The menu's are really hard to read, but at least there are pictures. Late 80s American rock songs complete the atmosphere.
Ore no Hambagu's main attraction is, of course, hamburgers. "Hamburger" in the yoshoku sense of the word, i.e. a hamburger patty in teriyaki sauce, accompanied by noodles, potato salad, etc. There are four or five iterations of this dish on the menu. I ordered the basic hamburger lunch set (1,000yen), which came with a small green salad and shot of fruit juice. The waiter said it was fresh sqeeezed lemon, tomato, and grapefruit - very good. After a little wait I dug into my hamburger plate, which wasn't bad. You'll be disappointed if you are expecting an American hamburger, but personally I really appreciated the creativity that goes into Ore no Hambagu's food.
Tsutsui is in the old-fashioned "yoshoku" style of Japanese food, which is ironically more consciously influenced by western cooking than the stuff Japanese eat today. This is what your grandmother would have eaten when she was in her twenties if she had grown up in Japan. The food philosophy spills over onto the restaurant and waiters - the staff are dressed in white suits/black ties which I think are supposed to trigger something in my American social memory, but I'm not sure. A 1940s Chicago steak house? The interior is equal parts Edo and art deco.
For lunch I had a pork bowl, something like what you'd get if you ordered "teriyaki" in America. So so, nothing special. My friend had a hamburger lunch - a hamburger patty with a sweet sauce and salad - quite common in restaurants like this.
If you are not adventurous enough to try real Japanese food, Tsutsui might be a good compromise. It doesn't particularly interest me though. Lunch was 1,000yen.
The view from MatsumotoRou is supposed to be spectacular; too bad I wasn't given a seat by a window. I'm not sure if the first two floors of the building are the same restaurant, but the curry rice buffet is on the third floor, not very clearly marked.
The restaurant has a hotel-like atmosphere that tends to dampen animated conversation, although the decor and large, curtained windows are pleasant. For about 1,200 yen I ordered the all-you-can-eat buffet, which included three different kinds of curry (one vegetarian), copious rice, salad, fruit salad, and soup. I was impressed at the selection. The curries seemed to be a fusion of Japanese and Indian styles.
Parties are seated side by side at long tables, so it's not very private.
After lunch, I went to the ice cream bar and helped myself to vanilla ice cream with Cointreau drizzled over it - a nice touch.
I would take friends here for quiet conversation, kids if they are quiet, but it's not a good date place. After your meal you can wander around the spacious park.
Apparently the building is maintained by the Lion's club, and accordingly a lot of elderly, Western Japanese were having a black tie convention in a different room when I went.
There's no English, but the receptionist will understand you if you want the buffet.