Trains gliding onwards to and from Yurakucho and Hibiya stations shake Uomara Honten like a baby wagging a rattle, not that anybody cares, not that anybody really notices. Here in this restaurant-within-a-railway-arch, in a part of fancy Ginza more gritty than glammy, cast-iron skillets sizzling with fresh Tsukiji seafood balance the stench of wispy tobacco clouds, the red faces of soused salarymen, teetering on worn wooden stools, spotlighted by naked light bulbs dangling from black cords. Strips of white parchment, hanging from the ceiling, scrawled with red-and-black Japanese-language characters—oh, enough already, they’re just fucking menus—sway as one train after another zooms past.
An informal May 2015 survey conducted by The Offices of This Writer found that there are approximately 1.4 million izakayas in Tokyo bearing a close-to-passing resemblance to Uomara Honten. The izakaya—or, at least, certain types of izakayas—is to the Japanese what, roughly, the greasy spoon diner is to Americans, though with more booze involved; it’s not shocking that Denny’s and other such places discovered a market in Tokyo. To those unfamilar with the izakaya, your vanilla ice-cream description is that it’s cozy (particularly during the winter), casual, and pushes the comfort buttons of food and drink, some more successfully than others.
Though I stand figuratively before you as anything but an expert on the matter—so many izakayas, so little time—I present with confidence Uomara Honten as one Tokyo’s finest such places, though know that I’m a softie for smoky booze halls, like this one, hidden away within otherwise upscale areas, like Ginza.
Don’t worry, it’s coming—not Jesus on the dashboard, but rather the photographic evidence of this izakaya’s excellence—though before I extricate myself from this fleeting Tokyo food tale, allow me to first note the following two points of bonus interest: Uomara Honten never closes, by which I mean to say that it’s open 24 hours a day, and you, my dearest fellow Westerner, shall experience no awkward shame or embarassment whilst placing orders, as English-language menus are blessedly provided, and (the amiable) staff speaks rudimentary English to boot.
Here, as foretold, is the part where I disappear into the background, aware that you’ve heard enough from me, and wish to simply move on to the reasonably pretty pictures. But before I do, you may wish to understand why I’ve stopped talking already; why I’ve long since decided to take my written leave and let the rest of this feature cruise on images of delicious things largely plucked from the ocean.
I’ve taken myself out of this story because Uomara Honten’s seafood—and that’s the specialty here, seafood sourced straight from Our Lord Tsukiji—ticks a very special box, in that in sum it comprised one of the most memorable seafood feasts of my life to date, all things considered, from sense of place to scent of place. No, I wish not to sully such epic culinary triumph with further noodling description, for such writer vanity is destined for box-office failure. Perhaps now you understand why long ago I decided just to shut the fuck up and let the photos do the rest.
First—in a shaming of shameful American-style calamari—grilled squid presented on iron skillet, topped with a scoop of fresh ginger, served with the guts on the side in case you want to eat those too. Eleven tender bites lasted less than five minutes.
Next, the grilled fish of the day, a Japanese white fish, so sweet and so flaky, perhaps laced with crack, greedily reduced to bone-dry carcass in minutes. Should you find yourself seated at a wooden stool in this railway-arch izakaya, staring down this or a similar fish, save thyself the tedious chore of eating around bones by simply peeling back the spine from top to bottom before digging in.
Third, grilled rice triangle topped with shiso leaf, a healthy portion of fresh sea urchin, and a scoop of wasabi, with a thin sheet of crispy seaweed acting like the bread of a sandwich. The sum of parts is a roller coaster of textures and flavors as titillating as the touch of Mark Wahlberg’s frisky hands in Fear.
Fourth, grilled tuna steak sizzling on skillet, tossed with scallions and garlic in a light soy broth, but I shall say no more because I’m not even here. This story is about Uomara Honten, not me.
Finally, in the end, the proverbial coup de grâce, a heartbreaking hunk of Japanese sablefish–black cod, in layman’s terms–bathing in a pool of sweet, dark soy sauce, shaved greens adding crisp texture to meat more delicate and soft than even the hands of a pampered travel writer.
There are six other izakayas in this fun late-night area, known as Yurakucho Sanchoku Inshokugai, each one dealing in a different specialty. Stumbling into the wrong place would not mark the end of one’s world, for though Uomara Honten is a busy one, so too are the others. If it’s Uomara Honten that you seek, however, follow the directions, below, and look for the spinning fish out front.
Uomaru Honten is located at International Arcade, 2-1-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. +81 03 5510 1278. It’s a little tricky to find, but you’ll be heading in the right direction if you take either exit C1 from Ginza Station, or exit A4 from Hibiya Station; find it on your phone and take a screenshot.