It’s that time of year. The days are warming up, the skies are intermittently clear and spring is finally, if erratically, here. Back in the day, Tokyo residents had few options for eating outdoors, save for the midsummer beer gardens found on most department store rooftops. Now the idea of eating outdoors has taken firmer root (especially since the pandemic) and we have a lot more choices.
Here are ten of my favorite spots.
La Table de Joël Robuchon (Ebisu)
High-end French cuisine and dining en plain air are rarely found in the same sentence, let alone at the same premises. So that makes it all the more remarkable to find outdoor dining is encouraged at this two-Michelin-star restaurant founded by France’s legendary master chef.
Discreetly screened off from the street (and prying eyes) in a garden at the back of that impressive chateau in Yebisu Garden Place, the half dozen tables are impeccably laid out with starched white tablecloths. With weekday lunch menus from as little as ¥5,800, it’s the ideal spot to uncork a choice bottle or two—and then cancel all engagements for the afternoon.
Address: Yebisu Garden Place, Mita 1-13-1, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
TY Harbor (Shinagawa)
It’s all too easy to forget that Tokyo is a bay-front city with a network of waterways that have been significantly cleaned up over the past few decades. This forms the classic post-industrial setting for Tokyo’s pioneering gastro brew-pub, TY Harbor.
Whether you’re there for a pint or two of the excellent craft beers—all brewed on-site—or a full evening of pizza, burgers or a full-on steak dinner, the canal-side setting is hard to beat. But be sure to book early if you want a prime outside seat with your all-American dinner.
Address: Higashi-Shinagawa 2-1-3, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo
Pizza Strada (Azabu Juban)
There are plenty of reasons why for the past decade Strada has been one of Tokyo’s stand-out pizzerias. It boasts a wood-fired oven, uses quality Italian ingredients and serves pies that are close to perfect. Local favorites include the Genovese and salsiccia, while it always pays to scan the seasonal specials, ranging from Hiroshima oysters to Hokkaido asparagus.
But what seals the deal, especially at this time of year, is the spacious patio that fronts onto one of Azabu Juban’s quieter backstreets. Expect considerable competition for the half-dozen tables there, especially on weekends and holidays when Strada is also open for lunch.
Address: NS Azabu Juban Bldg. 1F, Azabu Juban 3-6-2, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Mezze with flat breads; tapas and salumi; Greek salads and Moroccan tagines: the pan-Mediterranean menu at Cicada remains one of the best in the city—and ditto the extensive wine list. Gratifyingly it has a setting to match, inside a low-slung, mid-20th-century villa complete with secluded terrace seating.
But the most coveted spots are the four tables with chic rattan furniture and white canvas parasols, set in the middle of the erstwhile swimming pool. It’s a look more in keeping with an Aegean resort than just around the corner from the busy Omotesando crossing.
Alternatively, stake a place at the open-air bar, which also offers appetizers to go with your drinks. Or wait for an outdoor table to free up at Crisscross, the cafe right next door (also part of the same complex).
Address: Minami-Aoyama 5-7-28, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Lina Stores (Omotesando)
The calling card at Lina Stores is fresh pasta—ten different styles all made in-house each day. This chic, buzzy, Anglo-Italian deli-ristorante arrived in Tokyo in late 2021, bringing the same stylish lime-green decor and all-day light dining that has made it so popular in London. Order up some antipasti and a glass or two of vino. With 20 tables outside the front door, this has become one the best spots in the Omotesando area for people-watching.
Address: Kita-Aoyama 3-10-5, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Trunk Kushi (Shibuya/Harajuku)
Yakitori and beer or lemon sours might seem too plebeian for the ubercool Trunk Hotel, out on the trendy Harajuku fringe of Shibuya. That doesn’t deter the well-dressed crowd who colonize the outdoors seats at this surprisingly affordable kushiyaki grill. And don’t make the mistake of just rocking up without calling ahead: you can measure how popular it just by the decibel levels.
Address: Trunk Hotel, Jingumae 5-30-2, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
The Upper (Marunouchi/Otemachi)
Any restaurant that boasts a 44-seat outdoor terrace is worth knowing, especially one that serves a casual, modern take on classic French brasserie fare. That it is found 10 floors up in the heart of Tokyo’s bustling commercial district makes it one of the wonders of the city.
Address: Marunouchi Terrace 10F, Marunouchi 1-3-4, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Bricolage Bread & Co. (Roppongi)
Bricolage is a three-in-one operation: take-out bread and pastries; an excellent coffee counter, run by Nordic roasting specialists Fuglen; and, at the back, a cafe that offers all-day dining from breakfast to early evening, complete with outdoor seating under shady sakura trees. It’s a warm and welcoming sight at any time of day at the base of the hulking Roppongi Hills complex.
Address: Roppongi Keyakizaka Terrace 1F, Roppongi 6-15-1, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Less than 10 minutes’ walk from the heaving heart of Shibuya, the tranquil, tree-shaded compound that houses Sakuu could not come as more of a contrast. During the day, this mellow Japanese tea room offers light lunches and confections. In the evening, the same space morphs into a simple barbecue joint named Sumi to Niku ("Charcoal and Meat").
Address: Jinnan 1-2-5, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0041
Bonus Track (Shimokitazawa)
The brilliant Bonus Track development sprang up in 2020 on land where the Odakyu railway used to run, before it was buried deep under Shimokitazawa. It comprises an eclectic assortment of small cafes and food stores, purveyors of sake and craft ale, a bakery, even a second-hand record shop—all arranged around an open space with tables where you can eat, drink or simply laze. Pick of the take-out and bento options goes to Hakko Department, a store that celebrates the wealth of Japan’s fermented food traditions.
Address: Daita 2-36-12~15, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 155-0033