eli's travel recommendations
Last updated January 7, 2022. Top recommendations are listed first in their respective sections.
Contact: @frozenpandaman (or via your usual method, if you know me).
Restaurants in Japan often specialize in one type of food per place. Below are my favorite restaurants in the city, grouped by category, and the name of the area of Tokyo in which they're located.
- Tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet): Tonki (in Meguro) is my top recommendation. Just watching the production and creation of hundreds of tonkatsu plates in the center of all the place settings as one person memorizes every single order is incredible. The super tiny Marugo and Fukuyoshi (both in Akihabara) are also both out-of-this-world great.
- Noodles: Nishi-Azabu Shūichi (near Todoroki Station, Setagaya), a cute hole-in-the-wall place with great tsukemen (dipping ramen noodles). Tsurutontan (a chain in Ginza, and a few other places) is also great with huge portion sizes.
- Oyakodon (chicken & egg rice bowl): Tamahide (in Meguro).
- Yakitori (grilled skewered chicken): Sasamoto (in Omoide Yokochō, Shinjuku). Note that there are nights when they only accept Japanese (or sometimes Japanese-speaking) customers.
- Fish: The wholesale (inner) section of the Tsukiji fish market closed in October 2018, but the outer market (adjacent shopping area) is still open! The new main fish market – for great, fresh, albeit expensive (but worth having once) sushi, sashimi, etc. – is Toyosu Market.
- Curry: Even though it's a chain that's everywhere in Japan, CoCo ICHIBANYA is honestly very good.
- Dessert: yelo (in Roppongi) for kakigōri/shave ice, and Fukusaya (in Meguro) for castella.
- For more, see my 2017 Tabelog map or ask me!
Stuff to see/do
- Take a walk along the river and and explore the beautiful, hidden-away Todoroki Valley, the only natural ravine in all of Tokyo's 23 special wards. This is tied for my #1 recommendation, along with…
- The Ghibli Museum in Mitaka – please go here if at all possible. It is an architecturally magical building and space. If you're in Japan the month prior to your visit, you can get tickets for the following month at any Lawson konbini on the 10th of each month at 10 a.m. (this is the easiest method by far) – otherwise they must be purchased online in advance.
- Walk down the narrow, dimly-lit alleys of Omoide Yokochō ("Memory Lane") and Golden Gai in Shinjuku at night, packed with hundreds of tiny bars and eateries.
- For the best view of the city from up high at night, the Mori Tower in Roppongi (paid admission) gives a beautiful view of the city (and also houses a cool art museum). In the daytime, the observation decks in the Shinjuku Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (free admission) are nice.
- Visit Ito-ya in Ginza for an incredible 12 floors of stationery-related goods – floors dedicated solely to paper, pens, stamps, stickers, etc. They also have a second building across the street with six more floors (and a basement).
- Walk around and explore Shimokitazawa, an eccentric and eclectic neighborhood with a Bohemian feel and lots of live music, used clothing retailers, graffiti, hole-in-the-wall cafes, and an independent movie theater named Tollywood.
- Walking around Yoyogi Park and visiting Meiji Jingū shrine in the daytime is just really, really pleasant.
- Conversely, at night, visit Sensō-ji in Asakusa, Tokyo's oldest temple. The area around Zōjō-ji in Minato with its view of the Tokyo Tower is also quite nice.
- The teamLab Borderless museum/exhibition in Odaiba opened up in June 2018 and has excellent reviews.
- For weird stuff – art, clothing, stickers, zines, etc. – in a retrofitted one-room apartment, go to artist Ken Kagami's Strange Store in Shibuya/Daikanyama (check his recent Instagram posts to see when it's open/closed that day).
The wholesale section of the Tsukiji fish market is incredible to walk around and see, and of course has great fresh fish for sale.Closed October 2018.
- Rengeteg RomKafé: the most amazing, special, full-of-life-and-character shop in the world, located two blocks from Corvin-negyed. Walk in and prepare to be served a thick hot chocolate tailored to what the owner thinks would resonate with you, e.g. "23.4% dark chocolate, with hazelnut, raspberries, red currant, and rum." Decorated from floor to ceiling with a collection of teddy bears of all shapes and sizes collected over 50 years; curious knick-knacks on every table such as old binoculars, felt dolls, and finger puzzles; a collection of found twigs mounted in picture frames; and old Communist-era train ticket punchers. This is my favorite place in the entire city.
- The family-run Zeller Bistro has absolutely fantastic food and is nice for a fancier meal. You should go here once for sure. The only alcohol I've ever enjoyed the taste of in my life is their homemade elderflower champagne (served free to all guests). Reservations most likely needed.
- Bors GasztroBár, on Kazinczy utca, for sandwiches. Run by two five-star restaurant chefs who decided they wanted to sell street food instead. Rated one of the top places for food in the city.
- Eat lángos (fried dough with sour cream and cheese) and kürtőskalács (chimney cake) at least once, from any street vendor around the city.
- Gelarto Rosa, right by Szent István-bazilika (St. Stephen's Basilica), has amazing and beautiful gelato shaped like roses.
- Stuff of secondary importance, but more relevant if you'll be living here:
- Also on Kazinczy utca is El Rapido Grill, open very late (into the early morning) which has Mexican food, including cactus quesadillas. Across the street is Ramenka which has pretty good & cheap ramen.
- LEVES., by Kálvin tér, also has great soups & sandwiches.
- Babam Török Gyorsétterem, a 24-hour Turkish street food place on Blaha Lujza tér, has excellent (and cheap, like everything in Budapest) gyros.
- The best Japanese food in the city is Biwako (a few blocks from Oktogon), run by two Japanese women who also have a small selection of Asian groceries for sale. Komachi Bistro is also decent.
- The best Indian food in the city is Curry House (close-ish to Rákoczi tér) – better than Taj Mahal or Indigo.
- A Presto (near Opera, a few blocks from Oktogon) has very good pasta and great fresh-squeezed orange juice.
- The Donut Library, by Jászai Mari tér, has good donuts.
- There aren't bagels in stores in Budapest, but if you're craving some, go to Budapest Bägel by Kálvin tér.
Stuff to see/do
- The Citadella has the most stunning, magnificent view of the city at night; Buda Castle and Fisherman's Bastion don't even compare. It's worth the short uphill walk. Go when it's fully dark out, after sunset, but before midnight when the bridge lights get turned off.
- Budapest is known for its ruin pubs. The most iconic of these is Szimpla Kert, an almost-overwhelming architectural marvel with dozens of interconnected rooms, maze-like balconies, and staircases. You need to go to see this, preferably at night. It also hosts a Farmers' Market on weekends and functions as a community center.
- Also in the Jewish Quarter is Gozsdu Udvar, a short pathway comprised of seven connected building complexes and courtyards. Cool to walk down at night and see the cafés, restaurants, bars, shops, galleries, etc.
- See my note about Rengeteg RomKafé in the section above. This is less about food and more about the experience.
- The Hungarian Parliament Building is stunning lit up at night. Walk by or take the 2 tram along the Duna (Danube). It's the largest building in Hungary and the tallest in the city.
- The best escape room in Budapest (where they originated!) is Claustrophilia, by Blaha Lujza tér.
- The baths are nice! Check out the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, at end of the yellow (M1) métro line. This line is also the oldest transit system using electric traction in continental Europe, and the second oldest in the world, operating since 1896. The other two most well-known baths are Gellért and Rudas.
- Budapest has incredible public transit, and you'll most likely use it a lot to get around. Something a little different from the "regular" transit (métro, trams, buses, trolleybuses, HÉV, ferries…) is the Cog Railway, tram #60. It runs up in the Buda Hills, farther away from busy downtown Pest and city center, and has gears for wheels to go up the steep inclines! It runs nearby a park called Normafa which is relaxing and beautiful. This railway also connects up to the Children's Railway (Gyermekvasút), a train line completely run by 10–14 year olds (except for the driver).
- Szentendre, located at the end of the HÉV 5 (suburban railway), is a nice little town and great to walk around in for a day or half-day, and has many good places for food.
- The best Mexican in town, hands down – for taste and price – is Fogón on Pine St. in Capitol Hill.
- Up in the U District, both Korean Tofu House and Guanaco's Tacos Pupuseria are fantastic.
- Seattle has so much great Ethiopian food. Go down to the Central District on Cherry St. and take your pick between Cafe Selam and Zagol (or one of the nearby places, also assuredly wonderful). There are good places down in Columbia City as well.
- The two best places for Japanese food in the International District are Maneki and Tsukishinbo. Fort St. George is a very hidden-away third. Also down in the ID are Uwajimaya, a Japanese/Asian grocery store with a great selection, and Milkie Milkie Dessert Cafe for bingsu.
- Ice cream! Sweet Alchemy – with locations in both the U District (larger) and Capitol Hill (smaller) – is Seattle's best, for sure. (And RIP to the former greats: Central District Ice Cream Company, Kurt Farm Shop, Old School Frozen Custard, and the Capitol Hill Full Tilt.)
- While ice cream is great, nothing can beat Fainting Goat Gelato in Fremont and Wallingford.
- Kamonegi in Fremont has very good (albeit a bit pricey) handmade soba noodles and tempura (and sake). The overall best Fremont food place is definitely Cafe Turko for amazing Turkish food and dessert, though.
- Oasis Tea Zone, with ID (larger) and Capitol Hill (smaller) locations, is good for boba. The other best boba places in Capitol Hill are Tea Addicts and Drip Tea.
- I adamantly believe the best ramen in the city is at Betsutenjin (but it's incredibly hard to trust their hours online, and they're near-unreachable by phone). In second place is Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya.
- The literal only good poke in the mainland US is at the little counter in 45th Stop N Shop up in Wallingford. Fresh fish, generous portions. Also in Wallingford, Chocolati Café is worth stopping by for a snack.
- Pel Meni Dumpling Tzar has really good late-night Russian dumplings.
- Spice Box on Broadway in Capitol Hill is probably the best Indian in the city proper – take-out only, and open until 11 p.m.!
Stuff to see/do
- I think the Ballard Locks are incredibly cool to watch and are a feat of human engineering. See the salmon ladder too!
- Seriously, please, go see any play that is currently showing at the Seattle Rep. It is a truly world-class theater that has genuinely never put on a less-than-stellar show. Their lighting designer is nothing short of a genius.
- In the mood for some other local theatre? Look at what's playing at the well-known 5th Avenue Theatre or ACT Theatre (both downtown), or at ArtsWest (West Seattle). For companies performing more experimental/blackbox-type stuff, see what Annex Theatre (Capitol Hill), Strawberry Theatre Workshop (Capitol Hill), or the Lesser-Known Players (Bainbridge Island – take the ferry!) are sporadically putting on. Finally, if you're down for a drive south, the company at the Lakewood Playhouse is so, so worth supporting. For more (yes, there's more)… please ask!
- Gas Works Park really does have a very, very nice view of the city, and is an iconic Seattle park and destination overlooking Lake Union from the north.
- The Elliott Bay Book Company is worth stopping by if you're in need of a good bookstore. Or Left Bank Books by Pike Place Market if you lean anarchist in your literature taste. (Support your local infoshops!)
- The Seattle Pinball Museum in the International District is one of the city's most unique "museums" (and more interactive than most) – and worth a visit.
- Play tons of board games for free at Mox Boarding House in either Ballard or across the lake in Bellevue – and they're open till midnight. Food (or drink) purchase suggested, because it's polite, but not required. You can buy the board/card games directly from them too, naturally.
- MoPOP is always pretty cool (and if you know someone with a library card, you can all get free tickets if you plan for it a month-ish in advance via the Library Pass program). It's fun to walk around the surrounding Seattle Center area too. And if you just happen to be around in early November, check out the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival – the city's without-a-doubt best annual event for some very cool zines, art, and other miscellany.
- See the cherry blossoms up in the UW campus if you're visiting in the spring! There's also a street of them in northern Capitol Hill on 21st Ave E.
- The poetry-focused bookstore Open Books: A Poem Emporium up in Wallingford is pretty cute.
- Go hiking somewhere nearby. Even if you don't have a car, in the summers, King County Metro offers the Trailhead Direct shuttle buses! (In general, Seattle's transit is really good. Make use of it!)
Honolulu has some really, really good food. Like I've done for Tokyo, recommendations are grouped by type of food & neighborhood, starting with my favorites.
- Tonkatsu: My first experience at Tonkatsu Tamafuji (in Kapahulu) was one of the best meals I've ever had in my life. Granted, tonkatsu is one of my favorite foods, but this place is truly incredible. Packed every hour of the day, every day of the year. Near-impossible to reach by phone; get someone to make an in-person reservation for you, ideally a month or so ahead.
- Other Japanese: Maguro-ya (in Kaimukī) is my go-to place for Japanese food – for fish, rice bowls (especially oyakodon), dessert (their oshiruko is great), and more. If you're looking for a Japanese place open even later, Izakaya Torae Torae has a great happy hour menu (oh man, that ahi tataki!)
- Sorbet & ice cream: Scoop Scoops (in Mōʻiliʻili) is unbeatable. I'm unhealthily obsessed with their honeydew sorbet, which comes with little mochi chunks in it. I have changed my spending habits to mathematically optimize getting stamps on their stamp-only-for-$10-and-up-purchases stamp cards. Along with Henry's Place in Waikīkī (which also sells fresh cut-up tropical fruit, along with sorbet and ice cream) – try their lychee sorbet, by the way – I don't even feel any need to try any other dessert places. (If you want some dairy-free banana soft serve, though, Banán in Waikīkī is good… and has a kamaʻāina discount.)
- Shave ice: They're all good. Both Waiola Shave Ice and Shimazu locations are well-known. Even better, in my opinion, is the Korean variant bingsu – best at NIO Snow Ice & Tea downtown.
- Curry & more: Da Spot (in Mōʻiliʻili) is a casual place with cheap, healthy, delicious fare – usually curries and other North African food served with rice and a salad, but sometimes also stuff like lasagna – plus 35 kinds of homemade smoothies (!!!) and baklava for dessert. The shop also works with the local non-profit Mālama Meals to provide food security via free meals to those in need. The nearby A Place to Eat is also a (weird, in a good way) one-man operation that has a cheap, good, rotating menu (at the time of this writing, I like their quesadilla) – and open till midnight every day.
- Japanese noodles: The wait at Marukame Udon (in Waikīkī) is always absolutely ridiculous, but it's honestly very good and worth it. There's another location in Chinatown, too, which has significantly fewer tourists. For soba, go to Shingen Soba Izakaya at Heart Moon in Mōʻiliʻili.
- Other noodles: Mio Pastalogy in Mōʻiliʻili has homemade, create-your-own-pasta dishes (and is a joint shop with a really good Japanese bakery).
- Poke: You can't really go wrong here, but… Redfish Poke Bar (in Kakaʻako) – located in in the "SALT" shopping & dining complex, a project of the Kamehameha school system which serves Native Hawaiian students – has an all-around fantastic selection of fish, plus other food like garlic noodles, sandwiches, and soups. The nearby Ohana Poke House, in the Ohana Hale Marketplace, is also super good. Or, you know, just the grocery store Foodland.
- Gyros: The only good place I've found to get a real gyros sandwich is Leo's Taverna Express, with locations next to Don Quijote (in Ala Moana) and in Waikīkī. The Donki location even has 10% off flyers you can take to the other one for your next visit!
- Malasadas: Leonard's Bakery (in Kapahulu), definitively.
Elsewhere in Hawaiʻi
Not in "town", Oʻahu
- Go to the North Shore. Explore Haleʻiwa, get shave ice at the iconic Matsumoto Shave Ice, and, most importantly, get fresh shrimp with garlic at Giovanni's or other trucks around Kahuku and Laie. It's worth stopping at stands selling fruit or mac nuts and the like, too.
- Waimea Valley has beautiful plant life in a lush botanical garden with a nice, accessible waterfall.
- The Nuʻuanu Pali Lookout gives a beautiful, panoramic view of the windward side of the island.
- Rabbit Island and Flat Island are cute. Look for them off the highway if you're driving near Hawaiʻi Kai/Koko Head.
- Lots and lots of hikes. Use Google! :)
- See the Nā Pali Coast – no matter what. Most boat tours depart from the south near ʻEleʻele but you can also leave from the north shore, too, or view it via zodiac or helicopter.
- In Lihue, get saimin at Hamura Saimin, and banana pancakes at the Tip Top Motel Cafe.
- Anuenue Cafe near Poipu is fantastic for breakfast. Fresh sunrise papaya with lime!
- Between Koloa and Popiu is Makai Sushi – housed in the Kukuiʻula Market grocery store, it has the island's best poke (the Gorilla Poke Bowl is especially good). Outside in the parking lot is Waikomo Shave Ice with all-natural syrups.
- Also on the south side, Spouting Horn is cool to see, plus Waimea Canyon with its red, red sand. Drive all the way to the end to see the Puʻu O Kila Lookout (right at the start of the Pihea Trail) for a stunning view of the Nā Pali Coast and Kalalau Trail.
- On the north shore, Wishing Well Shave Ice in Hanalei has great açaí bowls. Also stop at Banana Joe's fruit stand.
- From there, keep driving as far west as you can (across many one-lane bridges) to see the vines hanging down from the impossibly-high vertical cliffs which come right up to the road at Keʻe Beach.
- My top tip is to rent a car and drive around, unless you're only there for one or two days.
- The Golden Circle (near Reykjavík) can be touristy, but has some truly amazing sights on it – the three main stops are Þingvellir National Park, Strokkur & Geysir geysers, and Gulfoss waterfall, which are all worth seeing. I really loved Kerið, a crater lake, as well. Brúarfoss is a bit of a trek from the road, especially if it's rainy or muddy, but has the bluest water you will ever see in the world.
- South Iceland is beautiful and amazing, and there is so much to do and see in this area, but definitely requires driving across vast stretches of nothingness. The most stunning waterfall is Seljalandfoss, which you can walk behind, with the enormous Skógafoss (with an optional ~500-step climb to see it from the top) in second place. You can hike up the base of the glacier Eyjafjallajökull. Nearby, walk to the hidden, small, outdoor swimming pool at the base of a mountain called Seljavallalaug. Closer to Vík you have the black sand beaches of Reynisfjara, with columnar basalt (and extremely dangerous sneaker waves, so stay far away from the water), Dyrhólaey arch, and the crashed DC-3 plane on the desolate Sólheimasandur beach (4 km walk from the road).
- In northern Iceland, there are beautiful sights all around Lake Mývatn: the Goðafoss waterfall, pseudocraters in Skútustaðagígar, subterranean caves of Grjótagjá, the Hverir (Námafjall) geothermal area, and Dimmuborgir lava fields. The quaint town of Akureyri (the second-largest in Iceland, with a population of ~18,000) is charming and beautiful in all seasons. The Blue Lagoon is expensive, overrated, and crowded – if you're going up north too, go to the Mývatn Nature Baths instead!
Ask me for specific recommendations for the following places:
- Japan – Tōhoku (Miyagi, Iwate, Aomori, and Akita prefectures), Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Kanazawa, Takayama, Matsumoto
- Europe – Berlin, Stockholm, Northern Sweden (Gällivare, Porjus, Jokkmokk), Madrid