Tokyo is a terrific and terrifying place to eat. While cities in South East Asia, like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur (the region’s top cities for impromptu dining), boast versatility and accessibility, Tokyo is a different monster altogether. The city is enormous, compact, crowded, and shows no respect for your inferior Japanese reading skills. In Tokyo it’s not uncommon for the dining hotspot areas of the city to be comprised entirely of detached, low rise buildings with a restaurant on each floor. These restaurants of varying quality and price range are scattered around and sandwiched together, making it possible to really overcomplicate where to have lunch. This means you really need time to either research, live in an area, or have friends on hand willing you to drag you around to all of their favorite places.
I fall into the later category and we all need friends there to pick us up when we fall… out of the sky and in to their city. That was certainly the case when I missed the connection to my flight to the US and had to be rescheduled for the following day. Luckily I had friends in Tokyo who I could call and who knew that nothing soothes the shock of being unexpectedly stuck like a great sushi and beer binging session. We made our way to the Yoyogi Park area to get some fresh air and visit some shrines, and then we hungrily wandered beyond Harajuku’s queues towards Omotesando. On the way we found Heiroku Sushi, a popular conveyor belt sushi restaurant that luckily had no line outside and exactly two seats available inside.
Photo: Bangkok even has a few spots where you can enjoy a sushi-go-round with overly excited Thai friends like Kozo Sushi in Silom or the mall bound branches of Heiroku Sushi.
Conveyor belt sushi or kaiten sushi has been a thing in Japan since the 70’s, but it’s only the last decade or saw that we’ve seen them popping up in suburbs eons away from Tokyo. Nowadays spotting a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in a Californian suburb has all the surprise of spotting someone driving a Toyota Prius. So while it’s become one of Asia’s most recognizable theme restaurants it’s also synonymous with hungry college kids challenging each other to sushi eating competitions and suspect quality seafood, nightmarishly rotating around a germ infested restaurant. Now that the Heiroku brand of budget sushi has been licensed come to Thailand’s Central Group Malls, I guess it’s some half-hearted step forward that I now associate ‘kaiten sushi’ with mall food instead of food borne illnesses, huh? I guess those two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but I digress…
In Japan kaiten still has an allure to me. Not just because the seafood and the hygiene are better than the rest of the world’s, nor because you’re always eating on a budget in Japan either. Beyond those factors, there’s also the very real sense that in Tokyo the conveyor belt concept still retains value in the hustle and bustle of Japanese cities. That’s certainly the case at the original location of the four decade old Heiroku Sushi, near busy Harajuku. The restaurant is packed with people eating semi-quietly and reaching for the color coded plates of mostly sushi, sashimi, and sashimi-citrus salads. This isn’t so much buffet style binging that you see in the suburbs or yes, in Bangkok, as much as people popping in to get quick, affordable meals. You’ll notice the odd plate of fruit, juice boxes, and desserts making it’s way around the conveyor belt too. The sushi chefs who are stationed inside the perimeter of the conveyor belt, are responsible for creating the sushi available on the belt or taking care of customer’s custom orders for special items not found on the belt, like special sushi rolls.
Food Photos: Assorted sashimi from the conveyor belt, including: fatty, lean, and torched tuna, citrus and salmon with ikura (salmon roe), eel sashimi and grilled teriyaki cod.
As the food is making laps around the room, the stack of plates you snatch off the belt begins to grow. If you’re a sashimi-head like me this is super exciting, and there’s enough selection to disregard the crowded, price tiered menu placed at each seat. I don’t think I had much of look until the chefs came to my area, asking if I’d like anything from the special menu. This is when I snapped at the chance for blow torch seared tuna and unagi plates (Japanese eel).
As long as the fish is good quality, knowing a budget sushi spot is always needed to fill sushi cravings. While there’s some chirashi (rice bowl) options and lots of fancier rolls available I keep it pretty simple which is where a restaurant like Heiroku excels anyway. In total I spent about $26 to stack up all the sushi plates I wanted. In Bangkok you can expect to pay around 600 – 1000 THB per person ($15 – $30), depending on how much you vary towards the 300 THB or pricier seafood options. You’ll find the details for branch in Tokyo and Bangkok below should you become stranded in Tokyo suddenly, or a vacuous Bangkok mall.
Heiroku Sushi Tokyo (Omotesando Branch)
Address: 5-8-5 Jingu-mae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Directions: You can spot their giant sign across the street from Omotesando Hills mall, which is sandwiched on the road between the Meijijingumae and Omotesando stops.
Phone Number: +81 3-3498-3968
Hours: 11am – 9:30pm, Open Daily
Price Range: about $15 – $30 per person
Heiroku Sushi Bankok (Various Branches)
Branches: They’re located in many of the Central brand malls, with the most popular being Central World, Central Bangna, and Central Rama 9.
Directions: Stop moaning about being in the mall, eat sushi, and have a beer (Asahi, preferably).
Phone Number: 02 747 6516
Hours: Same as mall hours, which are usually 10am – 9pm
Price Range: 600 – 1000 THB per person (sushi starts at 49 baht)