A Solitary Gourmet Adventure Along the JR Chuo Line: Hawaiian Oxtail Soup, Yakitori, Moroccan Tagine, and More

There are many great restaurants found around the stations of the JR Chuo Line that connects Tokyo Station and Takao Station in Hachioji City. Some of them have even appeared on the "Solitary Gourmet" TV show, which over the years has gained fans all over the world. Many can’t get enough of the protagonist, Goro Inogashira, visiting Japan's local restaurants and enjoying a quiet, delicious meal on his own. For this issue of our "Area of Japan" series, we’ve visited some of the restaurants around Asagaya and Nishi-Ogikubo stations that have appeared on Solitary Gourmet. Here's what we thought about them!

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Restaurants Along the JR Chuo Line That Have Appeared on Solitary Gourmet

Season 4, Episode 8: YO-HO's cafe Lanai – A Restaurant in Asagaya Serving Oxtail Soup and Other Authentic Hawaiian Delicacies

Asagaya in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, has long been a popular residential area, with Asagaya Station and its vicinity always swarming with people. Asagaya Pearl Center, a great local shopping destination around the station’s East Exit, is lined with a variety of stores that give the area its unique character and charm. During episode 8 of season 4 of Solitary Gourmet, Goro Inogashira visited Asagaya Station on a hot day which reminded him of the tropics, so he decided to check out YO-HO's cafe Lanai, a hidden-away Hawaiian restaurant.

It’s only a 5-minute walk along a narrow street from the station’s East Exit to the eatery, which opened in 2013. It’s operated by the cheerful and energetic couple of Mr. Horikawa and his wife. There is no billboard or sign that clearly marks where the Hawaiian cafe is, and the randomly placed plants make the restaurant look more like a private house. But that all just adds to its relaxing atmosphere that makes customers feel as if they were popping over for a visit to see their friends.

Inside the restaurant, you’ll find three to five tables arranged around a cozy little space decorated with colorful flower garlands, ukuleles, and other Hawaiian ornaments. In one corner, information about the cafe’s appearance on Solitary Gourmet is proudly displayed. The recommended menu items include Hawaiian oxtail soup, garlic edamame appetizers, and mochiko chicken, all of which Goro enjoyed onscreen. At the time of our visit, the acai bowl that also made an appearance on the show was unfortunately not available, but our hearts were still racing with anticipation at the thought of all the other delicious dishes that awaited us.

As each dish arrived, the proprietress stood by the table and kindly explained more about each dish, including the best way to eat it. We started with the garlic edamame appetizer. Unlike the light, salty edamame you usually see in Japan, these green soybeans are served in a juicy sauce with plenty of chopped garlic. The beans have a very strong garlic aroma and a peppery flavor to them. The mix of slight saltiness and spiciness definitely leaves an impression and makes you want to eat more and more.

Next came the mochiko chicken. The "mochiko" in its name refers to the rice cake flour that’s usually used to make dumplings, which is used in the batter for this fried chicken dish. In Hawaii, chicken is usually fried in salad oil, but YO-HO's cafe Lanai uses an air fryer, which gives the chicken a crispier, aromatic texture on the outside while leaving it tender and savory on the inside with just the right balance of saltiness and sweetness.

Finally, it was time for the main dish: oxtail soup. The soup is filled with plenty of floating cilantro and green onions, as well as domestic oxtail that has been simmered for more than 6 hours with pork bones, plenty of aromatic vegetables, shiitake mushrooms, kombu seaweed, orange peel, and various other spices. It is finished with Hawaiian salt. Following the owner's instructions, we first took a small sip of just the broth.

Next, we put plenty of chopped ginger in a small dish, poured soy sauce over it, and dipped the oxtail in it. The oxtail is as big as your fist, but it’s cooked so long that it becomes tender enough to cut with just chopsticks. The oxtail bone is rich in gelatin and collagen, so we eagerly devoured it hoping that it might be good for our skin. Oxtail can be eaten with rice, or mixed with rice, ginger, and soy sauce once the soup is about half gone to create a sort of rice porridge. As time went on, the soup became richer and more aromatic, making it a truly memorable dish.

We finished the Hawaiian-inspired lunch with some ice cream. Vanilla and chocolate with sauce and fresh banana slices instantly helped us forget the heat and cool down.

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Season 5, Episode 3: Yebisu Nishi Ogi South – Delicious Grilled Chicken Skewers That the Locals Love

Ogikubo, which makes up most of Suginami Ward, was once a gathering place for writers, artists, musicians, and other people of culture. Between Ogikubo and Kichijoji stations on the JR Chuo Line, you’ll find Nishi-Ogikubo Station, the center of what locals call “Nishi Ogi,” an area sandwiched between the Zenpukuji River to the north and Itsukaichi Road to the south. Nishi Ogi is known today for its many unique stores such as antique shops, cafes, bookstores, and taverns.

During the third episode of season 5 of Solitary Gourmet, Goro Inogashira visited Nishi Ogikubo at the invitation of one of his upperclassmen, whom he spotted drinking alone at an izakaya-style tavern while walking through an alley lined with bars. Although Goro didn’t actually eat here, this eatery still made an appearance on the show, so we chose it as one of the destinations for our visit.

As an area known for its drinking culture, Nishi Ogikubo boasts a very friendly and inviting atmosphere. During our visit, we saw many people greeting each other on the street. There are many locally-owned taverns and bars in the area, including Yebisu, which has been a local favorite for 50 years since its establishment in 1973. It’s popular among the locals for its quality yet very affordable yakitori grilled chicken and other skewers. The main Yebisu restaurant is located around the South Exit of Ogikubo Station, with a branch found around the North Exit. We visited the main branch, located about a one-minute walk from the station, as that was the same one that was featured on the show.

Yebisu only uses the freshest domestic ingredients in their cooking. Every detail, from the food to the preparation, is carefully considered, including the use of bincho-tan white charcoal for grilling the yakitori. It’s these delicious skewers that have won the hearts and minds of the locals. In addition to the standard yakitori menu, Yebisu also serves a variety of izakaya menu items. Although we visited on a weekday afternoon, the restaurant was packed with customers, including an older gentleman dining alone and a group of young people.

We first ordered the tasting set (with salt) consisting of pork tongue, heart, skirt steak with spring onion, chicken skin with bell pepper, chicken meatballs, and neck meat skewers. The ingredients were seasoned with just the right amount of salt that helped the natural fresh flavor of the ingredients stand out. The neck meat was particularly memorable because it was both juicy and chewy, and you rarely find it at other restaurants. We also ordered the boneless chicken thigh with sauce, chicken skin, liver, and quail egg skewers, all of which were very tasty and paired beautifully with their exquisite sweet and spicy sauce.

In addition to yakitori, we also had a cabbage and miso sauce salad, sardine croquette, karaage, and beef offal stew with tofu. The sardine croquette is a specialty of Yebisu. It’s made from a whole stuffed sardine that’s breaded and fried until golden brown and topped with tartar sauce. The idea of a sardine croquette seemed quite novel to us since we had never seen anything like it before. It was very unique and delicious, with the thick, fresh sardine meat pairing well with the texture of the mashed potato stuffing. All it took was one bite for us to immediately understand why it was so popular.

Season 5, Episode 3: tam tamu – Enjoy the Taste of North Africa at This Authentic Moroccan Restaurant in Nishi Ogikubo

Our journey into the world of Solitary Gourmet reached its final destination as we arrived at the tam tamu Moroccan restaurant located around the South Exit of Nishi Ogikubo Station. In the third episode of season 5, the main character Goro, after meeting his schoolmate, was hungry and decided to look for somewhere to eat. Walking along the railroad tracks from the tavern and bar area, he spotted a restaurant with a large red flag hanging at the entrance and decided to enter. This is where tam tamu used to be before moving to a new location.

Every inch of the restaurant felt exotic, from the beautiful decor to the deep texture of the walls and the lace hanging from the ceiling. Because we weren't familiar with Moroccan cuisine, we ordered the same things as Goro with the help of the restaurant’s lovely waitress. We were excited to see what Moroccan cuisine tasted like!

As a side note, in one corner of the restaurant, we spotted the autographs of Masayuki Kusumi, the author of the Solitary Gourmet manga, and Yutaka Matsushige, who played Goro Inogashira.

First, we were served mint tea. You can choose to have it hot or iced, and on this particular day, we ordered ours hot. It came with a silver, elaborately-carved Moroccan pot. It was so stunning, it looked more like an ornament. The tea was refreshing and slightly sweet, which whetted our appetites.

Harira soup, a typical Moroccan home-style dish, is similar to Japanese miso soup. It’s said that every family in Morocco seasons harira in their own way, making it a true taste of home for many Moroccans. The dish is made from tomatoes, vegetables, chicken, spices, and chickpeas, with cilantro on the side. The slightly thick soup is very flavorful and warms you down to your core.

Brik is a Moroccan dish similar to dumplings, but completely different from the Chinese or Japanese versions. In Morocco, the dish is made from mashed potatoes, ground meat, and a half-boiled egg all wrapped in dough and cooked. When you cut the center with a knife, the yolk starts to flow out. With an extra squeeze of lemon, the crispy, savory crust, the runny yolk, and the smooth mashed potato all fluttered deliciously in our mouths.

We then had fresh, homemade bread with hummus, which is a paste made from chickpeas. Chickpeas are said to be very healthy as they’re rich in fiber, protein, vitamin B, and other nutrients. The smooth paste with its rich bean aroma went really well with the soft and chewy bread.

Then it was time for the main course. One cannot talk about Moroccan cuisine without mentioning tagine, a dish named after the kind of pot it’s made in, whose special shape locks in and enhances the natural flavors of the ingredients put in it. We ordered the green peas and beef tagine, which consisted of large chunks of beef, slow-cooked potatoes, zucchini, and carrots that were brimming with flavor. The stars of the show were the savory beef and the sweet vegetables.

The lamb hamburger steak, the restaurant’s signature dish, is an original creation of tam tamu. The meat is first kneaded into a circular shape and then steamed in a tagine pot, allowing you to enjoy the natural sweetness and slight chewiness of the lamb. The sauce is made from a unique blend of cumin and other spices. This dish is a must-try for lamb lovers.

Another classic Moroccan dish served here is couscous, a kind of grain-like pasta made with water and durum wheat semolina. At tam tamu, it is served together with a variety of steamed seafood, including fresh mussels, squid, and shrimp. The couscous had a fragrant nutty aroma and sweetness to it, and the harissa sauce laid out on the side of the plate added a slight kick of spiciness to the dish that only elevated the flavors of the high-quality ingredients. It was a wonderful treat that really opened our eyes to the essence of Moroccan cooking.

A Solitary Gourmet Adventure Along the JR Chuo Line

Following the path of Goro Inogashira in Solitary Gourmet, we explored several restaurants near the Asagaya and Nishi Ogikubo stations on the JR Chuo Line. This led us to make several amazing culinary discoveries, including a Hawaiian restaurant with authentic oxtail that has gripped the hearts of the locals, a popular grilled skewer shop renowned for its use of super fresh ingredients, and a rare Moroccan restaurant that uses all sorts of interesting ingredients and spices to tantalize the locals' taste buds. But we just know that there's far more lurking within the neighborhoods along the JR Chuo Line, and we hope that you'll take this as an opportunity to kickstart your own Chuo Line gourmet adventure!


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Kanto Feature

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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About the author

Fuchi Pan
Tokyo based Taiwanese writer/ editor. Passionate about Japanese food culture, culinary traditions and local/seasonal quality ingredients.
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