Experience Tokyo dining the way it used to be, at an eatery loved by locals.

Shinjuku is one of the most exciting districts in Tokyo, where neon lights and giant billboards give the place a futuristic, modern vibe, and the area around the station is always bustling with life and activity.

In amongst the bright lights are some hidden gems, though, including one longstanding restaurant that’s been serving up meals to hungry patrons for over a century. Called Naganoya, this humble-looking establishment is located across the street from the southeast exit of the station, standing out on the landscape with its bright red awning.

Anyone who’s never been here before is likely to feel a bit unsure about stepping inside, given that it looks as if it’s a place only frequented by locals. While the restaurant does have its loyal regular customers, first-timers are always welcome, and it’s definitely worth a visit, not only for the retro, old-school vibe, but the food it serves inside.

▼ At the front of the restaurant is a handwritten poster that reads “Founded in 1915“, meaning this establishment is one year shy of its 110th anniversary.

▼ In keeping with the old-school vibe, this restaurant is a cash-only establishment.

Judging by the photos outside, there are a wide variety of meals to choose from, but what stands out is the fact that the curry dishes use an exclusive roux called “Yellow Curry of Happiness“.

The curry, and its promise of happiness, is enough to pique the interest of any passerby, and when you open the door to the cafeteria, you’ll feel as if you’re stepping into a place time forgot.

The inside of the restaurant is set up like an old-school public dining room, with simple tables and chairs and bright lighting. It’s a place that’s popular with office workers, who order beers with their food after work, and most of the clientele are in their 40s or older.

▼ Customers here prioritise value for money and a no-fuss, homely atmosphere over trendy restaurants.

Although the restaurant serves up a regular Curry Rice for 800 yen (US$4.98), the katsu curry (cutlet curry) is also highly recommended by regulars, and it’s on the menu for 990 yen.

It barely takes five minutes for meals to be ready here, which is great for hungry diners. Unlike most restaurants, where the roux and rice sit half-and-half on the plate, the roux here is served all over the rice so all you can see is curry.

This gives it the feel of a retro restaurant, where meals are served up with minimal fuss but lots of flavour, and that’s exactly what you’ll find here. Although the roux might not be as yellow as it looks on  the poster advertising it outside, it’s quite bright in terms of Japanese curry, and it has a homely flavour.

People looking for spiciness will be left wanting as there’s very little kick to the dish, but for most curry lovers, that’s part of the appeal of a good Japanese curry. The cutlet is freshly fried and delightfully crunchy, while the roux has a thick and moreish texture that delivers loads of nostalgia.

▼ It’s just like a Japanese curry you grow up eating at home.

With its extensive menu and calm interior, Naganoya is a hidden oasis in Shinjuku that’s highly regarded by those in the know. It’s also a great place to step back in time and experience the Japan of yesteryear, both in the interior design and the photos on the walls.

▼ This photo was taken in the ’60s, when an oyakodon (chicken-and-egg rice bowl) cost just 50 yen.

It just goes to show that when it comes to dining out in Japan, you should never judge a restaurant by the way it looks. Sometimes it’s the more rundown-looking places that serve up the real Japanese food loved by locals, and when they stand the test of time like this, you know they must be good!

Restaurant Information

Naganoya / 長野屋
Address: Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-35-7
Open: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Closed Wednesdays

Photos ©SoraNews24
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