The hamburger undoubtedly is one of America's national foods. Of course, it’s also a popular fast food in Japan, but recent years have seen more and more hamburger restaurants starting to serve authentic gourmet burgers that offer an entirely different level of deliciousness!
We took a closer look at Tokyo’s burger boom and combed the city for three spots that serve “authentic hamburgers,” taste-tested and heartily approved by an American expat! Meet Timothy from the States who’s known as a serious chowhound even among his friends.
“Naturally, the choice of bread, patty, and preparation style is important, but also being serious about the sauce and the toppings” seems to be the American style. Let’s dive right into the tasty topic!
1. Martini Burger in Kagurazaka
Our first recommendation is Martini Burger, not far from Kagurazaka Station. Elliot, the owner, is from New York. His burger shop is picked up by an international magazine from time to time and he has fans all over the world.
His modern, sophisticated store boasts both an atmospheric counter and relaxing table seats, all in all coming off as a stylish bar. In the US, a good burger is often enjoyed with a glass of beer or wine, sometimes even a cocktail, and that concept has been picked up by the shop. Martini glasses and vodka bottles make up the wall right behind the counter as a tasteful, creative decoration that adds plenty of color to the space.
There only was a single dish on the menu back when the store opened back in 2010: the original “Martini Burger,” a patty of 100% beef sandwiched between English muffins. It is said that the owner expanded the selection as guests requested their favorite combination of toppings be put on the menu.
Other original dishes include the voluminous “Skyscraper” (2,190 yen), but also many creations celebrating the city of New York called “Brooklyn,” “Fifth Avenue,” “West Side,” and so on. That lineup is called the “New York Premium Burger Collection” (12 dishes in total, from 1,590 to 1,890 yen). Of course, it’s not hard to imagine that Martini Burger’s menu boasts dishes that are incredibly popular with Japanese people, but especially expats and tourists adore the lineup for its authentic and nostalgic flavors.
Our first order is not only Timothy’s recommendation but also the most popular choice among both Japanese and international gourmets visiting the shop: “Brooklyn” (1,690 yen).
The owner references his favorite shop in New York throughout his menu, combining custom-made bread and 100% beef patty with lettuce and tomato. The “Brooklyn” also comes with sautéed mushrooms and Gouda cheese. The herb butter sauce is served separately in a cocotte, allowing you to use as much or little as you like.
We also get to choose from five side dishes: pickles, potato salad, roasted potatoes, spinach simmered in cream, and macaroni and cheese gratin. This time, we went for roasted potatoes, which is the most popular choice. It’s recommended to eat them with the herb butter sauce!
“I had the Brooklyn and immediately became a fan of Martini Burger. After tasting it once, I couldn’t get it out of my head,” says Timothy as the memory brings a blissful smile to his face.
The burger is served with the top patty on the side, having you put it on the burger yourself to show off the delectable meat patty.
“Enjoy with your eyes, enjoy with your tongue,” and “thoroughly enjoying meat” are two of Martini Burger’s commitments. The owner himself says that he doesn't create burgers (where often the bread might be more substantial than the patty), he creates "meat sandwiches" - so, how’s the taste?
“The bread is neither too hard nor too fluffy. Nice and chewy, it’s very much like American bread. The patty is medium-rare, and the tender meat has a natural taste. It’s juicy but not too greasy and gives me a great balance of umami flavor and natural sweetness. I also like the taste and texture of the sautéed mushrooms, matching the beef patty just perfectly! The cheese pairing is also on point.”
Properly matching the cheese is also part of the American style of hamburger selection. “One of the best parts of this shop is that there aren’t only plenty of hamburgers, there also is a wide variety of cheese,” says Timothy.
We also ordered the “Buffalo” (1,590 yen), the burger that is the favorite of the shop’s international guests.
This burger is a homage to Buffalo wings, the delicious dish that originated in Buffalo, New York State. Tabasco butter gives it a wonderfully spicy zing that is further enhanced by spicy Buffalo sauce, a blue cheese dressing, and Italian parsley.
“It’s a little spicy but not too hot. A simple spiciness, I’d say. You taste the blue cheese first and the spicy sting sets in after a moment or two. The bread soaks up the flavorful meat juice and the sauce, so that’s a really well-rounded blend of flavors. It’s fun to eat, actually.”
The patty that Timothy calls “wonderfully satisfying” is so thick to make the most out of grilling it medium-rare, bringing out the best flavor and texture. On top of that, all sauces and dressings are homemade. Making everything fresh without using frozen ingredients is one of the shop’s sworn commitments. Martini Burger is a place that serves authentic and natural hamburgers served with a hint of New York’s sophisticated atmosphere.
- Address 31 Nakazatochō, Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyō-to 162-0804
- Phone Number 03-6280-8920
Tuesday to Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. (last order at 10:00 p.m.)
Sundays: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. (last order at 9:00 p.m.)
Closed: Mondays (open if Monday is a national holiday and closed on the next regular Tuesday instead)
2. Blacows in Ebisu
Next up is a burger shop called Blacows in Ebisu. It’s a specialty hamburger shop and grill that was founded by the famous Japanese wholesaler Yazawa Meat. The wood grain-adorned shop and its calm, relaxing atmosphere is filled with the subtle sounds of the chefs making fresh burger patties right behind the counter of the open kitchen. It’s a stimulating scenery sure to pique the appetite.
“The first thing that got me curious about the shop was its name, clearly being ‘black’ plus ‘cows.’ That’s interesting, I thought,” says Timothy. “Wagyu beef from Japanese black cows is generally popular, but it has an image of being luxurious and high class.”
That actually is precisely what Yazawa Meat set out to do: changing the image of Japanese beef internationally, encouraging people to be aware of Japanese black beef and actually eating it. That spirit seems to be the main reason for opening the restaurant Blacows.
Blacows’ burgers are made with a full-fledged commitment to authenticity. The shop collaborates with the famous bakery Maison Kaiser to receive custom-baked buns every day, freshly baked in the morning.
As you might have guessed, the patties are 100% wagyu beef from the Japanese black, made by blending sirloin and fillet, the highest-grade steak cuts, with the main parts from the shoulder, shank, and neck. The parts that are moved a lot, such as the neck, are strong and lean, making them a bit tough when prepared as steak, but they’re all the more delicious as ground beef in a patty. By blending in other cuts as well, you get to enjoy several aspects of Japanese black wagyu deliciousness in one patty!
The sauce for the burger uses the “double sauce” system. Homemade barbecue sauce is enriched with the umami flavor and natural sweetness of vegetables while homemade tartar sauce adds a hint of acidity. Combined with the crispy texture and solid taste of the buns, it’s an incredibly delectable balance – that’s the “Blacows Hamburger” (1,700 yen).
Without hesitation, we ordered the “Cheeseburger” (1,700 yen), a hearty recommendation from Timothy.
“Firstly, the bread by itself is delicious! The patty boasts a rich meat taste as well and the texture also feels very meaty. The beef juice, cheese, and sauce are nicely soaked up by the bun, and every single bite fills my mouth with this wonderful balance of flavors,” says Timothy, visibly savoring the taste.
The shop’s style is to have its guests customize vegetable toppings (lettuce, tomato, grilled onion) and cheese to their liking, to be added to the basics of buns, patty, onion marinade, and double sauce. Of course, the burger makeup changes depending on the variety, including different cheese, avocado, meat sauce, and so on – look forward to a wide selection of original toppings and sauces!
French fries and pickles are part of the burger set, but we decided to go with “fried zucchini” for 280 yen extra instead. They are made with semolina (durum wheat) which is lower in sugar than regular flour; a great choice for people who keep an eye on their carbs.
Our second choice is the “Bacon Cheese Avocado Burger” (2,100 yen), one of the most popular items on Blacows’ menu.
The smoky BBQ sauce on top of the flavorful bacon and the creamy texture of the avocado create an amazingly delicious harmony. The burger boasts a gentle sweetness that is in no way overwhelming, and it is further complemented by the French fries made of potatoes from Hokkaido. If you’re looking for an extra sour-spicy flavor kick, order jalapeños as a topping.
For wagyu, it has been considered best to purchase an entire cow, but that practice is difficult for a shop such as Blacows where individual preferences differ quite a lot, Yazawa Meat instead focuses on buying cuts such as sirloin and neck from production areas throughout Japan. Developed by such a meat wholesaler, Blacows offers burgers with exquisite meat of high quality. If you’re after a genuine gourmet experience of wagyu beef, this is definitely the place to go!
Here’s one last recommendation: for extra big eaters, our special tips are the “Big Blacows’ Burger” (3,380 yen) with two patties, as well as the “1 Pound Burger” (3,980 yen), the shop’s pride with a total of 453g beef!
- Address 2-11-9 Ebisunishi, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0021
- Phone Number 03-3477-2914
Hours: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. (last order at 9:00 p.m.)
Closed: open every day (closed from December 31 to January 2)
3. Brozers’ in Ningyocho
Last but not least, we head over to Brozers’, which has opened its doors to burger fans 18 years ago in Tokyo’s Ningyocho neighborhood. “This is a real American-style burger shop in many ways,” says Timothy, offering not only burgers but all sorts of classic American dishes such as sandwiches, hot dogs, salads, sundaes, and so on. With a vast selection rivaling that of a genuine restaurant, choosing is a major part of the experience at Brozers’!
Authentic, full-fledged hamburger shops were still a rarity in Tokyo when the shop first opened 18 years ago. Many places were committed to the taste of base ingredients with simple seasonings such as salt and pepper, so Brozers’ gradually increased its sauces and types of sauce, leading to a menu that’s incredibly rich in variety. There are four base sauces: barbecue, red hot chili, sweet chili, and teriyaki.
Our first order is the “Chili Beans Burger” (1,300 yen), the recommendation by Timothy.
We were totally taken aback just by the height of this burger, each of the toppings thickly arranged on the buns, whetting the appetite just with their look. A truly photogenic burger!
The origami-like folded lettuce is an original idea of the owner. Instead of simply folding the leaves, though, there are deliberate gaps and holes in this salad origami, making for an exquisitely crunchy texture and juicy eating experience.
The bakery-made buns don’t have any margarine in them but instead 100% butter and they’re made to unfold a rich aroma as you bite into them. Baked to a nice golden brown on both sides, they’re crispy all around.
Brozers’ patties are made from 100% Australian beef and infused with Japanese beef tallow. “They’re incredibly juicy and have a nice, natural taste of beef. A hint of spiciness makes for a nice accent in the salt and pepper seasoning,” Timothy has told us about the beef, and indeed, the first mouthful was incredibly juicy and a real flavor bomb. There seems to be coarse black pepper sprinkled on the patty, tickling the tongue with a pleasant piquant sting.
Of course, this gentle spiciness is enhanced by the chili sauce and chili beans. This chili features red kidney beans from Hokkaido which are sweeter than the regular Chilean beans, creating an astounding combination of flavors. Making a large pot of chili s something that pretty much everyone from the States is familiar with, so this burger comes with the sweet feeling of home.
There’s another side to Brozers’ as well, though. “The shop has a lot of Japanese customers, so you’ll find a selection of fusion dishes on the menu as well,” says Timothy. An example of that are the various burgers that come with a fried egg inside. “They look really good, but personally, I don’t order burgers with egg because I end up thinking of it as a Japanese burger after all.”
We wanted to try one of those burgers, though, and asked for the “Bacon Egg Cheese Burger” (1,550 yen).
That one is big as well and comes with Brozers’ original barbecue sauce, made entirely out of natural ingredients and without any artificial seasoning. “I like the sweet, smoky aroma. It’s very tasty” – the sauce gets high praise from Timothy as well. It certainly goes great with the onion rings that are nice and juicy on the inside while offering a crispy crunch on the outside.
By the way, almost all of the shop’s international guests order the milkshake (650 yen) after having enjoyed a satisfying burger meal.
Even the shake is large at Brozers’. The number one flavor that everyone seems to like the most is vanilla – its creamy coldness truly is a perfect dessert!
The shop’s red interior is accentuated with vintage license plates on the walls, authentically evoking the atmosphere of an American diner. It’s just the place to order a cold beer or a fruit cocktail for dinner alongside a burger. Whether noon or night, Brozers’ is a great place for an authentically American gourmet burger experience!
Brozers’ Ningyochoブラザーズ 人形町本店
- Address 2-28-5 Nihonbashi Ningyōchō, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 103-0013
- Phone Number 03-3639-5201
Monday to Thursday: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Fridays, Saturdays, before national holidays: 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Sundays, national holidays: 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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