When you think of a culinary-fuelled trip in Tokyo, what comes to mind? Sushi from Masuda? Ramen from Fu-unji? Maybe. And while we don’t recommend skipping the classics, it’s your moral imperative to make some space for a new wave of Japanese fare: Neapolitan-style pizza.
Some of the most obsessive pizza makers have crafted a new type of Neapolitan pizza — one that’s unique to Japan, while paying respect to the Italian pie. This new wave of Japanese pizza arguably rivals some of the best you can get in Italy. From the eight-seat Savoy in Roppongi, to Seirinkan, widely regarded as a Japanese pizza institution, here’s where to get the absolute best pizza in Japan (and perhaps the world).
Nestled into an unassuming corner building in Roppongi, Savoy is a neighborhood pizza institution, that, at any given day, is flooded with locals and visitors alike.
“Italian flavor and tradition meets Japanese precision and dedication in this Tokyo pizzeria where they only do two types of pies, Marinara and Margherita. I’ve lived in Italy and while things sounds blasphemous the best pizza I’ve had in my life was here,” Aziz Ansari told CNTraveler.
The small pizza shop may only tout two types of pizza, but, true to Japanese form, does both of them flawlessly. Upon entering the tiny shop, guests will sit around the wood oven, which is arguably the star of the show, and watch the pizza master churn out pie after pie with precision and know-how.
The godfather of Japanese-style Neapolitan pizza, Seirinkan has been on the same block on the south side of Nakameguro Station for the past 22 years. While “Seirinkan” literally translates into “the house of holy or sacred wood,” owner and chef Susumu Kakinuma doesn’t credit his pizza awakening to a holy experience, in fact, his inspiration came from watching American films as a teenager, specifically Saturday Night Fever.
“The first time I thought pizza looked amazing was in the scene where John Travolta is walking around. I mean, I know pizza is from Italy, but damn, that looked good.” Kakinuma told Eater in an interview.
Despite getting his initial inspiration from American movies, Kakinuma is adamant that his pizzas are not American or Italian-style, they’re Japanese.
“Look, Japanese people are really free. What I mean by that is, Japanese pray on New Year’s Day at a Shinto shrine, get married in a Christian church, and hold their funerals at a Buddhist temple,” Kakinuma said, “They’re beholden to no single point of view. What’s wonderful about pizza is that it really is a bit like sushi. You don’t touch the base ingredients. Your goal is to pull the richest inherent flavor from the ingredients at hand.”
Run by Kengo Inoue, a former employee of Kakinuma, Pizza Dada is nestled into the famous Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine in Kamakura, about 45 minutes by train outside of metro Tokyo. The quaint pizza shop looks more like an old-school ramen shop than a Neapolitan hot spot, but once you step beyond the faded wood doors, you’re transported into what feels like an Italian grandmother’s kitchen — or at least her Japanese pied a terre.
Pizza Dada goes beyond just Neapolitan pizza (which should not be missed). While they’re serving up 11 different variations of pie, they’ve also added a slew of sides made to complement the pies. Think made-to-order calamari, spicy cucumber salad, Japanese-style chips, and pasta.
Pizza Studio Tamaki
Another protegee of Kakinuma, Pizza Studio Tamaki, or PST, is run by chef and owner Tsubasa Tamaki. While PST may be considered the little sister to Seirinkan, its taken just as seriously as pizza master Susumu Kakinuma.
“There is no room for mistake in the center. Timing has to be perfect,” Tamaki tells Eater, “flaring up the fire, glazing the dough, giving it just the slightest hint of bitterness from the wood. That bitterness deepens all the other flavors and amplifies the umami.”
Tucked into a quiet block in Minato-Ku, PST is a quaint, indoor-outdoor dining space with a 10-seat bar that snakes around chef’s workspace, making the wood oven and prep area an important part of the overall feel of the restaurant. The menu includes classics and creative pies, including a vegetarian “Tamaki” pizza that boasts smoked mozzarella Pecorino Romano hard cheese and basil leaf.
Originally helmed by Tamaki before he left to open his own PST, this pizza joint, also in Minato-Ku, touts anywhere between five to ten pizzas, depending on the month and seasonal ingredients on hand. The stand-out pies include the marinara and the “Strada” pie, a Margherita with smoked mozzarella, likely the brainchild of Tamaki.
If you’re pressed for time, Pizza Strada may be your best bet. The bustling Italian-Japanese restaurant touts an expansive European-style terrace, which allows the restaurant to service nearly 50 patrons at a time.