Harajuku Gyoza Lou is my pick for best place to eat on a budget if you’ve always wanted to walk into a restaurant and order everything on the menu. For about 2,000 yen (plus drinks) you can boast on Facebook about this feat of bigspendermanship while stuffing your gullet with delicious gyoza dumplings. (My dinner companion and I filled up for 1,700 yen, splitting 24 pieces of gyoza and three side dishes.)
For the traveler, this place is great because the food is good and cheap, the menu is straightforward (English version available), and the atmosphere is conducive to mingling. On this particular occasion we chatted with Riko and Eduardo, who were sitting to our right along the back-wall counter.
The simplicity of the menu does not mean there are no decisions to make. If the one-of-everything approach doesn’t suit your mood, you’ll need to choose between grilled and boiled gyoza for starters, then with or without garlic and nira (a kind of onion), and finally how many of the three side dishes you’d like (cabbage, bean sprouts or chopped cukes). I’m generally partial to grilled gyoza, but for some reason the boiled variety at this place wins out. For sides, the cooked cabbage (served cold) was a little too vinegary for me. I’d happily replace that with an extra helping of the bean sprouts topped with a spicy minced pork concoction. The cucumbers were good, too. There is also rice, but we were having none of that.
Specializing in gyoza, of course Harajuku Gyoza Lou serves beer. Some would say the amber nectar is a required accompaniment to the tasty little dumplings. While not exactly cheap at 500 yen per glass, it is cold and served quickly. If big foamy head makes you angry, however, learn to say “awa nashi de” (no head) like you mean it.
There is often a wait for seats at peak times, but it’s a high-turnover establishment and the queue has pace. Counter seats are lively and conducive to solo or pair dining, while the few tables by the windows seat four (or perhaps a cozy six). Sadly there is no non-smoking section, though I’ve found it tolerable on all but one of my half-dozen visits. Stick to the counter if smoke is an issue, as the tables are more likely to put you downwind of some unwelcome fumes. Or just get your gyoza to go—take-out is available.
In a world that values customization and limitless options, Harajuku Gyoza Lou’s three-word name is almost as long as its no-frills food list. Don’t fancy gyoza? Don’ eat here.