Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants: What it’s like to eat at Japan’s ‘Den’

(CNN) — Tuesday evening, Den in Tokyo was offered major honors by the World’s 50 Very best group, recognizing it as the best cafe in Asia.

Den is no stranger to accolades. It has two Michelin stars and has been in the major 10 on the World’s Ideal list in decades earlier. But it also just occurs to be where I ate one of the best meals of my life.

Going to fine dining places to eat can be overwhelming, particularly to a solo traveler. Some of the huge-identify eating places I looked at for my November 2019 excursion to Tokyo wouldn’t even accept a reservation for a single diner.

I put my title on the wait around list at Den, although, and a 7 days ahead of the journey acquired a mobile phone get in touch with confirming I would scored a seat thanks to an odd-numbered get together at the desk future to me. It was like finding out I was likely to a cool kid party or becoming approved into my “reach” college.

Left: Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa with his beloved pup; right, a pillar at Den where customers leave thank-you messages.

Still left: Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa with his beloved pup appropriate, a pillar at Den in which customers go away thank-you messages.

Lilit Marcus/CNN

Even though I was thrilled to get a reservation, I was also nervous — would the working experience be stuffy, official, and complete of ingredient names I might by no means listened to of? Would I depart the cafe emotion like I’d just crossed a little something off of a checklist, or would I truly take pleasure in the meals?

Delightfully, I can say that the response was the latter.

Den is large-stop food with a foolish sense of humor.

In the salad, carrots are sliced thinly and cut in the shape of smiley faces. Japanese-design and style fried hen arrives in a mock rapidly food items takeout box coated in jokes and a goofy picture of the chef. One study course comes with every diner’s national flag stuck in it — a quick survey all-around the small eating area that night time exhibited tiny American (hello), Chinese, Japanese and Canadian flags, which make for good souvenirs of the food.

A serving of "Dentucky Fried Chicken" at Den.

A serving of “Dentucky Fried Chicken” at Den.

Lilit Marcus/CNN

And that isn’t all.

Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa just isn’t the kind of dude who hides out in the kitchen area and allows the food items do the talking. He’s humorous and chatty, with his extended-haired chihuahua Puchi frequently in tow when he pays a go to to the eating space.

Tokyo is one particular of the world’s terrific meals towns. Through my weeklong excursion — my initial-at any time take a look at to Japan — just about every thing I ate was scrumptious, from minimart onigiri to late-night time ramen to super-pricey sushi prepared in front of me.

Now, I can say that one particular of the most unforgettable eateries I have ever visited has been voted the ideal restaurant in all of Asia.

But I can also say that my night at Den was a full whole lot of enjoyable.

Asia’s 50 Ideal Dining places for 2022

1. Den (Tokyo)

2. Sorn (Bangkok)

3. Florilege (Tokyo)

4. Le Du (Bangkok)

5. The Chairman (Hong Kong)

6. La Cime (Osaka)

7. Suhring (Bangkok)

8. Odette (Singapore)

9. Neighborhood (Hong Kong)

10. Nusara (Bangkok)

11. Sazenka (Tokyo)

12. Fu He Hui (Shanghai)

13. Ode (Tokyo)

14. Villa Aida (Wakayama, Japan)

15. Narisawa (Tokyo)

16. Mingles (Seoul)

17. Sezanne (Tokyo)

18. Joo Alright (Seoul)

19. Ensue (Shenzhen, China)

20. Meta (Singapore)

21. Masque (Mumbai)

22. Indian Accent (New Delhi)

23. Les Amis (Singapore)

24. Caprice (Hong Kong)

25. Blue by Alain Ducasse (Bangkok)

26. 7th Door (Seoul)

27. Mosu (Seoul)

28. Da Vittorio (Shanghai)

29. Sushi Masato (Bangkok)

30. Onjium (Seoul)

31. Samrub Samrub Thai (Bangkok)

32. Mono (Hong Kong)

33. Gaa (Bangkok)

34. Wing (Hong Kong)

35. Ministry of Crab (Colombo)

36. La Maison de la Character Goh (Fukuoka, Japan)

37. Zen (Singapore)

38. Logy (Taipei)

39. Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet (Shanghai)

40. Labyrinth (Singapore)

41. Burnt Finishes (Singapore)

42. Ete (Tokyo)

43. Cenci (Kyoto)

44. Cloudstreet (Singapore)

45. JL Studio (Taichung, Taiwan)

46. Raan Jay Fai (Bangkok)

47. Wing Lei Palace (Macao)

48. 8 1/2 Mezzo Bombano (Hong Kong)

49. Megu (New Delhi)

50. Dewakan (Kuala Lumpur)

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