2-28-7 Sendagi, Bunkyo-ku
Nearest station: Sendagi (Chiyoda line)
Open Tue-Sat 11:30am-4pm and 6pm-midnight, Sun 11:30am-9pm (L.O. 8pm), closed Mon
It would be easy to walk past the dingy exterior of Rainbow Kitchen without giving it a second look. Doing so, however, would mean missing one of Tokyo’s best hamburgers.
The rusty corrugated metal and rough bleached wood that make up the façade are a carefully designed ruse. This funky little spot looks like it’s been rusticating for decades, but in fact Rainbow Kitchen is only going on six.
Owner/chef Kotomi Sakaguchi has a thing for unpretentious Americana, thus the decor of sun-faded Pepsi and Coca-Cola signs, pine plank flooring, and vintage ’70s illuminated menu sign with crooked slip-in plastic letters, the type that has graced countless greasy spoon diners across all 50 states.
But Sakaguchi also has a thing for simple, great-tasting food. She plays her industrial-size flat-top griddle like a Hammond B3 organ, turning out juicy, soul-satisfying fare and giving a hamburger the respect it deserves.
The bacon cheeseburger (¥1,100) is my current heartthrob. Each hand-formed pure-beef patty weighs in around 115 grams. Briefly seared, it’s covered with a metal bell for concentrated frying. A row of five petite slices of bacon are laid out to sizzle. The halves of a sturdy, specially-baked bun are set to properly toast, front and back, on the griddle. Then Sakaguchi readies the accoutrements: a crisp bed of iceberg lettuce, a slice of ripe tomato, a dollop of mayo and another of her housemade special sauce, and finally, the touch that puts this burger into my hall of fame: a spoonful of slow-roasted caramelized onions.
Under the bell, the almost-ready meat is given its robe of cheddar cheese. After a good melt, the burger is quickly assembled and served with a small mound of curly fries as cute as pigtails, a dill pickle, and those linchpins of diner food—red and yellow squeeze bottles of ketchup and mustard. Slip the sandwich into a wax-paper sheath and dig in with both hands.
Twelve other burgers are on the menu, such as the monstrous double cheeseburger (¥1,400), the Hawaiian with grilled pineapple (¥1,000), or the “Samurai” with roasted naga-negi, sesame and teriyaki sauce (¥1,050). You can also customize your burger with toppings such as avocado, spinach, a fried egg, or chili, or with sauces like BBQ, tartar, or Thai sweet chili. Other sandwiches include a BLT with egg or avocado (¥950), roasted pork and leek (¥1100) and tuna and avocado (¥1,000).
Sakaguchi also turns out some 20 side dishes, each carefully prepared and presented. Under my belt so far are a small order of crisp, finger-lickin’ onion rings (¥400); a very fine cup of chili beans, savory with roasted onion and spicy notes of cumin (¥500); and a nicely crafted green salad with Caesar dressing (¥700). In the evening, Rainbow Kitchen slips into bar mode with an expanded menu, single malt whisky, beer, shochu, and a full range of cocktails.
Sendagi is the starting point for exploring Yanaka, one of Tokyo’s most picturesque neighborhoods. Be sure to make Rainbow Kitchen part of your itinerary.