Den in Tokyo, Japan

Fun. Whimsy. Hard work. Devotion. And a little dog named Pichu whose enthusiasm in greeting guests rivals that of his celebrity chef owner, Zaiyu Hasegawa. In a culture where spontaneity and silliness are rarely seen in fine dining, Den infuses humor into nearly every course. The team first struck me for their warmth and smiles but then for their focus and intensity.

Top tastes include the saline natural-umami of the salted kombu salad dressing (with that smiley carrot!) and the sweet-tender beef main dish which has a multi-day preparation process including a week of marination in broth.

A friend of the chef tells me the team often sleeps only three hours. Den is their life. That's how they won the Art of Hospitality Award 2017 and ranked #45 World's 50 Best Restaurants and #11 Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.