The Quest for Japan’s Best Hamburger: Part 1 – Awajishima!?

Awajishima Burger: The Best Burger in Japan
Awajishima Burger: Possibly the best in Japan

Update: We like hamburgers so much, that we are going to turn this article into a multi-part series called, “The Quest for Japan’s Best Hamburger”.

We will rank some of Japan’s less known, but more tasty (or not!) burger joints. We will rate each one using the following simple system. How good the burger is earns it between zero and three “stippies” as follows:

  • 0 stippies: We’ll never go back to these places, and we’ll let you know why you should avoid them.
  • 1 stippy: A hearty feast but nothing to write home about. You’d choose it over most other restaurants in the area but wouldn’t go out of your way to visit the area just to have a hamburger here.
  • 2 stippies: you can tell that the owner has spent time considering the balance of his hamburgers. Ingredients are procured directly from farms and other small scale suppliers who care about the taste of their product.
  • 3 stippies: ecstasy. You can’t get a 3 stippy ranking without at least one tear of joy being shed by the author.

Review # 1 – Awajishima Burger, Hyogo:
I don’t take my burgers lightly. As a big fan of hardcore burgers and an unforgiving critic of cheap imitations, I am on a seemingly endless search for Japan’s perfect burger for more than a decade. While I’m always hesitant to claim that I have found the Emperor of all burgers (because then I wouldn’t have an excuse to go out eating burgers every weekend!!), I think I have come pretty damn close.

Awajishima Burger SignMy chance discovery was on the way home from Shikoku the other day. As we were driving over the whirlpools of Naruto (鳴門の渦潮) the road sign to Awajishima (淡路島) triggered a memory buried deep in the back of my mind which had nothing to do with the actual island (which forms a bridge from Shikoku to Honshu) that I was about to drive over. I’d been waiting months for an excuse to try out the cult-like 淡路島バーガー (“Awajishima Burger”) but without a car at home (Awajishima burger is – for some unknown reason – not in Awajishima, but in the heart of Nishinomiya, Kobe) this was the first day I was going to come anywhere near it.

You’d be forgiven for never having heard of Awajishima Burger. There is only one restaurant in the whole of Japan. It is nothing more than a sub 20 square meter hole in the wall of the wholesale market in Nishinomiya. It might be a small restaurant, but they certainly make one colossal hamburger.

The philosophy of the owner, Motoi Koshie (越栄基), is simple: To transform the hamburger from being “just another fast food” in to something remotely healthy. He only uses fresh organic vegetables (picture) from farmers that he has met over the years while traveling in Awaji Island. The concept seems to be working, as there was a semi-permanent queue outside during lunch time. What surprised me even more was that over 2/3 of the clientele that visited his restaurant while I was there were females in their 20s or 30s (here is the photographic evidence: Yes, I did count, because I didn’t believe my eyes!). I have to admit though, that I went there because the sheer volume of their infamous (in some circles) burger appealed to me, but why shouldn’t it – an organic hamburger – be a chic health food???

There are two items on the menu at Awajishima. A large (650 yen) and a regular (500 yen). If you’re anything like me and you grew up in the “it takes two hands to handle a whopper” era then you are gonna want to order the large. It comes with tomato, lettuce and sauteed onions and of course a burger smothered in Koshie’s secret sauce. The hamburger patty is pure beef and Koshie claims that the beef (from his friend’s farm in Awaji) is so soft and juicy that you can eat it raw.Inside Awajishima Burger While I had my burger “medium”, I can testify that the patty melted in my mouth. For an extra 100 yen per item, you can add any of the following four toppings:

  • Smoked bacon (home made)
  • Fried egg (free range – damn! I didn’t know they even existed in Japan!)
  • Cheese (fresh from the dairy farm)
  • Onion Rings (The sweetest onions in Awajishima)

I went for the first three and was more than satisfied. If you add in Onion rings, the burger ends up being 15+ cm tall and even if you can hold the thing, you’re gonna struggle fitting it in your mouth. That said, under no circumstances should you miss out on ordering the Onion Rings. (You can buy a side order for 150 yen.) Order a couple before you leave to nibble on the way home as they are hard to beat. I’m not 100% sure but maybe he sautés the onion rings before he fries them. Let me know if you think you can work out the secret to their flavour.

Kona Beer: Available at Awaji BurgerI can hear you asking… what about the drink menu. Yes. A hamburger wouldn’t be quite the same without an ice cold beer to wash it down with. Although it has absolutely nothing to do with Awaji Island, I was pretty pleased with their stash of Hawaiian Beer. Longboard Island Larger, from Kona Beer is so smooth that you don’t even feel guilty drinking it after a heavy hamburger meal. Most of the locals around me were drinking coke but I definitely recommend the Larger (500 yen) with yours.

So this leaves me asking the question: Is this the best hamburger in Japan? To me it scored high in all categories. The burger was soft and juicy and you could tell that there was no cheap tsunagi (bread crumbs etc) holding it together like most excuses for hamburgers. The buns were soft and bouncy yet they were strong enough to withstand the onslaught from Koshie’s special sauce until the end of my meal. (Apparently he spent three months perfecting the buns with a local bakery.) To me having bacon and egg in a burger is a must and so doesn’t score any extra brownie points, but I really enjoyed biting into that home-made bacon though. Yummm. Despite being cooked after you order, the burgers come out fast and service is efficient. Given the volume, I don’t think I can argue that the price is too steep (especially when you think of the inflation at all of the other hamburger chains these days.) A little birdie tells me that Koshie had some advice from a Kiwi burger enthusiast when he was designing the contents of his burgers. What extras could I have asked for? Maybe pineapple? or beet-root? But that’s about it. The secret sauce on the patty is pretty good but it probably isn’t essential. If anything, it might taste more “organic” without it.

The Verdict: We know it is first off the bat in our new series, but Awajishima Burger gets 3 stippies. It was tantalising joy.

How to get there?: If you’re driving from Kyoto/Osaka down RouteRoute 171 Kobe, take a left at 札場筋 (Fudabasuji) onto RouteKobe Route 2. Drive past the Nishinomiya City Office (西宮市役所) then hang a left before the Esso Service Station directly after the second set of traffic lights on the far side of the Higashi River (東川). Awajishima is then about 15m on your right hand side next to a dim coffee shop called Hikari (喫茶ひかり) and just before the entrance to the Nishinomiya Eastern Wholesale market (西宮東地方卸売市場). If you reach the Mos Burger on Route 2 then you have gone too far (in more than one respect).

If you’re walking from the station then you can get their from either Hanshin or JR (both Nishinomiya Station – 西宮駅) but it’s a little bit closer to JR if you have the choice and can afford the premium. If you live on the Hankyu line then Hanshin Kokudo (阪神国道駅) is the closest station but it’s the furthest of the three. It’s a little bit hard to find so it’s probably better to study the Google Map (below) in depth before leaving home.

Awajishima Burger (淡路島バーガー) – Some more details:
Address: 4-1 Ikedacho, Nishinomiya, Hyogo (西宮市池田町4-1 西宮東地方卸売市場内)
Phone: 080-3036-4373
Business hours: 11AM~8PM (except Wednesdays which are holidays)
Official homepage: http://www.web-joho.com/awaji/
Map for Dummies:
Map to Awajishima Burger
Google Map:

View Larger Map

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Have you found an equally tantalizing burger in the land of the Rising Sun? In particular, I’d love to hear about any of the cult burger shops in Sasebo (Here is the Sasebo Burger Guide Mapif you are keen!). Should I plan my next Golden Week to visit Nagaski? If anyone has tasted a hamburger that might rival the Awajishima, then I’m waiting with a long neck to hear about it. Please write about it in the comments section below, or even better, send us some pictures and your story!

32 thoughts on “The Quest for Japan’s Best Hamburger: Part 1 – Awajishima!?”

  1. In Tokyo I swear by the Oak Door Burger at the Oak Door Restaurant. It is located within the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi Hills. The meat is thick and juicy, the sauce is tangy and it includes bacon, salad and fries. It’s a little expensive but beats Homework’s and Kua`aina in my humble opinion. All that said, I would love to try the Awajishima burger – it sounds fantastic.

  2. Yeah, I used to think that the burger at Kua’aina was something special. I’d sneak down their on my scooter during lunch break with a co-worker for a bit of an escape from the usual Roppongi food fare. It wasn’t until I came back to the states and had a real burger that I remembered that Kua’aina is probably the last burger joint I’d visit in Hawaii anyway (with the exception of Carl’s Jr.!!). Give me an “It’s all good” burger from Cheese Burger Waikiki instead anyday.

  3. The Oak Door!? I went there once for a work dinner, and the steaks were 6000 yen. When you say a little expensive, exactly how expensive? Although the Oak Door is hardly a cult burger joint, I do think they would do a wicked burger.. How was the size? Could you eat it with your hands, or was that not appropriate.

    There are quite a few people on the net that talk about Awajishima Burger. I guess they must be quite special seeing as they only have one shop, but so much word of mouth publicity.

    For me, I have to settle for my local MOS Burger. I cant stand McDonalds, but really like to hunk into a MOS “Thousand Island” burger (previously, this hamburger was called the “Freshness Burger” at MOS, but I assume the Japanese burger chain of the same name had something to do with changing that one…)

  4. By expensive I’m talking 2600 yen (from memory!) but then it does come with onion rings and fries.
    I always ate it with my hands. I figure for meat of that quality (pure beef, no filler, not too greasy, cooked to order) and quantity (the patty would have to weigh somewhere between a third and half a pound) including bacon it wasn’t terrible value. Not an every day burger, just a sometimes burger. You can order the burger at any time of day.

    I know it is a far cry from a cult burger joint but fine burgers can show up anywhere. One tip – don’t order a coke, they are 900 yen. (!)

  5. Awajishima Burger is the best hamburger on the planet.

    Thanks for the great review, I was going to get around to posting mine, but you said everything I was going to. I go there at least once a month. It’s heaven.

    Some other things about the shop that first timers might want to know:

    -On the weekends you cannot call in your order, but weekdays you can call ahead.

    -They have a parking problem. There is a sign up asking customers not to use the parking or block the entrance to the market next door, during certain times of the day you can use the parking lot across the street however. I always end up double parking as nicely as possible.

    Other Hanshin burger shops I frequent:

    Candy, an American import goods shop, just opened a new burger place in the Minami Ashiya Hama area of Ashiya city (between Nishinomiya and Kobe’s Higashi-Nada Ward). I just went there the other day. While quite good it’s no where close to Awajishima Burger. Here’s their home page.
    http://www.ashiya-burger.com/

    Flowers restaurant in Kurakuenguchi, Nishinomiya has a good burger. They use to also run a restaurant in a bus called Wheelers in front of Hanshin Nishinomiya station which is closed now.
    http://www.goflowers.jp/index2.html

    Esquerre (エスケール) in Yamaguchi-cho, Nishinomiya is really good too but hard to get to with out a car or knowledge of bus routes in the area. Their bread is also amazing.
    http://www.yakitate-pan.com/index.html

    My girlfriend makes a decent hamburger at the Wexford Tavern in Kurakuenguchi, Nishinomiya. Good if you’re in the neighborhood. (Disclamer: I work there also)
    http://www.wexfordtavern.com/

    Click over to my blog and send me an email if you want better directions to any of these shops! :D

    Enjoy burger hunting.

  6. Well this sounds like a fantastic burger for sure.
    The best burger i’ve had so far here is easily
    from ‘This is the Burger’ in the Tama area, West of
    Tokyo. I think there are three store locations.
    These arent your average crap Japanese Burgers, but
    more like big, grilled American Style. Decent price too, especially
    with the combo order.
    Damn good, damn good!!!!!!

  7. The Grail pub in Nishi-Azabu; the chef has refrained from making burgers during certain months as the humidity was not right for making buns. If you order a brownie, you have to wait for almost a half hour while he whips it up from scratch and bakes it.

  8. Also the fries at Kua’aina are horrible. AJ Burger cafe in Minami-Aoyama/Omotesando is almost exactly like Kua’aina but in a nicer, Japanese cute Omotesando Sunday snack cafe sort of way

  9. As a hamburger lover, I firmly believe that FUNGO! has the best burgers in town. They just do things right. I’ve been to lots of restaurants in Tokyo but by far their burgers are best! I think it may be because of a French chef attitude to American cuisine. If you want a great burger try FUNGO!

    They have three restaurants, but I’ve only been to the one in Geba, 東京都世田谷区下馬1-40-10. It’s a short bike ride from Yutenji station and Ikejiri-ohashi Station/Sangen-Jaya Station.

    Their burgers are excellent and well worth seeking out!!!

    http://www.fungo.com/m_concept.html

  10. The best burger I ever ate in Japan was at the Oatman Diner in Kawagoe, Saitama. (http://www.oatman-diner.com/index2.html) Not only do they have great, thick burgers on fresh buns, but they also have a variety of other American and Tex-Mex foods. Plus, the most expensive burger on the menu is only about 1000 yen. Anyone living in the Tokyo area is strongly encouraged to go!

  11. 7025 Franklin Avenue in Gotanda is hands down the best burger joint in Tokyo. A beautiful space with great, handcrafted burgers, with all of the sides to boot.

    Tel: 03.3441.5028
    3-15-18 Gotanda, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo

  12. Since we’re talking about amazing burgers across the country. Let me just add that “The Local,” a restaurant/pub in Niigata City run by an ex-pat from New Zealand makes a huge and fantastic gourmet burger. It’s almost 1,000yen but it’s monster-sized with big slabs of bacon, a fried egg and pineapple.

    Comes with a side of fries and salad.

    I always request them to hold the egg, but the rest is heavenly!

  13. I’ll confirm that “7025 Franklin Ave.” in Gotonda is the best I’ve had so far. Adding beet’s, eggs and pineapple to hamburgers is New Zealand style (White Lady?) I’m not against it, they can be quite tasty that way, but as a purest I can’t say that that’s the way I would choose to properly gauge the quality of a true hamburger.

    The great thing about Franklin Ave., is that it is very clean and upscale, almost like some kind of French restaurant. You could bring a fist date there without feeling like you are taking them to a “burger joint.” Check it out if you are in the Tokyo area.

  14. On recent trips around japan we used Mos Burger for lunches… however we renamed it ‘Random Burger’ as it didn’t matter what picture we pointed at on the menu, we got something different…

  15. I’m surprised at all the different opinions about burgers here. Fungo the best burger in Tokyo? Whoa, I hope you’ve had something better by now!

    My first trips to the Village Vanguard diner in Kichijoji (they have several other locations now, such as Shimokitazawa, Machida and others) was absolutely amazing. They still have very decent burgers (and a variety of beers to go with them), and they seem to play around with their menu a little, offering new tastes and textures from time to time. Good onion rings.

    Two of the best I have ever had are (in no particular order):

    BROZERS (Ningyo-cho)
    and
    BURGER MANIA (Shirokane)

    The chilli beans burger at Brozers is filled to the brim with taste without feeling mushy or greasy. Highly recommended!

    Burger Mania’s pattie has so much taste in it. Go for a cheese burger and DON’T leave without getting a milkshake and the cherry pie. Really good.

  16. There’s some new suggestions here I haven’t tried yet, but of the 20 or so shops I’ve tried in Tokyo my favorite is a new one: Gotham Grill in Ebisu (just walk under the Yamanote-sen after coming out of the station, on the north side of the street). The burger will end up setting you back 1600-1700 depending on what you put on it, but it’s *really* good meat (it’s a steak restaurant, the burger is the cheapest thing on the menu).

    People mentioned Burger Mania, which is awesome — I’m lucky enough to work near there so I go regularly. I need to go check out Franklin Ave. though, I live only one stop away!

  17. Hey, I found this really cool american restuarant called Renos Bistro in Higashi Kurume tokyo. Its on the Seibu Ikebukuro line right out of the station.
    Their Burgers are the best I have ever had in Japan or the states.
    All burgers are grilled on a natural wood grill.
    The web site is renosbistro.com

  18. I lived in Osaka for 8 years, left 3.5 years ago and still crave the hamburgers from Berry’s Cafe in Minami Ibaraki (Osaka). The guys who own the place (more a bar than cafe) are super friendly and they’re food is great and BIG…even for a glutton of a foreigner! LOL

  19. I made the trip out here by JR from Kyoto today, based entirely on this post. Large burger with bacon and cheese, a side of onion rings and a Longboard Lager.

    You were not wrong. Quite aside from Japan, this is the greatest burger I have had anywhere. And the onion rings were pretty special too.

    As an added bonus there’s a shop selling Blue Seal ice-cream just down the street, if you can manage one!

  20. Thanks for the recommendation. I don’t know if it qualifies as the best burger in Japan, but it was certainly worth the trip. I’d spotted the place years ago but never actually went. Then a friend recently commented on it, so with the early afternoon free, I made the trip. If you’re in Osaka, I recommend Any’s Burger near Tanimachi-6-chome station. Check out my blog entry below for more information.
    http://newtojogging.blogspot.jp/2012/05/jogging-haiku-53-royal-with-cheese.html
    Let’s burgering!

  21. Jean-Yves,
    When did you last visit Any’s? Do you know if they are still in business. I was in town so traveled down to Any’s burger for lunch the other day to find them closed with no explanation on the door. Any ideas?

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