You find yourself trolling the streets of Tokyo. Your backpack puffed out so far that your seams and zippers are pushed to their limits. Weighed down by the sheer volume of snacks and souvenirs you’ve found. Suddenly, you feel a pang! Rumbles erupt from your stomach… but you’ve already eaten. You had that 7-Eleven tuna and mayo onigiri this morning, but in reality that was hours ago. Through the sudden hunger haze your eyes settle onto a towering sign. You’ve just stumbled upon one of Japan’s many beloved family restaurants!
When you’re traveling around Japan, sometimes eating is the last thing on your mind. All you want to do is explore the brightly lit streets and crowded stores. However, like every human, eating is a must. Luckily for you, Japan has an abundance of family restaurants that can satisfy your hunger and satisfy your wallet. So, what exactly is a family restaurant?
Like in the name, family restaurants are geared towards bigger groups of people and families. But unlike in the name, they are actually great places to go for a quick and cheap meal. Family restaurants, known as, famiresu (ファミレス) aren’t just Japanese cuisines. They actually have an array foreign cuisines like Italian, Chinese, Korean, Indian and American food. Another plus? These casual chain restaurants often have long opening hours, and some are even open 24/7. This makes them so accessible to not just families, but salary man and early risers, and of course busy travelers!
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There are many wondrous attributes to family restaurants besides the tasty food! Unlike other countries that have similar styles like British pubs or fast food chains, Japanese family restaurants have unique attributes that make popular for locals!
One of the best qualities, unlike a lot of restaurants, family restaurants often have pictures of each dish on their menu. So you know exactly what you are ordering and what it looks like. Beyond that many restaurants have English menus available with full descriptions of each meal. Making it much easier and accessible for any dietary requirements like vegetarian, vegan and gluten free!
The next best thing about family restaurants is that you don’t have to summon a waiter through awkward eye contact, holding your hand above your head, or through telepathy. All you have to do to get a server’s attention is by pressing the beautifully presented Call Button!
So, once you’ve decided what you’d like to order, press the Call Button and beckon your waiter over and state what you’d like by pointing, miming or whatever way you’d like to communicate. Just don’t forget to add on the ridiculously cheap All-you-can-drink “Drink Bar”!
The All-you-can-drink Drink Bar is another amazing service where you can have as many drinks as you want whilst you’re at the restaurant for as little as 200 yen (1.50 USD). There are a few different types of drinks to choose from such as tea, coffee, cola, soda, and Calpis to choose from. Better yet, make it a set with your meal to get a discount.
In a Japanese food style family restaurant you can find quick and delicious meals like soba noodles, udon noodles, sushi, rice balls (onigiri) and the Japanese Hamburg Steak. The options are endless! The top family Japanese restaurants to try are Kura Sushi (sushi), Gyoza no Ohsho (friend dumpling) Marugame Udon and Washoku Sato for a delicious hot pot!
However, if you’re after a cuisine that you’re more familiar with, the wildly popular Gusto, Saizeriya and Denny’s family restaurant will become your best friends! So, let’s break down some of the more popular restaurants.
It’s either loved or loathed by people in Japan, but one thing that can’t be disputed about this Little Italy restaurant is they make pretty delicious pizza and gratin! But that’s not it! You can find plenty of traditional options like spaghetti with meat sauce and penne arrabbiata, through to some more Japanese-Italian fusion cuisine like tarako (pollock roe) pasta and pizza if you want to branch out a little. In terms of cost per visit, it’s an incredible value for money – the pizzas sit between 399 to 599 yen (2.90 USD to 4.30 USD), and the pasta dishes range from 299 to 599 yen (2.20 USD to 4.30 USD). You can still find a range of other main meals and side dishes, including soups and salads, right through to wine and dessert!
The Gusto restaurant chain has over 1,300 locations across Japan, making it one of the restaurants that has the most branches in the country. Gusto offers a range of Western food like hamburger steaks, grilled beef and chicken as well as offering a range of Japanese dishes, like curry udon, rice dishes and delicious desserts. You would be surprised to know that almost all of their meals are easily under 1,000 yen (7.30 USD)!
Denny’s, is one Japan’s most popular American family restaurant chains, with over 500 restaurants dotted around the country. Denny’s is one of the few restaurants that offers a standard Western breakfast menu with a choice of eggs, pancakes and toast as well as traditional Japanese breakfast food. With options like grilled salmon and natto (fermented soy beans) can be enjoyed in the morning!
A first instinct when you’re out in Japan and you get hungry you head straight to a convenience store, fast food restaurant like McDonalds Japan, Mos Burger or end up Googling “Japanese restaurant near me”. But instead of that, I urge you to extend your research and find a Japanese family restaurant to satisfy your hunger pangs!
Whether you try one of the above options, or do a deeper dive into the lists of Japanese restaurants like Royal Host, and Jonathan’s family restaurant, you will not be disappointed! Until then, make sure you get your taste of Japan with TokyoTreats exclusive Japanese snack box!
Tokyo based writer that's very enthusiastic about snacks, treats and all things sweet!
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