In Japan, the common thinking is that if you want the absolute best-tasting food, you have to go to an independently run restaurant, generally with a long wait for tables and/or high prices on the menu. But what about those times when you’re hungry, but not in the mood to spend a large chunk of either your free time or disposable income on a meal?
That’s when you turn to one of Japan’s national chains, and if you can’t decide which, maybe this survey on the top 12 chain restaurants in Japan can help you.
In a recent online survey, Internet portal My Navi Woman asked 171 adult participants, all of whom said they have no qualms about eating in large chains, to pick their favorite restaurant that has branches across Japan. Let’s dive right into this list that proves you’re never far from a satisfying meal in Japan.
10 (tie). Sushi Ro
10 (tie). Royal Host
Royal Host is part of what Japan calls the “family restaurant” segment, akin to Denny’s or Coco’s. “The flavors aren’t subtle, but the food still has a high-class feel to it,” said one woman who made it her pick.
10 (tie). Coco’s
Speaking of Coco’s, the American chain has a following in Japan, where in addition to Western-style fare it also serves Japanese favorites like katsu pork cutlets and curry. “I think it has the best cost-performance of any family restaurant,” commented one fan.
6 (tie). Ringer Hut
Ringer Hut’s unusual name seems to be a reference to the steeple featured in its logo and on many of its buildings. Originating in Nagasaki, the chain’s signature menu item is champon, a bowl of noodles with a generous portion of vegetables.
6 (tie). Marugame Udon
While you’ll find more ramen restaurants than any other kind of noodle joint in Japan, udon can be a lighter and healthier option that’s no less delicious. Paired with a selection of tempura, Marugame’s noodles are so good, some people opt for a giant order.
You don’t even have to come all the way to Japan to try them. as Marugame now has branches in Australia, Southeast Asia, China, Korea, Russia, and Hawaii in the U.S. (where the chain is renamed Marukame).
6 (tie). Osho
I was first shown the wonders of Osho by my brother, who knew it by its nickname used in the Iwakuni expat community, “The Gyoza House.” Osho actually, has a full line-up of tasty Chinese noodle and side dishes, but they all pale in comparison to their absolutely delicious gyoza (pot stickers), which are also dirt cheap at just 220 yen (US $2.15) for a plate of six.
6 (tie). Gusto
Gusto’s name is a holdover from its early days when its menu was still centered on inexpensive pastas and other Italian-style dishes. The menu has branched out considerably since then, but the chain has stayed consistently popular with its core demographic: hungry students and young adults who come to fill up on things like cheese-filled hamburger steak.
4 (tie). Bamiyan
Bamiyan, which like Gusto is part of the Skylark restaurant group, occasionally bills itself as “the world famous Chinese restaurant.” We’re not sure anyone outside of Japan really knows about the chain, but it does have plenty of domestic fans, such as the one who feels, “The flavors are arranged for Japanese palates, but they’re pleasing and you get a lot for your money.”
4 (tie). Yayoi Ken
Yayoi Ken specializes in the set meals called teishoku, which give you some rice, vegetables, and a main dish. The chain offers everything from deep-fried croquettes to healthy grilled fish, meaning you could eat there every day for a week, never ordering the same thing twice or having a bad meal. Plus, if you find Japan’s portions to be a bt on the skimpy size, you’ll be happy to know that Yayoi Ken gives free refills of rice and miso soup with all of its teishoku.
3. Bikkuri Donkey
It’d be hard to measure how many customers Bikkuri Donkey lost because of its name, which means “Surprise Donkey,” which should be pretty inauspicious for a chain that serves hamburger steaks made out of ground meat. But even with that strike against it, its food (which thankfully doesn’t actually contain donkey) is good enough that the chain has been around for close to 50 years. “They have the best hamburger steaks of any chain in Japan, by far,” gushed one fan.
Japan’s favorite cheap Italian restaurant, Saizeriya’s food prep process is so streamlined its rumored that its kitchen staff doesn’t even have to use a knife in preparing customers’ meals. “The food is inexpensive, but it’s filling and perfectly tasty,” remarked one woman.
Saizeriya also remains one of the easiest places in Japan to get liquored up on a budget, with 1.5-liter bottles of wine for just 1,080 yen ($10.55). It’s not the highest quality vino, but by the time you’re halfway through with it, odds are you won’t care anymore.
And the award for Japan’s tastiest chain goes to Otoya. Like Yayoi Ken, Otoya is a teishoku restaurant, although their menu is a little heavier on fried food. With a mix of high-quality ingredients, reasonable portions, and a relaxing atmosphere, one survey respondent described it as “a restaurant you can take your family or friends to, or just as easily enjoy by yourself.”
So remember, the next time someone tells you eating out in Japan is too expensive or finding a restaurant is too hard, just whip out this list for a dozen meals where you can pay with a 1,000-yen bill and still get change.