The best cheap eateries in Japan
Bang for buck restaurants you should visit in Japan
Many people imagine Japan to be expensive when eating out. With the most Michelin restaurants of any city in Tokyo, for example, it’s quite easy to see how people might come up with that misconception. However, I found that visiting restaurants in Japan is oftentimes cheaper than in Europe or the US; especially if you find the right places. That’s why I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite cheap eateries you should check out if you visit Japan.
These are actually three different restaurant chains, but they can be grouped together because they all focus on one specific dish: Gyudon aka beef bowl. Steaming hot white rice topped with thinly sliced beef and onion cooked in a rich soy-based sauce. The smallest portions start at around 400 Yen (less than $4) and come with free tea or water (as in any restaurant in Japan) as well as pickled vegetables to your liking. There are often special menu items such as grilled meat, curry, and even a typical Japanese breakfast set with miso soup and salmon. Truly the OG bang-for-buck restaurant chain in Japan.
2. Hamasushi/Kura Sushi/Kappa Sushi/Sushiro
The Big 4 may be Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon in the US, but when it comes to Sushi, those four above chains have the Japanese market cornered. They each have more or less the same menu, quality and prices: 100 Yen per plate with two pieces of Nigiri Sushi. There are of course more expensive items, but with a couple of dozen types of 100 yen Sushi, you can get a pretty filling and tasty meal for less than $10.
3. Isomaru Suisan
If you are a fan of fish and a lively atmosphere, you shouldn’t miss out on this place. Isomaru Suisan actually has fish inside tanks in each restaurant, so you know it’s fresh. Many branches are also open deep into the night (some even 24/7) and offer all-you-can-drink options, so Isomaru became a favorite for night dwellers. This place offers many kinds of fish dishes such as Sashimi, Sushi, fried fish and even many that you can grill at your own table. Prices are reasonable, with generous sets often going for less than $10 per person.
4. Yakiniku Like
If you are a fan of grilled meat, you have probably heard of Yakiniku. Different cuts of meat that you can grill at your own table to your liking over a charcoal grill. However, there are often two problems with Yakiniku places: 1. they are expensive and 2. you have to usually come with at least two people to get a table. Yakiniku Like, a relatively new chain in Japan fixes both those problems by providing affordable Yakiniku that you can enjoy alone. Their lunch meal sets start at around 600 Yen (~$6) with many options if you want more or different cuts of meat.
5. Shinjuku Nakajima
Keeping the best for last: While all the other restaurants were chains, this one is the exact opposite; a one-star Michelin restaurant. What is this doing on a cheap eateries list, you ask? Well, Nakajima might just be one of the cheapest Michelin-star restaurants in the world. Famous for their mackerel dishes, this place offers an incredible 800 Yen (~$8) lunch set, which is just an insane price for a Michelin-star restaurant. Now, at that price point, of course there will be many people visiting, so it’s best to be there just when they open at 11:30 AM to get a seat.
While these were spots I recommend for cheap bites, there are countless, many more scattered around Japan you can find on your own! I hope this list showed you that cheap food can be found in many places in Japan and that traveling there doesn’t have to break the bank.