The 5 best chain restaurants you’ve never heard of

By: Rora

Mar 01 2011

Category: Japan

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Dining out in Japan is wonderful now that I know enough (not much, objectively, but enough) Japanese to get myself seated in a non-smoking section, point to a photo on a menu of what I want to eat, and ask for separate checks.

Japan does a lot of things right when it comes to restaurants. You don’t have to tip and service is still amazing. Everything is affordable, and it’s very common to pay a set price for all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink (tabehoudai and nomihoudai, respectively). In a land known for healthy eating and smaller portions, the achilles heel in my “move to Japan and get fit” plan has been buffets and chain restaurants that do junk food, which I thought was my homeland’s specialty, better than I ever could have imagined.

Freshness Burger

Why doesn’t this place exist in America?! You know how in McDonald’s ads the burgers never look even half as appetizing as the pictures of the burgers do? Well, Freshness burgers look even better in person than they do in the ads. The idyllic burger. Huge piece of wavy green lettuce, giant slab of onion, bright red tomato. Oh, and did I mention that the burger I’m describing is a BLACK BEAN BURGER? (They do have meat, too). This place makes me salivate at the mere thought of it.

As if that weren’t good enough, they also serve coconut hot chocolate and ginger milk tea and fresh squeezed juices.


Pisolino, with its hilariously translated English menu, has captured my heart. I ate a pizza there one time called “ass kicking hot pizza,” and indeed it was ass kickingly hot. This place is all you can eat. You pay a set price (around $15), which includes unlimited pizza and pasta (made to order) and trips to the buffet (salads, fried food, and lotsa desserts and a soft serve machine). This place is heaven. It’s like the Olive Garden on crack. My friends and I had a pizza eating contest there one time, and I ate an absurd amount of pizza but still came in last place. It turns normally sane people into pizza eating werewolves.

Mr. Donut

If you’re older than I am, you may remember Mr. Donut. It used to be a common sight in certain parts of the US, but they were bought out by Dunkin Donuts and disappeared in the early 90’s. Now it only exists in Asia (although according to some insane person on Wikipedia who actually looked through multiple phonebooks to confirm this, there is apparently one Mr. Donut left in the States, but I have a feeling it’s not quite as magical). Lucky Asia. I’m not sure what the magic ingredient is, but these donuts are fantastic, and I am not generally a donut person. The donuts are fluffy and not too sweet but definitely still sweet and they don’t make you feel disgusting afterwards. In addition, they’re way adorable- last month there was a very cute limited edition teddy bear shaped donut. Also, the coffee is among the best I’ve had in Japan. Good coffee is hard to come by.

Genki Sushi

So far I’ve only written about Western food. Japan has plenty of amazing home-grown restaurants and chains as well. There are a good number of conveyor belt sushi chains in Japan, and I have tried many, but none of them can hold a candle to Genki Sushi in terms of the cheapness / deliciousness ratio. Every plate of sushi is Y100 which is like, a DOLLAR. And it’s generally honestly good. And they even have an American style roll (inside out, with fried shrimp in the middle- most Japanese sushi is nigiri style and very much not fried). As much as I miss the bastardized sushi of my homeland, Genki sushi, and Japanese sushi in general, has a big spot in my heart now.

Kushiya Monogatare

To begin, let’s define Kushiage: Fried food. This buffet serves all you can eat fried food. Why is that interesting? Because you fry it YOURSELF. That’s right. At your table. There is a deep frier at your table. You load your plate up with meat, veggies, fish that are all on little skewers, sit down at your seat and put everything in the batter, breadcrumbs, and boiling oil. Not for the faint of heart (literally). It was worth the experience, because where else in the world could this restaurant exist other than Japan? Can you imagine the lawsuits that would happen in America? But people don’t sue each other here, so as a result you end up with a restaurant dangerous in too many ways to count.

So there you have it. Five more reasons to come to Japan!


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