14 Chain Restaurants in Japan Not to Miss + 2 Bonuses!
By Skywing Knights // January 24, 2022
Now, I don’t know about you, but I love to travel to Japan (duh)! And while I’m there, I’m always up for trying out new foods. However, that doesn’t mean I can afford fancy dine outs for every meal, nor does it mean I always know exactly what I want for dinner each night (or am even up for something vastly different from what I’m used to). And hey, there are also times when I just want something a little closer to home! In short, sometimes, I need something reliable. Sometimes, I just need a restaurant where I can sit back in a cushy seat and take a load off while I order something I know I’ll like.
My solution in Japan? Chain restaurants. Surprised? Well, trust me, they’re pretty dang good, especially for the price. And while the term “chain restaurant” may bring to mind anything from Olive Garden to McDonald’s for those in America, chain restaurants in Japan are still a bit different than those in the west. And that difference is an experience of Japanese culture even all by itself. That said, here are some common similarities you’ll find at chain restaurants in Japan.
- Prompt service
- Most places will have menus in both Japanese and English
- No English and don’t know Japanese? No problem, just point to the picture you want on the menu.
- Most restaurants will have a buzzer on the table for you to call for your server so you don’t have to wait around. This is especially likely if you’re seated by a waiter or waitress.
- The portions will be smaller than you expect if you’re coming from America. But you won’t be charged as much, you’ll be able to finish your meal, and you won’t need to ‘take anything home’!
- Many places have both Western and Japanese inspired dishes – often with a variety of ‘mixed’ dishes!
- A smoking section will still be available at most restaurants in Japan (sadly; not such a good thing unfortunately).
- What you see is what you get on the menu. In other words, modifications are slim as asking a chef to change a recipe is seen as an insult. Got a picky eater? The work around to this is to say you have an allergy and pick only one thing to change about a dish – it’s more helpful than you’d think!
So as you can see, there’s a number of different things going on at chain restaurants in Japan in comparison to their American counterparts. That said, why not try some of them out if you’re trying to save some money but also want to experience a less spoken about part of Japanese life? So come with me on this journey and “take a crazy chance”. You might end up doing a “crazy dance” in your seat when your meal is over. 😉
Here are 14 (+2 bonus) restaurants worth stopping by in Japan if you’re in the mood to eat out, but maybe not looking to have your wallet emptied:
Traditional Family Sit-Downs
1. Jonathan’s (ジョナサン)
No, this isn’t run by Jonathan Beyers, though frankly I think that’s a positive. 😉 Instead of being run by the Beyers boys, it’s actually run by the Skylark group, which runs a number of chain restaurants. However, this one is one of the best. Simply put, it’s a very ‘Japanese’ Family restaurant, with a good mix of fast, traditional Japanese food, as well as dishes inspired from the west with Japanese twists. For instance, you can get Japanese hamburgers (think with egg on top and no bun), traditional Japanese breakfasts, sandwiches, salads, Karaage Chicken, pizzas, pretty desserts – there’s a huge variety! Not only that, but they also have bento boxes to go. A definite win.
Website: https://www.skylark.co.jp/en/jonathan/index.html (English)
2. Gusto’s (ガスト)
Another family-diner style restaurant, but a little more on the heartier side. For whatever reason, when I go to Gusto’s, I think ‘home cooked’ and ‘big’ meals. Now, they’re not big compared to American portion sizes, but they certainly feel larger than your standard Japanese sizes. And if they’re not larger than your standard Japanese sized dish, then that feeling has to be due to the presentation. With Hamburgers, cooked and fried chicken, western dishes, noodles, salads, and more, Gusto’s has everything you’re going to need to fill up on and can be a decent family excursion out, particularly if you’re trying to save some money but still keep everyone full at the end of the night.
Website: https://www.skylark.co.jp/en/gusto/ (English)
3. MOS Burger (モスバーガー)
While there are McDonald’s aplenty in Japan, if you see a MOS Burger and are craving a beef patty with cheese, head on in. Though it has less customization options than its American counterpart, they still make a mean burger. With different cheese options a plenty as well as meat seasonings, it’s an all around good place to stop in. And though customization isn’t the norm, you might end up finding a surprising combination to try that you weren’t expecting that becomes your new burger favorite.
Website: https://www.mos.co.jp/global/ (English)
4. Royal Host (ロイヤルホスト)
I can’t lie, Royal Host is probably my favorite of the Family restaurants in Japan. It has a little bit of everything, meaning you’re going to find pretty much anything you want. You want pancakes? They have pancakes. You want potato croquettes? They have that too. And don’t forget to order some steak while you’re at it! Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Royal Host will have you covered at a reasonable price with a meal that will be just enough for that time of day. The best part of all too is that this will please any picky eater as well as anyone looking for a bit of something different. Overall, just very nice, warm and friendly chain too. Definitely a winner of a Family Restaurant.
Website: https://www.royalhost.jp/ (Japanese)
Italian Chains with Japanese Twists
5. Saizeriya (サイゼリヤ)
Now hear me out. I know you don’t go to Japan for Italian food, but this stuff is the bomb. Or at least, if you love bread and pasta and pizza and all you can get fountain drinks and oh my gosh just go. This place is a guilty pleasure of mine. While they do have traditional Italian dishes, they also have a number of Italian dishes with Japanese twists. Not to mention it’s not too expensive either. And while the Italian food might not feel super ‘authentic’, it’s still delicious. And do yourself a favor: order the Focaccia.
Website: https://www.saizeriya.co.jp/ (Japanese, some English subtext)
6. Shakey’s Pizza Parlor (シェーキーズ )
A smaller chain restaurant, but I had to include it for the more adventurous of you out there. Yes, this is an ‘Italian’ restaurant, but trust me when I say these are truly “Japanese Pizzas”. Meed I say more? Squid on Pizza? Yes. Chocolate and Banana on Pizza? Yes. Octopus on Pizza? Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! I know it can sound out there, but this buffet styled restaurant is an excellent way for you to dare your taste buds or of course stick to the more traditional toppings. Give it a shot. If you like trying new foods, this is one not to miss. And if you’re the one stuck with the adventurous one, there’s always the chance you can find or specially order something a little closer to your comfort zone.
Website: https://shakeys.jp/ (Japanese, some English subtext)
American Turned Japanese Chains
7. Denny’s (デニーズ)
I know there are some of you reading this that are saying, ‘hold up, Denny’s is an American chain’. That is correct, but trust me when I say these Denny’s are rather different from their American counterparts. And for that reason, they get a secure a solid spot on this list. In comparison to other chain restaurants listed here, Denny’s has a bit more of a focus on breakfast and they certainly lean into their American roots. And although it has plenty of Japanese twists to some of the dishes, you’ll also be able to find more dishes closer to what you’re used to if you’re coming from America than you would at other Japanese Chain Restaurants. They do keep to traditional Japanese portion sizes, but I won’t lie, I prefer it that way. 🙂
Website: https://www.dennys.jp/language/en/ (English)
8. Mister Donut (ミスタードーナツ)
So I made a note to avoid Mister Donut, but not because I didn’t like it. Because I liked it too much. And their donuts are to die for. And I would have gotten fat. You’ll notice with many desserts in Japan the level of sugar is significantly lower than most places in the United States. That said, Mr. Donut is a chain specializing in doughnuts and doughnut-like pastries and is about as sweet as they come in Japan.
Personally, I find them to be “just right” as Goldilocks would say. Not too sweet that you feel like you just got a cavity like in the states, but sweeter than most Japanese desserts that lack much of any sweetness at all. For that reason, you could likely honestly just keep eating these things until the sun comes up again the next day. A great quick bite for your morning sweet tooth.
Website: https://www.misterdonut.jp/ (Japanese, some English subtext)
9. Ramen Kagetsu Arashi (らあめん花月嵐 )
I… really don’t know why it took me so long to stop into one of these. Because they’re absolutely fantastic. (Honestly, I think I just couldn’t get the idea of MatsuJun of the boy band Arashi serving me ramen and how bizarre that would be out of my head. XD) Ramen Kagetsu Arashi (literally “Ramen Flowers and Moon Storm”) is closer to the traditional hole in the underpass type of Japanese restaurant. Instead of ordering with a waitress, normally at Arashi Ramen, you order through a machine before going and taking your seat. They’re typically smaller restaurants and have both booth and bar seats. My favorite thing is that even though it’s primarily a Ramen shop there are TONS of Ramen options, far better than your cup of noodles ramen from college, extremely flavorful, and most importantly, fresh!!
Website: http://www.kagetsu.co.jp/index.html (Japanese)
10. Yoshinoya (????野家)
You want Japanese food, well you’ve got it here! Yoshinoya sticks to classic Japanese dishes with rice bases. In a true twist, Yoshinoya perhaps has the most customizable menu in that you can pick your various meats, sides, etc to build your own meal. They also serve bowls of Sukiyaki and Curries if either of those tickle your fancy too. With everything from beef, mackerel, chicken, and broiled eel, to just classic miso soup, you’ll find Yoshinoya will have something fast, affordable, and delicious. Not to mention, it will DEFINITELY fill you up too!
Website: https://www.yoshinoya.com/en/ (English)
Bakeries and Cafes
11 and 12. Doutor and Excelsior (ドトール; エクセルシオール)
Doutor is one of my personal favorite places to stop at for lunch. Though it’s primarily a coffee shop and this girl doesn’t drink coffee (ever), I’ll often stop in here for their sandwiches. Personally, I like that they’re light and not overly filling. So that way, I can go back to what I was doing quickly right after eating without feeling like I’m carrying a brick in my stomach. Not to mention, they have even lighter options, such as toast. So if you’re tummy isn’t feeling well, this is going to be the place to stop by. Meanwhile, its sister brand Excelsior Cafes tend to focus more so on their drinks. Again, I’m not a coffee person, but I can vouch for them during the winter months when I’ve run in for a hot cocoa. A definite win.
Website: https://www.doutor.co.jp/ (Japanese; limited English)
13. Vie De France (ヴィ・ド・フランス)
A French bakery. Need I say more? Well, I’m going to say more. Because this place is to die for. An international foodservice operation, but with classic Japanese breads,. Options include melon pan, curry donuts, custard filled cakes, strawberry and creme sandwiches, croissants, honey butter bread, cinnamon rolls, anpan (餡パン), chocolate scones, apple pies, paninis, brioche buns, churros, sausage rolls, cheese breads, daifuku (大福) inspired desserts, regular sandwiches and much more! It’s a winner all around.
14. Beck’s Coffee Shop (ベックスコーヒーショップ)
Yes, yes, another coffee shop recommendation even though I don’t drink coffee so I can’t vouch for the taste. Well, I might not be able to vouch for that, but I can vouch for their food and the overall atmosphere, which feels like something out of the 1920’s with a style that is tailored to the smart businessman. Need a quick, healthy breakfast in the morning? You’ve got it here. And for lunch, grab a panini, a rice dish, or even a light sandwich. Small, but hearty. Drop in here if you’re looking for an extra morning hit of stamina to last you for the rest of the day.
Website: https://foods.jr-cross.co.jp/becks/ (Japanese)
Bonuses: Sweets to Go! 😀
1. Honey’s Bar (ハニーズバー)
Not exactly a restaurant… but trust me when I say you’ll see these all over the place on the platforms of Tokyo’s train stations. This Juice and Smoothie bar is filled with all kinds of yummy combinations, most dabbed with a hint of honey. If you’re waiting for a train and it’s going to be awhile, you’ve got to get in line. Then sip on your drink while you wait. Remember to finish and discard your drink before getting on the train though (no food or drink allowed on trains). Also, best to discard while at the stand since there are no trash cans anywhere in the station! But trust me when I say that this place is worth it!
Website: https://foods.jr-cross.co.jp/honeysbar/ (Japanese; also unfortunately not presently a secure website)
2. Manneken (マネケン)
Last but not least is my absolute guilty pleasure – Manneken. And since you’ve made it to the end, you get the benefit of hearing about it! Again, it’s not really a restaurant, since there’s no place to sit down, at least that I’ve seen. But this place is to die for, with the absolute best waffles. Always a great snack, unique, but sweet flavors, and the ultimate place to get something to go. This was probably my first ever find in Japan that completely stole my heart, er, stomach. I love that these waffles are the perfect bite sized snack and that you can get variety packs to go to bring home.
As a note, it’s not really a thing to eat as you walk in Japan from a cultural standpoint. Not to mention there’s really no public trashcans either. But grabbing a waffle at Manneken and just standing beside it to eat has got to be one of the best delights, particularly on colder days where the fresh waffles just warm me up and put a smile on my face. With a variety of seasonal and classic waffle flavors, this one is a total winner of a shop. Definitely one of the best chain restaurants in Japan, particularly in the Tokyo area, to stop by, even if it’s not a restaurant. Seriously, I can’t recommend this one enough.
Website: https://www.manneken.co.jp/ (Japanese, some English subtext)
Well, that’s a list now isn’t it?! 14 (+2) amazing chain restaurants in Japan totally worth hitting up when you want something both delicious and not bad on your wallet. Hopefully this gave you a hand as you plan your trip to Japan and maybe eased some of your worries if you weren’t sure where to go for some of your meals. And if you’ve been before, what are your favorite chain restaurants in Japan? Let me know in the comments!
Be sure to let me know too if you stop by any of these places during your trip to Japan and what your experience was like! But until then, best of luck as you make your plans for your trip to Japan!