Under 1000 yen
The life of a Tokyo commuter often involves eating mid journey, so contrary to popular belief, Tokyo has many cheap restaurants.
Located in and around stations, look out for noodle, ramen and “curry-rice” shops. Before going in you may need to buy a ticket corresponding to the dish you want from the vending machine outside. Once inside, you then exchange this for your food.
Another cheap option is the revolving sushi bar. The plates on the conveyor belt are color coded according to price (the cheapest is usually about 120 yen) – just help yourself. Sushi bars can be found in most districts. In Shinjuku there’s one in the side street next to Studio Alta.
Yoshinoya and Tenya also offer inexpensive Japanese food. Yoshinoya specialises in gyudon (a bowl of rice topped with beef). Tenya is a chain of cheap tempura (fish and vegetables covered in a light batter) restaurants. The restaurant name is displayed in Japanese only, but the blue and yellow sign is easy to recognize.
For fast food, McDonalds is by far the best value. The other international names, if not offering scaled down portions, tend to be more expensive. Of the Japanese restaurants, Mos Burger and First Kitchen are probably the best.
The coffee shop chains Pronto and Doutour are also good, cheap alternatives. The Italian-Japanese food in Pronto is reasonably priced and in Doutour, you’ll find sandwiches too.
1000 Yen to Still Affordable
Tokyo’s Hard Rock Cafe is in Roppongi but otherwise department stores and shopping malls (usually on the top floors) have plenty of restaurants in this price range.
Communicating your order shouldn’t be a problem – the dishes are usually displayed outside in plastic form (take the waiter outside and point).
At lunchtime watch out for bargain deals. Indian restaurants offering “eat-as- much-as -you -can” buffets for only 1000 yen are particularly good value. The Raj Mahal chain is popular. In Shinjuku there’s a branch on the east side of the station close to Mitsukoshi and Wendy’s fast food.
Almost Unaffordable and Virtually Inaccessible
Even if you can afford it, unless accompanied by a Japanese person who can guide you through the formalities and interpret the menu, you may find that most top-notch Japanese restaurants are out of bounds. However if you want to brave it, the restaurants in Roppongi are probably the most accessible. For sushi and sashimi try Fukuzushi (3402 4116). For teppanyaki and shabu-shabbu go to Seryna (03 3403 6211).
Vegetarian restaurants are more or less non-existent. Check our list of Vegetarian Tokyo vegetarian restaurants for some ideas.
For a complete list of all the restaurants in Tokyo, go to the Tokyo Food Page
Finally, convenience stores such as Lawsons, Seven Eleven and Family Mart sell ready-made meals which can be heated up on the premises.
Where to Drink
Izakayas – Japanese style pubs
After putting in a good 16 hours at the office “salary men” and “office ladies” like to wind down at the “Izakaya”. The atmosphere is worth experiencing – quite unlike that of a pub or a bar.
Izakaya drinks are reasonably priced, but as it’s customary to eat whilst drinking you may feel obliged to order some food. If drinks are served in bottles, it’s also customary not to pour your own drink. You should let other people pour yours, and you pour theirs.
Most Izakayas have a red lantern hanging near their doorway, making them easily identifiable.
Irish pubs, English style pubs and German beer halls are fairly abundant. Although they are good places to meet English speaking Japanese people, as they are gimmicks drinks tend to be expensive. The Dubliners’ Pub in Shinjuku is amongst the most famous. You’ll find it on the east side of the station behind and slightly over from Mitsukoshi department store. Also look out for branches of “The Hub Pub”.
Bars tend to be small but there are plenty of them. Some good places to look are the Aoyama/Omotesando area, Roppongi, Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ebisu.
Doutor, Pronto, Giraffe, Veloce and the fast food outlets offer the cheapest cups of coffee. But don’t expect a full cup. Cups are usually filled little more than half way because this, for aesthetic reasons, is how green tea is served. Fair enough, but if you find this is an excuse that’s hard to swallow, head for Starbucks. It’s more expensive but you will get a decent-sized, full cup.
What is your favorite restaurant in Tokyo? Let us know in the comments.