For those of you who don’t know me personally (yet), I am half Japanese. My family from my Japanese side all live in Japan so I visit Japan fairly often (about every year or so) and have been visiting since my first trip when I was 1. One of my absolute favorite things about Japan is the food. Don’t get me wrong, I love the shopping, seeing the sights, visiting my family (which is obviously tied with the food) but nothing comes close to all of the great things I have access to eating. It’s so easy to eat there and they treat it much more of a leisurely, enjoyable experience as opposed to just shoveling food into your mouth as fast as you can like in the US. Plus, the quality of ingredients is way better.
One of the first questions that my friends ask when they are heading to Japan is “what should I eat?”
Honestly, there are very few bad places to eat in Japan. You can stop somewhere randomly on the side of the road and it most likely will be yummy. However, I definitely have favorites that I need to eat at every time I go back to as well. I recently made a trip back to Japan several weeks ago so here is a list of places I ate and some feedback regarding the food.
One of my favorite things (and FK’s favorite thing that he experienced during his first trip to Japan a couple of weeks ago) are homemade breakfasts courtesy of my Aunt. They are just so damn delicious. I love all of the different dishes and flavors that I get to start my day with. You definitely will not be able to get this anywhere else except for my house.
So Denny’s in Japan is a huge guilty pleasure for me. People don’t ever take me seriously and then cry when they see what I eat there. It’s really great. Their menu tends to be seasonal which always makes it exciting. It is also nothing like an American Denny’s. You will not find breakfasts here. You will find more typical Japanese family restaurant type food.
My favorite thing at Denny’s is the hamburger steak curry doria (top of the photo above). This is a beef/pork combo hamburger steak on top of white rice that is covered in curry and cheese and baked. It’s almost all my favorite foods combined and baked. I am hoping to try to make it at home and post a recipe in the near future! I also am obsessed with melon soda which they have all over Japan (it’s that green drink you see in the photo).
The other dishes in the photo is FK’s set meal. He got a cold Korean inspired noodle dish and a rice bowl with galbi on top.
You can find Denny’s all across Japan.
FK was determined to see what the differences between these chains in the US and Japan so we stopped by a Starbucks one morning to kill some time. I always feel like Japanese sizing is so much more appropriate (the size in the image is a tall). FK got a Mango Passion Frappuccino. It’s very refreshing. I was boring and got a Strawberries & Cream which was actually better than the ones in the US, better cream.
You can find Starbucks’ all across Japan.
Tonkatsu is my #1 favorite food. I wish I could eat it all the time. Tonkatsu Wako is my favorite chain katsu restaurant. It’s always consistently good. With each set, you get free refills for the miso soup (that has clams in it!), rice, and cabbage salad. My favorite set is the one above: tenderloin pork katsu, menchi (minced beef) katsu with cheese inside and crab cream croquette. The meat is so juicy! This past trip, I had Tonkatsu Wako twice (although they were different locations).
You can find Tonkatsu Wako all across Japan.
I love going shopping at Muji when I’m in Japan (and even in LA since they have 2 stores now). This was my first time, however, eating at Cafe&Meal Muji. I went to the one in Shibuya. The concept and feel is very similar to Ikea’s food court. Cafe&Meal Muji is definitely more on the healthy side – the foods they serve are made from in-season ingredients and nothing is processed. The portions also look tiny but I wasn’t even able to finish my meal! I got tea, a dinner roll, ratatouille, sweet chili chicken, veggie burger, and potato salad.
You can find Cafe&Meal Muji’s all across Japan inside of Muji stores. Not all Muji stores have Cafe&Meal.
My family loves Hungry Tiger. We have been eating here as long as I could remember. If you haven’t figured it out by now, one of my favorite foods is hamburger steak and Hungry Tiger specializes in it. They bring it out on a super hot sizzling plate and give you a big napkin to hold up so the fat doesn’t splash all over your clothes. I usually get their regular set which comes with soup or salad, rice, hamburger steak, baked potato, caramelized onions, and butter veggies. It comes with a very flavorful gravy, my favorite part. Is it possible that this place has gotten better over the years? Because it has.
You can find Hungry Tiger at various locations in Yokohama.
Mister Donut is one of the most popular (if not the most popular) donut chains in Japan. They serve fluffy, light donuts that tend to come in all sorts of fun, seasonal flavors (like matcha, strawberry and oreo, etc.) and cute shapes (like bears). Honestly, I was a little heartbroken when I found out that Mister Donut was owned by Dunkin Donuts. Aside from that, Mister Donut is really delicious and quite different from heavily, oily American donuts.
You can find Mister Donut’s all across Japan.
Marion Crepes is a famous crepe stand in Harajuku, Tokyo. It’s said to be one of the first street crepe companies (now there are so, so many sprinkled all over Harajuku). I have been eating here as long as I’ve been going to Harajuku (which is many years) and it has always been my favorite stand. My absolute favorite crepe to get is whipped cream with strawberries, chocolate syrup, and cheesecake. Yes, there is a whole slice of cheesecake in that crepe. I was very excited that they started making Marion Crepe popups in Los Angeles at the Mitsuwa’s (there is currently one at the Torrance Mitsuwa) but they don’t make any crepes with cheesecake. I would like to say that this past time I had Marion Crepes I was severely disappointed. Whoever made this crepe did an awful job. The crepe was too thick and chewy and weird. I’m hoping it was a fluke and that the quality will go back to what it was previously so everyone can enjoy it.
You can find Marion Crepes in Harajuku, Tokyo.
Soba Daian is a soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurant located in Shinjuku, Tokyo. One thing I love about Japan are their lunch sets. The prices are so good and you get a lot of delicious food! This is their regular lunch set which includes soba, salad, chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), potato salad, steamed chicken, and sushi. I’m not a huge soba fanatic so I can’t tell you if this soba is better than the one I make at home (both taste good to me) but I really loved the ambience here! After walking up this narrow, tiny staircase off the street, you head into a long hallway that has a bunch of little rooms so everything feels really private and intimate. It was a perfect location for catching up with my friend.
You can find Soba Daian in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
Contrary to what it seems like, Japan does have some street food. While walking down this shopping alley in Nara, we decided to grab some snacks from this random croquette stand. I have no idea what this little croquette stand was called but it was the best croquettes I’ve ever had. FK had a travel sized menchi katsu here and it was so good!
You can find this random croquette stand in Nara close to Nara Park.
When I go to Osaka or Kyoto, I love getting okonomiyaki (a pancake/pizza type dish). Osaka is especially known for being a foodie city so everything just tastes so good there. While in Osaka, we stopped by Negiyaki Yamamoto which specializes in negiyaki (a green onion based okonomiyaki pancake). Their negiyaki is definitely one of the best I’ve ever had. I got the beef special negiyaki and we also got the omuyakisoba (yakisoba/pan fried noodles that is wrapped in an egg omelette). This tiny location is in a really hip area so it was great to stop in and then go shopping and walk around after. Negiyaki Yamamoto is also family owned. All their locations are owned by a different sister and they are all fairly close together.
You can find Negiyaki Yamamoto at various locations in Osaka.
I personally don’t crave ramen when it’s hot out and boy, Kyoto was hot! FK needed ramen while he was in Japan so we stopped by a whole floor of small ramen shops at the Isetan in Kyoto Station. We randomly selected Ramen Todai because the meat looked good. The meat was good. The broth is a Tokushima broth which is a mix between tonkotsu (pork based – my favorite) and shoyu. It was pretty flavorful. I personally did not like the noodle texture (it’s the thicker, wavy kind) but FK loved it! Mine came with a side of chahan (fried rice) which was really good and FK got the gyoza which I wish was a little meatier. This floor of ramen shops is a great place to go to and eat at if you’re hungry and in Kyoto Station!
You can find Ramen Todai on the 10th floor at the Isetan in Kyoto Station.
Japan’s train stations have lots of little random shops and stands and Manneken was a random buy purely from the smell as we walked past it at Kyoto Station. Manneken sells various, small Belgian waffles. I opted for the custard & chocolate flavor which was life changing. I wish I could have 20 of them to eat right now. It tasted like the custard was baked into the waffle. If you ever run into a Manneken you need to try it.
You can find Manneken’s all across Japan.
Generally, I’m not the biggest fan of McDonald’s but McD’s outside of the US are generally better. They have specials and food that is geared toward the culture rather than just having whatever the one in the US has. FK hasn’t had McDonald’s outside of the US so we had to make a quick stop for a second lunch. My favorite has always been their katsu and cheese burgers which are usually specials. This time, they had a plain katsu burger which has pork katsu (really juicy and crispy), cabbage, and some spicy katsu sauce which was really good. I missed the cheese but this is still lightyears better than the burgers in the states.
You can find McDonald’s all across Japan.
What is sort of ridiculous is that I’ve been eating at this small yakitori (skewers) stand on the street close to the house for my whole life and I do not know the name. It’s family owned and consistently good. So many regulars stop by and I always see that as a really good sign. My favorites here are the chicken & green onion and the tsukune (ground and seasoned chicken meatballs). What really sets this place apart is the sauce.
You can find this yakitori stand in Konan, Yokohama.
7-11’s in Japan are convenience stores on steroids. They have everything you can possible need for you to take care of yourself, including tons of delicious meals prepped for you to eat. Seriously, the food they have there is good and I know many people who survived off of that in their younger years. I also love their ice cream. Also as a travel tip, most Japanese ATM’s don’t take US debit cards but 7-11’s ATM’s do!
You can find 7-11’s all across Japan.
Fujiya is a family restaurant chain like Denny’s. They are well known for their desserts and their cute mascot girl, Peko. There is a Fujiya in Narita airport that I always go to before I head out of Japan. Since FK and I were basically stuck in the airport for 1.5 days, we went to Fujiya twice. 😉 In the photo is their chocolate parfait and strawberry shortcake.
You can find Fujiya’s all across Japan.
That wraps up my Japan Food Guide 2014 for now! I will be doing a follow-up post next week specifically for a food guide of what I ate at Tokyo Disney Sea. If you are ever traveling to Japan and need tips, feel free to leave questions in the comments or shoot me an email.
You can see more food photos & travel photos on Instagram with the hashtag #FKSLYxJPN.