Foreigner Friendly Feasts: Your Guide to Easy Eating in Japan

I have always found that one of the best things about traveling to a foreign country is enjoying the local cuisine.  No matter your race, creed, or religion, we all have to eat, and the food of a particular country--even down to the region, city, and district--can be unique and exciting.  Food provides an intimate way to consume (literally) the culture, history, and tradition of the inhabitants of the country you are visiting.
Still, eating out in a foreign land can also prove to be among the most stressful and disastrous experiences, especially if you do not speak the language or have deep knowledge of the cuisine itself.  What exactly did you order?  Will the food agree with your dietary restrictions?  Did you just eat something that violates your belief structures?  Did you accidentally order more food than you have money to pay for (which happened to me in a high end sushi bar once...whoops).  All of these questions may make you want to stick to the easy chain options like Starbucks, McDonald's, Taco Bell, Shake Shack, etc.  Still, that can be a fast track to ruining your trip to Japan.
Fortunately, Japan is a lot easier place in which to eat out than you may think. Sure, the language may be difficult, and many older style places still employ wall menus that look like this:


So where should you go and how should you order?  Fortunately, a lot of places are beginning to offer English menus, especially in metropolitan areas or places frequented by tourists.  You will feel comfortable dining out in most of those areas, but let's just assume for a moment that English menus are not available.  What then?
Here are a few options that will always be safe bets for you:

 "Family Dining" Options


Japan's family dining restaurants are comparable to Chili's, Applebee's, or any of those large-menu, family-friendly options you may find back in the U.S.  However, here they just come in a variety of cuisines ranging from steakhouse to teishoku (Japanese meals) to Italian, etc. These family dining restaurants can be found all over Japan and will tend to have English menus. If not, fear not, since they will all have what I call "pointie-talkie" menus.  The "pointie-talkies" are menus that have pictures for every meal and drink option available--all you have to do when ordering is point and talk.  (See?  Pointie-talkie!)
Here is a list of some of the most popular Family Dining restaurants in Japan that can be found almost anywhere.
- Cafe Gusto (Assorted Japanese & Western)
- Bamiyan (Japanese-style Chinese)
- Royal Host (Assorted Japanese & Western)
- Volks (Assorted Japanese & Western)
Still, there are non-chain family restaurants out there--just look for "Family Dining" in the title.  For example, my favorite family dining restaurant is "Family Dining Kodama-ya."

Window Display Restaurants


 One of Japan's best and quirkiest inventions was the plastic food display.  The fake food looks god enough to eat.  Well, a lot of restaurants use these to entice customers to come inside. While these restaurants can be hit or miss as to whether or not they will have English or pointie-talkie menus inside, thankfully in today's era of smart phones, all you have to do is to take a picture of whatever option appeals to you as you're walking into the restaurant.  When the staff comes over to take your order, either match up the writing from your photo to whatever is on the menu, or simply show them the photo directly and bam, you've got your food.  If you're worried about the food not coming out like it looks in the window display, fear not, because those plastic displays are almost always dead ringers for the real thing.

Kaiten Sushi (Sushi-go-round)


For those of you craving sushi but not ready for the intimidating experience of sitting one-on-one with a stern looking old sushi chef who speaks nothing but Japanese, just head to a sushi-go-round.  How much easier can you get than places where the prices are color coded on plates and all you have to do is pull the food you want off of a conveyor belt?  Kaiten sushi restaurants are littered throughout Japan, but my favorite Kaiten Sushi Restaurants in Tokyo are located in Shibuya, Roppongi Hills, and the Kitte Building (next to Tokyo Station).

Katsu Midori Sushi Shibuya
Address: 〒150-0042 Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Udagawachō, 21−1
Location: Across the Shibuya Scramble Crosswalk in the building with the Tsutaya Bookstore and Starbucks.  The restaurant is on the upper floors in the Dining Plaza.
Details: I think every tourist will eventually make their way to the famous Shibuya scramble crosswalk.  Well, if you like sushi, you should do yourself a favor and stop by Katsu Midori Sushi in the building across that scramble crosswalk from the station and Hachiko statue.  Katsu Midori Sushi offers some of the best sushi in Tokyo in a conveyor belt style restaurant at very reasonable prices.  The chefs are enthusiastic and welcoming, and they prepare some great fish for you.  I can usually eat there for anywhere between 1000 and 2000 yen depending on the types of sushi I pick.
Hanamaru Kitte Building
Address: 〒100-0005 Tokyo, Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi, 2 Chome−7−2
Location: 5th floor of the Kitte Building immediately next to the Tokyo Station Maronouchi Red Brick building.
Details: Hanamaru is a great option for sushi-go-round that offers higher end options at prices that are still pretty reasonable.  You can eat your fill for anywhere between 1000 and 3000 yen depending on which options you select.  One of the biggest draws about Hanamaru is the restaurants propensity for preparing lots of seasonal options, keeping things fresh and interesting.

Pintokona @ Roppongi Hills
Address: 〒106-0032 Tokyo, Minato-ku, Roppongi 6-4-1
Location: In Roppongi Hills Hollywood Plaza Floor B2
Details:  This is one of the fanciest sushi-go-round restaurants I've ever visited, but the prices are not too bad.  It's conveniently located in the Roppongi Hills area, so it makes the perfect place to stop when checking out some of the other sites in the area.

My Top Foreigner Friendly Restaurants in Tokyo


Last but not least: since I've given you tools for finding foreigner friendly places anywhere in Japan, I'll move on to what I consider to be the cream of the crop for foreigner friendly options in Tokyo.  These are places where you'll be able to enjoy the best food (and booze) Tokyo has to offer without having to stress at all about whether not cultural or language barriers are going to keep you from a good meal.  So without further ado, here are my top three foreigner friendly establishments for enjoying a great Japanese meal in rank order:

3rd Place: Tengu (Roppongi)

Address: 106-0032, Tokyo, Minato-ku, Roppongi 7-14-7
Location: Across the street from Almond in the basement floor of the Hagiwara Building (easily accessible from Roppongi Station and about a five minute walk from Roppongi Midtown and Roppongi Hills (in the middle between the two)
Description: Tengu is about as close to a normal Japanese Izakaya that you can visit that is still very foreigner friendly.  Conveniently located in Roppongi, Tengu offers English menus and Izakaya-style (think Tapas) menu options at reasonable prices.  It's also got a good mix of foreign and Japanese patrons, which is always fun if you can enjoy a few drinks and make some new friends.

2nd Place: Gonpachi (Shibuya)

Address: 〒150-0044 Tokyo, Shibuya, Maruyamacho, 3−6
Location: 14th Floor of the East Space Tower, about 10 minutes walk from Shibuya station
Description: Although the Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu restaurant is the more famous Gonpachi in Tokyo since it was the inspiration behind the restaurant in the final scene of Kill Bill Vol 1., I actually find the Gonpachi Shibuya restaurant to be a far more enjoyable dining experience.  The restaurant is never as crowded, meaning that a reservation is rarely necessary (unlike the Kill Bill restaurant, which is always packed).  Gonpachi offers a wide range of traditional Japanese options from soba noodles to unagi-meshi to yakitori with a helpful bilingual menu, meaning that you can ease yourself and others in your party to a broad array of Japanese food.  Also, the location is fantastic, as the building offers a fantastic panoramic view of the Tokyo skyline (you can see both Tokyo Tower and Skytree in the elevator ride up), and the restaurant interior is a nice blend of traditional and modern Japanese aesthetics.  Meals will run you between 1500 and 5000 yen depending on how much you eat and drink.

1st Place: Shin hi no Moto aka Andy's

Website: 2 Chome-4-4 Yūrakuchō, 千代田区 Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to 100-0006
Address: 100-0006, Tokyo, Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho, 2-4-4
Location: Across the street from Bic Camera Yurakucho.  Immediately adjacent to Yurakucho station, or a ten minute walk from Tokyo station.
Description:  Hands down the best restaurant in Tokyo for foreigners, Andy's offers some of the best Izakaya-food and sushi at the most reasonable prices.  Why is it called Andy's?  Well, the proprietor is a British expat, but his aim is to provide the best Izakaya experience in all of Tokyo.  That, he does.  Andy's has all of the key elements of a great Izakaya--the traditional red lantern out front, rustic interior, interesting ambiance, and plenty of booze--and adds tremendously delicious food on top of that.   Although there isn't an all-you-can-drink option, the standard food course option is 2700 yen and you can more than drink your fill without busting the 5000 yen mark.  The best part about Andy for foreign diners is that between him and his staff, they speak three languages (English, Japanese, and Chinese), and he will adjust your course menu to satisfy certain food preferences or dietary restrictions.  Without a doubt, Andy's is my top choice for foreigners looking for a memorable feast in Tokyo.  (Other foreigners agree.  That picture above is from Andy's!)

One note about Andy's: Be sure to call ahead (03-3214-8021) for reservations, since the place is extremely popular. 

So there you have it...

...your guide to foreigner friendly feasts in Japan. Japan has some of the best food in the entire world, so I say zehi, get out there and enjoy!

Mike B