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10 Types of Restaurants in Japan You Have to Try

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

In America, the common way to dine out is to visit a restaurant with numerous styles of cuisine on one menu. The Cheesecake Factory is a splendid example of an all American establishment full of variety. Picky eaters, folks with allergies, those on special diets, or people who just have a hankering for something specific will likely all find what they want on the one menu.

In Japan, it's wildly different. Often times, Japanese restaurants specialize in one dish, and that's the main (if not only) dish served in the restaurant. Dining out in Japan doesn't have to be a challenge, but you'll need to understand the basics of what types of restaurants serve what types of dishes. Here's 10 types of Japanese restaurants you simply have to try if you are going to visit.

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In this article you will find info about restaurants all about:

Kaiseki Restaurants

Served often in a traditional setting, perhaps sitting on the floor on tatami mats, kaiseki is old-style Japanese food often served as a set meal.

You may get some rice, a broth soup, fish cakes and fish balls, green tea, and other unrecognizable substances. It's worth a try if you have an adventurous palate. The meals are very fresh and very healthy. It is not uncommon for this meal to be vegetarian.

Maria enjoys a kaiseki meal in Japan

The kaiseki meal can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner, depending on what you're after. Breakfast meals often come as part of a package at a hotel, or more commonly a ryokan, which is a traditional Japanese lodging house.

Set meal plates with several bowls of broths and fish

Meals may be communal as seen below, or served at Western tables. In any case, expect a very unique and very special meal if you are having kaiseki.

Long row of set plates and pillows to sit on tatami mats

Hot Pot Restaurants

Hot pot comes in many forms and styles in Japan, but the two very popular styles are shabu shabu and sukiyaki.

Sukiyaki is found prepared as bubbling broth with vegetables, and served with raw meat, which you dip in an egg bath. One favorite style of sukiyaki I have experienced is the style called gyunabe, made famous in the port town of Yokohama near Tokyo.

I also got to experience a very special Hida Beef dinner in Takayama, where the black haired cattle (hida beef) comes from. It is a top shelf type of wagyu beef, beautifully marbleized.

Raw hida beef slices

For my meal, we cooked the Hida Beef in the sukiyaki style, again which is a bubbling hot pot of meat, vegetables and noodles that you cook yourself. With the raw beef on the table, you cook it in the hot pot and when it is ready to eat you dip it in a raw egg bath before slurping it up. Yum.

Dipping beef in raw egg with a hot pot of flavors

Personal recommendation on where to go: Araiya in Yokohama

Okonomiyaki Restaurants

One of my personal favorites, okonomiyaki is a flat griddled pancake of noodles and vegetables, sometimes served thick and fluffy, other times crispy and crunchy.

Griddle topped with okonomiyaki in the making

There's a wild amount of variations of things you can put inside, but in its basic form it consists of a cole slaw like batter of cabbage with noodles and vegetables.

Find this in Izakayas (pubs) or in standalone restaurants.

Vegetable and noodle pancake in Japan

Personal recommendation on where to go:

Asakusa Okonomiyaki Sometaro near Asakusa in Tokyo serves primarily okonomiyaki, vegetables and noodles. We chose additions of kimchi, scallops and shrimp.

As you can see, in this type of restaurant you cook everything yourself. From mixing the ingredients to topping with the final drizzle of mayo and brown sauce, it's a very interactive and fun feast.

girl cooks a battered pancake at a griddle table

Just don't go on a hot day, because you might roast from the heat of the grill!

Pro tip on Asakusa Okonomiyaki Sometaro: go early and get in line before the doors open for lunch, which is at noon. Otherwise you will have to wait for the first round of people to finish their meal before entering.

It is especially suggested to get some oyster okonomiyaki in Miyajima Island near Hiroshima.

Yakiniku Restaurants

Similar to Korean BBQ, this is cooked the same way but using Japanese-sourced ingredients. Tables have grill top centerpieces or sometimes a plug in table top grill.

Plates of food come raw for cooking yourself at your pace, to your desired doneness. This is a great communal dinner to enjoy with a bigger group of people.

Blog owner toasts the camera with a beer with raw beef grilling in the foreground

Izakaya Restaurants

An Izakaya is a Japanese pub or tavern. Get ideas of an Irish pub out of your head - it's not a stand around a bar drunk fest type of place. Instead, Izakayas are often small 5 or 6 stool restaurants where you can get a cold beer and a snack.

A rainbow of cocktails at an Izakaya

You'll find edamame, yakitori (meat on sticks), sushi, takoyaki (octopus balls), okonomiyaki, or other snacky style foods. Almost like going to a tapas bar in Spain, if I had to compare it to something.

Larger izakayas allow for bigger groups to sit down around long tables. This is popular for business men to kick a few back after work. The smaller ones offer beer crates as stools or other tiny plastic seats - spilling onto sidewalks or saddling up to a griddled bar.

In any case, it's a quick-casual type of environment for a seated snack. One of the more popular (and slightly touristy) spots to find an Izakaya alley full of options is in Tokyo at Omoide Yokocho, Shinjuku. In Osaka you can find an izakaya in the busy streets of Dotonburi. Or, just look around any street corner - you're sure to find one.

Ramen Restaurants

Ramen is globally known for being a hangover cure, a delicious brothy, noodley revival tool. In Japan, it's a staple. You can go to ramen restaurants or even get ramen from a vending machine.

the confounding amount of buttons on a japanese ramen vending machine

These are pretty cool - you order and pay from push buttons that say nothing more than 'soup' or 'chicken' in English, or if you are lucky you may get a little image along with it.

Choose your adventure and bring the ticket to the counter. They will prepare your food and let you know when it is ready to sit down and eat.

Blog owner enjoys a bowl of ramen while wearing a kimono.

You can also find restaurants specializing in soba or udon, both forms of noodles. All the noodle dishes come with or without broth and and variety of vegetables, offals and meats. Noodles are always a safe bet if you are unsure what to eat.

If you like cold noodles, you definitely need to look into trying something called Nagashi Somen, where you literally pluck your noodz with a chopstick from a flowing bamboo waterslide. It's fun, interactive and oh-so delicious. This can be found in Kyoto area and also easily doable as part of a day trip to Kamakura.

If you are a big fan of ramen, it's worth venturing over to Yokohama to visit the Cup of Noodles museum, where the original cup of noodles flavor can be sampled in their super cool, retro global village marketplace.

eating ramen in a retro global marketplace

You can also reliably find a chain of ramen restaurants called IPPUDO. We sampled their options in Yokohama as well, and found them to be a good and consistent option for inexpensive fast-casual ramen. There wasn't much fuss there, meaning no insane menus or vending machines, and it was very navigable to a novice.

Sushi Restaurants

Get sashimi, nigiri, maki and more! Go for an omakase meal and let the chef be your guide.

You really can't go wrong at any sushi restaurant, but keep in mind it's not like sushi at home. You won't find deep-fried rolls, cream cheese, crazy sauces or tempura battered ingredients.

What you will find is really fresh fish. Be adventurous or choose the general bases that you know you already like, like salmon, tuna, shrimp, escolar, etc. You'll recognize a lot more than you think if you are a common sushi eater at home.

Be sure to follow proper etiquette when eating sushi, so as not to offend your host!

Tempura Restaurants

Find fried vegetables, shrimp and whatever else your heart desires. In Osaka, you can find specialty restaurants serving up "kushikatsu" set meals. Kushikatsu is a skewered street food created with a good batter and hot frying oil.

fried food on sticks next to a glass fish to hold the sticks

Teppanyaki Restaurants

Not Benihana, but close enough. Teppanyaki is a grill top dinner with a bit of a show - created for the post-war era tourism in Japan. Still for tourists today and especially popular for Kobe beef in Osaka.

Katsu Restaurants

Get this special fried meat cutlet at katsu restaurants. You will find katsu is often accompanied by either a brown curry sauce or an A1 style dark sauce.

fried cutlet of meat with soup and rice

It is incredibly simple and incredibly delicious!

Like most meals, it may be served alongside rice and miso soup.

1 comment

1 Comment

Sep 30, 2022

I have a better understanding of what to order on my trip to Japan next year. Very excited that Japan has reopened.


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