Ever since my first trip to Japan, I’ve made it a point to try interesting-looking, affordable restaurants. If I like them, I try to go back when I can. I’m by no means rich, so I tend to stick to less-expensive places, but I have found a few higher-class establishments where I can be both frugal and satisfied. Here is a list of my personal recommendations from the higher end of the spectrum.
The Rose & Crown Victorian Pub: This is a chain of English-style pubs throughout Tokyo (though I’ve only been to the one in Akihabara). The atmosphere ranges from warm to jovial, depending on how full it is. They have a modest selection of drinks, including a microbrew (served by the pint, 3/4 pint, or half pint) that I find to be smooth and pleasant. The menus (both standard and seasonal) have a selection of small dishes in English or American style, delicious but pricy for their size. They do, however, have multiple discount opportunities. Their “happy hour” runs from 2:30 – 7:00, lowering the price of a few drinks and side dishes by 50円. They also offer decent discounts on their beers if you take a “standing corner” instead of sitting at a table or the bar. Finally, if you get a Dynac Group card from them, there’s a special sub-menu with a handful of cocktails and menu items marked down 50円. (The Dynac Group is a Suntory holding, and counts a large number of pubs and restaurants in its portfolio.) It’s popular with businessmen, especially on Friday. Smoking is allowed, by the way, so keep that in mind.
The Dancing Crab: With only two locations (one near Shinjuku Station and one near Osaka Station), The Dancing Crab looks like it would be a popular spot for tourists. While I can’t speak for the Osaka branch, I don’t remember seeing any foreigners the few times I’ve visited the one in Shinjuku. Regardless, The Dancing Crab is a lively seafood restaurant whose menu features dishes both mouth-watering and budget-breaking. Tables are large and designed for equally-large parties; there’s nearly always someone celebrating something there. The middle of the room is dominated by a massive trough-like sink with individual motion-sensor faucets and hand dryers for everyone (and the staff encourages everyone to wash up before eating), while an overhead strip of colored lights divides the room in half. Every so often, their DJ will turn up the music on a particular song while the bulk of the staff lines up under the strip of lights and dances (hence the name). I had no idea about that last part when I first tried the place out, so imagine my surprise. If you’re by yourself or not looking to empty your wallet, they have a superb crab cake, which I always get. (They had a tasty gumbo at one point, but it was gone the last time I went.) An interesting note is that you rarely get dishes, but instead eat directly from a durable sheet of wax paper rolled out on the table. When your party leaves, the staff pull up the corners of the paper and carry the bundle to the back for fast table turnover.
An An (安安): Of the many 焼肉 (yakiniku) places in Japan, An An is among the cheapest I’ve found. You can eat à la carte or 食べ放題 without emptying your wallet, and still walk out full and satisfied. I list this under “fine dining” because even an affordable yakiniku restaurant is still a little expensive.