An Introduction to the Top Fast Food Restaurant Chains in Japan
Fast food restaurants are popular around the world for quickly dishing out meals for a great value. Japan is no exception to this, with many popular fast food chains lining the streets all over the country. Whether you're looking to fill your belly for a relatively low price, merely seeking a quick and easy meal, or you're just plain curious about fast food options in Japan, we've got you covered! Here are the top fast food restaurant chains in Japan for you to check out!
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Freshness Burger was first established in Tokyo in 1992. The owner was inspired by the burgers he ate in Tennessee, and upon returning from his trip in America, he decided to open up this shop to replicate the flavors. As the name implies, they're dedicated to serving up burgers made with fresh ingredients. They even have three types of buns that you can choose from: pumpkin, sesame, and low carb. Another striking feature is their stock of spices (hot sauce, salt, curry powder, garlic oil sprays, etc.) from all over the world.
They have a huge burger menu offering all the classics, as well as other variations with fillings like fried chicken, omelettes, spam, and fried fish. Some stores have exclusive regional burgers as well, such as the 4-patty Homerun Burger at the Meiji Jingu Stadium location and the fried-dumpling-"patty" Utsunomiya Yasai Gyoza Burger available in four locations in Tochigi Prefecture. If you want to order something in addition to burgers, they even have hot dogs in the morning and pasta after 11 am!
MOS BURGER opened its doors in 1972, and has been serving up Japanese-style burgers all throughout the country since. They have many burgers with Japanese flavors, like teriyaki, shrimp cutlet, fish burgers, and pork cutlet, but they also have rice burgers! A round rice bun replaces the bread buns, and is filled with typical Japanese items like shrimp tempura, yakiniku, and kaisen kakiage (deep fried seafood).
If you're watching your weight, you can also get a lettuce wrap in place of your buns, or replace your meat patties with soy patties. Like Freshness Burger, they also have a hot dog menu, and in the morning, you can order some toast to start off your day!
Lotteria was first established in 1972, and has since maintained its status as one of Japan's leading fast food brands to this day. Their menu was originally designed based on Japanese flavors and food culture, so you can expect to see some unique burgers that you're unlikely to see in Western chains, like shrimp burger and soft-boiled egg and teriyaki burger.
They often have many limited edition burgers and drinks too; for their current campaign, for example, they have classic chili meat, buffalo chicken burger, and 3-cheese burger. There's also a separate morning menu as well. They often collaborate with many potato chip brands, so you might find some of their burgers on the front of chip packages in stores!
First Kitchen has been around in Japan since 1977, and in 2016, they joined hands with the American fast food restaurant, Wendy's, to become Wendy's First Kitchen. They have an extensive menu of burgers, sandwiches, pasta, and drinks, and they even have multiple flavors of fries to choose from, like butter, chicken consomme, butter soy sauce, and pollack roe.
They have classic burgers and standard Japanese burgers (shrimp, teriyaki, etc.), but they also have some more unique ones such as the Shogayaki Sandwich filled with stir-fried ginger and pork, and the Wild Rock, which comes with two beef patty "buns."
Go! Go! Curry
Go! Go! Curry specializes specifically in Kanazawa Curry, which is characterized by crispy cuts of cutlet dressed with sauce and laid out on a bed of rich, thick curry. It's served in a stainless steel plate with a generous heap of shredded cabbage, and you eat the dish with a fork or spork (not a spoon!). There are 55 steps involved in preparing the Kanazawa Curry at Go! Go! Curry, and the sauce is simmered slowly for up to 5 hours to really bring out the addictive flavors.
You can get it with pork or chicken katsu, fried shrimp, and sausages, and you can even add on extra toppings if you wish. If you've got a big appetite and you're looking for a challenge, try ordering the Grand Slam, which includes all of the toppings offered here, or the World Champion Curry, a dish with crazy portions that weigh up to a total of 2.5 kg!
CURRY HOUSE CoCo ICHIBANYA
CoCo ICHIBANYA, which is more commonly referred to as "Coco-ichi", is one of the most popular curry restaurants in all of Japan, and it's popularity has even led it to expand to several locations all across the globe. The great thing about Coco-ichi is the flexibility of the ordering process, as you can adjust the rice portion, spice level, and add on as many toppings as you want from a selection of over 40 varieties.
You can add meats and seafood to the curry, or even top it with deep-fried alternatives like pork or chicken cutlets instead. If you want to boost up the nutritional content, you can add in a variety of vegetables like spinach, eggplant, and tomatoes. Other toppings include scrambled eggs, cheese, and natto (fermented soybeans). You can add as little or as much as you want - the world is your oyster!
Rice Bowls and Japanese Set Meals
Matsuya is one of the big gyudon (beef rice bowl) chains in Japan, and they've been serving delicious, warm Japanese dishes to customers since 1980. While their main feature is the rice bowls topped with a sweet and salty mixture of beef and onions, you can add some extra spice to these dishes with ingredients like green onions and grated daikon radish. You can also make it a set by adding a heartwarming bowl of miso soup and a side of pickled vegetables.
Besides the classic gyudon, there are other types of donburi (rice bowl dishes) available as well, in addition to curry, teishoku (set meals), udon, and salads. If you come for the morning set, you'll be treated to a typical Japanese breakfast with grilled fish, tamago kake gohan (raw egg mixed into rice with soy sauce), and sausages and eggs.
Another major contender and the largest in the gyudon game, Sukiya has been serving up filling gyudon dishes at 2,000 locations across Japan since 1982. A standard bowl of this delicious meal won't even cost you 500 yen! Top it with items like kimchi, cheese, raw egg, and grated yam, and you're in for a completely different world of flavors.
You can also order curry, other donburi with tuna or minced chicken, and teishoku with classic traditional Japanese fare, such as grilled salmon, stir-fried beef, or shogayaki. Make it even more nutritious by grabbing the value sets for salads, miso soup, egg, or tofu.
Yoshinoya is the oldest of the three gyudon chains, with their roots going all the way back to 1899. For over 100 years, they've continued to dish up tasty, quick food at cheap prices. They're easily recognizable by their iconic orange-striped shop sign. Like the others, you have the choice of gyudon with a variety of add-ons, but you can also get other donburi with other types of protein like chicken and pork.
You have many other options to choose from on their menu, including curry, eel, sukiyaki (beef hot pot), vegetarian dishes, karaage (fried chicken), and classic Japanese meals. From 4 am to 11 am, you can choose the "1 soup 3 side" sets which come with side dishes like salad, simmered beef (gyudon topping), ham and egg, natto, and grilled fish.
Nakau is a popular donburi and Kyoto-style udon shop that first opened their doors in 1966. You have a wide selection of donburi to choose from, such as oyakodon (chicken and egg rice bowl), katsudon (pork cutlet over scrambled eggs and rice), gyutojidon (beef and egg rice bowl), and, of course, gyudon. You can even get an "Italian-style" oyakodon, which is made with a basil sauce, cheese, and tomatoes. Other meat options include eel and chicken meatballs.
There's a wide array of udon and soba to choose from as well. Whether you want to eat it by dipping it into a broth, in a cold or hot broth, or soup-less, you'll be able to order the noodles in whichever way your heart desires.
If you're a fan of tempura, you'll definitely want to make your way over to a Tenya instead. Tenya serves up a variety of tendon (rice bowl topped with tempura), all under a very reasonable price under 1,000 yen. Tendon tends to be on the pricier side, but at this shop, you'll be able to enjoy this deep-fried goodness without breaking the bank.
Each bowl comes with a decent portion of tempura, with ingredients like shrimp, kabocha pumpkin, okra, lotus root, oysters, and eggplant. With a small extra fee, you can bump it into a set for a vegetable side and soup. You can change out the rice for cold tofu too if you'd like. Or, you can even get the soba or udon set instead of rice for a bit more variety.
While in Japan, you're likely to run into Marugame Seimen several times, regardless of where you choose to go. Not only are they extremely popular within Japan, but they've also raked in a huge fanbase in other countries as well, as they expanded to 13 different countries with 223 locations abroad. There are many reasons that can be attributed to their widespread popularity; no one can deny their excellent taste, quick service, and super affordable prices.
Another appealing feature at Marugame Seimen is the way you order. You first tell them which type of udon you want (kamatama, kake, bukkake, etc. Check out this article if you want to learn more about udon), then they'll hand you a bowl almost immediately with your noodles. After that, you go down the line with your tray, pick up any tempura or onigiri that you want, and pay! Fast, easy, and smooth.
Ringer Hut is a relatively new restaurant, having only entered the food scene in 2006, but their widespread prevalence is clear as day. The chain originated in Nagasaki Prefecture, and specializes in the local specialty dish, Nagasaki champon. This is a noodle dish with a pork and chicken soup base and a healthy serving of pork, seafood, and vegetables. It's a really filling dish to eat when you want to get a good dose of healthy vegetables in.
There's also a soupless noodle dish called sara udon, or crispy noodles topped with a sauce of seafood, pork, and vegetables. You can top both of these noodles with spicy miso, soft boiled egg, soy butter, and nikumiso (miso-seasoned ground meat). You can also beef up your meal with a side of gyoza (fried dumplings), white rice, fried rice, and dessert.
Bento Lunch Box
Origin Bento is a deli-style bento (lunch box) shop. When you walk in, you'll be greeted with shelves filled with a colorful assortment of side dishes and main dishes. You can choose which ones you want and pack them into small containers or a plastic bento-style containers for multiple dishes to take away with you. With Origin, it's super easy to get a good variety of delicious food out on the table!
They also have pre-packed bentos and onigiri that you can buy if you just want to grab something quick to go.
Hokka Hokka Tei
After a long day of work, school, or traveling, sometimes you just don't want to cook, and you don't want to spend too much money eating out. That's when bento shops like Hokka Hokka Tei really come in handy. There's usually several different types to choose from, and they all come with rice and a wide selection of side dishes to eat with it, such as karaage, chicken namban (deep-fried chicken topped with tartar sauce), shogayaki, grilled fish, and hamburg steak. It's relatively well balanced, very filling, and quite tasty as well!
Another major, take away bento specialty shop, Hotto Motto makes meals extremely convenient. They can be found in almost all prefectures across the country, so it's very easy to drop in when you're feeling a bit hungry. There are so many options to choose from, with classic Japanese meals like beef or pork cutlet, grilled fish, Japanese curry, karaage, shogayaki, and namban chicken, as well as ethnic dishes like gapao rice and bibimap.
Conveyor Belt Sushi
Conveyor belt sushi restaurants receive high praise for their affordable prices and quick self-service style. Sushiro claimed the number one position of the bunch in Japan in sales in 2011. They were originally a regular sushi restaurant, and opened their first store in Osaka under the name "Sushi Taro," with subsequent locations taking on the well-regarded title "Sushiro." They have locations in all 47 prefectures, so you're likely to find one somewhere nearby.
There are over 80 items on their sushi menu, and if you consider the number of sides (udon, soup, ramen, fried food, desserts) as well, you have from over 120 items to choose from! One plate (usually with 2 pieces of sushi) can cost as low as 100 yen (plus tax) to 300 yen.
Kurasushi also opened in Osaka, and now has roughly 420 locations nationwide. There are even branches in the U.S. and Taiwan! They have a unique system where you insert your finished plates into a slot in your table so you don't have to keep them stacked by you; each plate you insert will be calculated digitally, and for each 5 plates, you can play a game where you can win a capsule toy.
There's a huge selection of sushi toppings available here as well, but unlike Sushiro, many of the more expensive sushi is priced as 100 yen for 1 piece per plate instead of 300 yen for 2 pieces per plate. Since most of the menu is set at 100 yen per plate, you'll be able to enjoy a wide variety of dishes for relatively cheap. You can even order burgers here!
With roughly 486 locations, Hamazushi boasts the top number of stores in the country. There are over 100 types of sushi on the menu, and many variations come with the addition of mayonnaise and sauces. Most of the dishes are priced at 100 yen, and on weekdays, they go down to 90 yen.
You'll be able to order your standard fare of sushi, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, shrimp, yellowtail, and so on, but you'll also find many unconventional toppings like beef rib, roast beef, duck, prosciutto, steak, and tempura.
Kappa Sushi has been in the business since 1979, and is the 4th biggest conveyor belt chain in Japan. Possibly their largest feature is the shinkansen (bullet train) that carries your order to you. In the beginning, however, they had buckets filled with sushi floating down from a watery passageway. The touch panel ordering system that you see in many of the other chains these days was also first started by Kappa Sushi.
Their extensive sushi menu is separated into limited time sushi toppings, standard nigiri, aburi (seared) and tempura, cheese and mayo, meat, gunkan ("battleship" style), and makimono. They also have a grand lineup of sides, noodles, desserts, and drinks to enjoy alongside the sushi.
You might have heard of takoyaki, as it's one of the famous local specialties of Osaka. They're small balls of batter with bits of octopus inside, which are then drizzled with sauce, bonito flakes, and powdered seaweed. Gindaco is the biggest takoyaki chain, and you're highly likely to spot it in the streets as it's incredibly popular. The standard takoyaki (with 6 balls) is only 580 yen, which makes them a very affordable treat to snack on!
You can switch up the flavors with various toppings like green onion slices, egg salad, and mentaiko (pollack roe) mayonnaise and cheese. After you place your order, you can watch them make it in the special takoyaki griddles, too!
Mister Donut is the Japanese donut equivalent of McDonald's. Everyone knows and loves this donut chain! You'll have your choice of standard donuts, but the pon-de-ring donuts definitely stick out for their chewy, springy texture. Some of their other popular items include French crueller and old fashion.
If you want to balance out the sweetness of the donuts, they have many savory options too, like BBQ frankfurt pies, tuna melt toast, pastas, Chinese dishes, and hot dogs. The blend coffee and cafe au lait have free refills as well, so you enjoy your food while relaxing here for a while.
"Fast food" is largely a Western concept, and you may notice a lot of these restaurants serve up food options, such as noodles and sushi, that are quite different from the fast food in other countries. Still, all the places mentioned in this article are great options for their quick service and great prices, and to add onto it, they're pretty tasty as well! Sometimes when traveling, you just want something fast and cheap to eat, and fast food is an easy way to get a good meal out of it. Be sure to check out these Japanese fast food chains, and you'll definitely be in for a pleasant surprise!
Header image: Osugi / Shutterstock.com
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.