The Japanese love to dine out and there is something for every taste and budget. Many restaurants specialize in just one kind of food. Ramen, soba (buckwheat noodles), and udon (thick, white-wheat noodles) restaurants are hard to beat for value and reliability. Choose between table and counter seats. To order, just choose the toppings for the broth.
Okonomiyaki-ya are no-frills eateries serving thick savory pancakes. Expect tables to be fitted with a hot plate as most often diners do the cooking themselves using their choice of ingredients to fill the okonomiyaki.
In the evening akachochin—red lantern restaurants, so called because these hang outside their doors—establishments are a safe, inexpensive bet. Customers sit at a counter space in an informal, convivial environment.Robata specialize in grilled foods and to order customers simply point at what they want grilled.Oden-ya, which serve a variety of slowly simmered meats and vegetables, have a similar atmosphere. Again, to order just point to your desired morsels. Izakaya, publike dens, have counter and table service and have more extensive menus.
High-end sushi restaurants, usually reserved for special occasions, are a breed apart. Expect a subdued atmosphere with wooden surfaces. Sit at the counter to get to see the itamae (sushi chef) in action. Point at the fish in the glass case to order or ask for omakase—or chef's choice. Standard sushi shops abound in major cities for those looking for a quick bite. Sit at the counter and grab what looks good from plates whizzing by on a conveyor belt.
At tempura restaurants customers sit at the counter and enjoy the attention of their personal chef. Choose the course you desire (usually by how much you want to spend), which the chef will serve to you piece by piece.
Ryotei specialize in kaiseki (a formal multicourse meal). Expect to be greeted by kimono-clad waitresses who usher you to your private room. Leave your shoes and worries behind in the hallway, and enjoy this unforgettable experience. Those on a budget should visit at lunchtime, when many ryotei offer kaiseki bento at a fraction of the dinner price.
The regular bento, or Japanese box lunch of rice, fish or meat, and vegetable sides, is available everywhere. Sandwiches, sushi, and onigiri (rice balls with various fillings) are other popular to-go items.