While studying abroad in Tokyo, learning how to eat cheaply became second nature (and learning how to drink cheaply). The biggest rule to know is that most restaurants offer lunch specials; meaning go all out midday and keep it light for dinner.
With that said, here’s how you can easily eat out for under ¥1000 in Tokyo and be filled with delicious food any time of day.
Kaiten-zushi, or conveyor belt sushi, is a great place to go for budget sushi. The chain restaurant Hamazushi is always packed with people, so grab a number and wait in line. The have a huge amount of options and you can either grab sushi from the belt or have it specially made by selecting your choice on the picture menu touch screen. Besides the basics, they have interesting options like cheesecake and fresh fruit (both good, by the way). Plates are usually ¥99 ($1.12) each. I can easily get full for under ¥1000 ($11.27). Green tea is provided free of charge.
Another good option is stand up sushi restaurant. At the chain Uogashi Nihon Ichi, plates of sushi are as low as ¥75 ($.85). And they made it on the spot, unlike the conveyor belt sushi. A filling twelve-piece set lunch will only set you back ¥880 ($9.92).
There’s a lot of cheap chain restaurants in Tokyo. Several are 24-hours. Many serve standard and decent food– gy?don (beef bowl), fried rice, curry, and burgers. But one chain restaurant takes the cake for me, Pepper Lunch. Revered by many of my peers, Pepper Lunch totes itself as a “DIY Teppan Restaurant.” The menu has a variety of meat and rice dishes. I always get the standard Beef Pepper Rice for ¥590 ($6.65). It comes in a cast iron skillet, full of strips of beef surrounding a mound of rice, corn, green onions, butter, and a generous sprinkling of pepper. Since it’s DIY, you mix it around to cook it to your satisfaction. Afterwards, liberally stir in garlic soy sauce, special “honey brown sauce,” and fresh garlic. It’s so good.
Before hopping onto the metro to speed off to university, I would stop at my neighborhood bakery and grab a couple of baked goods for around ¥120 ($1.35) apiece. Fried pork curry buns, sweet rolls with powdered sugar, bread with red bean filling are some of the options available. Grab a coffee there or from one of the ubiquitous vending machines. Breakfast of champions.
I slurped down a bowl almost daily in Japan. Warm broth, homemade noodles, tender chashu (pork belly), it’s a perfect comfort food. You’re spoilt for choice, as there are ramen shops in every nook and cranny in the city. Often they’re found in train stations to cater to salarymen getting off late from work. The ones that are standing room only are often the cheapest. If you can make it over to suburbs, go to Bassanova ramen in Shin-Daita for a bowl of their spectacular green curry ramen for ¥790 ($8.90). Perfection.
Yatai, or food stalls, are always in abundance at outdoor events and parks. When I was with friends watching fireworks in the park, we went to several yatai and picked up yakisoba (fried noodles) for ¥500 ($5.64) and taro flavored ice cream cones for ¥200 ($2.25). If you’re feeling ambitious, try the grilled fish or octopus dumplings.