The establishment that offers too much is treated with the same suspicion as the one that’s lacking, and so much that is both 24-hours and all-you-can-whatever it may be emanates the distinct aroma of the disreputable (think truck stop, love hotel).

“Famiresu”, or family-style restaurants to the uninitiated, are worth but a passing mention for their menus–Japanese-style hamburg, curry, and ramen sets; steaming bowls of gratin and pasta; deep-fried sides or bowlets of salads and soups; comfort foods that are palatable and fairly reasonable and ultimately neither here nor there–but their real attraction as I see it is the mere 231yen that buys you an all-access pass to the drink bar.

These restaurants are ubiquitous, invariably clean, spacious, and, unless you hit the service button on your table, leave you to your own devices. Which is a luxury that strikes me as less counterintuitive than paying triple for a thimbleful of 100% organic Ethiopian blend-something-about-hemp at a coffeshop that asks you to make reservations and clear out within half an hour. Or even, you know, getting ripped off by Starbucks.

Suggested Activity
Kamakura and Enoshima on a 1-Day Tour from Tokyo
This one day tour takes you to historical Kamakura and the historical island Enoshima by bus with an English-speaking guide. Lowest price guarentee!
Photo by Mine Serizawa

Gusto (properly “Café Restaurant Gusto”) is my personal coffeehouse/literary salon/Nighthawks reenactment site of choice–more specifically, its espresso machine that dispenses Americanos at a single, perhaps slightly jittery, touch. Limitlessly.

Then there’s the soda machine, the latte concocter (strawberry, vanilla, green tea varieties. Oh, and the kind with coffee), the cocoas, the macchiato, cappuccino, and mochas, and the assortment of teas and drip coffees; and then there are enigmatic offerings with descriptions such as “hibiscus & rosehip + collagen” (isn’t that what people get injected into their faces?), “jasmine & oolong + dietary fiber” (I know what that is, and it still sounds icky), and “yuzu & karin + CoQ10” (dunno).

And you’re allowed to have them all! Or if you prefer, to have twenty cups of the same thing, or again, play bartender and see what a collagen grape juice mocha tastes like, the way you always wanted. It’s kind of like being a TV-starved kid on an airplane and watching ten movies in a row just because you can, or maybe it’s like the first week at the college cafeteria after you realize that you’re allowed sevenths of everything and before you calculate what percentage of your private liberal arts college tuition is being funneled into that chocolate chip-oreo-marshmallow-maraschino-crème de menthe shake.

Clearly facing such a wilderness of choices involves some sense of responsibility (right, Spiderman?); e.g. yes, you could bring half a dozen friends and each bum drinks from a single order, but that would obviously be in strict violation of the spiritual guidelines of the buffet, which are, loosely, no stealing from what is already a steal. (That is no longer being a daring and ingenious cheapo; that’s just bleh)

Then there are the practical considerations: time and pacing, time and pacing. Unless your appetite, not to speak of bladder, can handle triple espressos and a melon soda chaser in rapid succession, you might as well plan to be at your famiresu-of-choice for a while. One of my high school English teachers liked to grade papers at a Gusto; a family friend takes her five kids to one to avoid the bill shock of the multiple drinks ordered over the course of long dinners; and otherwise I often see college students pulling all-nighters there, groups of friends comfortably waiting out the interval to the first train home or recovering from the night’s hijinks, or simply enjoying the fact of a place to be indefinitely long, between this cup of coffee and the next.

Now, kids, who can name all of the classic signs of addiction in this photo? | Photo by Mine Serizawa

Also in the famiresu family: Denny’s, Jonathan’s, Sizzler’s, Royal Host…If you can break down the advantages of, and difference between each, let us know.

Ask our local experts about Tokyo

Get our Tokyo Cheapo Hacks direct to your inbox

Watch this next