If you’ve looked at your food options as a vegetarian or vegan in Japan, you’ve probably noticed the recent shift towards specialty restaurants catering to your needs. But what if you want to enjoy a meal with friends with diverse diets? While you might enjoy tucking into some soy-based meat or a delicous serving of tofu, the rest of your group might prefer a hefty steak or some burgers. What if you could satisfy both? Here are some options for easy to find chain restaurants that will give you solid choices catering to your dietary needs while making sure nobody feels like they’re missing out.

Yakiniku Like: NEXT Meat Yakiniku menu

Yakiniku LIKE | Photo by Shyam Bhardwa

Yakiniku might seem like the last thing that would be adapted to many dietary requirements, but this popular restaurant chain collaborates withNEXT Meats to offer plant-based “cuts.” NEXT Meat is advertised as being both vegetarian and vegan friendly and is served in a thin sauce (known in Japan as tare) with either a beef set or by itself. Though limited to only a few cuts of (relatively inexpensive!) NEXT Meat and some side menu staples, Yakiniku is one of the most popular options for group parties for its atmosphere and fostering a feeling of camaraderie. The biggest drawback for large groups, however, is the seating. Most are designed with individual booths and the occasional table for two, so socializing can be difficult. Still, if Yakiniku is on everyone’s mind, it’s an easy winner.
Pros:

  • NEXT Meat transparency ensures Vegan/Vegetarian friendly food
  • Plenty of options for others
  • Conveniently located close to major stations around Tokyo

Cons:

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  • Designed for eating and leaving, seats are individual or paired
  • Limited options for side dishes
  • Limited allergen information for sauces and dressings

MOS Burger: Vegetarian Soy patties and Green Burgers

MOS burger is one of Japan’s largest burger chains, and is known for specializing in Japanese style burgers such as their Shrimp Cutlet burger alongside more traditional hamburgers. However, their more recent menus have two strong options for those with dietary restrictions related to animal products – their Soy Burger range and their Green Burgers. Both offer a safe option, with the detailed allergen information highlighting the Soy range as a choice for vegetarians and the green burger range as vegan friendly. The information does warn of shared utensils and all patties are cooked on the same grills, so if that might cause issues it may be best to confirm with the restaurant directly. Like most fast food chains, seating is available for groups of up to 8 at most MOS Burgers, and the décor and vibe is great for a group that just wants a quick, cheap meal before karaoke or drinks.

Pros:

  • Good value for money, sets are around ¥800
  • Detailed allergen information
  • Seating for groups, generally relaxed atmosphere

Cons:

  • Portion sizes are smaller than McDonalds or Burger King
  • Strict dietary requirements may need confirming
  • Not the best for long stays or groups larger than 8.

CoCo Ichibanya: Curry with greens

CoCo Ichibanya in Akasaka | Photo by Gregory Lane

Curry and rice is a home cooking staple in Japan, so if you’re feeling in the mood for the kind of comfort food that warms you up on a cold day, CoCo Ichibanya is definitely worth a look in. Unfortunately most ‘vegetable curries’ in Japan are still made with a meat sauce, but Japan’s largest curry chain has a specialist “Vegetarian Menu,” with several animal-free options. Despite the name, thenutritional information on their website would suggest that the Vegetarian curry sauce is also vegan friendly. Amongst the various options are curries with soy meat cutlets (also known as katsu), root vegetables and spinach. CoCo’s also allows you to choose your preferred size of rice, spiciness and curry toppings making it easy to ensure everyone gets exactly the experience they’re after. Restaurants can vary in seating and atmosphere, with many close to major stations favoring a bar counter style seating to keep diners moving through, but ones near quieter stations will often have tables for groups to sit and eat together, so it’s worth checking or even calling ahead for one which can accommodate your group. With over 1200 branches in Japan though, you shouldn’t have too much trouble.
Pros:

  • Completely customisable, easy to accommodate any restrictions
  • Affordable – a full meal for under ¥1000
  • Easily accessible with branches close to most stations

Cons:

  • Varied group seating options, checking in advance is a good idea
  • Designed for shorter stays, rather than long meals
  • Can be extremely busy during peak hours

Kushikatsu Tanaka: Osaka’s favorite fried food

The Akasaka branch of Kushikatsu Tanaka | Photo by Gregory Lane

An Osaka favorite now popular all over Japan, Kushikatsu are skewers of deep-fried vegetables or meat dipped in a savory-sweet sauce. Kushikatsu Tanaka is one of the largest chains for Kushikatsu in Tokyo, with several branches around Tokyo in hotspots such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ikebukuro. The restaurants’menu offers plenty of options for any dietary requirement, with over 15 vegetable skewers and several meat-free side dishes available. Although anyone avoiding meat will be unable to enjoy the sauce due to its’ use of mackerel as an ingredient, the process of ordering your own skewers and sides makes it easy for individual diners to adhere to their own preferences and requirements without affecting anyone else, and relatively clear allergen information (unfortunately only in Japanese), should help make that even easier.

The decor is rustic and simple, with plain white tables and stools for seats. The atmosphere is perfect for larger groups, with a spirited buzz of conversation and drinking being the usual vibe on busier nights. If you’re looking for some drinks, a lively atmosphere, and a laid-back dinner, this is the place for you.

Pros:

  • Large choice of options for all diets
  • Accommodates larger groups and has a social atmosphere
  • Located near several major stations and tourist spots

Cons:

  • While individual skewers are cheap, they add up quickly!
  • Can be a significant wait for entry on busy nights
  • Skewers are often cooked in the same oil, so this may be unsuitable for stricter dietary requirements.

So, the next time you and your friends are at odds over dinner, no need to panic. Just keep your eyes peeled for one of these chains and everyone’s happy.

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