A useful tool to have if you eat out frequently and want to have an idea of what new places you might like to try is the "Tsukuba Shokujiten '94-95", a guidebook of restaurants in Tsukuba. While the book is basically in Japanese, much of the basic information is also in English. You can find the book at the Seibu Department Store on the 4th floor in the Libro bookstore area. They keep a stack of them on the main counter next to the cashier. If you can find them yourself, the clerks can help you. The book sells for ¥1300.
The book is divided into sections depending on the type of food at the restaurant. It would, of course, be more helpful if these headings were also written in English, but with a little help from a Japanese reading friend, you can quickly overcome that liability with a pen or pencil.
The detailed analysis of each restaurant is likewise in Japanese, but most of the pertenant information, such as where the restaurant is, what days it is closed, its hours of operation, availability of parking, etc. are also written in English. Likewise, most of the listings include a picture of the restaurant and a general price range of the available dishes.
Word-of-mouth is, of course, still the most reliable way to get the kind of information you want before trying to decide which restaurants to try. See below for a few restaurant reviews. There are lots of restaurants to choose from, including those in Department stores. Bon Appetite!
If you are looking for a change of pace from the "family restaurant" look alikes, Mingei Udon, which is located across Higashi Odori from Coco's and Baxter's, is a good bet. It specializes in noodle dishes, but has a variety of other mostly Japanese dishes. It has a nice, Japanese traditional style atmosphere and is reasonably priced, with most meals being around ¥1000 or cheaper. There are a number of combinations to choose from, though if you know little Japanese, you may be forced to point at the pictures on the menu. One very nice feature is a button on the wall by which you can call a waitress. No need to keep your eyes peeled or wave your hands to try to get a waitress's attention. The beeping noise in the control room can be heard, but it's a small price to pay for this nice convenience.
Do you have a midnight craving for ramen? A mid-afternoon yearning? Try the Yamaokaya Ramen shop on Route 6 a few hundred meters west of Nishi Odori and Route 6 intersection. It is one of several food outlets in a pull off from the road. Look for a large red octopus on the roof of one of the buildings. That's not Yamaokaya, but it serves as a good landmark! Yamaokaya is next to the Yoshinoya beef-on-rice-in-a-bowl, as you enter from the east. They're open 24 hours a day. It's also a good chance to practice your Japanese, as the only English I could see in the place is on the cook's T-shirt advertising the name of the place.
Inside, you'll have a choice of ramen alone, ramen with chashu (roast pork), nori (seaweed, negi (onion) or some combination of the three. You can also choose to have the miso flavored soup. Add rice, and you have just finished the possibilities on the menu. Prices range from ¥500 for plain ramen to ¥1000 for the negi-miso-chashu ramen (large serving). All choices (except the rice) can be had in regular, medium and large servings (add ¥100 for medium and ¥150 for large servings). You may also let the chef know if you want hard or soft noodles, more or less oil, and strong or light flavor. These last three choices don't cost extra.
How is it? It's great! The taste is good, the servings ­p;­p; even the regular ­p;­p; are plentiful, and you can doctor it up with grated garlic or hot chili sauce available in one-liter jars on the counter. "The chashu is great!" enthused one satisfied customer, "and they put lots of nori on the bowl." Upon questioning, the cook said, "The soup's the thing." Each day's soup is started the morning before to give it time to simmer for a full 24 hours before use.
Reservations aren't a requirement. Dress isn't formal. The counter and utensils are clean, but the stools aren't the world's most comfortable. Also, don't worry too much if the place starts to shake as you are enjoying your bowl of ramen. It's just the Joban Line train rumbling by behind the shop. Buy the ticket for your choice from one of the two ticket vending machines located at either end of the shop. The one on the far left takes ¥10,000, ¥5000 and ¥1000 notes as well as change. The other takes only change and ¥1000 notes.
Try it; you'll enjoy it. Oh, and heed the sign thumbtacked to the wall, "Don't park in front of the ramen shop next door, please."
Korean style "barbeque" is the speciality of this popular restaurant. Thin slices of beef or other meat and vegetables are grilled on a metal grate in the center of the table. Thus, you do your own cooking. There are a variety of sauces to dip you meat into, including some rather spicy ones. Korean "kimchee" (hot spicy, pickled Chinese cabage) is also served as a side dish. Don't be surprised if that isn't "your cup of tea", as it has a very strong flavor.
There are several set menus to choose from, all in the ¥1000 range. The "calbee" set is for highly marbled (high fat content) meat, while the "rosu" (roast) set contains much leaner but slightly tougher meat. These sets include a bowl of rice, a choice of soup (wakame "seaweed" or egg), a small salad and a drink. Located next to Nevada Bobs about half way between Jusco and Daiei, it is often crowded around 7 pm. Thus, it's best to go a bit early.
The "ton" stands for "pork" and is not intended as a unit of weight measurement. The helpings of juicy pork, however, are quite generous. "Ton Katsu" refers to deep fried pork cutlets served with a heap of grated cabbage and a delicious steak sauce. A very satifsying meal and not particularly expensive meal.
Located on Nishi Odori one block south of Tsuchiura-Gakuen Sen, Ton-Q has a nice atmosphere and good service. Well worth a visit if you want to try this Japanese speciality.
Whether you're a wine connoisseur or not, you will find Ushiku Chateau to be a charming place to have a family outing. Within its spacious confines, you will find a variety of indoor and outdoor restaurants in beautiful garden settings and in historical buildings. First built in the latter Meiji Era, the buildings of the winery are quite interesting in themselves, and house both a winery museum and wine casks used to ferment the famous Ushiku wines.
If the weather is nice, one has a variety of outdoor settings in which to enjoy a grilled barbecue dinner. Meals are ordered at a central station (courses range from ¥1200 to ¥3500) and are then delivered to your choice of places. The bamboo garden is particularly beautiful and consists of several thatched roof cubicles enclosed in a forest of huge bamboos. The "mini SL" barbecue is popular with kids and consists of a 1/7 scale size steam locomotive running down a 50 m tract that delivers the food to your table, which is enclosed in a giant wine barrel.
Other attractions include a giant maze (¥500), an 18 hole miniature golf course, and a spacious garden with a pond and waterfall. Until early November, you can dig your own potatoes. The potato patch fee is ¥600 and includes 6 large potatoes.
Reservations are generally not needed on weekdays, but at peak times, you may want to check, especially for large groups. The number is 0298-73-3151. The easiest way to find it by car is to go across the Joban Railway Line on route 408 (Ushiku-Gakuen Sen) and turn right at the first light. Turn left at the third light (you can see the green walls of the giant maze a couple hundred meters off to the left somewhat before that light), and drive about 400 meters up that road through 2 lights. The vineyards are off to the right and the chateau is on your left. Bon appetite! P.S. The wine is great!
The Red Lobster is one place you should try if you haven't already. This popular restaurant is part of a chain of American restaurants, something like Denny's and Coco's, except that it is more specialized in its menu.
As the name suggests, it is basically a sea food restaurant. Even if you are not that much of a fish lover, however, there is still plenty to choose from. The salad and fresh fruit bar is very good, and unlike some other such restaurants in Japan, you can go back for seconds. The lunch menu is somewhat limited in choice, but the taste is great. They have a luncheon special that varies from day to day that is a particularly good buy, but they have only a certain number available. Thus if you go towards the end of the lunch hour, you may be out of luck as far as that is concerned.
You can order the salad bar for about ¥700, and you can have it with a meal for considerably less, with most choices running between about ¥900 and ¥1300.
The Red Lobster is located on Tsuchiura-Gakuen Sen about half way between Tsukuba and Tsuchiura just before the road crosses over the Joban Expressway.
If you want to remember your fun days and great food at the beach, there is a great restaurant in Tsukuba just for you. Tsukushi Aquarium Restaurant (55-5000) is located at the corner of Higashi Odori and Tsuchiura-Noda-sen. Numerous large aquariums line the walls, and in the center area are aquariums holding really strange looking fish well over a meter long. Lunch prices are quite reasonable, some as low as ¥680, and quite good. These low prices aren't applicable on Sundays or holidays; the much higher priced dinner menus apply then. You can pick out your own lobster or whatever, so if you're in the mood to splurge, it's a really interesting place. The food and fun without the sun.
I was sure I was imagining things as I drove along Higashi Odori. Could it really be that the good Mexican restaurant fairy had turned Baxter's Bar and Restaurant into an El Torito? Sure enough. Nothing was missing. The fake adobe walls, multi-level layout, the funny little baskets with flowers, the exact same fiesta wall mural, the waitresses in "ethnic" blouses, the outdoor patio, and even the canned Mariachi music was all just as I remembered it from the US. As a native Californian, the El Torito restaurant chain has been my Mexican food fix haven when I've lived in various other parts of the US. But in Tsukuba? The truly smoke-free non-smoking section alone would make any restaurant in Tsukuba worth going to. And to add to it, this place has a real drink menu with Mexican coffee, Corona beer and several types of margaritas. No salt? No problem! Non alcohol? Try the Key West or non-alcohol Piña Colada. Mui bueno!
The menu too is just as I remember: Everything from the fish tacos, to the tostadas, to the four kinds of burritos and five types of fajitas. Salsa and chips fans will be happy to know that they bring these "sabisu" (free, and refills too!). I half expected the cheery waitress to tell us her name and a joke. All this and we hadn't even ordered food yet! For taco lovers, three types of fresh tortillas are available. You can order your quesidillas in various combinations and at varying degrees of spiciness. The chili and beef quesidillas we ordered for starters came accompanied with sour cream, jalepeños and salsa dip. The one order of "Trio" fajitas (¥2,980) turned out to be plenty for two people when it finally arrived. But we decided it was worth the wait when we saw the generous helping of marinated steak strips, along with chicken, shrimp and vegetables, sizzling over a flame burner. We had at least eight soft fresh flour tortillas to wrap the goodies in, plus sour cream, avocado dip and salsa on the side. This eat-with-your-hands meal would probably not impress a first date, but we savored every spicy, messy moment. I have to confess, the neat little dabs of salsa, sour cream and avocado dip seemed "less" than authentic. But perhaps the large, shapeless globs found in California would frighten some first time customers here.
After two rounds of drinks, appetizers, an ample main course and coffee, our bill came to about ¥6000 for two. Not bad considering the free, instant home-sickness therapy and stress reduction of not having to go all the way to Tokyo. Towards the end of our adventure, the mariachi music was momentarily drowned out by Stevie Wonder's "Happy Birthday". All the waiters gathered around some hapless fool's table, singing and adding to the noise. That would have been one pastime I would have left at home. In that Twilight Zone moment, I found myself forgetting where I was and looking around wondering why there were so many Japanese people in a place like this.... Anyway, here is one resident foreigner who would like to say "muchas gracias" to the Kasumi Group for spicing up life in Tsukuba with an El Torito right in the neighborhood.
Editor's note: For those not familiar with the Japanese language, taco in Japanese can mean either octopus, a kite, or a bunion on your foot. Either way, We are sure that most foreigners will find the taco served at El Torito more appealing to your tastebuds.
One of the more interesting restaurants in Ibaraki is waiting to be discovered, just a 20 to 30 minute drive from Tsukuba. "Restaurant 294" is situated, (reasonably), along Route 294 in Yawara. There are two general areas of specialty: Sri Lankan food and "Ise ebi" (spiny, clawless lobster); additionally, the menu also includes steak, hamburger, and other entrees.
This reasonably-priced restaurant is located on a large, well-landscaped parcel of land. It boasts a beautiful garden for lounging around before or after your meal, and the private rooms in the rear overlook a small, quite pond. The dining room has many plants, brass fittings, an unconventional woodblock floor, and a high cathedral ceiling from which colorful banners are hanging. There is a brick mini-lounge in the basement which seems somewhat like a small piano bar, and even the parking lot, surrounded by huge trees and paved with very large stones, is nice. The overall atmosphere is unique.
Many of the waiters and waitresses are from Sri Lanka (which might be nice for those who enjoy ordering a meal in English). The cooks (also from Sri Lanka) have a rather heavy hand with the spices - so be forewarned if you are not one for spicy dishes! Lunch (about 1000 yen) is from 11:30 to 2, tea time is 2 to 5, and dinner is from 5 to 10 pm. The menu includes a wide variety of beers from around the world; most full dinners run under 200 yen per person.
If many of the Tsukuba restaurants are beginning to seem stamped from the same mold, "294" will seem an architectural and cultural breath of fresh air. It is most dramatic at night, and the fireplace adds a nice warm touch in the winter.
The easiest way to find Restaurant 294 from the center of Tsukuba is to west on Tsuchiura-Gakuen Sen until it deadends. Turn left onto the 4 lane road and proceed until it ends in another 4 lane road. Turn right (towards Mitsukaido) and proceed until this road likewise deadends in another 4 lane road. This is Route 294. Turn left there, and proceed through Mitsukaido, over the railroad overpass and down another kilometer or two. The restaurant will be on your right. An alternate route is to go on the Joban Expressway to the Yawara interchange. It's about 1 km to the north of that. Catering for groups is also possible. Hours are 11:30 am to 10 pm. Closed Mondays. Tel. # 02975-2-2940.
The Red River Bar is a great place to unwind after a long day at work. Located on Nishi Odori, access and parking are behind the bar on a small road across from the northern end of Doho Park and the Doho Park Tennis Court parking lot.
At the Red River Bar, you can go in and either sit at the bar or sit at a table and have a beverage of your choice along with some popcorn! It's just like a sports bar in the U.S. without the televisions! The jukebox is usually on full-blast with good rock and roll or the latest pop songs. I'm sure they'd play whatever you wanted if you ask.
Look for the "Red River Bar" round wooden wheel sign on Nishi Odori. Phone: 55-3639.
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