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The proverbial bread and butter of restaurant menus across Japan is teishoku (written as 定食 on menus).

Translated as “set meal,” it’s a far cry from the “do-you-want-fries-with-that?” sets found at fast food joints. Well-rounded variety is the teishoku calling card, and you can expect your order to come with a main dish (usually fish or meat), a bowl of miso soup, a bowl of rice and an assortment of seasonal side dishes and pickles. Since many of the items can be prepared en masse in advance, wait times are kept to a minimum, essential for hungry diners.

An added benefit: Teishoku meals — also occasionally delineated as higawari (日替わり, daily special) on menus — translate fairly well to the bento format, meaning it’s still possible to order safely, and relatively inexpensively, from your favorite locations. The only caveat is teishoku tend to stay in the washoku genre. While there are many restaurants offering excellent ranchi setto (lunch sets) that include Western items such as pasta, these five restaurants have been chosen for their excellent, healthy takes on the classic Japanese format and relaxed ambience.

Rustic-chic: The exterior of Niwa-Coya looks like a petite blue cabin. | CLAIRE WILLIAMSON
Rustic-chic: The exterior of Niwa-Coya looks like a petite blue cabin. | CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

Niwa-Coya

This little combination cafe and zakka (miscellaneous lifestyle goods) located a few minute’s walk from Sengawa Station offers up a spectacularly colorful and healthy higawari lunch. If you dine in, it comes beautifully presented on a raised wooden tray, with a bowl of brown rice, soup, a fish or meat protein — such as roast pork, chicken simmered in a cinnamon-accented cream, or fried mackerel — and four or five small sides. They’re all delicious, especially the recurring, rich kabocha and satsumaimo (pumpkin and sweet potato) puree. The cafe’s menu is rounded out with a substantial selection of homemade cakes, cookies and drinks.

Recently, Niwa-Coya started offering its teishoku as a bento (¥1,080 after tax, a slight discount from the dine-in price). It comes with both brown and white rice and all the sides (except the soup) carefully portioned into a divided container.

Wakabacho 1-28-28, Chofu, Tokyo 182-0003; 03-6322-1848; bit.ly/niwacoya-ig; takeout available

Eat while you read: You may have to be quiet when at Fuzkue, but its miso soup-centric set lunch is worth it. | CLAIRE WILLIAMSON
Eat while you read: You may have to be quiet when at Fuzkue, but its miso soup-centric set lunch is worth it. | CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

Fuzkue

Upon first glance, the 50-page document outlining expected conduct at Fuzkue — the “store where you can read a book” — is daunting. But as with other notorious Tokyo locales where rules reign supreme, such as Bar Martha, the crux of the matter is simple: Act like you’re in a library and “shhhhh.”

There’s no need to be intimidated. Especially when the atmosphere at Fuzkue is so relaxing: lots of natural light, wood accents, soporific ambient music. The entire place is designed for you to linger with a book (or three) for hours at a time. To that end, Fuzkue has an expansive menu of drinks (alcoholic and not), otsumami small bites, sweets and food, including a miso soup teishoku.

The miso soup is definitely the star — on a recent visit, it came with mushrooms, thin-sliced beef and daikon — but the meal is rounded out with a small bowl of rice (free refills if you ask) and elegantly arranged okazu sides and pickles (¥1,000 before tax).

Given the length of time people linger, reservations are recommended. A second location opened at Shimokitazawa Bonus Track in early 2020.

Hatsudai 1-38-10, Shibuya-ku 151-0061; fuzkue.com; takeout not available

Lunch to go: Sha-Shokudo offers five different bento for takeout, including a meat or fish higawari (meal of the day). | CLAIRE WILLIAMSON
Lunch to go: Sha-Shokudo offers five different bento for takeout, including a meat or fish higawari (meal of the day). | CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

Sha-Shokudo

The cafe arm of architecture and interior firm Suppose Design Office, Sha-Shokudo is a portmanteau of the words for “company/society” and “cafeteria.” Fittingly, it’s located in the basement of Suppose’s Tokyo branch, a slick open-floor space that’s half cafe and half functional office.

While you can, of course, dine in, Sha-Shokudo has five takeout bento options, including two higawari (one meat, one fish; ¥1,100 before tax). It takes a few minutes for staff to put the bento together fresh, which gives you plenty of time to browse the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of art and architecture volumes or the variety of minimalist goods and food products for sale.

A recent fish bento came with a sweet-sour piece of teriyaki buri (amberjack), relish-topped fried tofu, renkon (lotus root) and mushroom salad, and a perfect soft-boiled egg. It definitely lives up to Sha-Shokudo’s goal of making a bento that’s “balanced with plenty of vegetables.”

Oyamacho 18-23, Shibuya-ku 151-0065; 03-5738-8480; bit.ly/shashokudo-ig; takeout available

Sugar-free: Lakan-ka’s set meals are all Kyoto-style obanzai dishes sweetened with monk fruit. | CLAIRE WILLIAMSON
Sugar-free: Lakan-ka’s set meals are all Kyoto-style obanzai dishes sweetened with monk fruit. | CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

Lakan-ka

Kyoto-style obanzai is the hallmark of meals at Lakan-ka. Its three set lunches start at ¥1,200 before tax: there’s Obanzai, which comes with a bowl of rice, soup and sides; Triad, which swaps out some of the sides for a more substantial main; or a Donburi rice bowl. All are light, fresh and delicious.

Lakan-ka abstains from using sugar in any of its dishes or desserts, instead swapping it out for the naturally sweet and low-carb monk fruit. The entire operation feels like a more refined take on your standard teishoku.

Mix-and-match bento are available for takeout (you can also preorder them), with obanzai dishes starting at ¥350. Options are subject to change but include house-made pickles, simmered fish, tatemaki omelettes and more.

As of Jan. 15, Lakan-ka has also started offering delivery.

Jingumae 3-7-8, Shibuya-ku 150-0001; 03-6447-1805; lakan-ka.jp; takeout available

Spicy and sweet: Maki Maki Cafe’s “dry curry” comes topped with a fried egg. Get the cheesecake for dessert. | CLAIRE WILLIAMSON
Spicy and sweet: Maki Maki Cafe’s “dry curry” comes topped with a fried egg. Get the cheesecake for dessert. | CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

Maki Maki Cafe

The modus operandi of this cafe is “using wood from the countryside.” Everything — from the exterior walls to the counter, floor and tables — is made from a different wood. There’s even a real, cozy wood-burning stove tucked into the corner of the main room.

There’s a variety of seasonal lunch sets on the menu, including an onigiri plate, which comes with two onigiri, four sides and miso soup (¥800 for dine-in, ¥500 takeout) and a donabe (hot pot) teishoku, where the rice comes in an earthenware pot. Save room for dessert, and round off your meal with a creamy slice of Basque cheesecake (¥400).

Maki Maki recently made a subset of its menu (including the aforementioned cheesecake!) available for takeout. Of particular note is the fried egg-topped “dry curry” (¥800). Call at least 30 minutes ahead to order.

Chitosedai 6-8-9, Setagaya-ku 157-0071; 03-5969-8544; makimakicafe.com; takeout available

Honorable mentions

Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima, which featured in the “Top: 5” series’ bargain Michelin piece, merits another shoutout. Its famous iwashi (sardine) teishoku lunches start at just ¥880 and include everything you could possibly want in your set meal: sardines (prepared either as sashimi, fried, simmered or in nabe hot pot), soup, rice, pickles and tea. It’s a classic for a reason.

Japanese-only criteria is also tossed out the window in order to give vegetarians an option, too. Citron is a high-end fast-casual restaurant near Gaienmae that offers four delicious lunch sets from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Choose from a salad, quiche, gratin or a sandwich (flavors rotate) and your meal will be rounded out with bread, soup and a side salad. Traditional teishoku? No. Delicious and, starting at just ¥1,080, good bang for your buck? Absolutely.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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