This underground world is filled with hungry government officials and cheap eats.

When you’re in Japan and looking for somewhere to eat on a budget, there’s a secret place that mostly only locals know about — the humble staff cafeteria.

These no-fuss eateries can be found hidden away in buildings in big cities, and though they’re designed to feed employees who work within the building, they’re open to members of the public too.

The only hurdle is knowing where to find them, so we’ve been exploring the nooks and crannies of major cities to share our staff cafeteria finds, and our latest discovery is right in the heart of Tokyo, at the Shinjuku Ward Office in Kabukicho.

▼ The staff cafeteria is called “Keyaki” and it’s located in the in the basement of the main government building.

Keyaki is open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on weekdays, but dining hours are from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (only drinks are served outside of dining hours).

▼ Like most staff cafeterias, orders are made via a meal ticket system at the machine near the entrance.

The menu includes popular dishes like ramen, soba, udon, curry, and rice bowls. There are also two daily lunch specials, priced at 610 yen (US$4.55) each, but what we recommend trying is…

▼ …the “Gorogoro Yasai no Pork Curry“, which is a bargain at 460 yen!

When used with curry, the words “Gorogoro Yasai” refers to large cut vegetables, which makes the dish seem more filling. Surprisingly, at Keyaki they even give you a large serving of rice (“ご飯大盛り” or “gohan no oomori”) for free if you request it, so that’s what we did, naturally.

▼ Customers who order set meals, rice bowls or curry can also choose between white or multigrain rice.

We opted for white, and it didn’t take long for us to receive our meal, which came with a side of miso soup. The whole thing appeared to be freshly made, like a home-cooked meal, and it looked absolutely scrumptious.

As the name suggests, this curry is filled with thick-cut vegetables, and when we tried them they were soft and well-cooked, reminding us of the hearty curries we grew up eating at home.

▼ Some staff cafeterias cut costs by skimping on the vegetables, but that certainly wasn’t the case here!

It’s a well-known fact in Japan that despite using similar roux, curries taste different in every household, due to secret ingredients people add to suit their preferred tastes. However, the curry here was a standard curry, in a wonderful way — it was well-balanced and flavourful, making it satisfying for all sorts of palates.

We haven’t had a curry this delicious at a staff cafeteria for a long time, so the value for money here is incredible, especially with the option to upgrade to a large serving of rice for free.

The large serving of rice is much larger than it looks, and just one bowl of this is enough to fill you up. It’s definitely a must-try if you visit the cafeteria, so keep it in mind the next time you visit Kabukicho, and if you’re looking for another secret cafeteria in the neighbourhood, there’s the school cafeteria for adults, which also serves up a mean Japanese curry.

Cafeteria Information

Keyaki / けやき
Address: Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Kabukicho 1-4-1, Shinjuku Ward Office Main Building B1F
東京都新宿区歌舞伎町1-4-1 新宿区役所本庁舎 B1F
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Closed: Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays

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