Ten people, 1,000 yen each, ten different lunches

With the yen as weak as it is at the moment, right now is an excellent time to visit Japan. For example, at Italian restaurant Saizeriya, voted as Japan’s best value family restaurant, you can eat like a king for less than 1,000 yen, which right now converts to just US$6.70!

We should know. Just about the entire office went to lunch together to try 10 different ways to spend 1,000 yen. This was part of our Super Budget Dining series–finding the best way to spend 1,000 yen at different restaurants and eateries around Tokyo. We actually already went to Saizeriya once for this experiment, but we only had five people come with us that time, and Saizeriya’s menu is so vast, we were sure there were more delicious bargain combinations to discover.

Aas you may have guessed, the only Super Budget Dining rule is that participants must spend no more than 1,000 yen. If the total, even after tax, comes to more than 1,000 yen, they have failed. But it wasn’t hard to stay under budget at all. Saizeriya has so far managed to resist the urge to raise prices in this age of inflation, so we each still managed to have a veritable smorgasbord. For example…

Go Hatori’s Children’s Lunch Set for Adults

● Hamburger Steak (400 yen)
Rice (150 yen)
Corn Cream Soup (150 yen)
Tiramisu Classico (300 yen)
Total: 1,000 yen

Go: “When I go to a family restaurant, I want to eat hamburger steaks, and I don’t want a small-size rice, I want a regular helping. I also want the experience of eating soup with a spoon, and at the end, I want dessert.”

“The fact that you can do all that for just 1,000 yen is what’s so great about Saizeriya. The hamburger steak also comes with a fried egg and even potatoes. Saizeriya is the only place you can splurge this much!”

For just 1,000 yen, Go managed to have a multi-course meal using food popular with children in Japan. His meal included a main dish, rice, soup, and dessert. In a sense, he even had room to spare, since he spent as much as 300 yen on tiramisu that he could have used on more substantial dishes. While it was a very orthodox combination, it was a pretty substantial one.

Yoshio’s Shrimp Attack! A Variety of the Finest Shrimp Set

● Pasta with Shrimp and Asparagus in Aurora Sauce (500 yen)
Shrimp Salad (350 yen)
Mini Foccacia (150 yen)
Total: 1,000 yen

Yoshio: “When I think of Saizeriya, I think of shrimp. And among their shrimp dishes, the Pasta with Shrimp and Asparagus in Aurora Sauce and the Shrimp Salad are their aces. I would’ve been overjoyed to have just these two things, but to add a mini foccacia–I might be too happy!”

“By the way, the amount of asparagus you get on this pasta is no joke. Thank you, Saizeriya. Forever Saizeriya. Grazie, Saizeriya.”

This combination is a shrimp lover’s dream. The Pasta with Shrimp and Asparagus in Aurora Sauce is a relatively new menu item, so not many people might know of it yet, but it’s really tasty. Combining it with the classic, popular Shrimp Salad is a winning move. If you’re a fan of shrimp, this could be the combo to go for!

Takashi Harada’s Tried-and-True Milano-style Doria + Healthy + Refreshing = A Refined Meal Set

● Milano-style Doria (baked cheese and rice) with a Hard-boiled Egg (350 yen)
Onion Zuppa (Soup) (300 yen)
Chicken Salad (350 yen)
Total: 1,000 yen

Takashi: “If you’re going to eat at Saizeriya, you have to eat their Milano-style doria. If you have as much as 1,000 yen to spend, why not choose to add the both luxurious and healthy chicken salad? The ingredients themselves are full of umami, and the salad as a whole is delicious.”

“With my last 300 yen, I decided to order the Onion Zuppa, also known as French Onion Soup. It has a really refreshing flavor, so in combination with the other two, you’re promised an excellent meal, and you’ll be pretty full after. It comes out to 1,000 yen exactly, so try this when you want to treat yourself!”

Takashi created his order around the Milano-style doria, which is quite possibly Saizeriya’s most popular dish, at least within our office. To obey the ancient Japanese proverb, “Never forget Saizeriya’s soup,” Takashi picked the French Onion Soup to accompany it, which is a reliable choice. Although he didn’t have what could be considered a “main dish”, the salad did include chicken, so there didn’t seem to be anything missing from this combination.

P.K. Sanjun’s Power-packed Protein Set

● Arrosticini (lamb skewers) (400 yen)
Hamburger Steak (400 yen)
Warm Green Pea Salad (200 yen)
Total: 1,000 yen

P.K.: “To me Saizeriya is a arrosticini restaurant. Since Saizeriya has so many outstanding dishes, the arrosticini might seem a little on the expensive side, but I can’t even imagine going to Saizeriya and not ordering it.”

“I hadn’t realized it when I made the order, but combining it with the hamburger steak and the green pea salad makes this a set with a protein punch. Saizeriya is, of course, cheap and delicious, but it can also be a place to take care of your body, too.”

At some point, Saizeriya apparently became an Italian-cum-Arrosticini restaurant to P.K. Arrosticini has the disadvantage of not offering much in the way of portion sizes, but the hamburger steak makes up for that. This set dedicated to the arrosticini is perfect for weight lifters and the health-minded.

Seiji Nakazawa’s Manly Shakey’s Set

● Milano-style Doria (300 yen)
Peperoncino Pasta (300 yen)
Sausage Pizza (400 yen)
Total: 1,000 yen

Seiji: “A man’s fantasy is all-you-can-eat, and when it comes to all-you-can-eat Italian, it gets no better than [pizza and pasta buffet] Shakey’s. However, you can get the same level of satisfaction at Saizeriya. It’s simple. All you have to do is order pizza, pasta, and doria.”

“Milano-style doria, sausage pizza, and peperoncino pasta amounts to just 1,000 yen. That’s even cheaper than all-you-can-eat at Shakey’s, and this is just what I want, and as much as I can eat in one sitting, anyway. There’s nothing holding you back. Not at Saizeriya.”

In contrast to P.K.’s healthier options, this order pushed the limits of heartiness with a violence. This attack of carbs is for the fiercely hungry. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but then again, neither is Shakey’s.

Yuichiro Wasai’s Saizeriya Lunch Course Meal Set

● Lunch Menu Spaghetti Pomodoro (500 yen)
Chicken alla Diavola (500 yen)
Total: 1,000 yen

Yuichiro: “The things that may catch your eye at Saizeriya are the Milano-style doria and the spicy chicken, but you can’t forget about the simple yet exquisite lunch sets. What’s exquisite about them? They’re really cheap, and yet they come with salad and soup. And if you add something else to that, what you get is a multi-course meal.”

“This time, I began my meal with soup and salad, then whet my appetite with Spaghetti Pomodoro, and finally indulged in a main course of Chicken alla Diavola. I almost feel bad that I’m only spending 1,000 yen on this meal.”

Yuichiro wisely took advantage of the small window in which the lunch set is available. By adding a main dish to the lunch set, he created a multi-course meal. This was a smart way to really stretch the budget into a ridiculous level of cost-effectiveness. Though you can only order this set during lunchtime, it’s an excellent option for a hearty and filling lunch.

Mr. Sato’s Saizeriya for Beginners Set

● Warm Green Pea Salad (200 yen)
Mini Ficelle (150 yen)
Spaghetti Pomodoro (400 yen)
Italian Pudding (250 yen)
Total: 1,000 yen

Mr. Sato: “I actually never go to Saizeriya, so I don’t really know what they have on the menu besides that famous Milano-style dora. So what I came up with was this set. A well-balanced, carefully selected set by and for Saizeriya beginners.”

“The one surprising element was the mini ficelle. It’s shockingly delicious for 150 yen. After the fact I realized it would’ve been good to order a sausage and use it to make a hot dog. In any case, I highly recommend it.”

Mr. Sato’s order revealed himself as a newbie to Saizeriya, but he nevertheless managed to squeeze four different items into his order to make a classic, well-balanced combination that can do no wrong. That’s what’s so great about Saizeriya, isn’t it?

Ahiruneko’s Best Drinking Set (as of the time of writing)

● Chicken alla Diavolo (500 yen)
Buffalo Mozzarella (300 yen)
Decanter of red wine (200 yen)
Total: 1,000 yen

Ahiru Neko: “If I were to total all of the wine I’ve drunk at Saizeriya so far, it’d probably be several hundred liters. You might even consider me an Expert of Saizeriya Drinking.”

“As such, the best thing on Saizeriya’s drinking menu, as of September 2023, is this guy [pointing to the wine decanter]. Ideally I would complement it with the oven-roasted escargot or the chicken tenderloin, but I had to think of the overall balance of the meal for this challenge, and this is what I ended up with.”

“Also, I don’t think many people know this, but Saizeriya’s water buffalo mozzarella cheese is probably one of the best quality items on the menu. I don’t think there’s much available on the general market that would compare, so if you’re going to order wine, you have to order the mozzarella.”

“Mister Drinker” Ahiruneko based his meal around the wine, of course, but made sure to have something  substantial to eat with it, because drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea. The combination of the highly cost-effective decanter of red wine and the eternally delicious Buffalo Mozzarella really shows how much of a Saizeriya expert Ahiruneko is.

Mariko Ohanabatake’s Sweets of Your Saizeriya Dreams Set

● Pudding and Tiramisu Classico Assortment (500 yen)
Coffee Jelly & Italian Gelato Set (350 yen)
Mini Focaccia (150 yen)
Total: 1,000 yen

Mariko: “Attack of the specialty desserts! First of all, you can’t come to Saizeriya and not eat the Italian pudding. Saizeriya’s pudding is firm and delicious. It’s the best! Adding tiramisu to that only makes this set even stronger.”

“Plus, the gelato is also really good, so there’ plenty of merit to making it a set with the coffee jelly. The mini focaccia serves not only as a palate cleanser, but if you add the gelato to it to make a sandwich, it’s almost like an Italian Maritozzo, which is a fluffy roll with gelato inside!”

Sweets-loving Mariko couldn’t help but compete in the ring with an attack of sweets. And it’s not weak competition; Saizeriya’s Italian pudding is top notch, and the coffee jelly never disappoints. Mariko’s idea of making a maritozzo out of the mini focaccia and the gelato is pretty genius, too. This is a set for afternoon tea, perhaps, or for a dessert round. Regardless, it’s perfect for those with a sweet tooth.

Masanuki Sunakoma’s Historic Saizeriya Experience Set

● Milano-style Doria (300 yen)
Squid Ink Spaghetti (500 yen)
Spinach Sauté (200 yen)
Total: 1,000 yen

Masanuki: “I think the main attraction at Saizeriya is the Milano-style doria. Even if it cost 1,000 yen or 3,000 yen, you’d still have to order it.”

“The squid-ink pasta is apparently a Saizeriya specialty that’s been on the menu for more than 30 years. This is my first time ordering it, but the aroma and umami of squid was no joke. I assume it’ll continue to be a favorite among customers for 30 more years. Also, I have no complaints about the spinach sauté. If you’re a Saizeriya fan with 1,000 yen, you can really experience the history of Saizeriya with this set.”

Once again the Milano-style doria served as the core of this set, with the additional two items playing a supporting role. Since all of  Masanuki’s picks are long-standing menu items, there’s nothing especially novel about his choices, but they are all reliably satisfying. Double carbs may be a double no for some people, but if you’re not going all out, are you really going at all?

So which way are you going to spend your 1,000 yen? Of course, you can have a perfectly good lunch for far less than that at Saizeriya, so if you’re on a really strict budget, it’s one of the best places to eat (and even drink)! Naturally you probably won’t want to eat at Saizeriya for every meal, but not to worry. We also know how to eat well at gyoza restaurant Gyoza Osho and revolving sushi chain Sushiro for less than 1,000 yen too. Happy eating!

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