There are family restaurants, and then there are Bando Taro family restaurants.

In Japan, family restaurants are generally laid-back affairs, with booth seating and menus filled with a wide variety of reasonably priced options to suit people of all ages. When you’re travelling outside of a central city like Tokyo, these family restaurants really come into their own, with exclusive regional chains going all out with eye-catching design features, interior charm, and surprisingly cheap local specialties.

Our reporter Masanuki Sunakoma is always on the lookout for new family restaurants whenever he’s travelling on the road, and he’s recently become addicted to one he found during his travels in the northern Kanto region.

Called Bando Taro, this Ibaraki-based Japanese restaurant chain has over 80 locations in Ibaraki, Tochigi, Saitama, Gunma, and Chiba prefectures. The restaurants are easy to spot, as they’re generally located along national highways, and have a unique architectural design that makes each one look like a traditional thatched-roof building.

▼ This traditional, old-school design continues through to the noren curtain at the front entrance…

▼ …and the beautiful warm wood panelling that greets you as soon as you step inside.

While each branch has its own quirks, the general theme is the same throughout, and right at the entrance you’ll find a board outlining the origins of the chain’s name. Bando is the former name for the Kanto region, and the largest river in the region, Tone, was nicknamed “Bando Taro”, as “Taro” is a name usually given to an eldest son. The nickname “Bando Taro” makes the river feel like a big brother or dutiful son who helps the local people in its midst, and Bando Taro, the restaurant, aims to create that same familial feel.

Even though he was dining solo, Masanuki was shown to a booth for six by the window, which he absolutely loved.

On the table were a variety of menus, filled with mouthwatering photos of delicious meals. The choices here are incredibly extensive, ranging from hotpots to noodles, sushi, sashimi, rice bowls, set meals, snacks, and meals for children. According to the chain’s official website, they even cater for family events and banquets.

You could eat here every day and never get bored with so many options to choose from. Masanuki had been recommended the chain’s famous miso nikomi udon (udon cooked in a miso paste broth), so that’s what he ordered on this particular visit.

The Bando Miso Nikomi Udon Lunch (1,375 yen [US$9.17]), comes with pickles and a half-serving of rice on the side, and it’s one of the chain’s most popular dishes.

▼ It also comes with a small bib that you can use while eating to keep your top clean from any errant sloshes.

The meal itself is so hearty and filling that you’ll feel like you’re having dinner at lunchtime, and it’s incredibly delicious. While many people might think of Nagoya when it comes to miso nikomi udon, as it’s particularly famous there, this one served up at Bando Taro is a little different — the seasoning has been altered to suit the tastes of locals in the Kanto region, and the soup uses a miso blend that’s been carefully aged for three years, and a special rich dashi stock that is simply exquisite.

The dish is loaded with tofu, lotus root, Chinese cabbage, mushrooms, and spinach, so it’s hearty and filling, and Masanuki thinks he likes it better than the miso nikomi udon in Nagoya. But then again, he’s Kanto born-and-bred so he might be biased.

The udon noodles were deliciously chewy, and when mixed with the rich and flavourful soup, the taste of nostalgia filled Masanuki’s mouth.

▼ It tasted like a homemade dish from his childhood, and it was so good that Masanuki drank up every last drop!

While the udon was fantastic, Masanuki has one more dish he highly recommends: the Marutoku Lunch. This special set is limited to only 10 meals a day, and it’s such great value that you’ll want to line up for it before the place opens. Masanuki was able to order the Marutoku Lunch when he visited right at the 11 a.m. opening time on a different day (as we said, he’s addicted to eating here), and it was so popular it sold out in an hour.

▼ The Marutoku Lunch contains all this for just 1,419 yen!

The set includes a negitoro (minced raw tuna) bowl, cold udon, pickles, salad, three types of tempura, pudding, and a drink.

▼ The negitoro bowl was fresh and tasty…

▼ …and the cold udon was delightfully refreshing.

They even give you three types of dressing to add to your dishes, and the pudding for dessert comes from Yo-ji, a high-class local bread specialty store.

The pudding was divine, and Masanuki couldn’t help but think one of the reasons why the Marutoku Lunch set is so popular is because they don’t cut corners when it comes to sweets.

While a lot of the dishes in the set might not blow your mind with deliciousness, together they combine to deliver a homely, familiar flavour that’ll make you feel like you’re eating at a home away from home.

And that’s exactly what Bando Taro aims to deliver — a feeling of familial comfort, which is what Masanuki felt as he sat back in his private booth with his belly full during both visits. Bando Taro certainly knows how to please its local customers, and now that it’s charms have captured him, hook, line, and sinker, he’ll definitely be visiting again, when he’s not dining at his other favourite restaurant chain, which feels like a samurai residence.

Related: Bando Taro
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