Through a tiny door, no less.

Japan has a number of big-name family restaurants scattered around Japan, but in amongst them you’ll find smaller, lesser known regional ones that only exist within specific areas. These are the ones that tend to be most loved by locals, and coveted by those who live outside the region, as they champion local produce and specialties, capturing the taste of the district.

Up in Tochigi Prefecture, one local family restaurant that residents know and love goes by the name “Kusaki Marino”, and according to Google Maps, there are 15 branches, located mostly in the northern Kanto region.

Despite having so many locations, there’s no official website, which makes finding Kusaki Marino near impossible for anyone who doesn’t hear about it through word-of-mouth. Even the signage outside the restaurants is so modest you’d drive right past it if you didn’t know about it, but that’s part of why the restaurant is such a hidden gem.

Our own reporter Masanuki Sunakoma would never have uncovered this gem if it hadn’t been for a friend who tipped him off about it, and when he arrived at a branch when it opened at 11 a.m., he was surprised to see the large parking lot was already nearly full.

▼ However, what was even more surprising was the door at the entrance, which was so small he had to bend at the waist to enter it.

Sliding doors like these are often seen at Japanese teahouses, as a throwback to the days when they were used to ensure all those who enter are equals, as samurai would have to remove their swords to enter.

The door at Kusaki Marino is roughly a metre (3.3 feet) high, so adults need to bow their heads when they enter, an action that instantly conjures up thoughts of samurai culture and the equalising effect that intends to create a peaceful, harmonious space.

▼ The space inside is indeed calm and harmonious.

The dimly lit interior made this seem more like a cafe rather than a family restaurant, and because it was so large inside, with many semi-private rooms, there was a lot of space between customers.

The lunch menu offers a variety of options, covering pasta, steak and Asian dishes. When Masanuki visited, the lunch menu contained the following: Sirloin steak made with Angus beef from Australia, Tuna and Mushroom Spaghetti, Eggplant and Bacon Amatriciana Spaghetti, Taco Rice, Gapao Rice, and Chicken and Vegetables in an Oil and Vinegar Sauce.

Ordering is done by touch panel, and a blurb on the side of the screen revealed the history behind this local chain: “Marino, the owner, renovated their home and opened an Asian restaurant.

The restaurant really did have a homely feel reminiscent of an eatery attached to a personal residence, and when the food arrived…

▼…it had a similar homely feel!

Masanuki had ordered the “Asian Dish Set” for 1,518 yen (US$9.76), which contained Gapao Rice, with soup, a fresh spring roll, and pudding on the side.

You’d usually expect to see a set like this at a fancy cafe rather than a family restaurant, and the quality of the food impressed Masanuki straight away. The vegetables were fresh, the minced meat juicy and the fried egg cooked just right, allowing the yolk to drizzle over the rice beautifully.

Every bite was an explosion of flavour, with just the right amount of spice, and the Fresh Spring Roll was equally good.

The pudding was also high quality, and the soup contained so many ingredients that by the end of the meal, Masanuki felt satisfied and full.

When he left the restaurant after midday, even more people had arrived, with couples and families lining up in the front area waiting to be seated, proving just how popular the place is with locals.

After eating at Kusaki Marino, Masanuki understood why it attracted so many people, as it ticked all his boxes in terms of service, setting, price and quality. With the Northern Kanto area being home to other exclusive restaurants, like this one that looks like a bandit’s hideout and this one that feels like a samurai residence, this region is a fantastic place to eat out on a budget!

Restaurant Information

Kusaki Marino Sano store / 草木万里野 佐野店
Address: Tochigi-ken, Sano-shi, Abuzukacho 310
Hours: 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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