I can’t say enough about the goodness that is the Japanese family restaurant, known as a ファミレス (famiresu) for short. But let me try to do it justice.
A famiresu is a kind of Japanese diner which features drink bar, meaning all-you-can-drink beverages such as tea, hot chocolate, juice, soda, and types of coffee. Think something slightly like Denny’s but way more cozy with friendly and smiling staff, a menu with ample options for a lacto-ovo-pescatarian vegetarian like me, great prices, and constant hydration while you study with friends, work away at a paper, enjoy a casual date, write a novel, or hang out. (And if you have kids, there’s the Happy Meal-like “Lucky Set” that includes a Gashapon toy). Famiresu are often themed around salisbury steak (called hamburg) or Italian fare, but since they aim to be all-around appealing, you can order anything from Western meat dishes to traditional Japanese staples to daily lunchtime teishoku set meals to the pure amazing-ness that is famiresu breakfast (sunny-side-up eggs, fluffy pancakes, perfect golden Hokkaido potatoes).
A block away from HUEA is Gusto (ガスト), my most frequented go-to place. I often order the basic spaghetti and tack on the drink/salad set (bottomless fountain drinks + unlimited soup + a small side salad), but the half-boiled-egg-and-veggie doria (a casserole similar to risotto) is also hearty and warming. When I’m under the weather, nothing beats kinoko mushroom zosui (a sort of rice porridge similar to okayu or Chinese congee). My favorite “mixed drink” from the drink bar is 3 spoonfuls of Vanilla Ole swirled into a glass of Coca Cola.
Eating out doesn’t cost much more than cooking at home. Some famiresu even include soup or soft serve in the drink bar, a teapot you can take to your table, or salad bar. In Sapporo, some good ones to relax in are Royal Host, ON, Cowboy Kazoku, Coco’s (adapted from the American one), and Victoria Station (Japan’s adaption of Bob’s Big Boy); Saizeriya isn’t quite as awesome but is cheaper and thus very popular with high schoolers.
If I ever had to leave Japan, famiresu is probably the element of everyday lifestyle convenience that I’d miss the most – including its unlimited access to oshibori wet towels at the drink bar.