Did I Fly All The Way to Japan to Have My First Meal at Denny’s?

by wired2theworld on May 4, 2011

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Flight on Singapore Airlines SQ11 LAX to NRT

We left Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon and arrived in Tokyo on Saturday night. This flight was supposed to be on the new Airbus A380, but after the earthquake, Singapore decided to delay the launch for the new aircraft on that route. Instead it we were on a 777 both ways. Because we bought the package though a travel agent we were unable to pick our seats in advance. No amount of phone calls or emails to Singapore or the travel agent could change this. I was never able to get a reason as to why this is their policy either.

Forty eight hours in advance, we were able to check in online and selected two aisle seats in middle section with an empty seat in between. But we gambled and lost and had a guy sitting between us for the entire flight. It’s been over a decade since we’ve flown on Singapore Airlines and while they are known for Business and First, Economy is also pretty good. The seat pitch is tight, as is the recline, but there are good footrests and the food was decent (we selected the Japanese meal both directions). They even have good snacks available between meals. The wine however, was awful. The entertainment system is excellent; a 10” screen at every seat with video on demand. I watched 3 movies on the flight over and could have watched more.

We arrived around 7 PM on a Saturday night and it was very fast going through customs/immigration. There was no line at all and our bags were coming down when we arrived. As part of our package, we had tickets for the airport limobus which goes directly to the Hilton. We simply took our vouchers to one of the many “limobus” desks in the arrivals terminals and got a ticket. They told us where to go and we waited about 5 minutes for the bus to come. Our luggage was tagged and put under the bus. It took about 90 minutes to get to the hotel.

Tokyo Hilton, Shinjuku

At check-in we were told we were “Upgraded” to deluxe room on 25th floor, but only seemed to be higher floor (nice view) with no extra amenities. There was no art on the walls, no robes, but it did have a very large safe, flat screen TV (the only channels in English are BBC news and CNN), and hot water kettle with teas and instant coffee (no coffee maker). The bathroom was very tight with plastic walls and decent toiletries (lots of choice) and a Toto washlet toilet (see my observations post for more about toilets in Japan).

Tip: Some mornings we used the hot water kettle to make packets of oatmeal we brought with us for breakfast because we were up so early (4:30 AM most days). The Starbucks about a block away does not open until 7:30 am. Breakfast in the hotel is 3600 yen (about $40 per person) for the buffet and was not included with our room.

Did I fly all the way to Japan to have my first meal at Denny’s?

By the time we’d checked in and were ready to go out to eat it was about 10pm. In the immediate area surrounding the Tokyo Hilton there just aren’t a lot of restaurants open very late. There are very few restaurants visible at street level, but most of the big buildings have an underground mall area with restaurants. Unfortunately, most were closing at that time. If we had known a little more, we could have walked about 8 blocks to the main Shinjuku area where there are tons of restaurants, though I doubt we would have found a lot open because many places seem to shut down around 10pm. 

It’s funny how we have this image in our heads about how things should be. I wanted noodles for our first meal and was determined to get them. Who would have thought I’d find them at Denny’s? But that’s where we ended up, jet lagged and famished, unwilling to search further.

Ramen at Denny's in Tokyo

The Denny’s near the Tokyo Hilton is open 24hrs and is only about a block from the hotel (exit hotel, turn right). To our surprise, we found a restaurant which very much looks like a Denny’s, but with a completely different menu. Gone are the Grand Slams and Chicken Fried Steak, replaced by Japanese favorites including fried pork cutlets, gyoza, and a decent bowl of ramen. In addition, they serve Asahi beer! There are big plastic menus just like in the US, but (of course) they are all in Japanese. We were thankful for the photos of each menu item (point to order works!). The menus also have a calorie count for each item, like many chain restaurants now do in the US.

Like Denny’s in the US, this place had similar late night demographics. There are the teenagers crammed around a big table, eating ice cream and looking at their cell phones and video games. There’s the single guy, chain smoking, reading a magazine. There are the lovers, canoodling in a booth, oblivious to the rest of the world. We were the only dazed tourists in there.

On each table is a little bell/button. Press it and it will chime, signaling the server you are ready to order. They probably won’t come until you do. Smoking is still allowed in restaurants so it’s likely even if you sit in a non-smoking restaurant, you will still smell cigarette smoke.

Menu and Beer at Denny's in Tokyo

We both opted for a bowl of ramen and shared a large beer. While it wasn’t the best ramen I’ve ever had, it was tasty, filling, and hit the spot after the long flight. Satisfied, we were able to go back to the hotel and get some sleep in preparation for a big day of sightseeing to come.

For more food related travel stories, make sure you check out Wanderfood Wednesdays.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Myra May 4, 2011 at 9:17 am

I think it’s hilarious your first meal in Japan was at Denny’s. And while it would have been even funnier if you’d eaten the Grand Slam, I’m glad you did get to eat noodles for your first meal. (By the way, I’ve been craving ramen since you first posted that picture on your FB page.)
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2 wired2theworld May 4, 2011 at 9:40 am

Thanks Myra. I’m nothing but determined!

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3 Marina K. Villatoro May 4, 2011 at 9:54 am

How nuts! I remember we lived in Costa Rica and ate at Denny’s. And we weren’t eating anything local, at least you got cool noodles.

Oddly enough, we were in country of fruits and vegetables and they gave us all imported stuff from the states and frozen veggies and fruits.

Now that you’ve got Denny’s out of your system it’s time to eat the real stuff!
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4 wired2theworld May 4, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Don’t worry, we ate nothing but Japanese food the entire week there. MUCH more to come…

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5 Wanderluster May 4, 2011 at 11:56 am

Denny’s in Japan – who knew? At least the in-flight meal was decent!
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6 wired2theworld May 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Actually, the ramen was decent too. If they had that plus the Asahi at Denny’s here in the US, I might actually go there!

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7 ayngelina May 6, 2011 at 8:16 am

Wow, well it does look so much nicer than American Denny’s, I’d try it :)
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8 Travellyn June 3, 2011 at 8:52 am

Well I had a similar experience for our first meal in Japan as felt the restaurant at our hotel too expensive and it was a place similar to Denny’s and was just glad to find something to eat. The menu’s with the pictures help when there is very little English spoken. All good fun though!
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9 Shawn Kielty June 4, 2011 at 12:37 am

I went to a pizza hut in China — which featured “Express business lunch” of Soba with some crazy fast food Chinese Italian fusion, which was horrible. But then my friend took me to BK and insisted I order the Chinese Chicken Burrito … It was surprising.
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