American-born food brands have been rapidly expanding into Japan over the recent years. If you visit Japan today, don’t be surprised to see notable names like Shake Shack, Blue Bottle, and the iconic Cronut pastry by Chef Dominique Ansel available in tourist hotspots across the country. On the other hand, Japanese restaurants are now also exporting their businesses to the United States, growing their global footprint, and capturing fans from the world’s largest consumer market.
Japanese food has long been a staple for Americans. Sushi is one of the country’s most popular foods, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a city without a Japanese restaurant. From the fascination with sushi conveyor belts in the early 200s, to the recent skyrocketing popularity of ramen, Japanese food continues to become more and more popular across America. While most of America’s Japanese food restaurants are family owned, there has been a slow but steady stream of Japanese-born chain restaurants landing in the United States in recent years.
Japanese food is unique. From ramen and cream puffs to kaiseki-style tasting menus and sushi, here are several Japanese restaurant brands making waves in the United States.
First U.S. location: East Village, New York (2008)
|Locations in Japan||130|
|Planned U.S. locations||up to 200 by 2025|
Ippudo is a popular Tokyo-based ramen chain which launched its first U.S. location in 2008. Today, it’s grown to three locations in New York City, as well as another three in California. The restaurant is known for its pork-based tonkatsu ramen which uses a thinner noodle with lower water content to better compliment the rich pork broth. The company aims to have 300 locations outside of Japan by 2025 and has plans for major expansion across the United States after a successful IPO in 2017. Ippudo is working closely with the company behind Panda
First U.S. location: Los Angeles, California (2017)
|Locations in Japan||778|
|Planned U.S. locations||One|
Marugame Udon is wildly popular in Japan and has a massive presence with over 700 locations. The chain specializes in Sanuki udon, a flatter and squarer version of noodle as compared with the more traditional rounded udon. Each restaurant features a high-tech noodle made which is able to pull, cut, and dry-age noodles for daily use. Beyond udon, the chain also serves a wide variety of tempura, smaller dishses, and drinks.
First U.S. location: Portland, Oregon (2016)
|Locations in Japan||10|
|Planned U.S. locations||Two|
Afuri Ramen has two locations in the United States, one in Portland, Oregon (its first U.S. based location), and another in Cupertino, California. The restaurant is named after Mt. Afuri, and its ramen is famous for its refreshing ramen broth which is made with citrus juice. While this idea is unique, and citrus juice-laced ramen both is extremely delicious, this broth is what complicates the brand’s expansion. The broth’s sensitivity to water hardness requires the company to be selective about locations for future expansion.
First U.S. location: San Francisco, California (2016)
|Locations in Japan||Seven|
|Planned U.S. locations||Two|
Since opening in 2016, Mensho Ramen has become one of the Bay Area’s most popular ramen shops. The chain is well-known in Japan for its rich pork broth and for its perfection of the traditional ramen. More unusual varieties such as chocolate lamb ramen and a vegan ramen are also on the menu. During its opening in 2016, lineups stretched around the block and waits were up to two hours long. Despite its high prices, the restaurant has been packed ever since, and a second location recently opened in December 2021 with a focus on takeout.
First U.S. location: New York City (2004)
|Locations in Japan||180|
|Planned U.S. locations||14|
Prior to opening their flagship U.S. location in Manhattan back in 2004, Beard Papa’s was already well-known and a major hit across Japan for its range of cream puffs. Its puffs are filled with whipped cream custard in a variety of flavors including chocolate, green tea, vanilla, strawberry, blueberry, and Nutella among many others.