Sunday, May 7, 2017

Beef Bowl Japanese Gyudon - Best and Cheapest Japanese Soul Food

With many franchise restaurants throughout Japan, Gyndon Beef bowl 牛丼 remains one of the best and most affordable comfort food options for budget travelers in Japan. Typical price of a regular size Gyndon Beef Bowl is about $2.50 to $3.50 USD, the value far exceeds any other cuisine in Japan. Many of the restaurants open 24 hour a day in urban areas in Japan and they are everywhere near train/subway stations, this makes it a great option for a quick bite any time of the day. Typical Beef Bowl recipe consists of thinly sliced Beef braised in sweet soy sauce, cooked to perfection with onion over steamed rice. I am dedicating this blog article to the best and my favorite franchise Beef Bowl restaurants in Tokyo Japan, such as Yoshinoya 吉野家, Matsuya 松屋, Sukiya すき屋, Nakau なか卯 and Tokyo Chikara Meshi 東京チカラめし, etc.
Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; Mastsuya; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Best and cheapest food in Japan: Beef Bowl Japanese Gyudon

- To read about my recommendation for the best food other than Ramen and Sushi in Japan, visit: Best Food in Tokyo Japan
- To read about my Kobe Beef in Kobe 2016 Experience, visit: Kobe Beef in Kobe 2016
- To read about my Wagyu Experiences and list of best Wagyu and Kobe Beef restaurants in Tokyo, visit: Wagyu Japanese Beef

A typical set up of a Gyndon Beef Bowl restaurant in an urban setting consists of counter seats with staff preparing meals for you in the middle. After purchasing meal ticket from the automatic vending machine, present the ticket to the staff and the meal will be served within a couple of minutes.

Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; Mastsuya; restaurant; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Best place to observe real Japanese Salary Man in Japan is at a Gyndon Beef Bowl restaurant

Delicious, fast and inexpensive are the common standards of the Gyndon Beef Bowl restaurants in Japan. This is the best place the observe the efficiency of how "fast food" restaurant is run in Japan.

Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; Mastsuya; restaurant; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Every Japanese Salary Man is minding their own business in Beef Bowl restaurants

Sample Location:
〒106-0032 Tokyo, Roppongi, 4−11−11
Phone: +81 3-5772-5114
Hours: Open 24 hours
松屋 六本木4丁目店

Matsuya remains my favorite Gyndon Beef Bowl restaurant during my travel in Japan. I remember my very first time I had Matsuya Gyndon Beef Bowl in 2001 in Tokyo, where the restaurant was next to the hotel I stayed at. There was a subtle difference in taste between Yoshinoya Gyndon Beef Bowl in terms of the balance of saltiness and sweetness of the beef stew. In my opinion the taste of Matsuya Gyudon Beef Bowl had a lighter flavor and a more refreshing sweetness. The saltiness of the soy sauce did not stand out as much when compared to Yoshinoya flavor.
Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; Mastsuya; restaurant; Roppongi; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Late night dinner at Matsuya in Roppongi area in Tokyo

Self service set up to keep the cost down, Matsuya is considered to be the cheapest among all major Gyudon Beef Bowl franchise chains.

Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; Mastsuya; restaurant; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Huge selection of condiments and dressing for the Beef Bowl and optional salad

This particular Matsuya restaurants serves their signature Premium Gyu Meshi Beef Bowl. The Beef is extra tender when compared to the ordinary Beef Bowl selection at other locations. Each order of Beef Bowl comes with complimentary Miso soup and optional spice shaker condiment in wooden container.

Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; Mastsuya; restaurant; meal set; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Matsuya Premium Gyudon Beef Bowl with complimentary Miso soup

Sample Location:
〒163-0690 Tokyo, Nishishinjuku, 1−25−1
Phone: +81 3-5909-7565
Hours: 7:30AM–8PM
吉野家 新宿センタービル店

Yoshinoya franchise remains the biggest and the most influential Gyndon Beef Bowl in Japan and throughout the world. Yoshinoya branding is so popular that they there is a PlayStation game made for simulation of operating Yoshinoya restaurants. The flavor of the the Beef stew has a more robust flavor when compared with Matsuya. While having equal level of  Umami, I feel saltiness of Yoshinoya Beef Bowl stands out more than Matsuya.
Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; Yoshinoya; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Yoshinoya Beef Bowl franchise dominates Beef Bowl business in Japan

I was a bit surprised to see Yoshinoya food being served in Japan Airline flight from Kansai International Airport to Los Angeles in October 2016. I realized that Yoshinoya brand is perhaps the symbol for Beef Bowl and it is one of the most satisfying choices of breakfast in Japan. 
Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; Yoshinoya; Japan Airline; Air; Flight meal; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
One of the perks of flying with Japan Airline or All Nippon is the great taste of their in-flight meals

Air Yoshinoya served in Japan Airline flights had no compromise in taste. Egg sauce, spice condiment and benishoga red gingers were options to "beef up" the Beef Bowl. Potato/Macaroni salad and almond tofu were great appetizer and dessert to accompany the best soul food breakfast from Japan.

Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; Yoshinoya; Japan Airline; Air; Flight meal; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Japan Airline served Yoshinoya Beef Bowl during the flight from Kansai Osaka to Los Angeles USA

In Japan, Yoshinoya and Matsuya are often being compared with each other. I ranked Yoshinoya slightly below Matsuya simply because there are plenty of Yoshinoya franchise restaurants in the greater Los Angeles area. I would rather enjoy the special flavor only offered at Matsuya while traveling in Japan.

Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; Yoshinoya; Matsuya; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Two major Gyudon Beef Bowl franchise competing with each other in Sapporo Hokkaido

Sample Location:
〒160-0022 Tokyo, Shinjuku, 1 Chome−19−7 新花ビル
Phone: +81 120-498-007
Hours: Open 24 hours

Sukiya is another popular restaurant chain that serves great Gyudon Beef Bowl. Sukiya is known to offer variety of toppings and their creative dishes unique to their franchise. To my taste buds, the flavor has an even more robust saltiness when compared to other competitors. I believe the taste would be very suitable for people from North America, as I believe that people from the US prefer strong soy sauce flavor in their food.
Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; Sukiya; raw egg; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Typical set meal at Sukiya: mini size Gyudon Beef Bowl, raw egg, and pork Miso soup for about $3 USD

Sample Location:
〒160-0021 Tokyo, Kabukicho, 1 Chome−17−2 戸谷ビル
Phone: +81 80-5986-4575
Hours: 5AM–3AM
東京チカラめし 新宿東口総本店

Tokyo Chikara Meshi Grilled Beef is slightly different from other rival Gyudon Beef Bowl restaurants. In terms of the meat they serve, the slices are thicker but equally succulent. Chikara Meshi beef is marinated in special sauce and grilled instead of being cooked in a stew like other competitors. I remember the grilled/marinated beef had a good balance of saltiness and sweetness to it, no overpowering flavor in their recipe made the meal very enjoyable even as breakfast.
Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; chikara meshi; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Generous cuts of grilled beef, marinated to perfection at Tokyo Chikara Meshi restaurant

Thin slice Korean Kalbi-like beef grilled to perfection over perfectly cooked rice in Japanese standard. I recommend adding some of their chili sauce to kick it up a notch.
Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; chikara meshi; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
The meat texture stands out when comparing Tokyo Chikara Meshi to its competitors

Sample Location:
〒Tokyo, Shinjuku, Nishishinjuku, 7 Chome−8−12
Phone: +81 3-6833-8824
なか卯 小滝橋通り店
〒160-0023西新宿7-8-12 昇立ビル1F

Nakau franchise is less well known when compared to its competitors, however, Nakau is worth a try because of their special flavor in their Wafu 和風 (Traditional Japanese) style/flavor Gyudon Beef Bowl. Topped with green opinion, Shiitake mushroom and Shirataki noodles, the complexity of Gyudon Beef Bowl flavor easily exceeds fast food standard.
Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; Nakau; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Wafu Japanese flavor adds to the complexity of the taste of Nakau Gyudon Beef Bowl

I had the opportunity to try Nakau Wafu Gyudon Beef Bowl in 2010, I was quite impressed with the flavor and the different toppings. I am not quite sure if they still serve Shiitake mushroom anymore but I still recommend trying Nakau Wafu Gyudon Beef Bowl after travelers have tried other "ordinary' Beef Bowls at other restaurants. Nakau is also known for their famous Kyoto style Udon soup that has a very aromatic dashi soup base; the same dashi is likely to be used in their Wafu Beef Bowl stew.

Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; Nakau; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Mushroom, scallion and Shirataki noodles were great ingredients for the Wafu Gyudon Beef Bowl


When in Rome, do as the Romans do. After years of traveling in Japan and eating Beef Bowls in counter seats, I have learned a few items that local customers often order to "beef up" their Gyudon. 

***Onsen Tamago Soft Boil/RunnyEgg
One of the most popular and best way of eating Gyudon Beef Bowl is to crack an egg on top of it, entirely raw or runny style of egg. Only the freshest egg can be eaten this way in Japan and there is no weird or unpleasant taste to the raw egg added to the Beef Bowl. The mixture of egg yolk and egg white add to the Umami flavor and decrease the pungent saltiness. This upgrade typically cost about 60 to 100 yen, just remember to pre-order  on the meal ticket vending machine.
Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; raw onsen tamago egg; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Eat like a local! crack an Onsen Tamago runny egg on top of your Gyudon Beef Bowl

The typical way of eating Gyudon Beef Bowl with a raw/runny egg is to crack the egg into a bowl and then pour the egg on top of the beef. Break the egg yolk and mix it with beef and rice with chopsticks.

Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; raw onsen tamago egg; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Break open the egg yolk and mix it well with the beef and rice before enjoy your Gyudon Beef Bowl, Japanese style

***Tonjiru Pork Miso Soup
Typical Gyudon Beef Bowl is served with regular plain Miso soup, but almost all franchise restaurants offer pork Miso soup on their menu to better satisfy their pork loving customers. Thin slice pork belly meat and pork bone soup was not heavy for the stomach and had no gamey taste, which makes it a good a option for breakfast.
Best Tokyo Gyudon Beef Bowl; pork soup; Tonjiru; Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult
Pork Miso soup is a great upgrade to your Gyudon Beef Bowl meal

*Kitsuneya Tsukiji Tokyo - I had it in 2007, before Tsukiji was packed with tourist due to Japan's VISA restriction lift. Good taste but I would not recommend this place due to the likely long wait in line. They are also known for Horumon ホルモン Bowl (stew intestine) but intestine cuisine is not suitable for everyone.
Tokyo Consult. TokyoConsult. Best Beef Bowl Japanese Gyudon restaurant in Tokyo Japan. Yoshinoya, Matsuya, Sukiya, Tsukiji, Kitsuneya
Tsukiji Kitsuneya Beef bowel less fatty cuts of meat in their strong flavor stew. Worth a try if you want to try more gourmet beef bowl in Tokyo

*Tokyo Gyudon Gyu no Chikara - this place has been on my to-eat list for many years, I have not had a chance to try it yet.

*Yoshinoya Wagyu Beef Bowl at very selected locations - wait until I discover their secret location, I will write an article about it.


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