11/21/06 | Yoshinoya Beef Bowl
[ Currently Eating: Wheat Toast ]
“Hey Yoshinoya, Nice To Know Ya!” Such was the familiar greeting I often heard in college… because my last name happened to nearly coincide with this Beef Bowl chain’s name. I didn’t mind too much though, because I liked their food and still do.
Something that a lot of people (including me) are surprised about is that the Yoshinoya Beef Bowl chain is not endemic to the U.S. It’s actually straight from Japan and is quite respected over there (would you believe it was actually established back in 1899!) I was always under the impression that it was a “Panda Express” phenomenon – a sort of ethnic food “created” to please the western palate.
But actually, Yoshinoya is such a huge institution in Japan that when they were forced to stop selling their signature beef bowl product in 2004 due to “crazy cow” import restrictions, people lined up around the block to get a last taste of their favorite fast food. Recently, they’ve brought it back over there, but I think they only sell the Beef bowl one day of the week?
The first one in the U.S. was started up in Torrance, CA in 1979. I haven’t been to that one, but there happens to be another one pretty close to my house.
If you haven’t had their beef before, it can take some getting used to. Their main product is a thinly sliced, extremely fatty beef cooked in onions with sauce. They throw that on top of sticky rice and call it a Beef Bowl (Gyu-Don in Japan). They also sell other meals that have teriyaki chicken and cooked vegetables. I’ve also gotten their fried chicken wings which are decent. Below is a picture of a combo bowl that has beef, veggies and chicken on top of rice.
Apologies for the pictures – I hate taking food pics at night but that’s often when I order fast food so it’s difficult. Anyway, you get the general idea. I’ve already described the beef and that’s pretty consistent at any Yoshinoya you visit. The beef is a bit “stringy” with a lot of fat in it. Consequently, it has quite a bit more flavor. For me, the cooked onions really help out. If you don’t like mushy cooked onions, you probably won’t like it though.
To me, the teriyaki chicken is slightly below average. I think it’s the fact that the sauce is overly sweet and the chicken skin tends to be more rubbery than crispy. I’ve been thinking of asking them to skip the sauce or put it on the side. I don’t know if they’ll throw me out if I ask for that, though.
The veggies consists of carrots, brocolli, cauliflower and cabbage and for the most part are overcooked to the point of melting in your mouth. I think they’re cooked in some kind of chicken stock, but I can’t be sure. I don’t really like them, but hey you gotta have some sort of veggies with the meal…
I almost forgot – their signature condiment is a pickled red ginger that’s set out in plastic tubs much like salsa is at Mexican restaurants. It actually contrasts quite nicely with the fatty beef. I have a tub of this ginger at home and eat it with curry and other meals.
The rice is surprisingly OK. (Update: I just had another bowl today and have come to realize it’s not exactly the same “sticky rice”. The grains are more distinct, like normal American rice. I don’t know if the rice varies depending on the restaurant. Still, it’s all right.) I’ve had rice from mom and pop restaurants that’s worse. And since the main dish is already on top of the rice, you won’t get stares from people if you pour your soy sauce on top of it. (Side note: my room-mate used to pour soy sauce directly on a bowl of white rice. We had to hang him upside down by his heels out the dorm window until he agreed never to perform this massive faux pas again… OK, I’m kidding.)
One thing – I don’t think these meals can be very healthy for you. It IS fast food, however. Sometimes it’s nice to have a change from Jack in the Balpha.
One of the most surprising things to me is that the meals are fairly cheap for the amount of food that you get. A standard beef bowl is about $2.95 and the amount of food is enough to fill me up for lunch. The large chicken / beef combo bowl pictured above runs you $4.29 and is definitely more than enough for me for dinner. I think some of that has to do with the amount of rice they give you. Yeah, rice fills you up nicely and is pretty high up there on the list of Cheap Eats.
Because of the cheaper prices, I gave Yoshi a little higher score than I would have. I’m still not a big fan of the chicken and veggies, but the beef bowl is a nice alternative to other fast food.
Price: $4.29 for Combo Bowl
Found At: Yoshinoya
Cheap Eats Score: 7/10