I finished my “special” beef bowl at Tokyo Chikara Meshi and immediately called for the cook. I wanted to grab his hand, shake it, and thank him for the absolute best beef bowl I have ever had the pleasure of eating.
Step aside, Yoshinoya. Make way, Sukiya. Here comes Tokyo Chikara Meshi and its Yaki-Gyudon.
The new restaurant stands tradition on its head, grilling thickly-sliced beef instead of simmering it before piling it on top of rice in a bowl. I went in thinking that it would be just like putting Korean barbecue-style meat on top of rice, but I ate my words soon after taking my first bite of this innovative twist on an old classic.
The meat was soft and its taste savory, just like a traditional beef bowl. It didn’t look much different than a traditional beef bowl. But that one deviation from the norm made Yaki-Gyudon so much more. It will surely usher in a new era for the beef bowl, and Tokyo Chikara Meshi could possibly ride that wave past creaky old giants Sukiya and Yoshinoya.
The beef was so succulent and filling that it could have lasted through three more helpings of rice. It was sliced more thickly than traditional gyudon meat, but not quite as thickly as Korean barbecue meat.
As if the meat wasn’t delicious enough by itself, the sauce blew me away as well. I licked my chops anxiously as I took in the aroma of the not-too-sweet, not-too-salty partner for my freshly-grilled beef. The outstanding balance of sweetness, delicate saltiness, aroma, and savory flavor drew me in and did not let me go.
The regular portion is selling for 280 yen, but it is filling enough for go for 500 yen. Heck, some sit-down restaurants would charge 800 to 1,000 yen for Yaki-Gyudon, and it is tasty enough to justify that price. There is no reason not to try this new spin on the tired beef bowl.
Tokyo Chikara Meshi impressed me with its customer service and kitchen organization. I observed the cooks and wait staff as they went about their work with uncommon stoicism, yet I could feel a sense of fun amidst the hard work. It was plain to see that they were enjoying themselves in the tense environment and that they were aiming to offer most excellent taste and hospitality.
I visited the Shinjuku Nishi-Guchi restaurant past 11 p.m. on a weeknight, and the place was nearly packed full. Not as many people are walking around the West Entrance of Shinjuku Station at that time, so restaurant populations thin out as well, but Tokyo Chikara Meshi was popping. I can’t help but think that the taste and customer service are responsible for the crowds.
As much as I enjoyed my experience, I have a couple of picky points. My Yaki-Gyudon was delicious, but meals with grilled beef tend to have flavors that are a bit strong, and that might be something Tokyo Chikara Meshi wants to keep an eye on. Also, no matter how you slice it, beef bowls are a type of fast food. It’s not good to keep customers waiting at their seats for more than 20 minutes no matter how crowded the restaurant gets.
I want to commend the restaurant help and corporate personnel behind Yaki-Gyudon for attempting to establish a new standard for the traditional beef bowl. It’s never easy to challenge the norm and take a radically different route. Sukiya and Yoshinoya worked hard to earn their positions on top of the beef bowl industry, and they’re not going to let some newcomer unseat them easily. If Yaki-Gyudon creates a huge stir, the large restaurants will adapt as they have had to in order to stay on top as long as they have.
Tokyo Chikara Meshi is attempting something truly remarkable here, and I strongly recommend trying a Yaki-Gyudon bowl while it’s hot and new!