Japan Eats

Greasy Spoons (and Chopsticks): Gyudon Taro

greasyarticleimage copy“But Nick, baby, how could you do it?”

Hot water welled up in the dame’s big brown eyes.

“You wouldn’t catch it if I rolled it on the floor over to you, dollface. Let it go; stop askin’ me questions.”

“But Nicky, darling, I’m worried about you. It’s just not like you.”

“Don’t you think I know that, sweetheart? I’ve got an independent streak to make George Washington blush, but sometimes things ain’t so black and white.”

And then she went all useless and weepy.

Now I know what you’re thinking: What on this food-stuffed marble of ours could’ve gotten one of Nick’s gals so worked up?

Well, I lay it out straight as a fishing line with a big bluefin tuggin’ hard on the other end: Old Nick’s spilling ink on a chain shop today.

Don’t you go gettin’ any ideas, though, hotshot. Get that paw of yours off that mouse and let me whisper in your ear a minute.

Not all chains’re soulless behemoths doling out mediocrity to slobs who lack imagination. No, sir, some chains are underdogs with a bit of color – just like you and me, kiddo.

Gyu-Taro is one such place.

Gyudon is a simple dish: boiled beef and onions over plain old white rice with a bit of sweet sauce to give it flavor. It’s so simple, in fact, that all kinds of mugs want a piece of the action, which makes it a tough racket.

In a tough racket like that, players will do all kinds of impulsive things to make themselves stand out. Sukiya has a long menu and new shops with tables and such. The giant Matsuya – as easy to find as mosquitoes on a summer night – has fancy posters, brightly-lit restaurants, clean lavs, and ticket machines with pictures on ’em, all to draw the ladies in, which it might. The old granddaddy Yoshinoya even went to so far as to stake a claim based on quality, of all things, when it stopped selling gyudon – it’s main item – at all but one of its shops when it couldn’t get American beef.

Anything to get ahead.

What I like about Gyu-Taro is that they do it the easy way: the stuff’s good and cheap. And cheap and good, too.

Like most of the others, you buy a ticket to order and, like the others, you’re looking at about 350 yen to stop your hunger pangs.

Unlike the others, Gyu-Taro dispenses with frills. No free soup, no rack of 30 sauces, or faux-wicker chairs, no piped-in elevator music. No, what you get at Gyu-Taro is a radio on a shelf and some stools at a counter.

Need more? Go eat with the Michelin Guy and he’ll make sure you get your finger bowls and the right kind of starch on your napkin. What old Nick offers is good food with your solvency remaining at the end.

Gyu-Taro has a few shops around Tokyo, but the one I hit is the one on the North side of Nakano Station – just walk up Nakano-dori and it’s on your right, before you hit its less-worthy rivals on the same street.

The thing to go for is the gyudon. I fyou haven’t figured that out yet, not even the Michelin Guy can help you figure out which fork not to stick in your own eye.

The thing that makes this gyudon more worth your 350 yen than the hash slung by other contenders is that it’s wet.

Get your mind out of the gutter – I don’t want to share the space.

There’s a bit more sauce on the beef, making it a bit tastier, less dry – tasty and satisfying, rather than merely a stopgap to stave off hunger.

Gyu-Taro is on the North side of JR Nakano Station, on the right side of Nakano-dori as you head North.

Smoking: No.
Food: Gyudon and other simple rice bowls (donburi).

About Nick Kowalski
Nick "The Sticks" Kowalski likes his eateries like he likes his dates: simple, cheap, and hassle-free. From dives to diners, kiosks to the eponymous greasy spoons, old Nick knows how to eat in Tokyo and come out laughing at the notion of it being one of the world's most expensive cities.

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