While Japan’s economy is big enough to support a handful of gyudon (beef bowl) chains, Yoshinoya is clearly the king of the beefy hill. As a matter of fact, Yoshinoya is so strongly associated with gyudon that in casual conversation Japanese people often combine the two words, referring to the chain as “Yoshigyu.”
So imagine our surprise when we heard that Yoshinoya was serving up another of our favorite comfort foods: karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken). Eager to try it for ourselves, we headed over to the Yoshinoya branch in Tokyo’s Akihabara neighborhood, but the surprises started before we even walked through the door.
The chain’s Akihabara branch just finished a five-week renovation project, and it’s now one of Yoshinoya’s fanciest-looking locations. Between this and the posh Yoshinoya across town in the Ebisu neighborhood, it seems like the chain is trying to broaden its appeal beyond starving students and harried salarymen.
All seats are located along zig-zagging counters, and all diners get their own personal electrical outlet. This amenity should be equally pleasing to smartphone-reliant travelers and portable-system gamers who just picked up a new release at one of Akihabara’s many electronics shops.
Opening up the menu, we saw the usual array of gyudon options. Accompanying them, though, were karaage bowls and set meals (the latter with the meat and rice served separately and accompanied by miso soup). The lowest priced item is the basic karaage bowl, which costs 490 yen, but for 550 yen you can spruce it up with tartar sauce, a soft-boiled egg and teriyaki sauce, or even a mixed topping of karaage and gyudon beef.
As tempting as the chicken and beef combo bowl (called the “karagyu”) was, we decided to go with the baseline karaage bowl for our first time eating Yoshinoya fried chicken.
Japanese beef bowls are usually topped with a mixture of stewed beef strips and sliced onion, in quantities that completely cover the rice. In contrast, the sauceless karaage bowl comes with shredded cabbage, and you can actually see some of the bed of white rice when looking down at the dish, which gives it a tidier appearance than its gyudon menu mate.
The breading is pleasantly crisp, and the meat itself nice and tender. It’d probably go great with an ice-cold beer. Even though the standard karaage bowl is served plain, you can add mayonnaise to it for no extra charge.
Currently, Yoshinoya is only serving fried chicken at its Akihabara branch. Thankfully, the restaurant is open until 2 in the morning, so even if it takes you a while to make it over there, your karaage will be waiting for you.
Yoshinoya (Akihabara branch) / 吉野家（秋葉原店）
Address: Tokyo-to, Chiyoda-ku, Kanda Matsunagacho 10
Open 5 a.m.-2 a.m.
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