A guide to the delicious takeout beef that’s keeping us from doing any home cooking.

With restaurant dining severely limited during the coronavirus outbreak, the world is largely divided into two groups: people who got really good at cooking, and people who got really acquainted with takeout options.

Our Japanese-language reporter Yuichiro Wasai is firmly in the latter demographic, and specifically the subset that’s become well-versed in steak, yakiniku, and other beefy bento boxed lunches. So today we present Yuichiro’s top five picks in the genre, which he says he selected from nationwide chains in Japan so that you can get your red meat fix wherever you happen to be in the country.

5. Yoshinoya’s Stamina Super-Special-Large Bowl (861 yen [US$8])

Yuichiro admits that he’s starting off by bending the rules a little, since technically this is a donburi (rice bowl), not a bento, because of the type of container it’s in. But he insists an exception is called for since this is definitely a complete meal, delivering 1,700 calories of delicious garlicky kalbi (beef short ribs), and is so hefty that it actually exceeded the capacity of our kitchen scale when we tried to weigh it.

4. Gyukaku’s Beef Kalbi Yakiniku Bento (800 yen)

This offering from the popular Gyukaku chain of yakiniku restaurants makes the list for a couple of reasons. First, when eating at a yakiniku restaurant you usually have to grill the meat yourself, but here Gyukaku has done the work for you. It’s also a good value at 800 yen, less than half of what you’d usually pay for an in-restaurant yakiniku meal. Finally, and also most importantly, it just tastes really, really good.

3. Yakiniku Like’s Grilled Gyutan, Kalbi, and Harami Bento (1,100 yen)

We already covered kalbi (short rib) above, and now we’ve got two more meaty words to add to your Japanese vocabulary list: harumi (skirt steak) and gyutan (beef tongue). While tongue is completely bypassed in some countries’ cuisine, it’s considered quite the delicacy in Japan, and not as intimidating in flavor or texture as uninitiated diners might expect, making Yakiniku Like’s bento an attractive deal even as it creeps into the four-digit price range.

2. Ikinari Steak’s Ikinari Steak Ju (972 yen)

So far, we’ve been looking at Asian-style beef, but now we’re going to switch gears with a Western-style entry. Ikinari Steak is Japan’s favorite chain of budget-friendly steakhouses (ikinari means “suddenly,” implying that its food is affordable enough that you can pop in on a whim), and this ju-style (layered) bento gives you shoulder loin and vegetables served over rice.

1. Yakiniku Jumbo’s Kuroge Wagyu Yakiniku Bento (1,500 yen)

Once again, Yuichiro breaks his own rules with a selection from Yakiniku Jumbo, which is a local Tokyo chain. He urges us to hear him out, though, as he explains between bites of his favorite beefy bento.

Kuroge Wagyu, also known as Japanese Black, is one of the most highly prized varieties of Japanese beef. “This bento is good. It’s so good,” Yuichiro raves. “The meat is so soft – it just melts as you put it in your mouth.”

Then there’s the amazing bargain this bento represents. “The main branch of Yakiniku Jumbo is actually right by my apartment,” Yuichiro says, “but I’ve only gone there one time. It was on my birthday, and I spent over 10,000 yen on the meal.”

So in Yuichiro’s eyes, this is simply too good a deal to pass up, and he hopes that the Kuroge Wagyu Yakiniku Bento, which Yakiniku Jumbo only started offering after the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, will remain a takeout option even once things get back to normal.

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