Yakiniku Like wants to make sukiyaki something you can eat even if none of your friends are in the mood.

Just about everyone in Japan loves sukiyaki. The problem, though, is that sukiyaki is generally eaten as a group, and not everyone wants to eat it at the same time.

Most sukiyaki restaurants in Japan are oriented towards accommodating groups, not solo diners, so you generally need to assemble a quorum of companions whose specific cravings are hitting at the same time as yours. However, one restaurant chain is looking to change that by giving us a way to enjoy sukiyaki even if we don’t have anyone else’s company to enjoy.

The concept is the latest idea from Yakiniku Like, which opened its first branch in 2018. Like sukiyaki, yakiniku is something that’s predominantly eaten as a group in Japan, but Yakiniku Like wants to make it something accessible to solo diners too, so their restaurants have counter seats with individual-sized grills set into them for each and every customer, as shown in the photo below.

Yakiniku Like has recently started applying this system to sukiyaki. On the second day they started offering solo sukiyaki, we showed up before the restaurant even opened at 11 a.m., and there was already a line.

When the restaurant opened, we were shown to a seat, where we noticed something a little different from the Yakiniku Like scenery we’re used to.

The grill was gone! That creates a spot where the staff can place the pot for your sukiyaki broth, which is actually rectangular.

Another similarity between sukiyaki and yakiniku is that they both tend to be on the pricy side, making them sort of special-occasion foods. That can make it doubly difficult to get a group together, since not only does everyone have to be in the mood for the same food, they also all have to be willing to splurge on some edible luxury. On that front too, though, Yakiniku Like is trying to make things easier for customers.

Their one-person sukiyaki set, which gets you Japanese beef, rice, vegetables, mushrooms, an egg for dipping, and kimchi, is priced at 1,280 yen (US$10.30). While that’s not the cheapest meal in town, it’s a good deal for sukiyaki. Add in free refills of rice and eggs, and it’s a pretty great value (you can also order extra meat or veggies for an additional fee).

We started by putting the vegetables into the pot, then after they’d had some time to cook, we tossed in the beef. With the delicious scent of sukiyaki wafting up as it cooked, our anticipation grew by the second, and when it was ready to eat and the moment of truth came…

…it was great! The broth has an excellent mixture of sweet and meaty flavors, and interspersing bites of beef or vegetables with rice acted as a fantastic palate cleanser, setting our taste buds up for the full flavor of the broth over and over again (and since you get free rice refills, we didn’t have to worry about pacing ourselves at all).

As we ate, we realized something particularly great about eating sukiyaki by ourselves. At each seat are containers of extra stock and other condiments, as well as water that you can add to make the broth’s flavor stronger or more subtle. Ordinarily, if you’re eating sukiyaki in a group, everyone is sharing the same broth, so you have to form a mutually agreeable compromise about what that broth should taste like. When you’re eating sukiyaki by yourself, though? You can adjust the broth’s flavor to be exactly what you, and you alone, want it to be.

There’s only one thing we’re truly disappointed with here, and that’s that Yakiniku Like’s one-person sukiyaki is currently only available at its restaurant in Tokyo’s Ueno neighborhood, and is only being offered until May 9. However, this all seems like way to much trouble for the chain to have gone to for just a few weeks at one location, so we have a hunch that this is a trial run that Yakiniku Like is using to fine-tune the system in preparation of brining solo sukiyaki to more branches, or even an entirely new sister chain, in the near future.

Restaurant information
Sukiyaki Like (located at Yakiniku Like Ueno branch) / すき焼きライク(焼肉ライク上野店内)
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Ueno 4-8-3 (1st floor only, second floor serves yakiniku only)
Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

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