Seven splurging suggestions for eating at Japan’s favorite beef bowl chain.

Hey, do you hear that? The sound of growling stomachs and 1,000-yen bills? It can only mean one thing: it’s time for another installment of Japan Super Budget Dining!

As always, the rules are simple. Our panel of reporters each has a budget of 1,000 yen (US$6.70) with which to put together the best meal possible at one of Japan’s most popular restaurant chains. Today we’re headed to gyudon/beef bowl king Yoshinoya. With the chain’s standard beef bowl costing less than 500 yen, a 1,000-yen budget gives our team plenty of room to work with, so let’s see what they’ve come up with, and the self-grandiose names they’ve given their choices.

1. Mr. Sato’s “Extra Meat Extra-extra Onion Gyudon Set”

● Extra-meat gyudon (652 yen)
● 2 extra-onion topping orders (138 yen each)
Total: 928 yen

In gyudon parlance, adding -daku to an ingredient means you want more of it. So after upgrading the standard gyudon to a niku-daku (extra-meat) gyudon, Mr. Sato tacked on two negi-daku (extra-onion) side orders, which he then arranged like so:

Mr. Sato feels this gives you the optimum amounts and ratios of beef, onion, and rice, for a result so satisfying that he doesn’t need any soup, salad, or other accompaniments.

2. Go Hatori’s “When You Can’t Pick Just One…Pick Both Set”

● Karaage teishoku set meal (688 yen)
● Extra-large rice (0 yen)
● Gyukobachi beef side order (195 yen)
● Egg (96 yen)
Total: 979 yen

Yoshinoya is, of course, most famous for its beef bowls, but they also make really good karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken). Unable to choose between the two, Go started with the karaage teishoku, which gets you sides of salad, miso soup, and rice, and upped the rice to an extra-large order, a free option for the set meal. The key here, though, is the gyukobachi, a side order of simmered beef. Because the gyukobachi is served in a little bowl of its own, by adding some of the rice that came with his karaage set…

…Go was able to make a little mini gyudon too, and even spruce up with the egg and some pickled ginger, which is a free condiment for eat-in diners.

3. Masanuki Sunakoma’s “Yoshinoya Ultimate Super Luxury Breakfast Set”

● Special Morning Set Meal (630 yen)
● Tonjiru substitution (132 yen)
● Gyukobachi beef side order (195 yen)
Total: 957 yen

Masanuki shows his industrious side with a choice that requires you get up early enough that you can get to Yoshinoya before lunchtime, with the payoff of a traditional Japanese breakfast with a Yoshinoya twist. The Special Morning Set Meal (Tokuasa Teishoku in Japanese) consists of a grilled salmon filet, rice, miso soup, and egg. For an additional fee, you can upgrade the miso soup to tonjiru, a heartier soup with pork and vegetables, and still have enough room in a 1,000-yen budget to add a gyukobachi beef side so that your taste buds know you’re eating breakfast at Yoshinoya specifically.

4. Ahiruneko’s “Ultimate Gyudon Chain Senbero Set”

● Extra-sauce gyudon (468 yen)
● Oshinko pickles (140 yen)
● Reishu (cold sake) (376 yen)
Total: 984 yen

This, on the other end of the timetable, is for if you’re visiting Yoshinoya late enough in the day that you’re ready for a stiff drink. Ahiruneko tends to take every Super Budget Dining project as a challenge to put together a senbero drink-and-snack session, but this isn’t just an “any booze will do” philosophy, as Yoshinoya’s sake is genuinely underrated, he says.

Produced by brewery Hakuro Shuzo in the town of Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, the sake is made exclusively for Yoshinoya, and formulated specifically to pair well with the chain’s simmered beef. Ahiruneko likes to sip it bit by bit as he eats (his choice of gyudon is an extra-sauce “tsuyu-daku” gyudon), and he recommends leaving just a little bit of rice until the very end, to have as the final bite.

5. Yuichiro Wasai’s “Relish the Origins of Yoshinoya While Warming Your Body Set”

● Extra-topping gyudon (589 yen)
● Oshinko pickles and miso soup set (195 yen)
● Tonjiru substitution (132 yen)
● Nori dry seaweed (74 yen)
Total: 990 yen

Though Yoshinoya has various flavor customization options and limited-time menu items, their standard gyudon is what they’ve built their reputation on, so that’s what this set is focused on, with an atama no omori gyudon that gives you extra beef and onion with the standard amount of rice. Switching the miso soup to tonjiru and adding some strips of nori let the soup play a major role too, and with a cold snap hitting Tokyo right now, its warmth is an added bonus.

6. P.K. Sanjun’s “Yoshinoya Triple Crown Set”

● Extra-meat Black Curry (699 yen)
● 2 pieces of karaage (140 yen each)
Total: 979 yen

We’ve already touched on the high quality of Yoshinoya’s fried chicken, but P.K. thinks there’s another must-eat non-gyudon item on their menu: the curry. Luckily, there’s a niku-daku/extra-meat curry, and the way it’s served means that some of the rice has no roux on it until you mix it in. In other words, P.K.’s plan gives him the sensation of eating gyudon, curry rice, and karaage all in one sitting, truly a meal fit for a 1,000-yen king.

7. Seiji Nakazawa’s “Manly Beefy Beef Sukiyaki Hot Pot Set”

● Beef sukiyaki hot pot (787 yen)
● Gyukobachi beef side order (195 yen)
Total: 982 yen

Sake? Salmon? Fried chicken? Sorry, Seiji’s got no time for any of you, and it’s because of Yoshinoya’s limited-time sukiyaki hot pot. It’s only served in late fall and winter, and it’s so delicious that every time it’s on sale if Seiji orders anything else it feels like a wasted opportunity. It’s fantastic all on its own, but since he’s got 1,000 yen to work with, Seiji added a gyukobachi order to make his hot pot just a littler beefier.

Hopefully this gives you some food for thought and food for your stomach, and if you’re having trouble picking just one of our panel’s suggestions, don’t forget that right now Yoshinoya will give you a discount if you eat there twice in the same day.

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