The battle for the heart and stomach of fast food fans gets started, and our taste buds are the battleground.

It feels like just the other day we were chowing down on tsukimi burgers left and right, as the egg-topped hamburgers have become a thing at multiple fast food chains in Japan and we needed to try as many as we could to see who had the best. Now with the winter chill in the air, tsukimi burgers, like leaves on the trees, are getting harder to find, but that also means it’s time for a new battle in the Japanese fast food sphere: the gratin croquette burger!

McDonald’s Japan was the first to introduce a burger where instead of a beef patty you get a croquette filled with pasta and white sauce, a mixture known as “gratin” in Japan. They brought out their first Gratin Croquette Burger, or “Gurakoro,” all the way back in 1993, and they’ve become a wintertime tradition in the years since (sometimes with their own anime ads) thanks to their rich, creamy flavor and ability to warm you up from the inside.

▼ A Gurakoro, in one of the few brief seconds before it’s devoured with gusto

McDonald’s had the gratin croquette burger market all to itself for a while, but now there are challengers coming out with their own take on the sandwich. The first to show up this year were rival fast food chain Lotteria’s Shrimp Gratin Croquette Burger and Zeppin Shrimp Gratin Croquette Burger, which went on sale November 16.

▼ Poster for the Shrimp Gratin Croquette Burger

▼ Shrimp Gratin Croquette Burger (left) and Zeppin Shrimp Gratin Croquette Burger (right)

What Lotteria leaves out of the sandwiches’ names is that they’re both actually cheeseburgers, with a slice of red cheddar cheese on top of the croquette, which is also topped with shredded cabbage and, in the case of the 490-yen (US$3.25) Shrimp Gratin Croquette Burger, demi-glace sauce.

▼ Lotteria’s Shrimp Gratin Croquette Burger

As our taste-testing reporter P.K. Sanjun bit into a Lotteria gratin croquette burger for the first time ever, he was immediately impressed by how good it is! The croquette’s outer layer of breadcrumbs is delightfully crisp, and the inner section of warm, gooey gratin is just as satisfying. Flavor-wise, he couldn’t find even a single thing to complain about, and this is a proper, extremely tasty gratin croquette burger.

▼ Lotteria’s Zeppin Shrimp Gratin Croquette Burger

Stepping up to the 570-yen Zeppin (“Exquisite”) Shrimp Gratin Croquette Burger, this uses mostly the same ingredients as Lotteria’s standard Shrimp Gratin Croquette Burger, but with the demi-glace upgraded to a bisque sauce. This makes the shrimp/seafood aspects of the flavor even more pronounced, and was delicious in an especially decadent way.

As we mentioned above, though McDonald’s is the chain best known for gratin croquette burgers, and their newest iterations went on sale November 29, so naturally P.K. had to eat them too.

▼ McDonald’s Gratin Croquette Burger (left) and Rich Beef Hayashi Gratin Croquette Burger (right)

Both of McDonald’s gratin croquette burgers also have shrimp, even though they don’t mention so in their names. Unlike their Lotteria competitors, though, neither has a slice of cheese.

▼ McDonald’s Gratin Croquette Burger

The 420-yen Gratin Croquette Burger’s sauce is a mixture of croquette sauce (which is similar to Worchester) with a hint of extra spice and an egg-based sauce, and as soon as it hit P.K.’s taste buds, he knew he’d found the winner of this gratin croquette burger battle royal. P.K. stops by McDonald’s for a Gurakoro every winter, and while he’d been very pleased with Lotteria’s version, he’d forgotten just how perfect McDonald’s is for him.

The way the McDonald’s Gurakoro sauce soaks into the crispy croquette and the thick, fluffy bun perfectly ties all of their flavors together, making this everything P.K. could want in a gratin croquette burger.

▼ McDonald’s Rich Beef Hayashi Gratin Croquette Burger

On the other hand, the 480-yen Rich Beef Hayashi Gratin Croquette Burger didn’t make much of an impression on him. This one also has a mixture of two sauces, but this time they’re Hayashi beef (beef and onions in demi-glace, like in Japan’s Hayashi rice dish) and a three-cheese sauce. Honestly, it’s all a bit much, and the flavors don’t tie together nearly as well as in McDonald’s standard Gratin Croquette Burger, making the Rich Beef Hayashi feel a little like a prototype that hasn’t had its flavor profile fully sorted out yet.

But even if the Rich Beef Hayashi is a swing and a miss, the other three gratin croquette burgers are all solid hits in P.K. book. Lotteria will be selling its until mid-January, while McDonald’s Japan is only saying that its Gurakoro are “limited-time” items, but P.K. should be able to have at least one more of each before this winter is done, even if he’s also saving room for any other challengers to the gratin croquette burger throne that might pop up.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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