Experiencing solo yakiniku for the first time at a popular chain specializing in yakiniku-for-one.

Yakiniku restaurants are a popular type of establishment in Japan where diners cook their meat at a built-in table grill. With many different types and cuts of meat to choose from as well as lengthy drink menus, they’re the perfect setting for fun group gatherings and after-work drinking parties. However, if you’re like our yakiniku-loving Japanese-language reporter Saya Togashi, that group dining aspect can also be a bit intimidating if you have a sudden craving for yakiniku but no one to go with. Thankfully, restaurants like Yakiniku Like are trying to make solo diners feel more comfortable by providing a space for anyone to go out and eat yakiniku.

Even though Yakiniku Like has been around for a while and now has over 30 locations in Tokyo alone, Saya had still never gotten the chance to visit one before. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say that she was anxious about the thought of going to eat by herself, but she decided that this was the day when she would finally take the plunge.

▼ The typical exterior of a Yakiniku Like location

One of the first things that surprised Saya when she walked in to her local branch was the number of foreigners inside. Was she really that behind the times that international tourists were already accustomed to solo yakiniku but she wasn’t?! She reasoned that this must be a very unique experience that’s harder to come by outside of Japan, so word had spread overseas.

She was impressed at the one-person smokeless grill at her table (why were things in miniature size always so cute?). She immediately felt a sense of yakiniku power coursing through her body as she was about to be the sole master of this grill.

Each dining space also had its own hook for personal belongings and everything she needed was within easy reach.

Ordering was done via her own personal tablet. In fact, she hadn’t spoken to any staff at all since she had entered the restaurant. This seemed like a perfect setup for introverts or anyone who has a hard time calling servers over when they need something, as is the custom in Japanese restaurants. The arrangement suited Saya just fine.

She placed her order then opened a drawer that contained moist towelettes, chopsticks, and toothpicks to grab what she needed.

She was also thrilled to see her own private water dispenser at her seat, similar to how conveyor belt sushi chains often have a hot water dispenser for tea at the table. There would be no need to request more water, or get up out of her seat to refill from a communal pitcher.

In addition to the water faucet, there was also a rack containing any kind of seasoning or sauce that she would need. She loved how streamlined everything was for self-customizing her own yakiniku experience.

She organized her utensils while waiting for the food with an eager sense of anticipation. She was finally at solo yakiniku!

Luckily, it didn’t take long for everything to arrive at all. The restaurant wasn’t kidding when it said that the food should arrive within three minutes or fewer. Just look at this gorgeous tray which slid in perfectly to an indentation on the tabletop.

Saya couldn’t get over the cleverness of this setup. It would make cleaning up for the servers way easier since they wouldn’t have to pick up the dishes individually, but simply slide the tray out of the hollow to bring it back to the kitchen.

With that, she finally turned her attention to the food. She had ordered the most reasonable mixed galbi set for 580 yen (US$3.90).

Her meal also came with a small dish of kimchi and seaweed soup.

It was at that point that Saya noticed something else. At regular yakiniku restaurants, staff usually come over to start up the grill. However, here, she had her own switch to turn on and control the grill as she saw fit.

While waiting for the grill to get hot, she prepped a couple of dipping sauces in a small dish.

Finally, it was time to get her barbeque on. It felt a little strange to be using this mini-sized grill…

…but at the same time, she was having a blast and could relax while grilling it the way she liked.

The meat was delicious. Saya could hardly believe that all of this only cost 580 yen. Better yet, if she felt that it still wasn’t enough, she could always customize her order in various ways such as by adding more meat or rice.

She had never realized that eating yakiniku didn’t have to be only for special occasions. This kind of yakiniku was something she could realistically have every day if she wanted.

Alternating bites of different dishes, the seaweed soup was also delicious and very warming from the inside.

The kimchi wasn’t overly strong in smell and crunched delightfully in her mouth.

She felt curious about this large, conspicuously placed bottle in the seasonings area that said “Yakiniku Like” on the label.

It turned out to be their own blend of furikake for adding a splash of flavor to the rice.

The combination of meat, furikake, and kimchi made the white rice taste even more delicious.

All in all, it took Saya only 20 minutes from the time she entered the restaurant till she exited. Perhaps that was due to not talking to anyone while eating, but whatever the reason, this kind of place would be suitable for a quick lunch on a workday–kind of like a stand-and-eat noodle joint. There was no need to spend time reserving a table for a large party, either.

Solo yakiniku definitely turned out to be a gamechanger for Saya. We’ve got even more good news for her, too, because Yakiniku Like also offers solo shabu shabu hotpot and more–so whatever you’re craving in a hurry by yourself, they’re bound to have a good solution.

Reference: Yakiniku Like
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