The Best Yakiniku Restaurant in Japan: Gyu Kaku

Every family has that go-to restaurant to choose when it’s a Sunday night, nobody cooked dinner, and the whole caboodle is starving. Whether it’s a wintery January night or sunny April afternoon, having barbecue is almost always a good idea. In case you, your group of friends, or your family are a fan of Asian style barbecue, you’d want to consider a restaurant that has several chains – that way you know it’s good. Look no place else, because Gyu-Kaku is the perfect bistro for you.

The Best Japanese Barbecue Restaurant in The World? No Doubt Gyu-Kaku Is It


If you’re looking for a well-known Japanese grill restaurant that serves the best Yakiniku to eat with friends and family, Gyu-Kaku is the ultimate choice. Pronounced “Gew-Kah-Koo”, the name of the restaurant itself means “Horn of the Bull.” It also resembles exactly what the restaurant wants you to do, as “Gyu” is Japanese for “squeeze, clench, or grab” and “Kaku” can be directly translated to “bite”. Combine those, and it can be a literally translated shortcut for “grabbing a bite.” “Yakiniku”, on the other hand, is simply a blanket Japanese word that means “grilled meat”. It’s also a style of dining where you can grill your own food.

The reason Gyu-Kaku is such a good restaurant is because of its delicious food, and its dedication to serving each customer well. It’s also so much about the interactive, fun, and wholesome atmosphere it offers. It lets you in on the experience of sharing your food with other people – none of that usual “my plate, your plate” setup. The personal grill on that table is for everyone to be involved in cooking together, as well as for each other.

If you’re not sure about how cooking your own food is going to turn out – don’t worry. The staff at Gyu-Kaku are ready to assist you and help you out with any questions you may have about how to make your meal taste the best it can. As they proudly say – in this restaurant, everyone’s an expert cook.

Different Gyu-Kaku Restaurants Around the World

The beauty about Gyu-Kaku is that it’s found all over the world. The location is key. Countries that have Gyu-Kaku branches are namely the U.S.A., Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and its country of origin – Japan. So far, there are 688 restaurants open – 600 of them in Japan alone, and that number keeps getting bigger.

The U.S.A. has most branches; there are currently 41 of them spread throughout northern America. You’ll them coast-to-coast; New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, Nevada, Northern California, Southern California, and Hawaii. Southern California has the most branches; 14 of them overall. Take note - not all restaurants have the same menu, so make sure to head on over to Gyu Kaku’s online website and click on the franchise nearest you for menu options. 

The History and Success of Gyu-Kaku

Gyu-Kaku was started by REINS International inc, as early as 1996. REINS International inc. first started out as a real estate business named “Kokudo Shinpan Co. Ltd.” In June of 1987. Nine years onwards, they ventured into the restaurant industry with “Yakiniku Ichiba Shichirin” – already catered to cooking barbecue style. A year later, in October of 1997, they exchanged the world “Shichirin” to “Gyu-Kaku” instead. A month later, they successfully launched their first franchise of Gyu-Kaku.

In April 1998, Kokudo Shinpan Co. Ltd formally changed its name to REINS International inc. Besides opening the Gyu-Kaku trademark, REINS International Inc. opened other sister restaurants, including “Onyasai” and “Toriden”. Gyu Kaku’s first international restaurant franchise in the states was opened in July 2001. Gyu-Kaku steadily grew as it climbed in popularity with it customers, landing it hundreds of bistro chains in total, as well as the prestigious “Hot Concept” award in 2007. It also won Diner’s Choice Winner back in 2011.

What Exactly Is the Philosophy of Gyu-Kaku?

REINS international Inc. follows a philosophy called “Kando Sozo”. This philosophy, they say, firmly believes in making each moment shared in their restaurants memorable. It also means exceeding their customer’s expectations, thus putting a smile on their faces. All restaurants established under REINS restaurant Inc. make this their saying to live by; their mantra.

The spokesperson of REINS said that the reason this philosophy was implemented roots back to the company’s origin story. One of its founders felt motivated to enter the food service business because of the smiles of the people he would see in his restaurant. Ever since then, Kando Sozo has been implemented not just in Gyukaku, but in all the restaurants established by REINS international Inc. Walk into any of their stores, be greeted with a warm “irasshaimase”, or welcome – and you’ll really feel their philosophy shine through.

The Concept of Yakiniku

Yakiniku is to Japanese what grilled meat or barbecue is to westerners. In fact, the term yakiniku is not exactly as native to Japanese culture as it seems. During the Meiji period, Kannagi Robun, a Japanese writer, coined the term to explain cuisine from the west in his western food handbook called “Seiyo Ryoritsu”. It was such a foreign concept to the Japanese to grill meat is because eating beef was illegal before the Meiji period. Now, however, the word “suteki” (steak) can also be used in place of Yakiniku.

Yakiniku covers a wide range of ingredients. As long as you put any part of pork, beef, chicken, seafood, vegetable, and an assortment of discarded meats (heart, liver, brains) on a grill – you may consider it yakiniku. You may add salt, seasoning, spices, and other sauces to add flavor. The style and taste of the yakiniku are like that of the Korean “bulgogi”, which may have been used as inspiration for the yakiniku in terms of its sweeter, gingery flavor profile.

Signature Dishes and Other Favorites Available in Gyu-Kaku

The meats used in Gyu-Kaku are fresh from the source, top-choice, and premium. Not only do you get to savor some of the best kinds of meat out there, Gyu-Kaku also lets you pair it with fantastic Japanese beers, sake, and shochu – a special hard liquor from Japan.

Some of their signature dishes include the Harami Skirt Steak Miso, which is Angus skirt steak that was aged for 21 days, dripping in their delicious marinade made from miso. Then there’s the Kalbi Short Rib – also marinated for 21 days, decadent and perfectly marbled. For those who want to go easy on the wallet (but not scrimp so much on taste and texture), there’s the ever-popular Bistro Hanger Steak. For those who like their meat finely cut and full of flavor, they have the option to order the Yaki-Shabu beef.

Aside from those meat options, you can also choose to have garlic noodles that come already cooked, fresh and hot on a stone plate. Same goes for fried rice if you want some starch to pair your proteins with. For those who like raw fish, the Spicy Tuna Volcano is a surefire hit – it’s small rolls of fried rice topped with tuna tartare. Looking for some simple, satiating seafood? Garlic shrimp is also a popular pick among those who frequent the restaurant. Gyu-Kaku may specialize in barbecued meat, but their other Japanese dishes are scrumptious too.

Cook Your Own Food, the Way You Want It

All those steaks previously mentioned are given to you raw – so you must cook it yourself. Gyu-Kaku restaurants come with smokeless roasters installed on each table. Consider it a restaurant style. You set the heat to the amount you want, and sear your meat/seafood/vegetables exactly how you prefer them, right on the spot. The advantage? Not everyone likes their meat borderline raw – some people like their orders well-done. This way, nothing is sent back to the kitchen. Your table is the kitchen.

Another advantage of having this specific kind of roaster is its efficiency in keeping the smell away. Traditional roasters/grillers usually let the smoke go upwards to a vent, and that fried food smell ends up sticking to the room (and its guests). Smokeless roasters, however, have a vacuum that sucks the smoke downwards, making sure that you leave smelling just as good as you did when you came in.

How to Work for Gyu-Kaku

Interested in working in Gyu-Kaku? If you live in the U.S.A. and are legally eligible to work, you can head on over to their website and check out the “careers” section. There, they have an online form that you can fill in and attach a soft copy of your resume. Simply pick the position you’d like to apply for. Depending on what they need, you’ll see a dropdown of different restaurant branches, and the positions they need most.

As for restaurants outside the United States, you may want to check out the Gyu-Kaku website that is designated for your country. If they don’t have an application option there, you may always opt to call them up by phone, or personally, go to the restaurant itself and ask if they have any openings.

Gyu-Kaku: Open to Franchisers

Gyu-Kaku is all about the franchises – that’s how it expanded so quickly throughout Japan and the United States. The initial franchise fee is $50,000 – this is just how much you must pay the franchisor to use their name. The total amount you spend in setting up the restaurant could range around the estimates of $780,000+ to $2,000,000. Not anyone can franchise Gyu-Kaku. You need to have a net worth of $1,200,000 before you’re even allowed to franchise. Plus, don’t forget that liquid cash requirement of $500,000. This is just to make sure you’re financially stable and responsible enough to handle the restaurant.

Still interested in franchising? Check out the “Franchise” section of their website, and fill out their online brochure. They will ask you a series of questions about whether you meet the requirements.

Best Time to Eat in Gyu-Kaku

Though most Gyu-Kaku restaurants open at around 11 A.M., have an afternoon break in between and close at 11 to 11:30 P.M. Each restaurant may have different opening and closing times – this often depends on the establishment or mall that it is found in. There is no best time to eat at Gyu-Kaku because it’s always a good idea to go and visit – but perhaps if you went during happy hour (again, different for every restaurant), you could save big bucks on those beers and cocktails, and have a grand time.

Then again, some Gyu-Kaku restaurants, like the one in Shinjuku, Tokyo, don’t even open for lunch. They’re open from 5 PM to 11:30 PM on weekdays, 6 PM to 11:30 PM on weekends. Also – another great time to come to Gyu-Kaku is when you’re hungry. Parts of its restaurant chain have set meals that come in “all you can eat” form for a certain fixed price. If you bring a big appetite, it’s always worth it.

Looking to Reserve A Table In A Gyu-Kaku Restaurant in the U.S.?

Reservations can be made through phone if you have the phone number of your local Gyu-Kaku restaurant. They can also be made online, though some restaurants don’t allow for it. Make sure you have the details on what time you’re coming, and how many people plan to come already before you call, or make any final arrangements online.

Well Loved In Japan and All Over The World

While there are too many yelp reviews and TripAdvisor comments about Gyu Kaku to count because of their hundreds of chains, rest assured that it’s an epic restaurant. It wouldn’t have so many successful outlets if it weren’t. If you’ve never tried yakiniku in your life, find the nearest Gyu-Kaku restaurant near you, and let your taste buds in on one of the most succulent delicacies that grilling meat can offer.