Beef rice bowls, or gyudon, are a staple of Japanese fast food. It dominates the cheap and quick eating option and you can easily spot one just behind every other street corner. Restaurants Yoshinoya, Matsuya and Sukiya are the three chains ruling the gyudon-land, and here we are going to break down the strengths and weaknesses of each franchise before giving you my personal ranking.
Yoshinoya’s name is perhaps the biggest in terms of global scale. With numerous shops established not only in Japan, but also in various other countries, it’s rank in Japan is nothing to scoff at. Thanks to that, you know exactly what you will be served at this place. The products are very consistent, and the quality overall is pretty good for a quick meal.
However, it does fall on the more expensive side of the three, considering their standard gyudon is priced at ¥380 to start with for the bowl alone and no soup. I also feel that they use a rather significant amount of onions in their beef mix, so those who are not fans of these round vegetables might not be as satisfied.
Matsuya’s logo can be seen all over the country, and the popularity is high with this one. Just like Yoshinoya, the food quality is also solid, and their different offerings of toppings can suit different eaters. What I like the most about them is their generosity. Even the standard rice bowl comes with a bowl of miso soup, and this simple and easy inclusion adds warmth (both literally and metaphorically). The different sauces and dressings on the table also allow customers to change the taste up, for FREE! Not only does it make the gyudon less bland, you can also enjoy experimenting with your taste buds at no extra cost. Their grilled beef is also very delicious.
One downside I have with Matsuya is that my experiences in Japan have told me that Matsuya is not as easy to find as the other two shops. While extremely popular, I rarely see them in food courts, and their locations are often (very) slightly off the path. Nonetheless, it is definitely worth looking one up when you have a feel for Matsuya.
The wild brother of the bunch is Sukiya, because they do the most experiments with their rice bowls. The options on the menu are much wider than the other two, and their time-limited seasonal menu is always fun to see and try out. Considering the price of a gyudon is generally below ¥500, it certainly won’t hurt your wallet (nor stomach) to visit again and again.
In comparison, I will admit that their beef is not at the quality as the other two. The same problem with the over-onion-ing that Yoshinoya has is shared by Sukiya. Also, their beef tends to land on the too-thin-too-soft side of my liking, and this is where the additional toppings come into play to save the day.
Overall, the three gyudon chains are all great choices when you are in Japan on a budget or running on a time limit. My personal ranks for the three are the following with reasons:
#1 Matsuya – Free miso soup, free condiments, and good beef-mix quality.
#2 Sukiya – A wide selection of toppings makes adding a delicious new layer to gyudon, despite their beef-mix being less delicious.
#3 Yoshinoya – While the consistence is there, it does not do anything that makes me prefer them over Matsuya, especially when Yoshinoya has the slightly higher price point.
So there you have it! The opinionated-yet-self-proclaimed-definitive ranking of the three gyudon chains. Again, considering the speed and price that these gyudons are designed for, I don’t think you will be disappointed with any of them, but hey, I’m a picky eater, so perhaps this will be handy for the other hungry picky eaters out there too when you find yourself in the middle of an intersection and surrounded by all three gyudon chains!