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Tokyo's famous Ikinari Steak, taste-tested by a New Yorker! So just how good is the Japanese steakhouse?

Tokyo's famous Ikinari Steak, taste-tested by a New Yorker! So just how good is the Japanese steakhouse?

Date published: 11 May 2019
Last updated: 25 May 2020

When it comes to steaks, one thing seems to be common knowledge: even at upscale restaurants, you get what you pay for - meaning that you shouldn’t expect too much from a cheap steak. But the Japanese steakhouse “Ikinari Steak” seeks to overturn that way of thinking by offering excellent steak at very reasonable prices! It has been featured in plenty of media both Japanese and international and is gaining quite a following.

“Serving super thick high-quality steak quickly at a very affordable price” is Ikinari Steak’s concept, giving birth to a place that lets you savor exquisite, high-grade steak in a laid-back environment. You even get to choose the weight of your steak, a great system for both big eaters and people with a small appetite. This creative system is one reason why Ikinari Steak is the talk of the town.

Steak Pioneer: What is Ikinari Steak?

Steak Pioneer: What is Ikinari Steak?

Ikinari Steak literally means “sudden steak,” following the concept of having a steak without bothering with appetizers or vegetables. The steakhouse is also the pioneer of eating steak while standing, a very minimalistic side menu, and focusing on pretty much nothing but steak. It’s a shop that every carnivore simply has to visit. At the time of Ikinari Steak’s opening, it was standing only, but today, a lot of restaurants feature chairs to accommodate children and families, making it even more popular.

Ikinari Steak is thoroughly committed to the meat that is served. Everything is high in quality, just like you’d expect at a high-end restaurant. That’s why the cost rate is around 70%! Usually, the average for the restaurant industry is said to be around 30%, so that really is a number that should make regular restaurant operation impossible. Ikinari Steak covers their costs with a high turnover rate and a small menu!

You wouldn’t be able to eat a course meal at a restaurant in 30 minutes, but that is exactly the average stay time of Ikinari Steak’s diners. The prices can only be that low because of this high turnover rate. Being able to savor exquisite meat for these incredibly low prices – it’s a dream come true!

“We currently operate 250 shops nationwide and plan to open 200 more throughout 2018, quickly setting up restaurants every month. We're also looking to expand to all prefectures, aiming for 1,000 stores in total,” explains Mika Kobayashi who works for the PR department of Pepper Food Service, the company behind Ikinari Steak. In recent years, a lot of steakhouses were opened in rural areas and along roads, with a total number of 20 new stores per month being rather astounding. Ikinari Steak also boasts seven locations in New York. The layout of the shops and the ordering system is the same everywhere.

Our Steak Tester for Today: Timothy from New York!

Our Steak Tester for Today: Timothy from New York!

We wanted to see what Ikinari Steak is all about for ourselves and found a worthy challenger: Timothy from New York – the home of fine steak cuts, if you will. Living in Japan for 16 years, he will set out to try Ikinari Steak firsthand. “Not to sound too much like a stereotypical American, but whenever I visit the US, I do like to see if I can get in a bit of barbecue or grilled steak. In Japan, meats are easy to come by - but they typically come in smaller cuts. So seeing what's available at Ikinari Steak got me very curious!”

We got to visit the Ikinari Steak Location just in front of Tobu Asakusa Station – Asakusa is a historic neighborhood and popular tourist spot. Well then, let’s go in!

The calm and chic atmosphere is almost surprising. It’s certainly not what you imagine when hearing “steak for cheap!” The staff wears full-fledged chef uniforms and the place does seem like a rather upscale steakhouse. Of course, the overall atmosphere is important for the taste of the food as well!

Tough Choices: What to Pick from the Menu?

Tough Choices: What to Pick from the Menu?

Timothy goes for the menu immediately. It’s his first time at Ikinari Steak, so the choice is a rather tough one. However, Ms. Kobayashi is here to help!

“Personally, I’d recommend the rib roast (6.3 yen per gram, tax excluded). It has a nice balance between lean and fatty meat. Fillet (9 yen per gram, tax excluded) is the best choice for people who prefer a lean steak. For hobby chefs, I recommend the so-called ‘wild steak,’ which is a Boston butt that is nice and firm to the bite. Of course, wagyu is a popular choice among tourists as well. The big draw of Ikinari Steak is that you can order as much you like of whatever you like, so a lot of people try several different cuts.”

With that kind of advice, Timothy managed to make up his mind: “Right, let’s go with the rib roast first. And I prefer lean meat, so I'll also try out the fillet.”

Decide How Much You Want to Eat!

Decide How Much You Want to Eat!

At Ikinari Steak, once you decide what you want to eat, you’re taken to the cut counter. “I’d like 300 grams of each rib roast and fillet, please!” Upon hearing this, the shop’s own “Cut Meister” gets to work and slices off almost the exact amount of steak that you ordered from a big chunk of meat.

“So this is kind of a new experience for me. When I'd ordered steak at a restaurant in the US, usually it's a round number - quite different from ordering a precise amount like this,” says Timothy.

Naturally, you also get to decide how your steak is grilled. “Of course, we tend to recommend ordering it rare! The meat is fresh, so we can offer it nice and rare so you can really savor the flavor,” says Ms. Kobayashi. Watch your steak being made right next to the cut counter.

Don’t miss this delicious spectacle! Timothy, too, takes out his phone to make a video almost unconsciously.

Seasons, Condiments, Sauces: Enhance Your Steak in Your Own Way!

Seasons, Condiments, Sauces: Enhance Your Steak in Your Own Way!

Several original seasonings line up on the table, which is another great thing about Ikinari Steak. From their basic light steak sauce to sweet sauce popular with tourists, soy sauce, garlic, wasabi, hot sauce, and more. The combinations are almost endless and customization suddenly becomes the best part of your steak experience!

Let’s Try the Rib Roast!

Let’s Try the Rib Roast!

The plethora of seasonings alone will whet your appetite! The basic steak sauce boasts a wonderful aroma, rising up with the steam of the piping-hot steak. On top of the meat is garlic paste and fried garlic – a real double punch!

The staple sides of corn and onion are also on the plate. You can change and add toppings such as broccoli, green beans, and potatoes (each for 100 yen extra, tax excluded. Changing corn with another side is free) to customize your plate further.

It already feels rare while cutting – and look at that gorgeous pink color!

A satisfied smile just before the first bite says a lot about the diner’s feelings!

An expression of pure bliss. “It is SO delicious! Very tender and juicy.”

Savoring your cut with various seasonings is the “Ikinari style.” Timothy also tries the steakhouse’s original sweet sauce, said to be particularly popular with tourists. He pours a bit in the corner of the plate to be able to carefully distinguish the tastes.

“Yup, the sauce is sweet and very delicious. I like the light, fruity taste.” Made with apples, this sweet taste is also a favorite of Ikinari Steak’s guests.

Ms. Kobayashi recommends a combination of wasabi and soy sauce, so let’s try that next. This “Japanese style” seasoning is also popular with tourist, and Timothy ends up using quite a lot of wasabi. Will he be ok?

Careful chewing.

“Nope, all good! you don't really get the sting of wasabi in your nose and the meat's flavor becomes rather mild. This soft taste strikes me as being very Japanese." There’s a reason why everyone likes soy sauce and wasabi so much – Ikinari Steak has gone out of its way to find a wasabi variety that fits steak perfectly.

Meat Lovers, Behold the Thick Fillet Steak!

Meat Lovers, Behold the Thick Fillet Steak!

Look at how thick this steak is!
The meat is cut so thickly to make the most out of “rare” orders, really letting you savor the rich taste. For that, a certain thickness is important. These steaks aren’t grilled quickly but rather slowly and carefully. If the cut is too thin, the heat will penetrate the inside of the meat and it won’t be rare.

“I think that there are plenty of steak places that would like to serve thick cuts, but then it becomes a cost issue. That’s why Ikinari Steak can do it that way, so we absolutely encourage you to taste steak in its most delicious form!” Of course, this “most delicious form” is a fillet steak that’s more than 5cm thick. This time, Timothy topped it with broccoli.

And indeed, the careful grilling brings out an incredible deliciousness.

“The fillet is amazing, too. I enjoy the rich flavor of the meat.”

Must-Tries: The Secret Menu of Ikinari Steak

Must-Tries: The Secret Menu of Ikinari Steak

Here’s a special tip: Ikinari Steak has a rather rich secret menu that boasts plenty of ingenuity. We were told some of those special orders, many of which are based on suggestions from guests!

1) Garlic Rice, Made by You!
Ask the staff for a serving of rice on the reheated iron plate once you finished your steak – that way, all the delicious meat juice will be soaked up by the rice. Then top it with some garlic that’s available right at your table. Add whichever other seasonings you like to further customize your garlic rice. Crisply baked rice right on the iron plate is also rumored to be extraordinarily delicious.

2) “Vegetable stir-fry style” salad with plenty of meat umami!
This secret order also lets you make the most out of your steak order even after almost everything is gone. It’s up to you whether you finish your steak or not, but we recommend leaving just a bit of the meat and cutting it into small bits. Then ask for the iron plate to be reheated while also ordering a salad. Then, put the salad on the hot plate, mix everything, and enjoy a stir-fry-like dish with plenty of meat flavor!

3) Original Spicy Soup
If you order a soup, don’t just eat it as it is but put in some hot sauce and garlic. This spicy way is apparently how the company president enjoys his soup orders!

Timothy decided to go for the salad stir-fry! Here’s how to make it: first, put the veggies from the salad bowl on the iron plate and ask for it to be reheated. It took about a minute until it came back.

Timothy decided to season it with the sweet sauce, which seems to be his favorite out of the condiment lineup.

“Alright, let's have a try. Yes, the veggies taste great as well. The sauce has a really nice zing to it - a great match!”

This is our taste tester at the very end. His expression speaks for itself!

Timothy’s Verdict: What do You Think of Ikinari Steak?

Timothy’s Verdict: What do You Think of Ikinari Steak?

“I can’t say whether I liked the rib roast or the fillet better because they’re totally different. Both were tender and incredibly satisfying. In the US, a lot of steak places tend to use only salt and pepper as seasonings. I'm kind of a purist in that sense, but I really enjoyed the various sauces. That was both tasty and fun!” Tasty and fun – is that the secret to Ikinari Steak’s popularity?

There’s also a big reason from a tourist’s perspective. “Usually, going out to have steak takes some time, right? But as a tourist, you don’t necessarily want to wait forever for food - you want to get out and see the sights. Ikinari Steak offers a delicious steak experience that fits in between sightseeing activities.”

Because the steakhouse only serves meat, eating here also leaves plenty of room to savor other local delicacies. It’s a great spot for travelers who really want to dive into as many gourmet experiences as possible.

There’s also an English menu available at all stores, making it an attractive restaurant for tourists. Especially at Ikinari Steak Asakusa Station-mae, nestled in an area brimming with people from all over the world, and everything from ordering to questions can be handled in English without issues.

Ikinari Steak: Luxurious Steak for Little Money, Approved by Our Taste Tester from the States!

Ikinari Steak: Luxurious Steak for Little Money, Approved by Our Taste Tester from the States!

“There’s this image that fast food isn’t good for our health, but it’s great that we get the chance to enjoy something that's both tasty and high-quality - without having to shell out a lot,” says Timothy.

Another fun thing at Ikinari Steak is that you can accumulate grams of steak like you’d accumulate mileage on a plane – it even uses that expression! The more steak mileage you collect, the higher your rank and you can use various extra services. This mileage card can be charged with cash, so in theory, you won’t have to bring anything else, making the experience even more casual.

When we visited Ikinari Steak to write about it (early May 2018), the shop also had plenty of other programs, such as a tie-up with the movie Avengers: Infinity War. Eating at Ikinari Steak means “meat entertainment!” Try it yourself by all means!

  • Ikinari Steak Asakusa Ekimae
    • Address Ono Bldg. 1F, 1-33-10 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tōkyō-to 111-0032
    • Phone Number 03-5246-4929
    • Hours: 11:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. (last order at 10:45 p.m.)
      Lunchtime: 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (weekdays only)
      Available seats: 38
      Parking: not available

      *Opening hours and menu vary by store. Please check the official homepage for details:

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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