Gyu-kaku’s Very ‘Happy Hour’
By Charles Lam
With Cham, Gen and Seoul Garden all a short drive from campus, Japanese barbecue, the younger, smaller cousin of Korean barbecue is easily overlooked.
After all, Japanese barbecue is a lot like Korean but without the glamor: your dining cohort crowds around a singular grill stationed in the middle of a too-small table. You grill your own food, somehow overcooking and undercooking things at the same time.
But, while Korean barbecue wows you with plates and plates of endless brisket, Japanese barbecue is most often à la carte.
What’s the point then? Why not just go to Cham?
Well, Gyu-kaku, a Japanese barbecue chain who just opened a Tustin location this past year, is a good reason to skip out on Cham every now and then.
If you really want to eat ludicrous amounts of meat, they do offer all you can eat menus during lunch and dinner, starting at $12.95 and $29.95 a person respectively. If you’re the kind of person who’s really thirsty too, they offer premium all-you-can-eat menus with drinks included at a bit extra.
Yeah, it’s a fair amount much more expensive than the Korean places but the appetizer and dish selections are a nice touch and all you can drink bubbly is always fun to check out. Is that enough to topple Gen and Cham, though? No.
Where Gyu-kaku really shines is during their happy hour. Every day from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m. to closing and all day Mondays, the Gyu-kaku happy hour serves up the basic barbecue cuts such as pork belly, beef chuck, ribs and brisket as well as veggies for reduced prices.
Also available on the cheap side are some of their most popular appetizers and salads, such as Spicy Tuna Volcano, basically a deep-fried spicy tuna roll, the seaweed salad and deep-fried soft shell crab. The à la carte format shines most here, turning the restaurant almost more into a Japanese tapas bar than barbecue place.
Most importantly, the drinks are cheap during happy hour. Very cheap. Beer drinkers who don’t mind swill can find Budweisers at $0.99 per bottle or Sapporo for $1.50 a mug/$7.45 a pitcher. The house sake drops to $5 a bottle, with more premium offerings available. The mixed drinks are also stupidly cheap and stupidly tasty, saketinis and soju cocktails come in at $3 apiece and come in sweet flavors such as peach, lychee or green apple. Also available are mimosas, fuzzy navels, sex on the beaches, all at $3 apiece.
If you go, make sure you get the lychee soju cocktail, the fruit syrup, club soda and Korean liquor blend flawlessly, producing a flavor that is more akin to an Asian soda than anything alcoholic. Despite this, it can still pack a decent punch, taking out people before they realize that they’re getting sloppy.
Though Gyu-kaku is not the perfect place to take a date, (the restaurant is the very definition of space efficient, don’t expect much privacy) it is a great place to relax with a group of friends after work.
The décor is vaguely Asian and fairly pretty. The staff is super helpful, extremely attentive and eager to please. The flavors are simple but varied and numerous and the restaurant is always lively, sometimes even boisterous which, when you give a bunch of people really cheap alcohol, is not at all surprising.
Expect to pay a little over $15 per person during happy hour, the restaurant won’t give you the deals unless you break $15 but it’ll be well worth it. Based on the happy hour alone, 4 out of 5 forks.