As a foreigner in Japan, I was excited to learn about and be exposed to the popular concept of tabehoudai Japanese BBQ. This phrase, that is often paired with nomihoudai, is the all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink concepts at some izakayas in Japan. “Tabe” comes from the verb “taberu,” “to eat” and “nomi” comes from the verb “nomu,” “to drink.” These options are typically found in restaurants that can host large groups, but some smaller restaurants have also adopted the concept. The idea is you pay a certain amount for a table/time slot and the rest is up to you. How much can you eat or drink in 2 hours? Some are even just 15 minutes!
All-You-Can-Eat BBQ Culture in Japan
While there are many options of places to enjoy Japanese BBQ, my best experience with tabehoudai has been at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Showa Taishu Horumon, located in Namba, Osaka. Yakiniku (the Japanese equivalent to barbeque) literally means “grilled meat” and is also a type of restaurant familiar with all-you-can-eat courses. They are interactive meals where you grill your meat at your own table! You are typically given a starter plate of meat that you must finish before ordering your own meaty selection. Although these restaurants are definitely not a vegetarian’s paradise, they do offer salads, side dishes such as kimchi and vegetables and sometimes soup. Be aware, however, that even though you can order as much as your meat-lover heart desires, Japan is very conscious of the amount of waste they produce, especially at these types of BBQ spots. There is a term called mottainai, which means “regret concerned with waste,” and some restaurants practice mottainai by charging you for any meat that you have left uneaten.
Tabehoudais and Nomihoudais are not limited to just Japanese BBQ restaurants. Lots of izakayas and specialty restaurants (even karaoke bars!) offer a variety of all-you-can-eat options where the menu consists of everything from fried chicken, salads, pizza, pasta, and fish, to name just a few.
Showa Taishu Horumon
My friend and I were lucky enough to stumble upon this place–we were dying to get a seat anywhere on a busy Saturday night, and it was just our luck! This place really is fantastic. The servers greet you with a loud “irasshaimase!” and show you to your table complete with personal grill, vent and menus in both Japanese and English.
Eating at a Japanese BBQ Restaurant
There are three options to choose from, each with a larger selection of meat. We went with the medium package, ¥2,980 for 80 dishes (the other two were 40 dishes for ¥2,480 and 120 dishes for ¥3,980).
When you do your pre-drink “kanpai,” you will hear a loud “otsukaresama!!!” (“thank for you your hard work”) from the whole staff. It truly is an interactive experience and you feel connected with everyone inside the restaurant. We were excited enough to request a do-over so we could catch it on Snapchat!
Once you finish the first required meat platter, you can go all-out. (And we definitely did!!) Roast, ribs, sirloin, tongue, pork belly and you can keep ordering more just as soon as all the meat is on the grill. They even offer a few selections that I had never tried before, such as cartilage and throat!
I thank the restaurant gods for showing us this place by coincidence that night. I proudly hugged my food-baby as our server walked us up the stairs and onto the busy streets of Namba and thanked us for dining with them. I have never been more happily surprised by the food, quality, staff entertainment and overall ambiance of a restaurant that came to me by shear luck. I highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Japan!!
Other Options for Japanese BBQ!
This post focuses on a specific restaurant, but there are plenty of choices for BBQ tabehoudai! Gyukaku is one of the biggest franchises, and they have even opened restaurants in the US and Canada! Gyukaku is well known as a great Yakiniku restaurant for people on a budget, with many varieties of choices! For Tabehoudai course, they not only provide meat, but also some appetizers such as salads, tofu, kimchi, soup and rice! Other franchise options would be Stamina-Taro, Anraku-tei, and Fufutei. Toraji is a more fancy restaurant found in Ebisu, Tokyo. Although they offer Tabehoudai menu only in the selected restaurants, but it will be nice to try elegant Tabehoudai! If you are around Osaka area, go to Tsuruhashi station and you can find many options for Yakiniku tabehoudai!