Located in a strip mall in the heart of Midtown across from Bagby Park, Gyu-Kaku may not immediately jump to mind as a place to visit for lunch. If you’re in the area, though, the lunch special, which starts at 10:30 a.m. and lasts until 6 p.m (overlapping with happy hour), is pretty incredible.
First of all, it’s a great deal. Designed specifically to target the in-a-hurry single lunch diner, the pre-set Japanese barbecue menu starts at just $9.99 for a two-item option and goes to $12.99 for a three-item prix fixe and includes miso soup, a salad and a choice of three types of meats with a side of white rice.
If you’re thinking that Gyu-Kaku probably gives you a poor choice of meats, think again. The harami skirt steak, the most popular cut of meat here (and which rings in at $8 per order during dinner service), is one of the meat options available. Pork belly, bistro hangar steak and filet mignon ponzu are also among the selections offered. Beyond the great deal, you also have the ability to customize your order at a discounted lunch rate. Premium meat selections such as the kalbi short rib (one of the best cuts offered) are available for $3 per order, rice can be upgraded to bibimbap for $3, and vegetable sides can be added for just $2. Additional orders of meat are also available at a discount of approximately $2 to $4 over the dinner menu price.
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Stopping by for a late lunch on a recent afternoon, I was cheerfully greeted and promptly seated at my own booth. I ordered the set menu and upgraded with kalbi short ribs and a side of garlic spinach. The food came out promptly — so promptly that the only limiting factor timewise was the amount of time it took for my table-top grill to heat up.
My entire meal was delivered at the same time, so while I waited for the grill to reach peak temperature, I lapped up spoonfuls of miso soup. It was typical of the lunch menu bowls you get when dining on sushi, the fermented miso mild and salty, with a few strips of wakame (seaweed) floating in the soup for texture and contrast. Nothing special, but nice. The salad was an unexpected surprise. Where other lunch spots might just give you a small bowl of iceberg lettuce topped with some sort of dressing, the salad that comes with Gyu-Kaku’s lunch is a good-sized mix of lettuce, spinach, tomato, cucumber, boiled egg and radish.
The main event — the meats — came six each to an order, pre-marinated so that once they were cooked, the flavors came through. The sweet soy flavor is tasty, like a Korean barbecue bulgogi-style marinade, while the miso marinade had a funky fermented sourness that was definitely an acquired taste.
Gyu-Kaku is super-fun at dinner. Red paper lanterns and tall wooden booths and a good sound system make for a great night out set to the tune of sizzling meat on the grill. It can get expensive, though, which is why we are loving the lunch menu so much. Same great product, same upbeat service, same sizzle and flavor and a lot easier on your pocketbook, which is never a bad thing.