Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on February 2009
Japan has the reputation of being a food-loving country, and even beyond the high-grade, Michelin-type restaurants, cheap and easy dining options abound. The only trouble with the lower end of the price range is that a lot of the offerings are, well, about as interesting as laundry day.
You can imagine our relief, then, to find a little restaurant in Gyotoku (on the Tozai line in Chiba) that raises the bar of wallet-friendly, tasty dining. The name is Dai-Chan and it’s everything your old-fashioned, neighborhood yakitori place should be. From the outside, you could easily walk past the dull exterior being none the wiser, but once inside you know you’re onto something.
We entered Dai-Chan to the usual cry of “Irashaimase” and were promptly squeezed in at the counter. The dining area might be small, but it still manages to fit in 37 people, whether on the tatami mats or stools. In a country that harbors an obsession for the new and the clean, Dai-Chan’s smoke stains, old posters and general worn look add nicely to the authenticity.
After breathing in the vibe, we got to work on a bottle of Sapporo (¥500) and an oolong-hai (¥330). Dai-Chan might be known for its charcoal-grilled yakitori, but the menu is quite broad.
The friendly waitresses took our order, and we were soon tucking into fresh and very soft tuna sashimi (¥330). Next up came the chicken. We ordered only three types, but like most good yakitori joints, there was a large variety to choose from. Being woozy foreigners, we stuck to the regular cuts, first momo (¥130 per skewer), negima (¥130) and tsukune meatballs (¥160). Not being fans of ground-up bone, we were happy to find Dai-Chan’s tsukune doesn’t include it.
Next we tried the beef miso stew (¥530), with generous chunks of meat, tofu, daikon and onion—the highlight of the meal. The friendly chef makes it daily, and it sits in a big pot waiting to be served.
Pausing to look around, we noticed that the customers were very much a local bunch, and probably regulars too, with two ojisan smoking heavily to our left and a young family to our right.
Deciding we needed a little roughage to complement our draft beer (¥480) and denki-bran (¥380), we went with the Dai-Chan salad (¥480). “Hearty” was again the watchword, with a stack of tomatoes, tofu, cucumbers, kani kama and mayonnaise dumped on a bed of cabbage.
Dai-Chan might not be the cleanest or most prestigious eatery in the area, but that’s exactly the appeal; it’s simple, tasty and very satisfying.