Yoshinoya doesn’t have the most flattering reputation.
Great Asian cuisine takes patience and a sense of subtlety, which you can’t exactly achieve in a fast food restaurant. And if you want “faster” Asian food, Los Angeles is a metropolis notable for its vast variety of Asian restaurants offering a quick bite — be it sushi or a bowl of pho.
In contast, the Yoshinoya restaurant chain is widely considered the Taco Bell of Asian cuisine.
Now, however, Yoshinoya’s signature beef bowl has a classier option. The new Asiana Grill Yoshinoya, the latest in a run of fast-casual restaurants pioneered by restaurant chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, recently opened at the intersection of 30th Street and Figueroa Street, replacing the normal Yoshinoya previously at that location. The food is now cooked to order on the grill in an open kitchen, and the restaurant aims for dishes that are nutritious, healthy and low-fat.
Asiana Grill Yoshinoya gives customers a selection of exotic Asian flavors to assemble the way they prefer. This create-your-own menu concept is a departure from the meal-in-a-bowl service that Yoshinoya is famous for. Customers can now choose whether their meal is served on a soup, a salad, a bun (an odd option for an Asian cuisine restaurant) or a plate. The plate is the best value, with two sides along with a protein and rice, which you can replace with udon noodles or brown rice for an extra charge.
Customers can then choose among six different sauces to incorporate into the dish. The original teriyaki sauce is nothing to write home about, and the ginger snap sauce is comparable to a lemonade sauce if diners are inclined to take that direction. The gekikara sauce, however, has a nice kick without being too overwhelming.
The restaurant has been completely remodeled, giving it a chic, modern feel with bright green chairs and pale white walls lit almost entirely by natural light during the day. It’s rather generic, however — even a bit “corporate” at times. Fortunately, the restaurant is very pleasant and has an atmosphere that would lend itself to some studying now and then.
Still, the true test of any restaurant is good food and service. The servers are very affable and go the extra mile in explaining the process of creating your meal. As far as the presentation of the kitchen goes, however, the giant platters of prepared food don’t mix well with the grills, which are kept in the background. For a restaurant that has “grill” in the title, the grills should play a heavier role in the food-making process rather than just serving as a means to an end.
The charbroiled chicken is adequate, although the taste doesn’t quite reveal the benefit of the grill. The sauce seems slathered on rather than being cooked into the meat — resulting in a lack of additional flavor and an unusually dry texture. In contrast, the rice is actually cooked well, fluffy yet firm.
The salad has the “lemonade” ginger snap sauce, which is a bit too sweet for a salad and needs some salt. The seasoned vegetables were not, in fact, seasoned, although the thin pickled ginger strips are a pleasant treat.
The overall effort in trying to combine the fast-casual aesthetic of Chipotle with a modern Asian-influenced vibe is commendable, but the whole meal and the feel of the restaurant are rather sterile; both lack any notable characteristic. Asiana Grill Yoshinoya’s simplicity has prevented it from establishing its own unique identity. At times, the food doesn’t even qualify as basic Asian fare; that is not to say that Asiana Grill Yoshinoya needs to imitate the other restaurants, but it instead needs to introduce new and exciting dishes for the public.
Asiana Grill Yoshinoya has the right intentions but an insufficient execution. Still, the new restaurant has a very nice, large space and a friendly crew and the hours are great for students out late, as Yoshinoya is open until midnight Sunday through Thursday and until 2:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.