If you’ve never had your world rocked by Kobe beef, a visit to Japan is the perfect time to indulge and give it a try. In fact, you really can’t leave Japan without trying this delicacy. If you are at all skeptical, like I was, about whether Kobe beef is as good as everyone says it is, I can assure you it is.
Our Kobe beef experience may very well have rendered us unable to ever fully enjoy regular steak again. In fact, we often lament that we can’t get authentic Kobe beef outside of Japan. Regular steak just doesn’t cut it anymore.
If you think you’ve had Kobe beef somewhere outside of Japan, you have tried the real thing. It’s important to note that many restaurants around the world, outside of Japan, claim to have Kobe-style Wagyu beef that adheres to the Japanese grading scale, but it’s not true Kobe beef.
After eating the real thing, and trying a few of these impostors, I can assure you there’s only one real Kobe beef and no substitutions will do.
If you have longer to spend in Japan, you can expand this itinerary to any length you wish.
Why is Kobe Beef So Good?
The answer is… it’s a secret! The only thing that is truly known about the production of Kobe beef in Japan is that it is Wagyu cattle born in Kobe and raised by strict standards set forth by the regulatory committee of the Japanese government.
It’s like Champagne. There can be no substitute for the real thing. And thus far, no one has been able to reproduce the incredible flavor and marbling that makes Kobe beef the best in the world, despite attempt to create Kobe-style beef. If you’re going to Japan, you can’t miss out on the Kobe Beef Experience.
Where to Eat Kobe Beef in Kobe, Japan
The best place to try Kobe beef is in Kobe itself. That might mean you need to take a little extra jaunt, but it’s well worth it for the experience.
Getting from Osaka to Kobe is only a short 25-minute train ride. There are dozens of restaurants serving Kobe beef for lunch and dinner, and while you’ll pay for the privilege, I can assure you, it is worth it.
There are many restaurants in Kobe where you can have a fantastic Kobe beef. We chose a chain called Kobe Ishidaya that garners almost a full 5-star review on Trip Advisor. It is a relatively easy Kobe steak restaurant to find and it delivers on all fronts: atmosphere, experience and – most importantly – deliciousness.
Other great options are the small family-owned Steak Aoyama and the #1 rated steakhouse in Kobe, Mouriya Lin. No matter which restaurant you choose, a reservation is highly advised, especially if you’re not planning to arrive right at 11:30am for lunch or 5pm for dinner. At any other time, it will be nearly impossible to get a seat.
What Beef to Order
Japanese Wagyu beef is graded on a scale with a letter and a number. The letter (A to C) rates the amount of meat vs fat/bone, etc, that can be harvested from the cow with A being the best. The number (1-5) rates the ratio of fat to lean meat, with 5 being the best. The more fat, the better.
A5 is the highest quality Kobe beef, and thus the most expensive, but hopefully you knew that going in, so there isn’t any sticker shock that makes you change your mind and order the A4 in a moment of panic. At Ishida, the A5 lunch set comes with 130 grams (4.5 ounces) of beef with appetizer, sides and dessert for $78 US. That’s pretty reasonable for the opportunity to try the best beef ever.
Keep in mind that this is a delicacy, so you won’t be served an enormous piece of meat. 4.5 oz looks like a very modest piece of meat, but it is to be savored.
Once you’ve ordered, the show begins. If you’re lucky, you can sit at the bar and watch the chef make the food. It’s very precise what they do.
The food is all cooked on the teppenyaki grill in front of you, so it becomes a little like lunch and a show. What an amazing way to spend a lunch. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Watch it sizzle:
How the Beef is Served
As you eat your appetizer and salad, the chef starts to prepare the meat by removing all the fat from around the piece of meat. He uses the trimmings to cook the vegetables, then to flavor the fried rice, which is itself a masterpiece and well worth the extra couple dollars.
The beef will then be served in a few slices on a plate with a pile of sea salt, rock salt, pepper, garlic chips, and spicy mustard to dip the beef in. A little goes a long way, but the right amount makes the flavor of the beef just explode in your mouth. Not only is it tremendously tender and rich, it’s absolutely bursting with flavor.
The beef was served with salt, pepper and fried garlic slices (Photo by Savored Journeys)The fried rice was insanely good too. It had little bits of that rendered beef cooked into, like little morsels of beef bacon. It was very good, but we didn’t want to fill up on fried rice.
After consuming all the beef they set out, we were definitely left wanting more. Luckily, they reserve a few more slices as a reward for when you start to feel like you might go crazy without just one more bite of that succulent beef. After you’ve eaten the grilled vegetables, you’re rewarded with a few more slices of heaven.
What to Expect from the Kobe Beef Experience
Here is what I have learned from my Kobe beef experience:
- I may never be able to forget that marbled piece of heaven melting one savored bite at a time in my mouth.
- I may never be able to forgive regular steak for requiring me to wield a knife to cut it, when Kobe steak succumbed so readily to my fork.
- I certainly will never be able to pay $70 for a regular steak that doesn’t even have an A anywhere in its pathetic grading system, when I know I could pay just $8 more and see stars when I chew.
I will always remember how amazing it was eating Kobe beef.
For more foodie things to do in Osaka, see our post on Dotonbori Street – one of the best street food destinations in the world. And if you’re planning to spend some time in Tokyo, we have a 3-day foodie itinerary that will help you tackle the many food possibilities in Tokyo.
One more thing — if you are planning to visit more places in Japan (like a round trip from Osaka to Tokyo), I highly recommend the Japan Rail Pass. Traveling in Japan can be expensive. The Rail Pass will save you a tremendous amount of time and money.
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.