As a recent grad paying painfully high rent, I’m usually not willing to stretch my budget for dinner. I am, however, willing to stretch my legs. So when I heard that a Japanese steakhouse had opened in the East Village, serving great meat on the cheap with one catch—you don’t get to sit down while you eat—I was game to try it.
Ikinari Steak launched in Japan in 2013, and within three years had 116 outlets. The standing-room-only shtick makes for fast turnover. “If there were chairs, people would sit for up to two hours,” chef Kunio Ichinose told me through a translator. Instead, diners typically stay for as little as 30 minutes—and the more steaks you sell, the less you have to charge for them.
At Ikinari, you order at a counter, specifying sirloin, ribeye or let, how you’d like it cooked and how much of it you’d like—the steaks are priced at 8 to 11 cents a gram. I haven’t used grams since high school, so I just told the chef I was “medium-hungry.” My dinner, a let weighing 251 grams (8.8 ounces) with veggies on the side, set me back $27. That’s a bargain in NYC: The steakhouse that previously occupied the space charged $58 for slightly less of the same cut. The lunch special is an even sweeter deal: soup, salad, rice and a 10.6-oz. chuck-eye for $20.
As I tied on my paper apron (it’s part of the charm) and stood waiting for my sizzling platter, I glanced around the small, dark restaurant, wondering if the food would live up to the hype. And it did: The meat was well-seasoned, perfectly cooked and straight-up delicious. Ichinose plans to open more locations, convinced that bargain-loving Americans will be more than willing to stand for their supper if it saves a few bucks.