My Initial Impressions of The First Gyu-Kaku 牛角 Japanese BBQ in Denver

Approximately 50 years later, Colorado finally gets a Japanese restaurant group (one with 700+ locations globally)

The only other Japanese restaurant group to come to Colorado was Yoshinoya way back in the ’70s. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long, and they closed up shop in Denver, and now they only reside in LA which is where the bulk of all Japanese restaurant groups are located.

First things first

Photo description: 4 sake glasses, with 4 hands holding each glass in a toast (kanpai)
First things first, let’s have a drink

In Los Angeles, there are your private to small restaurant groups that own and operate a number of yakiniku (Japanese grilled meat) restaurants. Even though there are places like Yazawa in Beverly Hills, Seikoen in Torrance, to my favorite Manpuku with a number of locations throughout LA. Even with all those options, I still go to Gyu-Kaku because they kill it when it comes to:

  • Affordability: this is supposed to be a casual restaurant that is meant to deliver up a relatively affordable yakiniku experience.
  • Grilling: it’s not barbeque, so there’s no slow roasted pulled pork, slabs of pork ribs, or guys named bubba. Somehow Koreans and the Japanese never get that distinction right.
  • Great for groups: one of the only Japanese restaurants that can accommodate large groups because the vast majority of Japanese restaurants are tiny.
  • Drinking: if you tend to drink a lo… I mean on special occasions like weekends or only on the days ending in “y,” you tend to be attracted to places with cheap pitchers of beer. Gyu-Kaku is one such spot for happy hour when it’s $14 vs. $18.
  • It pays to be a repeat customer: they are constantly running various promotions to get you back in through the door which is why I come back through that door. They make it extremely enticing, and I highly suggest you download their app to rack up some reward points like I do.

My initial thoughts

Photo description: close up of the salad with hardboiled egg, cherry tomatoes, and greens.
Eat your salad.
  • “Irasshaimase (welcome)!” wuuuuh!?, walking through that door brought back memories because it was like walking into your typical Japanese restaurant in LA or Japan because they (Zach) were also able to properly pronounce “irasshaimase!,” nice.
  • Nihonjin/Nikkei: Woah, where did they find all the Japanese staff?!?!
  • Service (omotenashi): Gyu-Kaku never slacks on service no matter how busy it gets because they have a system where you are always being attended to and our server and the rest of the staff exemplified that (and this is a soft-opening).
  • Better than California: They said that they are using the same vendors, but the meat quality here seems a little to lot better than my typical spots in Huntington Beach and Tustin. Not to mention, the plating looks a lot better (well the salad).
Photo description: another shot of the white salad bowl.
Their plating looks a lot better even if it is served in an urinal like bowl
Photo description: a small black bowl with a black spoon filled with miso soup sitting atop the dining table.
Soup and salad, so Murrrican cuz Murica

We did the course meal for 6 people because one of us eats like three dudes (he’s got to feed that man beard).

Photo description: Shawn the Gyu-kaku manager mixing a bowl of sukiyaki rice. He's got his two hands mixing the bowl with two large spoons.
Shawn mixing it up on the ones and two’s.

Yo DJ, hit that heart beat with some carbs.

Photo description: of the sukiyaki bibimbap rice piled up in same black bowl used for miso soup.
That rice is life.

The “sukiyaki bibimbap” which is rice, onions, green onions, sesame seeds, house special sauce (things your arteries crave) with a choice of beef or vegetables (8.50).

Photo description: 4 shrimp placed on a plate with quite a bit of sauced slathered all of the shrimp.
Shirrrrrrmp, but what is up with all that sauce?
Photo description: a table top flip promo displaying the Gyu-kaku app with the message "eat, earn, redeem"
I can eat, I can earn, and I definitely will redeem.

You like free? Download the Gyu-Kaku app (iOS and Android), and add all your buddies because you can get yourself a free order of shrimp if you have four friends (you get 50 points for every friend you have). If you are short on friends, you will never be short on shrimp because signing up with your Facebook page adds 50 points, and I am sure your mom is your friend? If that is true, you got 200 points buddy, enjoy your shrimp.

Photo description: the promo code for GREGTAN9245 to help support his blog if you appreciate the information he's providing.

How to earn points

100 pointsJust for signing up
50 points Sign-up with your Facebook account
50 pointsFor every friend you refer
XXX pointsScan the barcode on your receipt

What you get

S’mores100 points
Ice Cream100 points
Fountain drink100 points
Gyu-Kaku salad150 points
Toro beef150 points
Beef sukiyaki bibimbap200 points
Shrimp garlic200 points
Spicy tuna volcano200 points
Harami skirt steak250 points
Prime kalbi short rib250 points
Filet mignon250 points
$15 off your next visit350 points
If this was skeeball, you’d only get an eraser at this point.
$25 off your next visit500 points
Photo description: a large spread with the grill placed in the middle. There's an aluminum foil wrap with vegetables inside and 4 other plates, 3 with meat, and 1 with shrimp on it.
Yea, you grill it yourself, so they give you a chance to eff things up.

One good thing about Gyu-Kaku is that they do try and guide you with the appropriate cooking times, so that you don’t grill things to a rubbery finish.

Photo description: a shiny silver bowl with mushrooms and shrimp and a sauce placed atop.
Shrimp and mushroom ahijo in a basil and garlic olive oil 7.50

Sorry if I left off the dollar sign because they also did that as part of a tactic in menu engineering. They do not want to remind you that you are spending “$=dollars” versus bartering seven and a half beaver pelts.

Not a whole lot of pics because friends, food, drinks, drinks, drinks, and it’s a been a while since I had Gyu-Kaku.
Photo description: a succulent chunk of meat in the shape of a small cube grilled to perfection (char marks)
Charred on the outside, perfectly med rare in the middle.

Only grill up what you’re going to eat, and the time in between grilling you should be chatting or drinking.

Photo description: cross-hatched grill marks on a piece of beef rib stop a heated grill.
This piece of kalbi (rib) looks like a Sizzler’s ad.

What I recommend you order

  • Beef tongue (gyu-tan): but see if you can get it with sesame oil and salt as a dipping sauce, it’s the best way to eat it (they will hate me for advertising this).
  • Shrimp:. the shirrmmmp, but don’t overcook it, and if anything, you are better off if it is undercooked (“but did you die” is what you will be thinking if you eat it rare and the answer is “no”).
  • Sukiyaki bibimbap: got get your fatty goodness in with a good dose of carbs and this dish will do that.
  • Spinach, corn, and mushroom medley: I could probably come here and just do the first four things on this list (well including beer).
  • Meat: as for the meats, they’re all good, but I prefer the short rib and the harami although on my visit to the Denver location for once, the filet mignon was really good. In California, I avoid it, and I stick with all the fattier/marbled cuts (fat is flavor).
  • S’mores: there’s nothing like the feeling of marshmallow napalm scalding your hands, but if you can handle your fire, you are in for something I only had as cub scout (who knew as an adult I’d like it so much).

Everything you ever wanted to and didn’t know you wanted know about Gyu-Kaku

  • Where is Gyu-Kaku from: Yokohama, Japan
  • How to pronounce Gyu-Kaku: gew-kah-koo (I know, you somehow read that as “guy you cock you,” but you are slightly off).
  • What does “Gyu-Kaku” mean?: Bull’s horns
  • What does “yakiniku” mean: “grilled meat”
  • Parent company: Colowide/subsidiary Reins International Inc.
  • Year established: 1996
  • How many locations: over 700+ locations globally (Asia, US, and Canada).
  • Other brands by Reins: Shabu shabu On-Yasai, Izakaya Doma Doma, Kamadoka, and Freshness burger.
  • States Gyu-Kaku is located in: California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington.
People love ass meat (ground round found in burgers), but lengua/tongue/gyutan is a huge step-up from eating ass.
When you see that look, it’s ready.

You don’t even have to flip the gyutan because it’s so thin (cooking on both sides isn’t necessary).

You got to do the green shio (salt) and green onion.

All you need now is a squeeze of lemon and nothing more.

If you want the perfect shrimp, it’s high heat, and do NOT OVERCOOK. There will be a plump little snap when biting into a perfectly grilled piece of shrimp.

The menu

You might want to study up on the menu because they have a massive one.

Don’t worry, our marshmallows weren’t touching, I only allow that to happen when hugging.

Thank you

If you only knew how glad I am and a number of my friends are that Gyu-Kaku is now open in Denver. Living in Japan or Los Angeles, you start to take things for granted because of all the choices we have, but being in Colorado, I can not express how happy I am to finally have a Japanese yakiniku restaurant here.

Thank you Bret, Russell, Shawn, Maiko’san, Lala, Zach, and the rest of the staff (esp the BOH, *fist bump* homies) for doing such a great job.


Japanese BBQ Dining
1998 18th St.
Denver, CO 80202

Located across the street from Union Station on the same block as Union Denver, Whole Foods, and CVS.

(last reservation)
(last reservation)

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