Sinking my teeth into a tender morsel of Kobe beef has been on my Japan bucket list for as long as I can remember. And I finally got my chance at Steakland Kobe in Japan.
My obsession with Kobe beef started when I read a somewhat unbelievable story about cows that are fed beer, massaged for hours and listen to classical music. All in the quest for the highest quality, stress-free meat possible. So as soon as we’d booked our tickets to Kyoto, I knew that a little side trip to eat cheap Kobe beef in Kobe was going to happen, so I could finally experience it live and in person.
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Where to eat cheap Kobe beef in Kobe
Kobe beef is the most rare and most expensive beef in the world. The odds that you’ve actually had the real thing anywhere else in the world are slim to none. The ubiquitous “Kobe beef sliders,” 3 for $30 at the local pub? Sorry to disappoint you, but most definitely not the real thing.
It’s not just because it was illegal to import Japanese beef into America and other countries for many years, due to concerns around mad cow disease, but also because there’s a very limited supply of Kobe beef produced PERIOD.
Truly, the best place to eat cheap Kobe beef and trust that it’s actually Kobe beef is at its source, in Kobe, Japan. You can find Kobe beef in other cities in Japan and around the world now, but it won’t be as affordable as it is in Kobe.
*Check this list of restaurants to make sure what you’re getting is authentic.
What’s the difference between Wagyu and Kobe Beef
Wagyu is often marketed as Kobe beef and they’ve essentially come to mean almost the exact same thing in everyday vernacular. But they are NOT the same.
Where wagyu is basically any cattle raised in Japan or raised in the Japanese style, Kobe beef is strictly regulated. Each must be from the Tajima-gyu strain, have fine marbling throughout, high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, and meet very rigorous standards to be considered Kobe beef. In fact, there are just 3-4000 head of cattle designated as Kobe beef in all of Japan each year.
It’s the rarity as much as the quality that contributes to the high price of Kobe beef around the world.
Steakland Kobe: The Experience
I spent a fair bit of time researching all the restaurants where we could indulge our meat fantasies, and narrowed it down to Steakland Kobe or Wakkoqu.
In the end, Wakkoqu’s $150 price tag deterred me, and we ended up at the much more reasonable, but still excellently reviewed Steakland. Sure, it probably wasn’t the best Kobe beef in Kobe, but it would do for our purposes.
Steakland Kobe is a few floors full of teppanyaki style seating, set up so that everyone can have a view of what the chef is up to.
After some debate, and more than a little confusion while we tried to find out exactly which part of the cow each meal came with, I settled on Steakland Kobe’s Lunch Set, and Agri ordered the more expensive Sirloin Lunch Set. The idea being that we would try each other’s steaks to compare, and save a bit of cash in the process.
At Steakland, the Kobe steaks appeared long before someone to cook them did, so we spent some time staring at their juicy redness, dreaming about how delicious they would be, before we actually got to eat them. Even raw, the beef looked different than anything I’ve seen before, with a pinkish cast and threads of fat throughout.
Our chef finally appeared, shyly introduced himself, cleaned the hot plate, then grilled some sliced garlic to crispy perfection, followed by bean sprouts, shimeji mushrooms and green pumpkin.
We were asked if we wanted our steak rare, or medium rare – with no higher choice offered. The chef at Steakland Kobe then sliced, diced and carefully prepared each morsel of meat with absolute precision to the exact level of doneness.
My cheaper Kobe beef was already beyond anything I’d ever tasted, but when I placed a piece of Agri’s more expensive cut in my mouth, let’s just say I was transported to steak nirvana. It basically evaporated in my mouth, leaving a taste so rich, yet light and flavourful, it was hard to believe it was just meat.
I can’t say that it was life-changing, but it was definitely the best piece of grilled beef I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.
There’s a huge number of Kobe beef restaurants in Kobe, all with varying service and cost levels. They sky is really the limit when it comes to the price of Kobe beef.
However, Steakland Kobe is solidly on the tourist radar for good reason. Sure, it’s not the best Kobe restaurant in the city, but it offers one of the best value Kobe beef sets in the country. Our meal in total, including beer was 12,800 Yen, and included a mid-range cut, one of the most expensive steaks on the menu, soup, salad and coffee.
We arrived around 12:30 on a Saturday and though we found a line outside the restaurant, we were seated quickly (about 15 minutes). There was no issue with bringing our stroller or the baby into the restaurant.
Getting to Sannomiya in Kobe
Steakland Kobe is a short walk away from Kobe’s Sannomiya Station. However, there are many, many other Kobe beef restaurants in the immediate area if you don’t want to go to Steakland.
If you’re landing at Kansai airport in the morning, I recommend hopping on the direct limousine bus to Kobe, before checking out Osaka or Kyoto. That’s what we did and it worked out perfectly.
The bus stop is a 10 minute walk away from all the beef restaurants in Kobe, and there’s plenty to see and do in the area. As an added bonus, you’ll find that lunch menus for Kobe beef in Kobe are much more affordable than dinner menus, for practically the exact same thing.
The bus ride takes approximately 80 minutes and costs 1950 Yen per person. Tickets can be purchased at a machine outside the airport terminal. From Terminal 3 where we landed, the bus departed on the hour at :05 and :55.
After filling your belly, you can walk off your meal by heading over to the nearby Ikuta Shrine – it’s one of the oldest shrines in the country, and one of the top things to do in Kobe. It’s just a few minutes away.
Are you a meat-eater? Have you ever eaten a life-changing steak? Where was it? Tell us all about it in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!