I don’t know what convenience stores are like in other countries, but a 7-11 in the United States is a wasteland for food compared to their Japanese counterparts — hot dogs and hamburgers that taste boring and stale, Big Gulps, and the usual junk food. I know there have been some efforts to improve the offerings, but Americans are still being shortchanged on this front.
On the other hand, a 7-11 in Japan (or any of its myriad local competitors such as Lawson’s and Family Mart) is a surprisingly good place to grab not just a quick and affordable meal, but a relatively enjoyable one as well. It’s not gourmet cuisine, but you’ll have a far better time eating the vast assortment of bento boxes, ready made noodles, rice bowls, salads, sandwiches, and (my personal favorite) onigiri rice balls than you will their mystery meat counterparts in America. Konbinis are also great places to grab delicious breads, like the ubiquitous melonpan, and pastries on the go.
You can debate the merits of each konbini chain. But personally, I believe that the very best konbini here is one that even many Tokyoites have not heard of. It goes by a funny name: Gooz.
Gooz (which, according to Urban Dictionary, coincidentally means “fart” in Persian… but don’t let that turn you off to this place) is an offshoot of a Yokohama/Kanagawa prefecture-based konbini chain called Three F, and is meant to be a more upscale convenience store. There are a very small number of Goozes around, with only one Tokyo location in Nakameguro.
Why is Gooz so great? Unlike the other konbini chains, a lot of the food sold at Gooz is made on site rather than delivered by truck. You can taste the difference in both the freshness and the overall quality.
And the stuff that they make? Gourmet cheesebergers, with patties that taste like a delicious mix of pork and beef. Deep fried shrimp patties that are breaded with panko and served between hamburger buns. Several types of cream puffs, bread with cream cheese filling, and other fresh baked pastries that are clearly better than what you find at other convenience stores. And, of course, the standard onigiri, sandwiches, noodles, and other konbini fare, many of which are prepared in-store.
On top of that, Gooz features a self-serve coffee bar, featuring an assortment of different flavors. You can get it hot or pour it over some ice cubes for some iced coffee. All of it tasty, all of it convenient. Their coffee tastes significantly better than the stuff at other konbini and is a viable alternative to the drip coffee at major chains like Starbucks and Tully’s.
It might sound odd for a food blog to recommend a convenience store, but that’s exactly what I’m doing. Gooz reframes what you expect from a convenience store, even in a place like Japan which already has the finest in the world.
Keep in mind that some of the items, such as the burgers and the baked goods, do begin to run out by the middle of the evening. And, of course, the freshly made food does taste better earlier in the day. So don’t get there too late.
Finally, there’s a larger question for my fellow Americans — why don’t we have this in the United States? Family Mart has tried to introduce upscale, Japanese-style konbini in Southern California in the form of their Famima! stores, which are a step in the right direction, but pale in comparison to Gooz. Of course, Gooz is still a small operation, occupying a niche, higher-end market in Japan. But I hope more people discover, appreciate, and frequent it because it’s really that awesome. Gooz is the best that a convenience store can be.Gooz Location: The Nakameguro store is located at 1-26-2 Kamimeguro, Meguro, Tokyo. There is also one in the center of Yokohama, on Nihon Odori. Hours of Operation: 7:00am-11:00pm (a convenience store that actually operates from 7 to 11!) How to get there: To get to the Nakameguro store, take either the Tokyo Metro’s Hibiya line or the Tokyu Toyoko Line to Nakameguro station. Go southeast on Yamate Dori (the main street right in front of the station exit), and turn left on Komazawa Dori. Gooz is located on the left, just before you get to the Meguro River.