No, this is not a report on shocking changes to Japan’s marijuana laws. The “chronic” refers to Chronic Tacos, the latest foray of American “fast fine” dining to Tokyo. The Chronic hails from California and, like Frijoles and Shake Shack, attempts to straddle that fine line between fast food and a “dining experience.” On the “experience” side, it fails chronically. The food, however, is tasty enough for takeout and offers reasonably good value for money.
Perhaps the most jarring aspect of the Chronic experience is the disturbingly incongruous atmosphere of the restaurant. It reminds one of a seedy cocktail bar from a Tarantino flick or perhaps an old hotel in Tijuana. But there’s no mariachi band, and no doubt the food would be much better in “TJ.”
Day of the Dead tacos?
First of all, it’s dark. Most of the dining tables are tall, and just big enough for a food tray and a couple of cocktails. The accompanying stool-seats are upholstered. I almost expected a hostess to join me for a drink. The Chronic Japan team seems to have gone all-in on alcohol sales, as the whole rear of the building is a garish bar featuring glowing lights and a “Día de Muertos” mural. One wall is infected with a relentless swatch of plastic ivy, which glowers over a half-hidden tiny lounge-like area with low tables and sofas. Other walls are adorned with posters suggesting “Tacos x Champagne,” a flagrantly desperate marketing ploy that should have never escaped PowerPoint. Then, there’s the fast food side, which looks fast foodie with brick, steel, glass, neon and menu boards
Let’s get to the food. It’s all in plain view along the prep-side of the restaurant and they have all the standards: tacos with soft or hard shells, burritos and burrito bowls, nachos, pork fajitas, quesadillas and something called Chronic Cheese Balls, which I felt it best to avoid. For those without budget constraints, Japanesque items include wagyu sukiyaki tacos and burritos.
Ordering is where the “fast” part of the dining experience comes into play. Much like a Subway or a Frijoles, you are guided through the entire menu item creation process and asked to make about a half-dozen choices. I suppose some people may enjoy this. Personally, I’d rather walk up and order a fish taco and trust the kitchen to deliver. The less choices I have to navigate in life, the better. I tend to get bogged down in what garnish goes best with pico de gallo sauce and whether or not black beans compliment carnitas.
Fancy a splash of Moet with your molé?
If you look hard enough, you will find some pre-assembled “favorites” on an addendum to the printed menu, including The Honolulu Taco (sautéed fish), but they aren’t posted anywhere else, and would be easy to overlook.
Mains on offer include carnitas, Al Pastor (spicy adoba pork), Pollo Asado (marinated grilled chicken), grilled steak and sautéed or fried fish. To those you can add options such as black or pinto beans, rice, lettuce, cilantro, tomatoes, pico de gallo and various other sauces, cheeses and sour cream. You can wrap your choices in soft or hard taco shells, combine them into a burrito or burrito bowl or pile them over nachos, depending on how messy you want to get.
For flavor and authenticity, Chronic mostly hits the spot. If you’re in the mood for California-style tacos, you won’t be disappointed. I found the sautéed fish taco with Baha sauce to be a winner and the carnitas were just spicy and moist enough. The Carne Asado (grilled steak) and Al Pastor required a little more chewing than I would have liked, but it is chunks of meat, after all, not ground.
Price wise, Chronic is a big winner. You can get two tacos and a soft drink for about 1,000 yen. It was a bit light for me, but I imagine most people would be satisfied with two tacos for lunch. The burritos pack a little more heft in volume and price at 790-yen each. Beer and cocktails are also available and, as advertised, the drink that always pairs well with tacos: champagne. Salud!