Have you noticed that wherever you are, you're no more than a few clicks from a Flame Broiler? There are three in Santa Ana, four in Orange, six in Irvine, and probably at least one in every single Orange County city. I don't know how many there are exactly in OC (I'm really too lazy to count them all), but in Irvine alone, Flame Broiler outnumbers McDonald's.
If there's a fast-food chain more prevalent and ubiquitous it would have to be Subway. That the teriyaki chain, born in Fullerton, has already far eclipsed Yoshinoya and has become a force to be reckoned with is obvious when you actually go into a Yoshinoya these days--it is apparent that Yoshinoya has changed the way they do their chicken bowls to emulate Flame Broiler.
Flame Broiler has also inspired more than a few imitators. To me, Waba Grill is so similar, if it weren't for the sign, I wouldn't be able to distinguish their bowls from each other. Waba has it down to the proclamation that they use "no skins, no frying, and no msg".
As the quality can actually vary between franchises of Flame Broiler themselves, comparisons to the Waba chain should really be moot. But there are some differences:
- Flame Broiler uses deeper bowls; Waba employs wider ones. Because of this, Waba's bowls can conceivably contain more chicken, as both puts their pieces of hen in a single layer on top of the rice.
- Waba applies a small amount of teriyaki sauce to their bowls. Flame Broiler serves it dry, leaving it to you apply the sauce.
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- In the instance I tried it for this taste test, Flame Broiler's rice was mushy; Waba's was dry.
- The chicken at both chains are par cooked before a second broil and as a result, both are like nubs of flavorless rubber if it weren't for the pieces that get singed to crispness. The flavor assist of the hot sauce was essential in both. Waba's hot sauce had almost a Tapatio smokiness while Flame Broiler's leaned to the vinegary.
So who's the winner? It's a wash. Because to be quite honest, I'm still partial to Yoshinoya's chicken bowls, even though they've ruined it in an effort to catch up to Flame Broiler and its kin.