Coco’s and Yu-Gi-Oh!, together at last… are words that you have likely never heard anyone say before. Especially for us British folks, since Coco’s is very much an American institution: a niche chain of US restaurant-bakery hybrid stores mostly localised to Arizona and California. While at one point hundreds of these restaurants existed on the West Coast of the US, only 13 remain today. On the other hand, the Japanese side of the business, launched in the 1970s, is stronger than ever, with over 500 of the ‘family restaurants’ (a type of restaurant serving diner-style food from hamburger steaks to curries and more for families or anyone looking for a cheap meal) across the country.
And now, this very much localised interpretation of the US restaurant has joined forces with Konami to celebrate Yu-Gi-Oh!’s 25th anniversary with a range of special food and trading cards. So, of course, we had to try these ‘Hungry Burgers’ and ‘Blue-Eyes White Dragon’ parfaits for ourselves.
The Yu-Gi-Oh! x Coco’s collaboration is split over two periods, celebrating 25 years of Yu-Gi-Oh! by creating foods and distributing free Yu-Gi-Oh! cards with limited-edition designs and artwork from across the history of the franchise. It’s a collab dedicated to celebrating all eras of the franchise for all fans in both culinary and trading card form, with protagonists from all eras represented alongside a sizable Rush Duel celebration centred on the current faces and newest playstyle for the franchise. Each period of the collaboration was marked with two limited themed menu items and a different collection of randomly-gifted cards.
The collaboration offered new Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, imposed on a Coco’s-inspired wallpaper of spaghetti and pizza.
These cards were the ultimate draw, for fans both old and new. For the TCG, whether you like Yugi Moto’s Dark Magician or are a newer player and prefer Zexal’s Yuma’s Odd Eyes Pendulum Dragon or Yusaku Fujiki’s Firewall Dragon (from Vrains), one random card was included with every meal. For the ongoing Rush Duel series, all the main characters are represented, three for each period of the lottery. These weren’t mere reprints as, although each reused familiar monster art, the collaboration offered new rarities and were imposed on a Coco’s-inspired wallpaper of spaghetti and pizza that made the cards truly unique.
Not only that, but in the second round of this collaboration, the six reprints were joined by two all-new original monsters exclusive to the campaign. For fans of the standard TCG, and inspired by the chain’s signature sizzling hamburger steaks, there’s Steam Knight Hamburk, a Level 8 normal monster with 2500 ATK and 200 DEF. For Rush Duel enthusiasts, and inspired by their delectable bakery desserts, is the far cuter and sweeter Magician of Happiness, Cocosh, a Level 4 normal monster. Submitting your receipts from the collaboration online would also put you into a draw to potentially win a playmat featuring these two original creatures.
Coco’s is a major chain known for its cheap-yet-tasty food with hundreds of stores across the country. Surely it wouldn’t be too difficult to get a hold of these tantalising treats for ourselves. Surely these meals would taste as nice as they looked. Right?
To say that Yu-Gi-Oh! fans were eager to try this food was an understatement. We let our guard down during the first wave of the collaboration, turning our simple quest for foody festivities into an ordeal.
In the otaku paradise of Tokyo’s Nakano Broadway mere days after the collaboration got underway, we assumed there’d be no issues getting a hold of the two unique menu items in the first run for the event. The Hungry Burger - inspired by the card from Spell Ruler - with fangs made of cheese and BBQ sauce inside a bun, represented the original era of the TCG, while the Galactic Oblivion parfait, based on the imposing dragon of the same name, represented the Rush Duel era.
Assuming all would be fine, not attending on opening day was a mistake; all the TCG cards and the Hungry Burger were entirely sold out.
Disappointed, we sat down to enjoy the Galactic Oblivion parfait that remained available. This overloaded parfait had practically everything you could imagine, with Blue Hawaiian jelly, frozen berries, chocolate crispies, orange slices, whipped cream, popping candy to pour over the top and even a full brownie square and pastry! Of course, we had wanted a meal, and you can’t sustain yourself solely on sugar and ice cream. While the limited food items were a big draw for the event, those unable or unwilling to spend the inflated cost of these limited-time offerings (a typical parfait costs around 700 yen (£4) versus the 1200 yen (£7) of these special edition choices, with main meal items having similar markups) could order select normal items from the menu and still receive their free cards, so we bundled these ice creams with some steaks from this secondary selection and waited.
Just one week into the three-week special order period, most stores were already cleared out of the Hungry Burger.
The parfaits arrived and they were, let’s say, intimidating. Not only was it difficult to see the resemblance to the referenced monster, it was difficult to know exactly where to even start tackling this beastly dessert. Pick off the brownie and pastry and dive in? Leave them ‘til last and dip in the melted ice cream? We went with the former in the end, and weren’t disappointed.
Rather than the overwhelming richness we were expecting, the parfait was surprisingly refreshing, with a unique variety of flavours. The choice of pastry and brownie seemed bizarre at first but complemented the creaminess of the rest of the dish, while the orange slices offered a fruity interlude. Colour us impressed. With our array of Rush Duel cards in hand we left the store, disappointed not to try the burger but satisfied.
This did leave a gap in our gourmet experience still to be filled, so a few days later the adventure resumed to find another store with burgers available, a task far harder than it might seem. Noting the warning on the door of the first store, we chose to visit another local store to try our luck again and was excited to see no similar message warning of any burger-related stock shortages. Alas, despite this there were no such burgers to be found here either - but with time to kill and a need for nutrition, we ploughed ahead with a standard order. At least they still had the cards, we told ourselves, and the Dark Magician offered some consolation for my troubles.
Determined not to fumble the opportunity a third time, and shocked by the high demand for this fanged food, we chose to pick up the phone to call ahead to all stores in the Tokyo area, just to make sure we could swipe our hands on the elusive prize. Yet just one week into the three-week special order period, most stores were already cleared out; only on the fourth attempt did a store over an hour away confirm a small amount of remaining stock for the meal.
Luckily, it was worth the wait. A juicy burger complemented by a tangy-yet-not-overwhelming level of BBQ sauce faced any who dared to defeat the ferocious Hungry Burger. Maybe this was chosen for the Yu-Gi-Oh! Coco’s collaboration for its obvious translation into culinary excellence, or for the fact an all-new ritual-based archetype based on the card is included in the new Wild Survivors set, but the result was a delightful reward to the quest undertaken to taste it for ourselves. We even got a second Dark Magician. Result!
As nice as the food was, the experience left its mark. Who knew food-tasting could be so exhausting? Shouldn’t a national restaurant chain have more than enough stock to not accidentally run out of burgers and cheese? Whatever the reason, we left nothing to chance for part two, attending the opening morning of the second Yu-Gi-Oh! menu selection going on sale.
The Blue-Eyes White Dragon parfait was as gut-punching and difficult to stomach as an actual attack from Kaiba’s signature beast.
Round two runs from June 6th until the 26th, with Rush Duel represented by a Seventh Road Magician curry and the original TCG represented by a Blue-Eyes White Dragon parfait. With no stock issues in sight and entry before the lunch rush, we were straight in our seats and immediately ordered the food.
These items were unfortunately not up to the standards of the first. Compared to the reward offered to a weary traveller by the Hungry Burger and an improvement over the bland nature of many Japanese burgers, the Seventh Road Magician curry felt almost ordinary. Japanese curry is tasty, and that was retained, but the broccoli and clams felt unnecessary, sloppily dropped into the curry without adding to the taste merely to vaguely hint at the design of the monster it was referencing. It remained a tasty and cheap meal, but overpriced compared to the even-cheaper offerings on the main menu.
Then there was the Blue-Eyes White Dragon parfait. If the Galactic Oblivion parfait was a delightful and light take on the creature that inspired it, this was as gut-punching and difficult to stomach as an actual attack from Kaiba’s signature beast would feel. Heavy panna cotta cream, sugared lemon, honey-lemon jelly, vanilla ice cream, marshmallows, with a ramune candy representing the blue eyes of the dragon, topped by an entire slice of cheesecake and candy floss. Far from the airy and refreshing taste of the last parfait, this was heavy, cloyingly sweet and nowhere near as consistent in terms of taste.
Let’s not even get started on the blue syrup. Like the popping candy you poured over the top of the last parfait, the idea is to pour the syrup over the top of the parfait to complete the look and taste of the dish, melting the candy floss into the dish in the process. The reality is a nightmare for all the staff who work there, as syrup glided over the cake like a waterfall and cotton candy unceremoniously fell to the side, covering the table in a fluorescent sea of E numbers and regret.
By the way, my experience pouring the syrup was… much, much worse pic.twitter.com/W5tFYpEbuj— Alicia Haddick/アリシア (they/them) (@socialanigirl) June 6, 2023
Wiping up our shameful mistakes, the ice cream itself wasn’t even worth the hassle. The cheesecake felt heavy, while the sugar felt overwhelming - and that’s before discussing the taste of the jelly, which can only best be summarised as tasting like a few unwelcome sips from a bottle of cough medicine. It was a chore to finish, and left an unwelcome bloated, almost sickly pit in the stomach for the remainder of the day.
It was an unfortunate way to end a surprisingly tasty endeavour into the world of Yu-Gi-Oh!-themed food. At least the free cards produced some delight, with Coco's magician gracing our presence. Considering the low odds of earning the desired cards from a pool of four possibilities, receiving the cute spellcaster felt like a reward for powering through the previous dish.
Irrespective of this one sour (sweet?) note, it was also a nice way to celebrate all eras of the Yu-Gi-Oh! story so far. Cards emblematic of every era of the franchise reprinted for fans to receive as gifts alongside thematically-consistent meals for a series they love. What better way to mark the moment - especially when the food is ultimately a cheap meal out, whether you choose to eat on your own or with a friend. A hearty meal for believing in the heart of the cards.