The Global Diner: Yakitori

Mouth-watering chili-soaked skewered chicken grilled over white-hot charcoal

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At the heart of any good Japanese izakaya is conviviality: an unending stream of shareable small plates, a few substantial frosty mugs of beer, and the rollicking energy of late-night dining. For many, there’s no better way to spend an evening at an izakaya than with a parade of yakitori (single servings of skewered grilled chicken) and kushiyaki (all manner of skewered grilled meats and vegetables).

Kappo Honda in Fountain Valley is part of the Honda-Ya family, the acclaimed local chainlet that has branches in Tustin and Fullerton. It’s a handsome place illuminated by paper lanterns—the Japanese equivalent of a comfy neighborhood pub. The menu is voluminous; for yakitori and kushiyaki, look to the separate paper on which you can tick off your preferences. Soon, plump chicken breast slicked with yuzu kosho, and chili-soaked wings arrive fresh from the fire. Next come skewers of gently charred shisito peppers and sweetly sauced eggplant so good they disappear instantly.

Takaya Yakitori Izakaya is a newcomer. Here the offerings are a bit more curated, resulting in a smaller but altogether similar menu. Look for skewers of crisp chicken skin and moist chicken thighs before moving on to fatty pork belly, blackened shiitake mushrooms, and lightly seared okra.

No tour is complete without a visit to Shin-Sen-Gumi. The robata-ya is an experience: boisterous greetings from the staff upon arrival, grateful patrons offering the hardworking chefs mugs of beer, and cross-legged diners sharing lively conversation in the tatami-style corner. Every skewer is cooked over white-hot charcoal in the open kitchen. Try the tsukune, tender chicken meatballs lacquered with an addictively sweet sauce. Then a skewer or two of quail eggs that are first hardboiled then grilled, or some blistered tomatoes wrapped in bacon. After the third or fourth round, you may never want to leave.

Shin-Sen-Gumi (Robata)
18315 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, 714-962-8952, shinsengumigroup.com

Kappo Honda
18450 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, 714-964-4629, izakayahondaya.com

Takaya Yakitori Izakaya
891 Baker St., Costa Mesa, 714-557-8715, takayausa.com

Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue.


Photographs by Priscilla Iessi

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue.

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