- What is Yakitori?
- 10 Best Yakitori Restaurant in the U.S.
- What’s on the menu? (10 Most Popular Yakitori Menus)
What is Yakitori?With the popularity of Izakaya and Robata restaurants both in and outside of Japan, yakitori has become one of the most popular Japanese dishes behind sushi and ramen. What’s not to love? It’s sort of like ‘mini chicken teriyaki’ that you can eat endlessly. A seemingly easy dish to make, yakitori makes a great appetizer at an izakaya, but it is actually a highly specialized cuisine and there are many restaurants that specialize in only yakitori. For those of you, who are not familiar with yakitori, imagine a Japanese shish kabob. A few bite size pieces of meat are skewed onto a bamboo stick and grilled per order. What’s the difference, you ask? First, the flavor. Yakitori is often seasoned with sweet teriyaki like “tare,” sea salt or some wasabi, depending on the meat selection. Also, each restaurant’s “tare” is considered a house secret where often, the recipe is passed down from generation to generation. The meat in yakitori is smaller than that of the shish kabob, and the sticks are shorter. For example, a person with an adult appetite can easily eat a few skewers of yakitori with a glass of beer while waiting for their main dish. Although yakitori means grilled (yaki) chicken (tori), many yakitori restaurants also serve pork, beef and vegetable, yet still are called “yakitori” restaurants.
Yakitori is a relatively new term for the non-Japanese, but the yakitori culture dates back to early tenth century Japan where there is mention of “grilled chicken” as festive menu for royalty. In 1682, a cook book mentioned how to make yakitori as well, with the following directions: “Put chicken meat on skewers, sprinkle some salt and grill them, then dip it in a jar of tare. Eat before tare dries out.” Meats were still a relative luxury in Japan at that time, so it wasn’t until the 1930s that yakitori had become a common culinary dish.
10 Best Yakitori Restaurant in the U.S.
Ready to go try yakitori? Here are 10 best yakitori restaurants in the States.
Best Yakitori Restaurant(s) in New York
TorishinThere are many reasons that you can think why, Torishin, a restaurant serving yakitori, grilled chicken on sticks, is a Michelin starred. One, their new(ish) location is gorgeous. It’s simple, functional, yet serene. Their beautiful counter is made from 500 years old cypress tree from Japan. Then their chicken. It’s organic and carefully prepared to one by one by hands. Bamboo sticks are used for their sticks and meats are grilled over special charcoal called binchotan. According to their chefs, cooking with binchotan charcoal makes outside crispy yet still juicy inside. Their secret sauce is similar to the one from their original Tokyo location.
What to order:
You can order a la carte, but there aren’t many yakitori restaurants in the United States offering omakase menu, so why not order one? Omakase covers many varieties of meat, plus refreshing housemade dessert.
Navigation: 362 W 53rd St., New York, NY 10019
Yakitori Totto“I totally recommend the skin; it’s crunchy and delicious!” That’s not a Yelp quote from a random Joe/Jane who dined at Yakitori Totto. That quote is from Anthony “way-cooler-than-thou” Bourdain on Totto’s website. Starting as a small second floor location in midtown Manhattan, Totto has been busy since it opened in 2003. With authentic food and a Tokyo izakaya-like atmosphere you’ll feel like you’re eating in a traditional Japanese bar.
What to order:
Other than the usual suspects of negima and tebasaki wings, order shishito tsukune, which is two popular items in one. Ground chicken (tskune) is stuffed in shishito pepper and then grilled. If you are adventurous, and have early reservations, try some of their limited items. Hiza Nanakotsu (soft knee bone), bonchiri (tail) and hatsu (heart) are especially popular with Japanese expats. Totto also serves a special breed of pork that is both juicy and sweet.
Navigation: 251 W 55th St. 2nd Fl New York, NY 10019 (Bet 8th Ave & Broadway)
Yakitori TaishoWhen the clock hits 2AM on the weekend and you crave yakitori, Taisho is where you want to be. Taisho, roughly translates to “boss,” is indeed the yakitori boss in New York. They were there before izakaya was cool, before people knew the word yakitori, and even maybe before you were born. The thing is, Taisho is no frills, just good ol’ grilled meat on a stick in a smoky restaurant. There’s no space between you and the next guy, but that cramped feeling is a part of the charm. You are there to have a cool Japanese experience in the East Village. So loosen your tie, unbutton the shirt, pull your perfectly blow-dried hair up, and say kanpai!
What to order:
One yakitori stick starts around $1.50, so go crazy and order everything you want… If that’s not your style, get the set of 10 skewers so you can sample a variety of yakitori.
Navigation: 5 St. Marks Pl., New York, NY 10003
Best Yakitori Restaurant(s) in Illinois
Yakitori BoogytoriYakitori Boogytori prides themselves using the only the best quality Jidori free range chicken and Berkshire pork. That’s one of the reasons this new yakitori bar in Chicago is so popular and considered the best. All the meat, vegetables and seafood are masterfully prepared over binchotan for maximum flavor. There are house made broth ramen noodles that come with the same high quality meat.
What to order:
Chicken paitan ramen is creamy and delicious, and Osaka shio ramen has both chicken and tonkotsu broth made from Berkshire pork and jidori chicken. They are the perfect ending after skewers and skewers of yakitori. Feeling adventurous? Order shishamo, sun-dried smelt fish. The whole fish is on a skewer and grilled and you can eat the whole thing, including its head. The eggs inside of this fish are a favorite treat for many Japanese.
Navigation: 932 W Algonquin Rd., Arlington Heights, IL 60005
Best Yakitori Restaurant(s) in Texas
Teppo Yakitori and Sushi Bar
In Texas, where meat is a way of life, it’s not easy to please people when it is prepared in a foreign style; especially when the meat is presented on a dainty stick. Teppo opened in 1995, and has been serving yakitori ever since. Judging from the long wait, it seems that after two decades, Texans have approved, as Teppo’s yakitori is loved by locals. Chef/Owner Masayuki Otaka, who bought Teppo from the original owner in 2008, makes sure to maintain his high quality standards every day. Who would have thought that true Yakitori could be found in the heart of Texas? Just one more reason to visit the Lone Star State.
What to order:
Chicken meatballs with quail egg yolk for dipping and Texas quail seem to be local favorites.
Navigation: 2014 Greenville Ave., Dallas, TX 75206
Best Yakitori Restaurant(s) in Los Angeles
You may notice that some Japanese restaurants specialize in one thing and do it really well. In Torimatsu’s case, their speciality is Yakitori, a.k.a. bite size chicken meat on sticks. Tebasaki (wings), tsukune (meatballs), sasami (breasts) and negi-niku (thigh and green onion) are great for everybody, and if you are truly adventurous, try bonchichi (tail) or sunagimo (giblets). They are all grilled over special charcoal called “binchotan,” which burns like an infrared ray, bringing a juicy and tender result. It’s a small restaurant, so make sure to call ahead, as it’s well worth a trip to Gardena.
What to order:
Their set menu comes with either 7 or 10 grilled chicken and veggie sticks and it’s a great way experience their yakitori. They’ll ask if you prefer tare or shio on yakitori. Tare is sweet soy (similar to teriyaki sauce), and shio is salt. It’s up to you, but breasts work well with shio and tsukune is great with tare. Whatever you do, don’t expect sushi or ramen on the menu.
Navigation: 1425 W Artesia Blvd., Gardena, CA 90248
Shin-Sen-GumiShin-Sen-Gumi rules Southern California’s Japanese restaurant scene. Among 14 locations spreading from Little Tokyo to Orange county, one dedicates itself to yakitori. Just like typical yakitori-ya in Japan, once you enter this no-frills Shin-Sen-Gumi location, you’ll see a smokey yakitori station where chefs are busy fanning charcoal to control grilling temperature. When chefs serve the perfectly grilled meat on skewers, they may mention “eat as is” or “put a little bit of salt or wasabi.” Make sure you try some of Shin-Sen-Gumi yuzu-kosho with it, too, as it is special made for the restaurant shipped from Fukuoka, Japan.
Note: Not all Shin-Sen-Gumi serve yakitori, so please check with your specific location.
What to order:
Negima (thigh meat with scallions) are available either with salt or with sweet tare. Get both to see which one you like.
Navigation: 18517 S. Western Ave., Gardena, CA 90248
Best Yakitori Restaurant(s) in San Francisco (Bay Area)
Unless you like to wait on line for 2 hours, don’t show up on the weekend without a reservation. The Bay Area features many izakaya restaurants, but not a lot specialize in yakitori, so people from Silicon Valley and families who live in this affluent area flood to Kokko for their fix of this grilled chicken treat. Since most of the skewers are under $3, it’s perfect for students as well. Just like other great yakitori restaurants, Kokko uses “binchotan,” a unique charcoal that creates magical bites where the inside is nice and juicy while the outside is perfectly crisp.
What to order:
Thighs and chicken skin are always a great idea, but try the quail egg with bacon. It’s like an American breakfast on a stick. If you’re looking for something a bit more filling, try soboro gohan, seasoned ground chicken over rice and thank me later.
Navigation: 509 2nd Ave., San Mateo, CA 94401
A former DJ grilling yakitori in Oakland? Sounds like a Jon Favreau movie plot, doesn’t it? But it’s all true. Tommy Cleary, co-owner of Hina Yakitori, started his yakitori career by accident, but made sure that his yakitori is the best. Unlike other yakitori restaurants, Hina’s menu is rather small, but each meat is cut, grilled and served with intention. Boring breast meat will turn into a pleasure filled bite after Cleary prepares it, as the first bite of breast is always the juicy part of the chicken’s underarm. Each piece of meat is prepared with the similar precision. The team at Hina Yakitori breaks down a limited number of French bred chicken, poulet rouge, from Pitman Farms everyday. Hina Yakitori is on Michelin Guide’s recommended list.
What to order:
You must order the most succulent part of chicken, “Sori Maki,” thigh oyster. Only a limited number of them are available each night.
Navigation: 4828 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, CA 94609
Best Yakitori Restaurant(s) in Portland
Yataimura Maru by Shigezo
Yataimura means food cart village in Japanese. There are many areas in Japan where at night, food vendors show up serving food and alcohol. Yataimura Maru in Portland is trying to create this same festive atmosphere in a restaurant. So, while technically, Maru is not a “Yakitori” restaurant, they serve many things, and there’s even a robata counter where you can sit and order your favorite yakitori!
What to order:
Definitely try thighs, tsukune and everything bacon wrapped. Also sample the grilled rice balls, yakionigiri and Karaage, (Japanese fried chicken). Both are crowd pleasers among Japanese people. Yakionigiri is grilled over robata along with your yakitori order. The charred sweet tare taste complements the delicious crunchy outside and soft inside.
Navigation: 3810 SE Division St., Portland, OR 97202
What’s on the menu? (10 Most Popular Yakitori Menus)
*Photo Credit: Shin-Sen-Gumi (http://www.shinsengumigroup.com/en/dining-guide/yakitori.php)
If you have been to a yakitori shop, you’ve most likely seen chicken parts that you’ve never heard of. Yes, there are chicken breasts and wings on the menu but regulars at the bar might order “sunagimo” and “nankotsu” which might make you feel left out. Don’t worry; here’s a list of the 10 most popular yakitori items that include these unusual parts.
That juicy, flavorful part of the chicken… thighs! Momo iThat juicy, flavorful part of the chicken… thighs! Momo is the king of yakitori, and it’s everybody’s favorite, from kids to salarymen to grandparents. Chicken thighs with or without skin are often grilled with tare.
Tokyo scallions and chicken meat (often thighs or breasts meat) are alternatively skewered. The charred scallion smells great and the sweetness of the scallion compliments the juicy chicken.
Meatballs! It’s a popular dish with kids and women. The sugar in tare makes the surface of the meatball crisply charred, while the inside retains its juiciness. Sometimes there’s cheese inside of the meatball, or it comes with yolk as dipping sauce.
What’s better than perfectly crisped chicken skin in sweet yakitori sauce? We can’t think of anything.
Cartilage, yes, the part you throw away without any care, is a popular item at the yakitori shop. Do you remember last time you were eating BBQ ribs and ate the white soft bone on the end? Nankotsu texture resembles that.
Two words. Chicken wings. Tare or salt, your choice.
It’s chicken gizzard. Ironically, it doesn’t taste like chicken, but people enjoy its lean, firm and crispy texture.
Not the queen of country music, but rather, chicken liver, pronounce “rebah.”
Gyu (beef) + tan (tongue). It’s one of the leanest parts of the meat. Try it and you’ll instantly know why it’s so popular.
Shishito peppers have become popular appetizers in the United States. Yakitori style shishito is equally as good with the added plus of getting your daily dose of greens.
*All prices, numbers and menu descriptions mentioned in the article are from the time of this article’s publishing. So keep in mind, they may have changed since then.