Battles For The Best Yakitori in Japan
Yakitori is a favorite food of the masses. It’s easily enjoyed and not too expensive. Chicken is widely loved by many diners as a great source of protein. It’s a popular meat choice, while more diners are objecting to beef these days. Chicken can be raised using much fewer resources than larger animals.
Nose-to-tail dining is quite new in the West but not in the East. Asians consume various parts of the chicken, including entrails, whereas Westerners consume mostly meat from the breast or thighs.
Some of the chicken parts are interesting to try, though Western diners may find them difficult to accept. Here are some examples:
1. Neck meat, seseri, is muscle with a nice combination of flavor and texture.
2. Skin, kawa, might be rejected by those who watch their weight and are particular about their health. When done right, it’s flavorful because of the fat and aroma. The crispy, grilled skin just tastes better than pork.
3. Heart, hatsu, is such a delicacy. One chicken has only one heart, and it takes many chickens to make one skewer. The heart has lots of muscles, so the texture is very interesting.
4. Liver, Reeba might not be uncommon as the Western also enjoy chicken pate. A nicely grilled liver tastes better than foie gras.
5. Gizzard, sunagimo, is the organ that is a part of the chicken digestive system. It crushed its food as chicken doesn’t chew like humans. This item is tricky to cook, as abrupt heat can turn it into hard and most unappealing food.
6. Cartilage, nankotsu got low calories. Many might find it strange to eat these soft bones. Cartilage is also part of the ingredients for making tsukune or chicken ball. It makes the texture more interesting and chewy when mixing chopped cartilage with the meat part.
7. Unlaid egg with ovary ducts, chouchin, or the lantern is one of my favorite parts. It’s called the lantern as the unpeeled eggs are hanging like a lantern.
8. Esophagus, Otafuku, which is the food passage connecting between the mouth and stomach. When done right, the texture would be so delicious.
9. Windpipe, saezuri connects with the lungs. What distinguishes between the esophagus and the windpipe is that the former is for food while the latter is for air.
10. Tail-meat, Bonjiri is something one would either love or hate. It got lots of fat. Those who love it said it was the most flavorful. Those who hate it could imagine nothing else but somewhere near where chickens shoot their poop. So it's messy if not cleaned thoroughly.
Despite the ubiquitous grilled chicken restaurants , finding a great yakitori restaurant is no easy task. I wish to recommend my four favorites among all yakitori restaurants in my journey to find the best yakitori in Japan.
Yakitori Torila from Hakata, Fukuoka.
This young chef is very talented. Leo once wrote in detail about Torila on the Tokyo table trip. I could only add that Torila now moved to a new address. His booking policy is for direct booking only, no proxy booking, e.g. via the hotel. Diners need to be able to communicate in Japanese. The chef is very friendly and charismatic. The only issue is he wants to be able to communicate with his clients without language barriers.
The new address is in this link.
Address：3-10-9 Hirao, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka-city, Fukuoka
Transport: a 5-minute walk from Nishitetsu-Hirao Station on the Nishitetsu Line
Opening hours：18:00-/1930-/21:00-(3 rounnd a day)
Yakitori Kasahara from Kobe, Hyogo.
This new yakitori restaurant with a sleek counter in a nice room is very close to the Sannomiya station. This place defies the Smokey room of typical yakitori restaurant. To book, please contact your hotel.
Address：1-25-6 Nakayamate-street, Chuo-ku, Kobe-city, Hyogo
Transport: a 8-minute walk from Sannomiya Station on the Hankyu Line
Closed: Irregular holidays
Yakitori Ichimatsu from Osaka, Kansei.
This restaurant is run by a lively and super friendly team. All the dishes are so delicious. Ichimatsu takes pride in using premium salt. I love the chicken broth and rice dish as well. It’s quite a way to end the night in Osaka. It’s quite popular among locals and is a fun place to be. On weekends, it might even run three rounds: 16:00 (weekend), 18:00, and 20:30. If you can’t get in, you can try 16:00 or the last round. Bookings can be made via the hotel.
Online booking is also available for those with Japanese mobile phones.
Address：1-5-1 Dojima, Kita-ku, Osaka-city, Osaka
Transport: a 4-minute walk from Kitasinchi Station on the Tozai Line
Torishiki from Tokyo, Kanto.
The chef is the true master of the grill, and he commands the use of fire. He’s incredibly focused while working and leaves no rooms for chit-chat. What makes up for this is the perfection of his grilled chicken. He doesn’t serve any chicken sashimi in his course. All skewers are delivered, and the cooking is no less than perfect for each skew. His omakase courses contain various parts of chicken innards, so this might not suit people who only enjoy the usual commonly consumed meat parts, especially diners from countries who are used to eating entrails. However, his entrails have awesome texture. His grilled chicken is incredibly juicy, and its succulence level is beyond words.
I recommend having just a light lunch or skipping lunch entirely before going to dinner at Torishiki if you can. The experience is quite a feast.
Booking is extremely competitive, but all diners are treated equally, Japanese or non-Japanese. One can find oneself dialing all day long when the booking starts. When one finally gets through, it’s likely that all seats are gone already. It took me so many years of trying diffident channels. You need someone who can dial all day long and has lots of patience and extra perseverance.
The good news is you can order bento and pick up during the restaurant’s operating hours. This will give you a glimpse of Torishiki’s super yakitori meal.
Address：2-14-12 Kamiosaki, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo
Transport: a 3-minute walk from Meguro Station on the Yamanote Line
Closed: Mondays and Sundays
Torishiki hands down reigns supreme in the yakitori world. It’s not that the other three aren’t great, but Torishiki, in my personal opinion, won by a landslide. However, having said that, if you are in the area, I do still recommend the other three. The four of them are all different, so it’s difficult to compare all four. I also liked Torila a lot. Torila has more raw chicken sashimi and chicken sushi. His shari-forming skill easily matches a good sushi-ya. Ichimatsu, on the other hand, has a modern take and uses ingredients like cheese in the appetizers, so interesting dishes are offered besides the grilled chicken.
Local taste had taken a long journey searching for delicious meals long before the dawn of social media, roaming from one city to another from the Far East to the west, over 160 cities in four continents and more than 400,000 miles during the last 37 years.
His dining spots over thousands of restaurants range from eating in a hole in the wall in Asia to all ten Michelin 3-star restaurants in Paris. More than decades was spent on chasing for perfect xiao long bao.
Because he is not in food business nor food writer, his article won’t be found elsewhere but exclusively on tokyotabletrip.com as a tribute to Leo Saito’s altruistic deed to help international visitors discover the beauty of Japanese cuisine.