Much to my despair, yakitori spots are few and far between in Honolulu. They often come with hour-long waits; one even requires an invite to dine. Walking in and snagging a seat at 6 p.m. is almost impossible. That is, unless you find yourself on the second floor of McCully Shopping Center.
Last Friday at Carp Dori, I was the only customer for part of my meal, leading me to believe there’s something seriously wrong with this picture.
The quirky yakitori stall that pays homage to the Hiroshima Carp baseball team relocated from Shirokiya Japan Village Walk to the former Yotteko-Ya space in September. Skewers are cooked to order and there’s a smattering of other sake no sakana, or side dishes to accompany your ice cold biiru. There's even a few Hiroshima-style ramen bowls.
Skewers range from $1.99 for assorted chicken and veggies to $2.99 for premium offerings like beef tongue and juicy tsukune chicken meatballs topped with cheese. Most sticks are $2.50, though there are deals to be had like two omakase options: a nine-stick H.R. set for $19.99 and a five-stick tori don for $9.99.
Browsing the extensive menu, my eyes go everywhere. With every glance I discover something new. I eventually settle on eight skewers, a yakionigiri and some fried chicken skin to accompany my pint of Sapporo draft beer ($4.50). Other drinks on offer include bottled domestic beers ($5) and a very slim selection of sake, shochu and wines.
Of the bunch I ordered, the tsukune cheese ($2.99), an oblong meatball of minced chicken parts that typically range from thigh meat to cartilage and liver along with onion, shined the brightest. The stick has three to four juicy bites of pure chickeny goodness cut by melting flecks of onion and a mild Meunster-type cheese with the right amount of char.
My next favorite is a tossup between the pork rolled with shiso and the chicken breast with ume ($2.50 each). The pork remains juicy and hits the palate with a salty, meaty punch tamed by the herbaceous shiso leaf while the chicken breast, although a bit dry, is drawn together with the slightly sour tinge of ume paste. The meatball stick is noticeably drier when compared to the tsukune stick, so opt for the latter and thank me later.
The yakionigiri is small, nicely grilled and barely seasoned, however, it comes with a mug of chicken stock accented with negi green onions and a bit of ginger. If my blood pressure weren't an issue, I would ask about a refill.
By now, I was filling up on skewers and looking for something lighter to go with the rest of my beer. The fried chicken skin, although pricey at $4.99, was clutch. Delicate morsels of skin transformed into crispy chips crackling with intense chicken flavor — it was best enjoyed with a quick spritz of lemon juice.
From my previous experience with Carp Dori at Shirokiya, I went in with low expectations and left contemplating exactly how much more I preferred them over Yakitori Glad. Despite smaller portion sizes, Carp Dori hits a homerun with bases loaded: taste, price and convenience, making this a winner winner chicken dinner in my book.
Hiroshima Carp Dori Yakitori and Ramen
1960 Kapiolani Blvd, Ste 214
Monday - Friday 5 p.m. - 12 a.m.
Sunday - 5 - 10 p.m.
Saturday - unlisted