On a recent trip to Tokyo I ate yakitori to my heart’s content. Juicy thighs, crispy charred skin, toothsome cartilage, all skewered and grilled over slow-burning charcoal. But yakitori is more than just chicken on a stick. Bouncy bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms and mochi, slabs of beef tongue, luscious pork belly: If it can be skewered, it can be yaki-ed.
Yakitori can be cheap or it can be pricey – it really depends on how much you can put away. Here’s a guide to where to find it around Honolulu.
Carp Dori is an offshoot of a Hiroshima-based chain themed around the city’s Hiroshima Toyo Carps pro baseball team. Although much smaller than its sister restaurants, the appeal of our local outpost is its proximity to cheap beer and about 900 seats in Shirokiya’s Japan Village Walk. Fresh off the grill, the skewers are easy on the palate and wallet – most are around $2. But if they’ve been sitting a while, which seems to happen between mealtimes, you’ll do best to avoid this stall.
Shirokiya Japan Village Walk • 1450 Ala Moana Blvd, Ste. 1360 • 973-9111
Da Ala Cart
Chris Quisote, Hawaii’s own salt bae, sets up Da Ala Cart tent around 9 p.m. in the Launderland parking lot on Beretania Street to grill kushiyaki for a motley crew of patrons.
Da Ala Cart reminds me of the streetside yakitori vendors in yokocho (alleyways) throughout Tokyo. Chris posts his menu on Instagram (@daalacart) early in the day – offerings like the crowd favorite yaki onigiri ($3.50), beef ribeye ($5) and imitation crab wrapped in enoki mushrooms ($3.50). He varies his menu from time to time to include less common items like beef tongue and lamb.
Pop-up at Launderland • 2025 S. Beretania St. • @daalacart on Instagram
Hachibei opened in mid-January on the hottest block of Honolulu’s hottest dining hood, bringing the most luxe skewers the city has seen. The chicken theme runs deep in this chain from Fukuoka, so you’ll find bird parts not only on sticks ($2.80 each), but in an oyako donburi (chicken-and-egg rice bowl) and in a chicken-broth ramen as well. But Hachibei wants to bring “butabara (pork belly) to the world,” and this skewer indeed delivers. So does this beef sukiyaki stick, served with an egg to dip it in. One thing, though: Hachibei charges for green tea, $2.20 a cup, no refills.
20 N. Hotel St. • 369-0088 • Reservations encouraged • hachibei.com/en
The grandfather of local yakitori shops, Kohnotori hasn’t changed much since it opened. That might explain why the char on these chicken sticks tastes better and better with each visit. My favorite is the chicken skin ($1.95), which is expertly weaved onto a skewer accordion-style to maximize surface crisping. As the heat renders the thin layer of fat, it creates a crispy chicken skin chip. I also like the Japanese-style order slip – you just mark your preferences, hand your order to the chef and wait for your bounty. Check the board behind the grill for daily specials: You might be surprised at what’s available.
2626 S. King St. • 941-7255 • Reservations encouraged
Kohnotori on Piikoi
It’s over a year now since Kohnotori 2.0 replaced Tairyo, its seafood-centric sister izakaya across Ala Moana Center. You’ll find Kohnotori’s original yakitori grillmaster (in his signature white-frame glasses) and favorites from the original menu. Yakitori orders run mostly in the $2 to $3 range. Of note, besides separate dining counters for yakitori and sushi, are the small but solid sake selection and a rich, unctuous hotpot of chewy motsu, or beef intestine, in a dashi broth with garlic slivers and lots of melting cabbage.
514 Piikoi St. • 592-8500
Opened in Old Stadium Mall in January, Tori Ton is a wallet-friendly Japanese chain where nearly all the chicken skewers are $1.90 – and that includes thigh, breast, tail, gizzard and heart. But “ton” is also well represented (“tori” means chicken and “ton” is pork) with a ton of bacon-wrapped skewers. Try the bacon-wrapped ball of premium rice that’s basted in a sweet soy sauce, grilled and served with a raw egg yolk for dipping. It’s $3.50, but worth it. Tori Ton’s early days were marked by complaints about slow service; we hope that’s improved.
2334 S. King St. • 260-1478 • Reservations encouraged
Get the tsukune. The signature item at this longtime University-area izakaya is the fluffiest minced chicken on a stick around – and if you prefer to go stick-less, it comes in a bubbling pool of cheese atop a live flame at your table. Be warned, though: There are about 20 varieties on the menu, all about $2 to $3.50 a stick. Plus you’ll find other kinds of yakitori, sushi, nabe hotpots and foods particular to the Nagoya region, like tenmusu (shrimp tempura musubi), miso tonkatsu and fried chicken wings.
1442 University Ave. • 943-0390 • tsukuneyarobatagrill.com