Unless you’ve been homebound or hiding under a rock lately, you’ve probably noticed the number of new eateries popping up around town this past year. Among the more visible restaurants to open recently are the crop of chain restaurants in both the Genesee Plaza and Balboa Mesa Shopping Centers. (More to come on those in the coming months!) But if you aren’t paying attention, it might be easy to overlook a Clairemont “newcomer” to the restaurant scene: Yakitori Taisho, quietly tucked away next to Smart & Final off Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
Yakitori is a Japanese style of food, typically chicken or other meat, on a wooden skewer that is grilled over charcoal. This Chowhound loves meat-on-a-stick, so we happily trotted in to check it out.
The restaurant’s dining room is ultra-tiny, seating only 15 customers. In fact, on our first visit to Yakotiri Taisho, we encountered a wait. The person at the door suggested that a reservation helps to ensure a seat. Not wanting to wait, we bailed and tried again the next evening… this time with a reservation! The inside of the restaurant is decorated in a very typical Japanese style with wooden paneling, small wooden stools overlooking a central grilling area, and two additional tables along the walls. The cozy seating and very friendly staff made the experience feel authentically Japanese.
The menu consists of a range of chicken, pork, beef, seafood or vegetables on a skewer, and some salads and fried dishes. Each Yakitori selection includes two skewers, and most items range in price from $3.50-$6. Before taking their place on the grill, each Yakitori item is skillfully seasoned with salt. For the grilling, a specific type of charcoal is used called Binchotan charcoal. Binchotan charcoal is activated by burning oak branches at extremely high temperatures for several days, then rapidly cooling them. This process allows the charcoal to retain heat for extended periods of time without releasing smoke or unpleasant odors, making it excellent for indoor grilling.
For our meal, we asked our server Rex what he would recommend and what was popular. We began with four items and added more as we dined. As items finish on the grill, they are served immediately. To my surprise, every dish was flavorful and moist—even the recommended dish of chicken vein ($4.80), which I have to admit I reluctantly ordered. In particular, the meatballs ($5) were heavenly with a fluffy and moist consistency unlike traditional meatballs that are usually dense and heavy. The butterflied chicken wings ($5) were spot-on, and the chicken breast with wasabi ($4.80) was tender with the perfect spicy zing. Equally tasty was the bacon-wrapped asparagus ($4.50), beef ($5.50); sausage with grainy mustard, and the fried chicken pieces. The perfect accompaniment to this meal is sake or a cold beer and Taisho had a nice selection of both. We opted for a large Kirin beer to share ($6) that hit the spot. After all the Yakitori sticks were empty we had spent $50 for two. Not too bad considering we ate our way through every section of the menu!
If you’re looking for something new and different to try, don’t let the location or small size fool you—good things do come in small packages at this hidden gem. Be sure to make reservations because the secret is out: Yakitori Taisho is heaven on a stick.
(In the Smart & Final shopping center)
5185 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
ABOUT CLAIREMONT’S CHOWHOUND
Clairemont Chowhound Michael Baehr is a home cook and self-proclaimed foodie. He loves sampling new eateries and welcomes your suggestions for local restaurants, fast food and specialty markets to review. Email: ClairemontChowhound@ClairemontTimes.com