Yakitori is, to borrow my friend Chris Hei’s oft-used phrase, so hot right now, to the point where trolls come to Chowhound to stir up trouble about whether the (in)famous Little Tokyo yakitori-ya Kokekokko (Chris’s review) would actually be closing permanently or reopening elsewhere after shuttering their current location next month (alas, the mods have removed evidence of said trolls’ efforts). Even high-end DTLA restaurant Orsa & Winston is eschewing its tasting-menu format for the first two months of 2015 in favor of yakitori.
Away from the spotlight and drama, Torihei in Torrance has been quietly serving superb yakitori since 2009. As the South Bay is a bit of a trek for me, I’ve only been twice. Reservations are highly recommended, though I actually managed to walk-in both times by going early and alone, and eating fast. While not the most ideal way to enjoy Torihei, my meals there were still great!
My most recent visit to Torihei was just last month. While I mainly focused on yakitori and did not order any oden (stewed meats and vegetables in light broth, another aspect of Japanese cuisine that Torihei is known for), I did start with a great bowl of noodle soup.
Tori-Shio (Chicken-Salt Based Broth) Ramen: This is a limited quantity item, apparently only 20 bowls are made. Since I was one of the first people in the door, I figure I’d give this a shot, and I was not disappointed, despite being more of a tonkotsu (pork based broth) guy. It’s not going to make me forget Tsujita, but I assume the same high quality chicken went into the ramen as goes on the grill.
Tsunagi (Special Chicken Heart) & Hatsu (Chicken Heart): Again, being one of the first customers of the evening, I went ahead and ordered two skewers of the “special” chicken hearts, having been denied it on my first visit. While it may be a turnoff to others, I love the chewiness of the valves and tubes of tsunagi, with its slightly sweet, slightly charred sauce. In contrast, the “regular” hearts were prepared with just salt and oil, and were very tender. Delicious in a completely different way.
Gyutan (Beef Tongue): If you just gave grilled beef tongue to someone to try, the person would likely think it was a tender piece of steak. Here, with a bit of yuzukosho (a spicy, salty paste made with yuzu and chiles), the tongue really speaks for itself; no pun intended.
Shishamo (Smelt): These come two per order, and the entire thing is edible, from head to tail (sans skewer). They have a very fishy taste, in a good way, and these had a decent amount of roe in them.
Kimo or Reba (Chicken Liver): I’m not sure what the proper Japanese name is for this dish. I’ve heard “kimo” used in reference to liver from fish–ankimo, or monkfish liver, being the most common usage I’ve encountered. But I’ve also heard “reba” (a loanword from the English “liver”) used. Regardless, the chicken livers were cooked perfectly on the skewer, pink and creamy in the center.
Sunagimo (Chicken Gizzard): Whenever I cook gizzards at home, they end up being tough and chewy, but here they are much more tender, while retaining a bit of the snap that’s unique to this little organ.
Tontoro (Fatty Pork): The fatty meat from a pig’s neck, jowl, or collar, also known as kormooyang in Thai, and hangjungsal in Korean, is one of my favorite non-offal cuts of meat. It is not hard to figure out why; the cut is tender and moist, fatty without being too unctuous, and the outer layers crisp up nicely on a grill.
Bonjiri (Chicken Tail): I ended at the end… of a chicken. You wanna know what? Chicken butt(s are delicious)!
(I forgot to note the prices for each item, but if I recall correctly, my total was around $28 including tax, before tip. And I was stuffed!)
Torihei is the kind of place best enjoyed with company over the course of an evening, where you eat too much and drink too much. I have yet to experience it that way, but I hope to gather up some friends and do Torihei “properly” someday, including exploring the oden side of their menu in greater depth.
1757 West Carson Street
Torrance, CA 90501