By RITHWIK GUPTA
Izakaya Honda-Ya, located in Tustin, brings traditional Japanese cuisine to Southern California with a few cuisine twists on the menu. Offering all kinds of diverse Japanese cuisine from yakitori to ramen, Izakaya Honda-Ya excels at it all. The restaurant’s vibe itself is very traditional with touches of bamboo everywhere as well as offering tatami seating which is sitting on the floor beside the normal seating.
When I had recently visited the establishment, I was accompanied by Jensen Lim Leong (Sr.). As we arrived, the first thing we saw was the crowd lined up in front of the restaurant. As a result, we waited for about an hour before being seated. After being seated, we saw that the menu offered specials which included bluefin tuna or duck as well as yakitori (skewered meat cooked over charcoal) besides the traditional food they offered. Service was quite quick and efficient as the server asked us what we wanted to drink within minutes of being seated. The menu itself was quite good at giving detailed descriptions of each dish they served, so for anyone new to Japanese food, Izakaya Honda-Ya has accommodated for those.
Finally, when it was time to order, both Jensen and I decided to order very traditional food as well as some unique food options only available at Honda-Ya. To start our meal, we ordered yakitori, specifically beef skewers, chicken with a salty plum sauce and miso duck. The beef skewers were cooked perfectly, making them very moist but not chewy. The flavor was on point as well having a distinct charcoal flavor and the soy sauce marinade used had a perfect balance of both sweet and salty, making the skewer well worth something to try. Next, the chicken with a salty plum sauce was also moist and shared the same charcoal taste as the beef. The salty plum sauce was definitely something unique with a distinct tart taste which complemented the chicken very well. Finally, the miso duck was definitely new to me as I had never had duck before. The duck itself was more dense than chicken but was still juicy from the soy sauce marinade.
With our taste buds already delighted from the flavorful yakitori we had just had, we tried a Japanese tapa, beef tataki, which was slightly seared Japanese beef served on a bed of onions with blended radish on the side. The meat, which was intentionally served raw on the inside, was like a thick carpaccio with an added crunch from the roasted sesame seeds as well as the sear on edges of the meat. Next, we tried salmon yaki onigiri, or grilled rice balls, which were rice balls with cooked salmon on top served with a sweet soy sauce. The crunchy texture of the rice mixed with the flavor of the sauce and the fish which were delightful, but nothing extraordinary. Next, we were served smoked salmon skin jerky. The salmon was crispy and had a very light and airy feel to it. Enoki butter was next, which was enoki mushroom sautéed in mirin, sake, soy sauce and butter. The soft texture of the mushrooms mixed with the creamy sauce was a perfect small bite. To finish off our meal we tried a baked scallop dish which was not a very traditional Japanese dish. Composed of baby scallops, mushrooms and onions with a layer of slightly overcooked cheese, the dish tasted unique compared to the dishes we had prior.
With such great-tasting food came a hefty bill, but out of the many dishes, we had tried we both had agreed that the grilled rice balls were well not worth their $2.95 price as the dish had mainly rice and a sprinkle of salmon on top. In addition, some of the basic yakitori like chicken and beef were also not worth their $2.50 and $2.25 price tag as there was not anything special about the type of chicken or beef used. Out of all the dishes, the one with the most value was the beef tataki due to the fact that Izakaya Honda-Ya had to use a higher grade of beef in order to achieve the delicious raw taste.
From the overall vibe of the restaurant to the traditional and seasonal menu, Izakaya Honda-Ya offers the perfect Japanese experience to everyone that enters the establishment. Unlike many Japanese restaurants here in Southern California, Izakaya Honda-Ya demonstrates what a true traditional Japanese restaurant should be.
2969 Fairview Rd,
Costa Mesa, CA 92626