Walking in a tiny Japanese hostess greeted us. A spread of western tables including a very large communal table (bet it seats 20 easily) filled the main room. Off to the right of the main room there is more western style seating. To the left is a glassed in yakitori grill with two young men sweating away at their task. Beyond them is the tatami room where you can sit on floor cushions with friends at long tables. There’s something to be said for the wide open spaces of Los Angeles compared to the cramped quarters of NYC izakayas.
Drink options are simple, but fill the expected bar of an izakaya. Draft Kirin or Sapporo, a surprisingly extensive selection of Japanese bottled beer, a half dozen shochu varieties, and a few sake options. We opted for draft beer ($3.50) and a 750ml bottle of mugi shochu ($30!).
The yakitori menu comes out like a sushi card with a pencil. We didn’t even notice it until we’d gone through the extensive main menu a couple times looking for skewers. The skewer selections were comprehensive and affordable ($1.95-$4.95/skewer). The list included non-chicken items such as beef & mushrooms and lamb chops. A nod to the western diet included skewered spicy chicken wings (Buffalo style? We didn’t try). Highlights were the lamb chops that come with a cute little foil “handle” on the rib bone, beef with mushrooms, and chicken neck meat skewers. Several plates of shishito peppers and okra were had as well. Chicken hearts were tender and juicy. Chicken thigh meat with scallions was as expected – a standard.
The main menu was pages long and included almost anything you can imagine from a Japanese comfort food perspective. Sushi/sashimi, tempura, ramen, katsu, fried chicken, grilled fish, etc. With 6 people we were able to try a few things. The sauteed spinach with garlic ($4) was a stand out. The tako wasa (chopped raw octopus marinated in wasabi) was fresh and light ($4) – not overly spiced with wasabi and not overly fishy suggesting freshness. The kara-age (fried chicken) was lightly battered, a tad overdone, yet very flavorful ($6). Tonkatsu (pork) topped with egg ($7) was flavorful and nicely fried. The hijiki (black seaweed) was nicely flavored ($4).
Unfortunately, the tuna sashimi-natto salad was a disappointment. The natto was not particularly flavorful and the tuna was tasteless and appeared to have been recently frozen .Yes, all sushi grade tuna is frozen before we have it in the U.S., but this had not aged well. The same went for the tuna tartar on crispy rice crackers. A nice seasoning would have hidden the lack of freshness for either of these dishes, but both were mild and therefore disappointing. It was a Sunday evening, so perhaps these dishes would stand up better on another night.
On the specials menu that night was a miso short rib stew ($11), which did not disappoint, but probably would have been better enjoyed with a smaller group since we only had one small bowl of the lovely broth, vegetables, and a single slice of short rib each.
The Verdict: Recommended
Izakaya Honda Ya is a solid izakaya in an unexpected locale. The food is traditional Japanese comfort food with an extensive list of the classics – tako wasa and natto appearances assure that. The skewers were well made, the stew broth was lovely, all of the basics were acceptable, and the tatami room made for an enjoyable and memorable evening for all of our guests. Only the sushi dishes were disappointing, but we’re willing to chalk that up to the wrong night of the week.
While this is the first izakaya we’ve visited in the Los Angeles area, it did not disappoint. The food was solid, the drinks were cheap, and the setting was exactly what we’d expect and enjoy. I suspect we’ll be back.