First Look: Tori Ton
This new restaurant in Mō‘ili‘ili offers friendly service and affordable yakitori.
Photos: Thomas Obungen
As one door closes, two more open. After Yakitori Glad closed down on Kapahulu Avenue, we’ve seen two yakitori restaurants pop up seemingly out of nowhere and we’re wondering: Is yakitori finally becoming a thing in Honolulu? It’s possible.
Like other lesser-known Japanese cuisines okonomiyaki, takoyaki or oden—yakitori doesn’t get the same amount of love as sushi or ramen. It’s not trendy—after all, it’s bits of fowl on a stick. (But try making yakitori at home. It’s hard.)
We’ve written about Yakitori Hachibei, the swanky, ritzy restaurant that has its origins in Japan’s posh Roppongi neighborhood, with a charismatic chef who treats his yakitori with flair. It’s a great addition to Honolulu’s downtown where so many hot restaurants are, perfect for out-of-town guests, or maybe that soon-to-be significant other you want to impress.
SEE ALSO: First Look: Yakitori Hachibei
Tori Ton is not as swanky. It’s less intimidating, more casual and, perhaps, a little more lovable. Opened in Old Stadium Mall earlier this year, Tori Ton is right next to local favorites including Sweet Home Café, which is why parking might be hard. And, despite having a rocky start with negative Yelp reviews complaining about bad, slow service, the lack of a phone line and the inability to make reservations, it seems like Tori Ton has grown out of its growing pains.
The phone still doesn’t connect, so you can’t make any reservations unless you go in person, but we take a risk at 7 p.m. on a Friday night. Our faith is rewarded, as we’re seated right away. The service is prompt and friendly. The owner, Taku Tsutsumi, has a young face, relaxing around his customers like they are friends and brimming with fresh energy. He says there are seven Tori Tons in Japan, and this is the first location outside the country. Tables are close together, but it doesn’t feel crowded, even though it’s a small space. Customers: a good mix of young millennials, a local family with kids, and Japanese seniors.
There’s a feel-good ambience here, and the menu includes a lot more than skewers. There’s oden (vegetables and meats simmered in a savory broth); kamameshi (rice cooked in a small iron pot, topped with seafood and meats); grilled fish; an assortment of sushi, and, of course, yakitori.
AT TORI TON, ORDERING SKEWERS IS ACTUALLY AFFORDABLE—AND THEY'RE WRAPPED IN BACON! PREMIUM RICE WRAPPED IN TERIYAKI BACON.
The best way to start, hands down, is with the premium rice with teriyaki bacon ($3.50). It’s like a glorified onigiri—the rice is freshly milled from Kaka‘ako’s The Rice Factory, wrapped in bacon and then skewered. It’s grilled with a sweet yet subtle teriyaki sauce, and served with a raw egg yolk. Mix the yolk. Dip the skewer. Consume. Repeat.
The thing about yakitori is that the skewers are usually one per order ($1.90 to $3.50), and the bill can rack up before you know it. But, at Tori Ton, it’s affordable. We ordered a slew of yakitori, all original Tori Ton products where everything is wrapped in bacon: the eringi mushrooms ($2.50), tomato ($3.20), mochi cheese ($2.50), asparagus ($2.50), green pepper with cheese ($2.50). Everything came out to about $40. The quail egg with bacon ($3.20) was my personal favorite, and we weren’t fans of the “fluffy fish cake” with bacon ($2.50); the bland combination of flavors and unusual textures—chewy, sticky and fluffy—left us scratching our heads.
(And, if you’re wondering why so much bacon, it’s the “ton” part of the Tori Ton: “tori” is Japanese for chicken, “ton” for pork.)
The tsukune with original sauce ($6.80) was also forgettable, despite being a signature item. Save room for the simple five-item chef’s favorite selection ($9). There’s individual wing, thigh, gizzards, livers and breast, using Jidori chicken. Nothing’s dry, not even the breast, and everything is crispy from the charcoal grill and seasoned with the perfect amount of salt. If you’re a minimalist eater who’s happy with food without frills, maybe order three of this dish, and you’ll be set for the evening.
2334 S. King St.