First Look: Yakitori Hachibei
It doesn’t get any better than eating meat off a stick.
Left to right: mentai mayo chicken breast, sunazuri (chicken gizzard), butabara (pork belly).
Photos: Maria Kanai
I have a soft spot for yakitori. When I was 11, my parents and I were on a six-hour drive from Kyoto to Yokohama. We made an emergency stop for food at a highway rest stop and my dad bought three packets of piping hot chicken thigh skewers from a yakitori stand. We drizzled the tare sauce onto them, and ate them standing. It was freezing cold in the middle of January, and they were the best thing I ever tasted.
So, when I heard Yakitori Hachibei opened downtown, I had to go. Except, we were having the worst luck getting in touch with the restaurant to make reservations. So, after calling five times on a Friday, we went anyway. It was closed for a private party, but we walked inside to make reservations for another date and the staff was nice enough to let us sit and dine for an hour.
The restaurant is small, dark and has a sleek ambiance—15 counter seats and 24 table seats. A paper lantern winds above the tables, and glass counter cases display rows of premade skewers. Amid the loud conversations, you hear the inviting sizzle of grilling meat and vegetables.
If you were a fan of Yakitori Glad on Kapahulu Avenue, which closed last year, be warned: Yakitori Hachibei isn’t the same experience. It’s pricier and swankier, and is a franchise started by chef and founder Katsunori Yashima. The restaurant’s roots date back to Yashima’s grandfather Tokichiro, who owned a butcher shop. Today, there are 11 branches in Tokyo, Fukuoka, Taipei and now Honolulu.
Skip the table and sit at the counter instead. Watch Yashima do his thing. He’s been in this business since 1983 and he salts the yakitori better than #saltbae. He has a large personality, too, and seems bigger than life, cracking jokes with the two younger cooks helping him.
Yakitori Hachibei in Chinatown is owned by Yashima and his managing partner Robert Yamazaki. They’re best friends who work side by side in the restaurant, mingling with customers and talking story. Yamazaki says that they flew to Honolulu in 2016 to look for suitable properties, and found none until this spot came up on the very last day of their trip.
“We were aware of the history behind Chinatown and it appealed to us,” says Yamazaki. “And while many Japanese tourists go to Waikīkī, Chinatown is actually on the map now, too, and we felt it was the perfect fit.” He adds, “We’re hoping to open three to five more locations in Hawai‘i, possibly on the East Side.”
Cream Cheese Tofu & Miso Zuke Cheese ($7.60).
To start, we ordered the Cream Cheese Tofu & Miso Zuke Cheese ($7.60), which is cream-cheese-flavored tofu and miso pickled cheese. Don’t be intimidated: It doesn’t taste as complicated as it sounds. The sweetness of the cream cheese goes so well with the soft tofu texture, and we loved the hints of miso. Spread on the baguette pieces and eat. We would have been happy eating this all night long.
Then came a slew of skewers, Tsukune or minced chicken ($3.80), Butabara or pork belly ($3.40), Mentai Mayo Mune or chicken breast with pollack roe and mayonnaise ($3.40), Sunazuri or chicken gizzards ($3.20) and the highly recommended Hachibei Foie Gras ($3.20). The Enoki Maki ($4.20) is simple in execution—enoki mushrooms wrapped in thinly sliced pork—and a stand-out. Some chicken breast pieces were on the drier end, and, while the Hachibei Kashiwa Meshi Yaki Onigiri ($5.80) seemed to promise great things, I wished for more char and flavor.
Our favorite item of the night was the sukiyaki skewer ($6.80), which is thinly sliced beef wrapped around vegetables, served with a raw egg yolk. While it’s commonplace to eat raw egg in Japan, it’s rare to find it served in Hawai‘i—or anywhere in the U.S.—so we were happy to indulge. It’s fresh, from O.K. Poultry in Waimānalo. You beat the egg, then dip the sukiyaki pieces and enjoy. The combination of mild egg yolk, together with the tender beef, is addictive.
Sourcing local is important to Yakitori Hachibei: The chicken is naturally raised and sourced from J. Ludovico Farm on the North Shore. Yamazaki says that the chicken is as fresh can it can get.
“What’s the secret to good yakitori?” we asked Yashima, mid-meal.
“There’s no secret. The sun. The ocean. Earth, wind and FIRE!” He points at the grill. Then he gets a little more serious: “The secret is really high temperature. Good ingredients, and using really high temperature.”
Yakitori Hachibei, 20 N. Hotel St., 369-0088, www.hachibei.com/en
READ MORE STORIES BY MARIA KANAI