Anyone who orders sushi at Honda Ya Izakaya has wasabi for brains, specifically the fake, green, putty-like sort that comes on supermarket trays rimmed with plastic “fences.” We're not saying that the raw fish at this Little Tokyo eatery isn't decent; we just don't see why anyone would order it under the circumstances.
As with most traditional Japanese izakayas, including those buried on the third floor of a faintly depressing mall, Honda Ya's menu is a dense tome exploding with salty, sour, crunchy, greasy flavors and textures designed to keep the half-drunk hungry and, in turn, encourage eager nibblers to keep ordering frozen mugs of Kirin ($3.75).
A great izakaya meal is an (almost) endless cycle of such pleasurable madness. The sesame-laced chicken karaage ($4.95) are twisted fluffy nuggets of thigh meat, chewy rather than crisp, addictive after a few squirts of lemon. Shisamo, or dried, grilled smelts ($4.95), come with their delicious egg sacs intact. Sweet and tender, hunks of braised pork belly ($5.95) peel off in succulent layers.
Still, as great as these dishes are, the highlights come from the grill, which is concealed by glass windows in the center of the main room. One orders these dishes by checking off boxes on sheet, as if filling out a customs form. While a diversity of skewers (most are $2.25 here) serves any meal well, yakitori enthusiasts tend to play favorites. Some prefer hatsu, or heart, dense and metallic. Others load up on tsunuke, pale, soft meatballs that nearly collapse between a pair of chopsticks. As with our future grandchildren, we love them all. However, we especially enjoy the skin (kawa).
At Honda Ya Izakaya, a strip of chicken skin is folded up like an accordion or a fan and impaled on a small wooden stick. It arrives golden and blistered, somewhere between phyllo and bacon in texture, sort of melting and crunching at the same time. On the rainiest day of the year, incidentally also a busy one, with drops the size of marbles soaking our clothes on every mad dash from car to door and back again, not even a soothing bowl of udon could have warmed us up as well as that bristling phalanx of skin.
Honda Ya Izakaya, 333 S. Alameda, Ste. 314, Los Angeles, CA, 90013 (213-625-1184)