“32 years of yakitori. That is how long we have been striving for expanding what symbolizes the style of Hakata to the whole country of Japan. We are talking about ‘Butabara’ and ‘Cabbage’.”

– Yakitori Hachibei website

GRILLED FOOD ON A STICK

The literal translation of yakitori, “grilled chicken”, is somewhat of a misnomer these days. While yakitori restaurants do serve a variety of chicken parts – breast, thigh, heart, gizzard, tail, skin, and cartilage – grilled on a bamboo skewer, they also generally serve an entire range of meats and vegetables with a similar preparation. Yakitori Hachibei takes the same liberties in straying away from the literal, offering a wide selection of dishes including many that don’t involve the grill at all.

Originating from Fukuoka, Japan, Yakitori Hachibei in Honolulu’s Chinatown is the concept’s first location in the United States. As the quote above states, Yakitori Hachibei aimes to spread the Hakata style of this cuisine to the world, particularly in the butabara (pork) dishes it servers from the grill. As one might expect from a concept coming out of Japan, diners here will feel the Japanese-style attentiveness to hospitality and service.

THE GRILL & THE KITCHEN

The charcoal grill at Yakitori Hachibei can’t be missed. The counter seating is centered on the grill (pictured above), providing diners there a sushi bar-esque experience where one can watch the chef dutifully prepare each skewer. While the grill churns out the skewers of yakitori (and other meats/vegetables), the small kitchen in the back churns out a variety of other dishes. The prospect of delicious yakitori is what originally drew me to try Hachibei when it first opened, but it’s the non-grilled dishes from the kitchen that keep me coming back.

The grilled skewer items at Yakitori Hachibei are a cut above average. I tend to favor the pork dishes, particularly those with pork belly as the pork remains juicy due to its natural fattiness. Each skewer is complimented by the subtle touch of smoke from the charcoal grill, enhancing the flavor of the meats.

Cream cheese flavored tofu and miso pickled cheese

One of my favorite dishes is this cold appetizer of cream cheese tofu and miso cheese. It’s a simple dish that packs a great deal of flavor. The sharp, funky quality of the cheese is balanced by the saltines of miso and the slight acidic taste of the flavored tofu. Both the cheese and the tofu spread well on the provided pieces of toast, which act as a serving vessel and provide textural contrast.

Shrimp and corn kakiage with tempura sauce and curried salt

There are quite a few special dishes offered on the menu each night. For this visit I decided to try the shrimp and corn kakiage, which were lightly fried to perfection. The surprise star of the special was the curried salt, which not only provided savoriness, but also a delightful note of spice.

Momo karaage, small size

The kitchen really knows its way around a fryer. The momo karaage was fried perfectly, leaving the chicken drums and wings so tender and juicy. The skins were crisp and seasoned very well. The addition of fresh vegetables and a lemon wedge helped to balance out the oiliness of the chicken.

Mentai Dashimaki Tamago - Waimanalo egg, Hakata style broth

Dashimaki is typically a simple yet delicious dish. Hachibei’s version takes the dashimaki to another level with the addition of mentaiko. The savory fish roe is rolled into the delicate layers of the omelette, enhancing the dish with oceanic brine. The Hakata style dashi provides warmth and umami to the plate.

Omatsuri tako with shichimi and Japanese mayo

This recent visit was the first time I tried this tako skewer, which is a different offering from what I’ve seen at most yakitori restaurants in town. The flavor of the tare matched well with the natural sweetness of the octopus itself. While the flavor was enjoyable, I think the meat was a bit overdone as the octopus’ texture was a tad mushy.

Growing up I used to really enjoy the oyako donburi at Jimbo’s. However, over the years I felt that the quality of that dish had gone downhill. Luckily for me, Yakitori Hachibei’s version of this classic Japanese dish contains all the things I love about this comfort food. In this dish, tender morsels of chicken and soft scrambled eggs are cooked in dashi and poured atop a mound of white rice. The runny egg and dashi seep into the rice, forming a “sauce” of sorts. This is a dish that is difficult to execute due to its simplicity, but Hachibei does it well.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

Yakitori Hachibei is a popular spot among locals and Japanese tourists, in large part due to the quality of the food. Whether you order heavily from the charcoal grilled items or the kitchen prepared dishes, you will find solid food that is well executed and flavorful. Personally, I prefer the kitchen dishes more than the grilled items due to the variety and broad range of flavors.

The restaurant always has a lively atmosphere and has a warm, welcoming feeling to it. Servers are attentive and do a great job of refilling waters and clearing plates (which is important in this format where you will find yourself ordering many different dishes). The manager is always welcoming and courteous, taking care to greet each guest and thanking them for their business as they leave.

The only potentially polarizing aspect of Yakitori Hachibei is the price point relative to other yakitori restaurants. This is not your typical “grab a few beers and some cheap skewers of meat” style of yakitori. Diners do pay a bit more of a premium here, but I feel it is well worth it for the added quality and better flavors.

SCORECARD

Food 90/ 100
Service 95/ 100
Atmosphere 90/ 100
Price Value 85/ 100
Overall Score 90/ 100

Yakitori Hachibei
20 North Hotel Street
Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: 808.369.0088
hachibei.com/en