We went to Honda-ya last night (05Sep06) in Tustin for dinner. Got there right at 18:30, just as it was filling up with almost entirely Japanese. The restaurant, while smallish by US standards, was bigger than any izakaya I've been to in Japan. The atmosphere was very, very familiar. Though I couldn't read the menu posted on wood placards (in kanji) on the wall (along with prices), it made me nostalgic for Japan.
We first ordered drinks: 1 large beer and 2 mugicha-chuhai. The mugicha-chuhai (chuhai mixed with barley tea), I was told, was very, very good. After reviewing the menu for 10+ minutes, we ordered and the food came out rather promptly (except for the yakitori skin).
- negi-yaki (green onions cooked in a batter). Cut into bite-sized portions; half was dusted with ao-nori, the other half sprinkled with bonito flakes. Once dipped in the sauce provided, these were delicious. I would order this again.
- kaki-age (fried oysters). These oysters were medium-sized; not too small, not too big. Fried to a medium brown exterior (maybe too well-fried?). We liked this too...though the bread crumbs seemed too coarse to be panko. Nonetheless, I would order this again too.
- jumbo gyoza. Not the petite gyoza seen everywhere else; this one was the size of a...avocado, served with dipping sauce. This gyoza was nicely fried, with a crispy exterior and a hot meaty interior. There was no excess gyoza skin, which can occasionally make a gyoza too starchy/mealy. I *might* order this again. (Said *might* only b/c there are so many other menu items to try.)
- yellowtail collar. I like yellowtail, but I wasn't all that impressed. It was nice and buttery, with crispy skin. All in all, it was good...but I can buy yellowtail collar at a Japanese market and easily make this at home myself. I'll pass on this next time I'm there.
- yakitori skin (fried chicken skin on skewers). My favourite part of the chicken (other than dark meat) is the skin, slightly salted and cooked to a crisp. These were just-cooked; but not cooked enough to make the greasy skin enjoyable. DH couldn't finish his b/c it was too greasy for him. For me, it wasn't so bad that I couldn't finish his skewer too (though I had to add soy sauce). Probably wouldn't order this again.
- anmitsu (dessert). I haven't had this in years! This is agar-agar (similar to jello, but clear & flavourless) with bits of fruit (some fresh, some from can), a spoonful of ogura-an (sweetened red beans) and sweetener. We got one to share amongst the three of us; next time I'm ordering my own!
We each also ordered a bowl of rice; and of course, we each received the cold pickled Japanese cucumber (which had a delicious salty bite & crunch to it). When we left, there was a dozen people outside, waiting to be seated. The evening for three was $71 including drinks, tax & tip.
(EDIT: Many, many thanks for those who've reviewed Honda-ya! I never would have found this place if it wasn't for all the archived posts naming this restaurant. Also, sorry for the lack of pics; I'm not yet comfortable taking pics of food [or people] in restaurants.)
(EDIT #2: We also had the cheese age [cheese fried in gyoza skin], served with a side of Jalapenos. DH said he much prefers this Japanese version of the American poppers. Like the jumbo gyoza, I *might* order this again.)