So I can't claim I discovered this one, but I'll definitely take credit for keeping my radar tuned to chowhound poster Vittus, who's initial writeup sank without much notice (I posted the one reply so far!)
But after checking out Yakitori Bincho, I decided I had to give it an even more detailed review and a hype, hype title, because frankly, it's EXCELLENT.
For years now, I've tried to find a yakitori restaurant in L.A. better than Shin-Sen-Gumi. Though there's some good stuff out there, nothing ever came close to the full-flavored, sizzling crackly goodness of SSG. Evidently, the public agrees, as there's usually a long wait to get into its branches, at least on weekends.
But first, let's break down the also-rans:
Kokekokko and Torimatsu: "serious" yakitori joints, but they can be too austere for my tastes. When it comes to grilled sticks o' chicken, I tend to prefer bold, brash flavors, not delicate and subtle "essences of chicken."
Koshiji in Weller Court: decent flavor (especially their tsukune), but their portions tend to be small and kind of dry and the meals there run pretty pricey.
Yakitori-ya is dry, and Sakura House and Nanbankan are passable. These are decent yakitori joints, IF you're already in West L.A. and can't be bothered to drive to the South Bay.
There are others: Honda-ya Little Tokyo is not very good (come on, admit it), and Kappo Honda is not worth the drive. Of the general izakaya with yakitori offerings, Ryo Zan Paku in Rolling Hills has a friendly staff, but in my heart, I know that they could be much better. Iccho - meh. Gonpachi, overblown. Furaibo, good for its wings and not much else. Kan Yuzen and Haru Ulala, fun but they're no specialists.
Which leaves us with Yakitori Bincho, brand new on the on the Redondo Beach pier in the old Oriental Breeze spot.
Straight out of Tokyo, the husband and wife team of Tomo and Megumi Ueno indeed serve up proper, no-frills yakitori like any old neighborhood joint in the motherland would. The chicken is robust, and their tare, though a bit lighter than SSG's, is a nice melange of unexpected flavors.
Here's the breakdown of what I had on my first visit to Bincho (and yes, I've been back twice already since last week!):
Shio Negima - Chicken thigh with leeks. My favorite item at SSG. One of my ALL-TIME favorite things to eat. Shin-Sen-Gumi's shio negima is better, but only by a hair - a TINY bit plumper and more tender, but I also have this feeling that they undercook it somewhat. Bincho's negima, on the other hand, has grown on me even further since my initial visit; it could be a while before I return to SSG.
Tare Negima - Bincho takes the crown here. With the light, subtly sweet tare Tomo uses, it puts it over the top.
Tsukune - top notch chicken meatballs, way better than SSG's mealy, bland ground chicken. The only tsukune that I've had in LA that can even compare was at Gonpachi (but why go there when that's the ONLY good thing they serve?)
Negishio - chicken thigh with chopped green onion. A fairly unusual menu item (not to be confused with the shio negima) that adds a bit more variety to the chicken on offer.
Shio Zuri - salted gizzard. As good as SSG and better than anywhere else in town. Salty as heck but quite wonderful as a result.
Okra - grilled okra. Excellent.
Stuffed Shiitake mushroom - these suckers were huge, and hugely awesome. A couple of other places have a stuffed shiitake, this one is the best by far.
Tebasaki - salted chicken wing. This one is hard to do wrong, as both Furaibo and SSG have great wings as well. Bincho's is just about as good.
Tomato maki - The bacon-wrapped tomato was perfectly fine. Sadly, this is the only maki item officially listed on the menu. As bacon-wrapping is primarily a Kyushu yakitori tradition, SSG invariably rules the roost. But that Bincho, a Tokyo-style joint with a chef from Saitama, even offers it is good enough. I suggested adding a few other maki items to the menu. On a subsequent visit (like, last night), Tomo gladly whipped up a custom uzura-maki (bacon-wrapped quail egg) for my friend.
Wasabi Momo - chicken breast with wasabi. They use a LOT of wasabi on this one. No sissy pea-sized dollops, the green stuff fills in the gaps between the breast pieces like caulking on cracked bathroom tile. The breast meat is extremely plump and tender, against, best of the SoCal lot.
Kawa - The tare chicken skin was sublime. Both SSG and Bincho have great skin. It all depends on your tare preference. And you could do no wrong with either. A friend had the shio kawa and so I tried that on a subsequent visit. I'd stick with the tare, but at least you've got a choice.
Yaki Onigiri Soup - Grilled rice ball in chicken soup, chazuke style. On my first visit, the rice ball Tomo put together was simply so huge that it overwhelmed the rice:soup ratio and I couldn't eat it fast enough (especially not after 13 chicken skeweres). Last night, I simply ordered the soup and the rice ball as separate dishes, and did my own dunking, which proved perfect.
Anyway, that's the long and the short of it. Add to that 3 Sapporos (on tap) and I'm a happy camper to the tune of exactly $60 (including tip - I round off like that).
Since that initial trip, I've taken to trying a few other menu items. The agedashi tofu and agedashi eggplant are uncommonly good (and an uncommonly great deal considering how huge the portions are), the shiso-wrapped chicken is great, and even the cheese chicken (grilled chicken with a slice of melted velveeta-style cheese blanketing it) proved hella tasty, and not as incongruous as it sounds.
Bottom line, Yakitori Bincho is a GREAT deal, and really has become the king of my personal skewer pile. Throw in the fact that it's got a crazy friendly husband-wife team (after I inquired about their favorite Tokyo yakitori joints, they even brought in a guidebook to Japanese yakitori for me to borrow!), neighborhood hole in the wall vibe, a romantic spot on the Redondo Beach pier right next to Quality Seafood, and that there's no wait at all (at least for now ;) and you've got yourself a certified winner and my new favorite yakitori joint in L.A. I was tempted to keep the place a secret, but frankly, they need customers (I held out long enough so my core group of friends had a chance to check it out first :), but now that they have, I'm just gonna put the word out there. With the amount of sheer positives, this may sound shill-ish but hey, I like what I like, so try it out and judge for yourselves!
Japanese Grill Yakitori Bincho
112 N. International Boardwalk, Redondo Beach 90277
m-th - 5p-11p
f-su - 4-midnight
here's a link to my buddy bikuta's pics from last night: http://picasaweb.google.com/vicdango/...