(Note: Additional photos of Honda-Ya can be seen on my website at the link below.)
Since I was in Orange County for a wedding, I was hoping to try some great restaurants in the area. After the wedding rehearsal, J., my fiancé, and I went back to our hotel room to rest. We both dozed off and realized that we were a bit hungry, so I suggested we return to a great place for some small plates. I mentioned Honda-Ya in Tustin.
Honda-Ya has the best Japanese food I have ever had and I was dying to get the chance to try it again. Our last outing there was such a huge success that we were all but racing to the car to get to Honda-Ya before they closed at 1 AM.
After dealing with construction on the CA-55 that took us to a variety of interesting areas of Tustin, we finally found Honda-Ya. My mouth was salivating. We put our name on the list outside the door and were seated about 10 minutes later at a small 2-top near the door.
On the table were the little cucumber stalks that we had tried before. We devoured them in seconds. They were crisp and cold, slightly tender and had a great tang from the vinegar marinade. This was all followed by a nice spice kick that left our lips and tongues tingling.
We ordered drinks and reviewed the three menus they handed to us. There were a lot of items to choose from, mostly in the $3-$6 range. We decided to try some favorites from last time as well as indulge ourselves in some new treats.
Our waiter returned with our drinks and advised us that we had to place all of our order at once instead of in stages because it was past midnight. Fair enough. So, we ordered: fried shrimp shumai, steamed shrimp shumai, ramen with BBQ Pork, spinach with garlic, okra wrapped in bacon, BBQ Shrimp, Ginger Pork, soft shell crab, and crab cream croquettes.
We sipped our drinks and talked about the wedding and what we wanted at our wedding. The naked-in-the-park thing was out (thank goodness) and we nixed the whole virgin sacrifice to Baal. We were just about to address the issue of where to go on the honeymoon (Scotland, honey) when our BBQ Shrimp arrived.
On a small dish, a skewer of three shrimp and onion slices were brushed with a smoky and tangy BBQ sauce. I had a bite and loved the savory flavor of the shrimp. Since J. is much more into seafood than I am, I was more than happy to give over two shrimp to J. while I was happy with one. (Scotland.) The only thing I didnt like was that the shrimp were peel-and-eat as I would have loved to have the BBQ sauce infuse itself somewhat into the shrimp.
Next to the table was the Garlic Spinach. In a deep soup bowl, a serving of thinly cut spinach and bits of garlic were hidden under an handful of parsley and a lemon wedge. The spinach was tender-crisp and had a great taste, but I wish it would have had more garlic in it. While delicious, we found we preferred the garlic green beans.
The server then brought out the Fried Shrimp Shumai. There were six morsels of these delicious nuggets sitting on a plate with a soy-based dipping sauce. They were excellent. The wrapper was soft but held everything together and the shrimp filling was simply grand. They were cooked perfectly and we were pleased we ordered these again.
Following the shumai, the soft shell crab was delivered. A large crab had been lightly coasted in a tempura batter and fried until crisp. I knew that J. would love this. True to form, J. devoured it all and had a big grin to show for it. J. said the crab was wonderful and really satisfying. It looked delicious and I couldnt help but think that this would be a solid favorite every time we came to Honda-Ya.
A big bowl of Ramen with BBQ Pork was set on the table and I had a college flashback when I was living on Ramen and bagels. I fixed myself a bowl and tasted the broth. It was rich and hearty with just a bit of salt. I tried the pork slices and they were tender and meaty with a slight smokiness to them. Last, I tried the ramen itself. It was fantastic. The noodles were thoroughly infused with the broth and were not soggy or mushy. This was outstanding ramen and my college flashback faded quickly because no ramen from a pouch ever tasted this good.
The Bacon-Wrapped Okra was next on the docket. J. wasnt too sure about it. Okra isnt Js thing due to the sliminess that is often inside. But, J. persevered and we were very happy with the dish. Four okra pods had been wrapped in bacon and grilled. The grease from the bacon had made its way into the skin of the okra and the okra itself was slightly crunchy. What we noticed was that there was no slimy texture at all. The okra had a nice earthy taste and the bacon was a great counterpoint to the okra.
Our Steamed Shrimp Shumai arrived and while the filling was similar to its fried cousin, we were pleased that the experience was different. It was such a contrast, but still delicious. The wrapper was soft and moist and the filling took on a different dimension since it was steamed. I preferred the fried version, but this was very good.
The Crab Cream Croquettes were three egg-sized treats of crab mixed with a creamy filling, coated and deep fried. I dont know how they do this, but it was magnificent. The croquettes were piping hot and the filling was mild and creamy with a nice crab flavor. It was such an unexpected delight that we were still trying to wrap our minds around how they deep fried crab in cream. Odd? Yes, but thoroughly sublime in taste.
Our last dish to arrive was the Ginger Pork. I expected this to be more of a filler dish with a nice ginger taste. Boy, was I wrong. This dish blew our socks off. It was a plate of pork slices, bacon, ginger slices, onion slices all cooked together to create a dish that made me happy to be in Honda-Ya. Wow. J. and I raved about this dish from the first taste until the next day. It simply was that good. Everything was perfectly cooked and the flavors just melded together.
As we ate, we noticed the people next to us looking at our table piled with delicacies and wondering what we were eating. We filled them in and they were dying to come back and try some of the things that were tempting them from our table. We munched until everything was completely devoured and we were full.
We asked for our bill and presented the 10% coupon we found on the internet (http://www.gnavi.co.jp/l_a/jp/w001510...). Our waiter disappeared and then reappeared a little bit later with the total: A whopping $40.99 including tax. This was a bona fide steal. The food was simply fantastic and dirt cheap for all we ate. Service was decent and friendly.
We got into the car and drove back to Costa Mesa to our hotel. We talked incessantly about our trip to Honda-Ya and why this was soon going to be a regular feature on our places to frequent.
It really is that good. Inexpensive. Delicious. High quality. What more could you ask for?
I wonder if they have something similar in Scotland.
556 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780
Notes: Open for dinner only 5:30 PM to 1 AM every day.