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Meat at Yazawa, Beverly Hills
Meat at Yazawa, Beverly Hills

12 Essential Places for Japanese Barbecue in Los Angeles

Robata and yakiniku are Japanese words for grilled deliciousness

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Meat at Yazawa, Beverly Hills

In Los Angeles, the two primary forms of Japanese barbecue available are yakiniku and robatayaki. Yakiniku was introduced to Japan during the Showa period as a result of cultural exchange with Korea, and yakiniku is used as a catch-all term for these restaurants to this day. It’s essentially Korean barbecue through a Japanese lens.

It includes tare, or a thick, sweetened Japanese soy sauce that's been infused with different ingredients, such as fruits, sugar, and garlic. Diners dip cooked bits of meat (with or without marinade) in the tare to give it an extra boost of umami and cut through the richness of well-marbled beef.

Robatayaki, on the other hand, is usually handled by trained chefs who rotate skewers of cuts of meat or vegetables over a long charcoal grill, which are in turn served or sold by the individual skewer. Both are great ways to experience grilled meats. Here’s where to find the essential Japanese barbecue spots in Los Angeles.

Added: Hikari Japanese BBQ & Grill, Yamaya, YakiYan

Removed: Shin-Sen-Gumi, Honda Ya, Torimatsu

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Aburiya Raku

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Apparently not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas: The izakaya transplant by way of Nevada was the city's worst kept late night secret for whales looking to make a splash in their checkbook after hours, and it's now in a La Cienega location with a strong omakase offering and truly stellar skewers. Pro tip: If looking for rich, delicious pork fat, steer clear of the belly and opt for either the pork cheek or the Iberico pork skewers. After all the meat-fueled conviviality, punctuate the meal with the katsuobushi-laden cold green tea soba.

Kinjiro

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Among izakayas, Kinjiro might be the most serious in the genre. With selections ranging from charcoal-grilled A5 Wagyu (replete with certificate of provenance) to thick cut prime beef tongue, to grilled air-dried squid getting that street-side charcoal grill treatment, it's a holistic izakaya experience with particular emphasis on the grilled goods.

With big plush booths and meat quality to die for, Yazawa elevates the yakiniku experience to previously exclusive heights. Believe them when they say they fly their beef in from Japan because the marble passes the eye test. And put faith in them when they slosh the meats in an egg mixture and grill them to a barely-cooked pink to help you truly appreciate the mellow, fatty flavor of true Japanese Wagyu. There might not be a better yakiniku experience in Los Angeles (and that includes the exclusive invite-only Totoraku in West LA). Note: Famed and notoriously exclusive yakiniku restaurant Totoraku was not included because it's available to diners on an invite-only basis.

Tokyo Kalbi

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Tokyo Kalbi's yakiniku menu takes a variety of high-quality cuts and offers them in various prepared marinades, including spicy miso and a soy-based marinade. The meat quality is comparable to that of Tenraku in Koreatown, and the menu of yukkejang (spicy Korean beef soup) and bibimbap are definitely mighty familiar and the banchan are a little precious. But the meats are grilled over actual charcoals (a relative rarity) and a healthy bevvy of Japanese appetizers (don't skip the shishito peppers) will help get one’s yakiniku experience off on the right hoof.

Manpuku Tokyo BBQ

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Manpuku has solid meat quality and some interesting takes on marinating/dry-brining, including a salt-and-sesame-seed dusted pork toro (actually jowl meat) that will make you wonder why no one else has ever thought of this in Japanese or Korean barbecue. An all-around solid yakiniku experience, it's a higher quality version of Gyu Kaku at a slightly higher price point.

Oreno Yakiniku Japanese Bar-B-Cue

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Almost all of Oreno's cuts are available either to order or in moderately priced "sets" that contain a certain portion of a given meat. Though the Kobe definitely looks more like American wagyu, it's hard to complain at the relatively fair price points for the 'cue. Most of the sides play more like straight-up Korean dishes (including the kimchi and hot stone bibimbap), but the inclusion of touches like miso-marinated Kobe chuck flap merit it a spot on this list.

Tamaen serves up wagyu and makes a huge deal of its meat quality, and it's certainly in the higher echelons of meat quality you could find in Little Tokyo or Sawtelle. With that said, the thing to try here is the chijimi, or cheese pancake: Crispy, cheesy, and with enough orders, a meal unto itself, it's a great savory side dish to pair with the meats.

Torihei

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What happens when a perfect shield of chicken fat gets grilled over charcoals until it blisters into a crackly, delicious mess that yields to juicy dark meat? Nothing. No thing but a chicken wing, that is. Get the aforementioned wing, a nice crumbly tsukune (ground chicken), and the rest of the chicken and beef skewer fix at one of the South Bay's finest robata establishments.

Yamaya Japanese Wagyu & Grill

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Yamaya sports genuine A-5 Miyazaki wagyu at a surprisingly approachable price point. At $150 for an order, there’s enough food to comfortably serve a party of two, or to be a show-stopping centerpiece for a party of three. The ribeye is just thick enough to merit a proper sear, a rich, melty descent into madness that will spoil you for American beef forever. Expertly handled by one of their skilled servers, the digs are part low-key, part lo-fi — but the food is worth every penny.

Hikari Japanese BBQ and Grill

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Hikari serves up decent quality beef in tapas-size portions to be seared atop one of those kitschy Japanese konro grills. With genuine coals burning inside, it’s a no-frills experience that’s a welcome change of pace from all of those high-end wagyu yakinikus that seem to dominate the landscape.

YakiYan

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This sleek prix-fixe-only barbecue serves up a host of high quality USDA Prime meats, a rice bowl made with filet mignon and, of course, an A5 wagyu that’s practically snow white with fat. The experience comes replete with a certificate of provenance, but be advised — the meat is cut perilously thin.

Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ

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Who doesn’t love Gyu Kaku? If someone answers in the negative, they’re probably lying and ought to be avoided. This Japanese barbecue chain isn’t exactly known for stocking the highest-end Hokkaido wagyu. What it is known for, however, is some of the cheapest pitchers of Japanese beer anywhere and those cute little smores at the end of each meal. Don’t be fooled, though — the marinated meats are up to the task of getting a good night started.

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Aburiya Raku

Apparently not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas: The izakaya transplant by way of Nevada was the city's worst kept late night secret for whales looking to make a splash in their checkbook after hours, and it's now in a La Cienega location with a strong omakase offering and truly stellar skewers. Pro tip: If looking for rich, delicious pork fat, steer clear of the belly and opt for either the pork cheek or the Iberico pork skewers. After all the meat-fueled conviviality, punctuate the meal with the katsuobushi-laden cold green tea soba.

Kinjiro

Among izakayas, Kinjiro might be the most serious in the genre. With selections ranging from charcoal-grilled A5 Wagyu (replete with certificate of provenance) to thick cut prime beef tongue, to grilled air-dried squid getting that street-side charcoal grill treatment, it's a holistic izakaya experience with particular emphasis on the grilled goods.

Yazawa

With big plush booths and meat quality to die for, Yazawa elevates the yakiniku experience to previously exclusive heights. Believe them when they say they fly their beef in from Japan because the marble passes the eye test. And put faith in them when they slosh the meats in an egg mixture and grill them to a barely-cooked pink to help you truly appreciate the mellow, fatty flavor of true Japanese Wagyu. There might not be a better yakiniku experience in Los Angeles (and that includes the exclusive invite-only Totoraku in West LA). Note: Famed and notoriously exclusive yakiniku restaurant Totoraku was not included because it's available to diners on an invite-only basis.

Tokyo Kalbi

Tokyo Kalbi's yakiniku menu takes a variety of high-quality cuts and offers them in various prepared marinades, including spicy miso and a soy-based marinade. The meat quality is comparable to that of Tenraku in Koreatown, and the menu of yukkejang (spicy Korean beef soup) and bibimbap are definitely mighty familiar and the banchan are a little precious. But the meats are grilled over actual charcoals (a relative rarity) and a healthy bevvy of Japanese appetizers (don't skip the shishito peppers) will help get one’s yakiniku experience off on the right hoof.

Manpuku Tokyo BBQ

Manpuku has solid meat quality and some interesting takes on marinating/dry-brining, including a salt-and-sesame-seed dusted pork toro (actually jowl meat) that will make you wonder why no one else has ever thought of this in Japanese or Korean barbecue. An all-around solid yakiniku experience, it's a higher quality version of Gyu Kaku at a slightly higher price point.

Oreno Yakiniku Japanese Bar-B-Cue

Almost all of Oreno's cuts are available either to order or in moderately priced "sets" that contain a certain portion of a given meat. Though the Kobe definitely looks more like American wagyu, it's hard to complain at the relatively fair price points for the 'cue. Most of the sides play more like straight-up Korean dishes (including the kimchi and hot stone bibimbap), but the inclusion of touches like miso-marinated Kobe chuck flap merit it a spot on this list.

Tamaen

Tamaen serves up wagyu and makes a huge deal of its meat quality, and it's certainly in the higher echelons of meat quality you could find in Little Tokyo or Sawtelle. With that said, the thing to try here is the chijimi, or cheese pancake: Crispy, cheesy, and with enough orders, a meal unto itself, it's a great savory side dish to pair with the meats.

Torihei

What happens when a perfect shield of chicken fat gets grilled over charcoals until it blisters into a crackly, delicious mess that yields to juicy dark meat? Nothing. No thing but a chicken wing, that is. Get the aforementioned wing, a nice crumbly tsukune (ground chicken), and the rest of the chicken and beef skewer fix at one of the South Bay's finest robata establishments.

Yamaya Japanese Wagyu & Grill

Yamaya sports genuine A-5 Miyazaki wagyu at a surprisingly approachable price point. At $150 for an order, there’s enough food to comfortably serve a party of two, or to be a show-stopping centerpiece for a party of three. The ribeye is just thick enough to merit a proper sear, a rich, melty descent into madness that will spoil you for American beef forever. Expertly handled by one of their skilled servers, the digs are part low-key, part lo-fi — but the food is worth every penny.

Hikari Japanese BBQ and Grill

Hikari serves up decent quality beef in tapas-size portions to be seared atop one of those kitschy Japanese konro grills. With genuine coals burning inside, it’s a no-frills experience that’s a welcome change of pace from all of those high-end wagyu yakinikus that seem to dominate the landscape.

YakiYan

This sleek prix-fixe-only barbecue serves up a host of high quality USDA Prime meats, a rice bowl made with filet mignon and, of course, an A5 wagyu that’s practically snow white with fat. The experience comes replete with a certificate of provenance, but be advised — the meat is cut perilously thin.

Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ

Who doesn’t love Gyu Kaku? If someone answers in the negative, they’re probably lying and ought to be avoided. This Japanese barbecue chain isn’t exactly known for stocking the highest-end Hokkaido wagyu. What it is known for, however, is some of the cheapest pitchers of Japanese beer anywhere and those cute little smores at the end of each meal. Don’t be fooled, though — the marinated meats are up to the task of getting a good night started.

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