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Tokyo's best yakitori/chicken restaurants?

Hello Japanese Chowhounders,

I would love to hear your opinions on Tokyo's best yakitori etc. A quick search of the boards revealed numerous mentions of Fuku, but how does that compare to other places such as Birdland?

Context: I have some friends visiting mid-late Feb who are poultry/game providores at Melbourne's Vic Market. They deal in high-end product so would like to take them somewhere the same. The restaurant doesn't have to be fancy, as long as the food is great. They are only in Tokyo for a week or so, and I suspect that they may only eat yakitori once, at the most twice while they are here.

I went to Kushibeh a while back (thanks Robb S./bento.com) and liked it. Have also been to an unnamed restaurant in Roppongi (not on bento.com) that prepared amazing vegetables to accompany the chicken.

Other points: Can't say that I am a fan of Toriyoshi... and a Japanese friend mentioned Yebisu in Nishi-Ogi as that's where said friends will be staying.

Thanks in advance for any comments!

Ms J.

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  1. I went to Kushibeh quite some time ago and I thought it was pretty good. I didn't think it compared to Fuku though. Uncle Yabai has been to Birdland, and if all goes well he'll be with me at Fuku in the next couple of weeks and can provide us with a comparison.

    --Kushibeh, I thought the seasoning wasn't as balanced as it is at Fuku. Fuku's yakitori is always seasoned perfectly, Kushibeh was a little light on the salt for me from what I remember - I did like the chicken broth though.

    --Toriyoshi reminds me of regular izakaya style yakitori - I never found it that impressive and the Nagoya style spicy wings are just weak.

    --Keishoan, it's a good place but quite crowded and nothing really impressed me. Good, but not worth the hassle. Not a great interior either, you have to order the special sets in advance as well.

    --Jusanya, a terrible experience but good food. I really loved the kuruma-ebi there, it was just wonderful. I'm a sucker for grilled shrimp. Be warned, if you order a sampler and want something else, you have to wait until the sampler is finished. That's unacceptable to me, there were only two parties in the restaurant - a yakitori master should be able to write down a second order of shrimp by himself.

    The great thing about Fuku is that just about everything on the menu is wonderful, and it's clever as well. The "tanuki" is a small tsukune inside a mushroom cap. Tanuki balls and all, get it? It's unique, delicious and funny. I think they might enjoy Fuku's tori-wasa (raw chicken with wasabi and soy). It's different from other places where the chicken is seared slightly, at Fuku it's completely uncooked and amazingly good.
    I know I always recommend it, so wait a few weeks and maybe Asomaniac, Uncle Yabai and DelucaCheesemonger can chip in with their thoughts.

    3 Replies
    1. re: lost squirrel

      Lost Squirrel,

      Thank you for such a detailed response to my original post, most informative!! I have been meaning to get to Fuku - and now that I've read your post, even more so. Erm... if you and Uncle Yabai are up for an eating partner - all in the name of research - feel free to let me know!

      1. re: MsJK

        MsJK, see my email in my profile (subtract the 'http' obviously). I'm working on some reservations in the coming weeks.

    2. Torisei in Ginza:


      I'm not sure how good of a choice it'd be for non-Japanese speakers and he seems to reserve the real good stuff for his favorite regulars. Still, that picture of yakionigiri in duck broth almost makes me want to go back to eating birds.

      3 Replies
      1. re: kikisakura


        I'll be heading out for dinner too, and have no issues speaking/reading most food-related Japanese. That food dies look rather amazing! Assuming that you once ate our feathered friends, how did you rate Torisei at the time?

        1. re: MsJK

          I'm not really a fan of high-end yakitori restaurants and prefer old school style places (smoky, greasy, etc) where one would pig out on cheap yakitori and get drunk on even cheaper sake. For me, yakitori is about having a grand old time with friends much like cooking curry rice on a camping ground.

          That being said, if I were looking for quality ingredients as opposed to fun, then I'd pick Torisei. The blogger linked above wrote that there just aren't that many places in Japan that serve yakitori of that caliber. Since I haven't searched for best yakitori all over Japan, I'd have to take his word for it but I won't be surprised if it's true; everything he serves is carefully chosen, prepared, and executed.

          As I mentioned earlier though, one problem is that it takes awhile for the master to warm up to new faces. While he definitely isn't one of those sadistic chefs who enjoy abusing his customers, he does give preferential treatments to his regulars and I can see how people might feel slighted if they can't have what everyone else seems to be enjoying.

          1. re: kikisakura

            I understand your yakitori theory, no worries. I usually end up at the cheaper more raucous places when with friends!

            Torisei looks and sounds great, but the egalitarian in me would be uncomfortable if my friends weren't able to partake in the same delights as everyone else.

      2. Glad to hear you liked Kushibeh! For me what sets them apart is the great limited-edition sake selection along with the great food.

        Birdland uses very high-quality ingredients, and serves a lot of interesting bits of the chicken, so they might be a good choice for your visitors. They're more of a large-scale operation - maybe 6-8 cooks behind the counter, all doing different things. I'd say it's a more deluxe experience than Fuku, with prices to match. They also have a decent selection of wines by the glass.

        Toriyoshi serves fairly average grilled chicken - they're more known for their chicken wings (which I quite like), and their deep-fried chicken skin (which they seem to no longer serve). Yebisu is reliable, but it's just a chain izakaya, nowhere near the same league as Birdland.

        I also like Souten in Otsuka (http://www.bento.com/rev/3265.html ) - they have a good sake list and excellent-quality chicken and other game birds. They don't have an English menu or much English service, but you can order one of the sets.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Robb S

          Robb S.,

          I did like Kusibeh; my husband took me there for my birthday one year so it was a memorable occasion. Although a novice when it comes to nihonshu, I do like trying to food/booze match, and Kusibeh worked out well in that regard. Coincidentally we ended up at the aforementioned Roppongi yakitoriya the next night, which Mr K. preferred. I'm pretty sure 'better seasoning' was one of the reasons, so it was interesting to read Lost Squirrel's comments.

          Thanks for your comments re: the other places I mentioned. I haven't been to Birdland so am eager to hear from those in the know. Ditto for Yebisu; having read the above, it's now off my list.

          Souten sounds really interesting; regarding the other game birds, did anything stand out? (Speaking of which, where does one buy quail in Tokyo?) How would you rate this place versus Kusibeh, fuku and Birdland? The lack of English isn't a problem as I will also be attending, and hopefully Mr. K who is Japanese.

          Apologies Robb S. for continuous questions!

          1. re: MsJK

            No problem. The guinea fowl and wild duck at Souten were fantastic, as was the quail. The menu changes every month though, so I'd go with what they recommend in season.

            I don't know that I'd want to try to rank Souten authoritatively after only a few visits, which were many months removed from visiting the other places on the list. I'm more likely to return there sooner than Birdland, but mostly because of the vast price difference, and the odd birds, and my preference for sake.

            Torimikura also does a nice selection of game birds, but they change their menu, staff, shop name, and format so often it's hard to recommend unless I've just been there, which I haven't.

            Nissin sells quail, although it might only be frozen. One could call them and ask.

            1. re: Robb S

              Thanks Robb S.

              FYI: I have since been told that some of the Hanamasa outlets sell quail too.

        2. Don't think it is the best yakitori in Tokyo but I enjoyed this small intimate yakitori place called Toriya at Roppongi near Midtown: http://www.j-toriya.com/roppongi.html

          3 Replies
          1. re: FourSeasons

            Thanks FS,

            What stood out: ambience, service, etc?

            1. re: MsJK

              Yakitori, tendency is “Izakaya”. The ‘’yakitori’’ listed previously gives me also envy to go…it is always a very nice going out and at almost every occasion :

              - For the price value under 3000yens (preferably order one by one), dynamic, a usual hang out, and recently on different reviews ... If you want to see what is like, the yakitori negimaki(with leek), uzura or sasami wasabi, the yakitori Saito at Ueno : http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1311/A131...

              - For the a French more like “kobata-yaki” (=any sorts roasted or grilled on a stewer), the Bistrot VinPicoeur at Tokyo Midtown : foie gras, asparagus, shiitake, gambas schrimp (on season only)...


              - There is also a tendency on “chiken sukiyaki, better than the beef one in my opinion. The menu for the chicken sukiyaki is at 5300 or 6300, the place is comfortable, the service is thoughtful, the hot pot chicken sukiyaki is served with cresson onions rings (very tasty!), quantity and quality proportion are there (=cheap),…Reservation is necessary. I will recommend the counter with the view. http://kisako3.blog33.fc2.com/blog-en... .

              1. re: Ninisix


                Thanks for such an informative reply!! More food for thought indeed.

          2. Have not been to Kushibeh but did get to try Birdland before. They did have a decent selection of wine but I find the chicken to just be average. The best part was the oyako-don which is hands down the best I have ever had! I would go for that as opposed to the yakitori (though I am not sure you can do this).

            What about Isehiro or Imaiya? Imaiya has a good selection of sake and various interesting parts of chicken. Isehiro has good yakitori (and prob my fav in Tokyo). For Isehiro, make sure to go to the Kyobashi one.

            1. For me, the best places for yakitori are the little stores that sit along the Yamanote sen in Yurakucho. You used to be able to sit outside on milk crates and eat. The food was good and cheap and the owners were friendly. Nothing fancy - but you rub elbows with the salarymen and the beer and yakitori are great. One of my favorite places to eat in Tokyo! Enjoy!

              3 Replies
              1. re: Oakman3433

                That's funny, I was just walking past those under-the-tracks shops a few days ago with a friend, and we were talking about how vastly overrated they were. Pretty mediocre food (IMHO), and the prices aren't even cheap.

                1. re: Robb S

                  Concur. Those old school ガード下 yakitori places are good for drinking, not eating. And even then, you have to be in the right mood and with the right type of companion. There's better izakaya food in some of the chain places along the more refurbished promenade just south of Tokyo Station, under some of the Marunouchi buildings or further south, in Ginza 9 area east of Shimbashi.

                  1. re: Silverjay

                    i third that. but even though places like birdland have better yakitori even the below the tracks places are really good compared to what sells as yakitori in the west.

              2. AFAICR, there are 4 yakitori restaurants in the latest Michelin guide:
                Birdland in Ginza
                Yoshicho in Gotanda
                Takahashi in Gotanda
                and Toriki in Kinshicho

                I've not been to Toriki, but all the others were excellent in their own way.
                Takahashi was noteworthy in that the chef used to run a French restaurant and offers a good selection of wine, including a special Cote du Rhone cuvee bottled especially for him. It also has a nice contemporary ambiance. Recommended, although not exactly on the beaten track.

                Another old favorite is Bird Court, out in Kita-Senju.

                1. I'm going to Japan next week for by 5th visit, and while I read hiragana & katakana fine (and have a convenient boyfriend who reads Kanji) we run into trouble in Yakitori places because we don't really know what bits of the chicken we're ordering...or what else the menu contains. I've been searching for the words that I myself want to know most--momo and sasami and negimaki, really--but would it be troublesome to ask for a list of common items on Yakitori menus...? Things in katakana (liver, usually) aren't a big deal because I can parse that out, but it's be neat to know what wing, skin, tendon etc might be--or offal, since I'm a but of a wuss. Basic words for ordering pork, beef, or what other kinds of fowl might exist would be delightful.
                  I know every menu is different, but a handhold would be awesome! It'd be great to be able to really branch out from places with an english menu, or to feel comfortable order without dragging a Japanese friend around. My boyfriend lived in Japan for a year and a half, but apparently feels in no way as excited about meat on sticks as I do, so never went to one.

                  thanks for your time,

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Haruhi7

                    The sample Japanese menu at the end of this article covers a lot of common yakitori items:

                    1. re: Robb S

                      ive been looking for something like this for ages. I've just ordered a copy of your book. Thanks!

                    2. re: Haruhi7

                      Fuku, which is my favourite yakitori place in Tokyo, has an English language menu.

                      1. re: Asomaniac

                        True Story: I learned a good portion of my chicken anatomy Japanese from frequenting Fuku.

                        1. re: lost squirrel

                          I have been twice since the end of Golden Week and once just before Golden Week. The more often I go, the more often I want to go. Top chicken on a stick never gets old.

                    3. I'm a fan of Toriki, which was highlighted on Anthony Bourdain's most recent "No Reservations" show on Tokyo. The old man knows his chicken, which he claims to kill and clean himself everyday. Can't prove that, but he does break down the birds one by one with on his board. Cut to order chicken, that's as pink and flavorful as I've ever seen.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: rockrock

                        If you are into wine, consider trying Yakitori et Vin Poussin, not far from the Roppongi Hyatt (almost next door to Aladin, the Iranian restaurant). The yakitori is truly excellent. Staff are very friendly and the atmosphere is cosy. Open until 2am.

                        What sets this place apart is the wine. Under the auspices of one of Japan's top sommeliers, the restaurant serves an excellent selection of wines, some of which are very unsual and go very well with yakitori. For example, while the red Chateau Montus is omnipresent on the Japanese restaurant scene, the white Montus is very hard to find, but Yakitori et Vin Poussin serves it - not cheap at 7,500 yen, but truly excellent and unique.

                        The wines generally have a healthy mark-up - I have read some reviews saying that the wines comes at good prices but I would disagree - but you should nevertheless give this a shot. While the wines can be a little overpriced for what they are (e.g. a Marques de Riscal for 5,000 Yen is ridiculous), the wines per se are good value wines. They do not serve unnecessarily expensive, high profile wines - you do not need a 20,000 Yen wine with chicken bits on skewers - so every wine is under 10,000 Yen. Some are decent value - ask for the South African Chenin Blanc that is not on the menu - 6,000 yen for liquid heaven. And it tastes like it has been made for yakitori (salted, not with tare, but unless you ask for tare everything comes salted except tsukune).

                        I normally prefer sake and beer with yakitori and drink it even in places with an acceptable wine list (like Fuku, where interestingly very many people start with a half bottle or bottle of sparkling wine and then move on to still wine). However, Yakitori et Vin Poussin really is rather special and while I can't resist starting with a beer and trying one or two of their delicious sakes, I always end up drinking wine in the end.