A friend of mine had recommended me to a upscale yakitori place in Kyoto called Yakitori Tarokichi. In contrast to the dark and smoky izakayas of Yurakucho, this place was a bit fancier, with dedicated wait staff for drinks, and a queue of a mix of tourists and locals waiting patiently outside for their turn to get in. Clearly, this place came well-recommended on foreign guides. I waited for quite a while — around 20-40 minutes, but finally I got a seat, a foldable stool squeezed in right at the edge of the bar, closest to the door.
Like most restaurants in Japan used to catering to tourists, they conveniently had a menu with the options spelled out in English, with English descriptions as well. The price of each stick was abut 180-220 yen, which is about twice the cost of the cheapest places. And like many izakayas, a drink purchase was required for the cover charge, however this isn’t a big issue since Japanese light beers go really well with yakitori sticks anyway.
I ordered a veritable spread of my favourite yakitori, and waited for it to arrive. I was seated next to an Australian couple, whom I chatted with easily about the food we were about to eat and our respective travel plans.
The yakitori arrived, a couple of sticks at a time. The meat on each stick was cooked, marinated, and grilled in a way which perfectly expressed its flavours and textures, and everything was done right. The negima (chicken leg) with leek had a special marinade with the lightly charred leeks. Tsukune ume (meatball with pickled plum sauce), wrapped in a leaf, was really good. The onigiri (grilled rice ball) was easy to like with a crispy rice exterior and lightly salted inside. And the seseri negishio (chicken neck with chopped Japanese leek was just soft, juicy, and amazing. I also liked the shimeji mushroom, which was really juicy and succulent, but at 25 yen, it felt a bit expensive for just one mushroom. The sasami wasabi (chicken tender with wasabi) was nice, but not a must-try in my opinion.
One particular dish recommended by a friend from this place is the grilled crispy chicken skin with ponzu sauce. Instead of being served on a stick (that’s torikawa), the skin is served in a bowl with the sauce, which allows it to soak the tart and sweet ponzu flavour. I felt that this was nicer than the torikawa, which I also tried.
The total damage was 2500 yen, which was pretty expensive for yakitori, but with the amount I ate, also very satisfying. After leaving, I ended the evening walking around Gion, which is vibrant at night with shoppers and buskers, then found some tranquility and reflection walking back along the canal.
Where to find Yakitori Tarokichi: