Legit izakaya

Yakitori Yuchan

Good for: sharing many plates and drinks with friends
Notable dishes: rice cake skewer with pork, omu soba, noriten albacore

Yakitori Yuchan

109 E St.
Davis, CA 95616

(530) 753-3196

It’s easy to complain about the lack of a legit izakaya-style dining option in Sacramento. We crave the sort of casual but buzzing place that serves skewers of chicken hearts alongside delicate albacore topped with ponzu gel. We want to challenge our notions of Japanese cuisine, a vast catalog of flavors and textures far beyond saucy sushi rolls.

The kicker: that very legit izakaya-style dining option has been open for one year in Davis.

Yakitori Yuchan transformed what used to be a Beach Hut Deli into a hip evening destination with burnt orange walls, modern bamboo light fixtures and tables decorated with Japanese newsprint. It specializes in skewered meats—and other foodstuff—grilled over imported binchotan charcoal, but the menu includes elegant small plates and larger meal options like Japanese curry and ramen.

The latter section was a particularly wise move in making the restaurant accessible to the abundant college crowd. A feast comprising small plates can add up—expect at least $20 per person—but choosing milky tonkotsu ramen ($9.95) makes for an affordable night out.

That ramen is solid, with springy and thick yellow noodles and a luxurious soft-boiled egg. It’s probably the best ramen in Davis, though not worth specifically hunting down from Sacramento. My favorite hearty, starchy option is actually the omu soba ($8), a thin omelet wrapped around a chow mein-like filling of pan-fried egg noodles, pork, caramelized onions, cabbage and a sweet gravy. The whole thing gets doused in mayo and bonito flakes. Rib-sticking, wondrous comfort food.

But if finances aren’t an issue, ordering more food is always more fun.

The Take-5 chicken sampler ($9.50) is a great way to start, with five skewers of juicy, tender chicken thighs in five different sauces: tare (a sweet soy-based sauce), shio (salt), wasabi cream, mustard and roasted garlic. They’re all delicious and distinct, but the shio stood out for pure, unadulterated chicken flavor. Ditto on the two skewers of shio chicken hearts ($4), which were the most succulent, rich and wonderful hearts I’ve ever eaten. And I nearly leaked tears of joy upon trying the rice cake thinly wrapped in pork ($5): elastic, melty, gooey textural satisfaction with a light, tare-induced sweetness.

The revelations continued. For example, why isn’t nori deep-fried more often? Noriten albacore ($8.95) creates brilliant, salty chips out of tempura seaweed, which hold mounds of spicy albacore tartare dressed in sesame. Also, why don’t I grill avocados? Yakitori Yuchan serves them halved, warm and covered in homemade mayo and ponzu ($5). The smokey, creamy flesh mixes beautifully with the tang of the ponzu; an instant classic.

Yakitori Yuchan’s cooks have a way with the deep-fryer as well. Takoyaki ($5), little fried bulbs of flour, egg, dashi and octopus, feel like creamy, sashimi-grade potato puffs. Juicy nuggets of Japanese-style fried chicken ($7) wear a light, crisp exterior.

There’s a reason why Tokyo boasts a mind-blowing 226 Michelin-starred restaurants while the runner-up, Paris, holds 94. There’s a reason why so many Michelin-starred menus in the United States feature Japanese techniques and ingredients. And there’s a reason why American chefs continue to visit Japan for inspiration year after year.

The answer is not sushi rolls. And, OK, it’s not necessarily the izakaya either, but dining at Yakitori Yuchan might give you some hints.