Meat skewers in for a skewering

Osaka Yakitori

Good for: family dining with lots of choices
Notable dishes: tuna tataki, long bean kushiyaki, Hawaiian poke

Osaka Yakitori

6023 Florin Rd.
Sacramento, CA 95823

(916) 823-5525

Japanese food in Sacramento used to be dominated by sushi; now we have shabu, izakaya and ramen houses galore. Even poke—technically Hawaiian—gets its influences from Japan.

The area also boasts several options for kushiyaki, or grilled skewered meats and vegetables, more commonly known by its most popular variety: yakitori (chicken). It’s a classic late-night snack cooked streetside over charcoal grills, and it’s perfect with a side of beer.

Osaka Sushi owner Kevin Ho, who has restaurants in Midtown and Woodland, recently opened a sister shop called Osaka Yakitori in Elk Grove. With the term “yakitori” in the name, you might expect that to be their focus. Sadly, it’s not.

Instead, it’s a Japanese version of a midlevel family eatery like Applebee’s, which is good at some things—and not so much at others. It excels at friendly service, a lively atmosphere (think: multiple TVs) and a few well-chosen menu items.

Set in the shopping center that replaced the Florin Mall, the restaurant takes up an expansive space with a huge open kitchen. It blasts danceable pop music that makes you feel like you’re back in the food court.

The setting isn’t the only thing that’s enormous: The menu covers everything from jalapeño poppers to ramen to sushi. Not until you reach the third page or so do you see a short listing for yakitori.

Things start well, with two of the best dishes in the appetizer section. The tuna tataki ($11) shows off the kitchen’s skill with seafood and a generous portion of thinly sliced and seared tuna. Garnished with green onion, sesame seeds and dots of chili sauce, it’s simple and perfect.

Another seafood standout is the Hawaiian poke ($11), recommended by the server over the sea steak poke for “more meat.” While it’s nothing like Fish Face’s bowl full of pristine seafood, the maguro (tuna) and shiro maguro (albacore tuna) taste fresh and complement the sesame oil-dressed seafood and cucumber.

Cheered by those successes, my dining mate and I tried the croquettes ($3), usually a comfort-food bomb of fried mashed potatoes. The two thin oval patties tasted fine with tonkatsu sauce when they were hot, but revealed a lack of any seasoning once they cooled.

Since we were there to try the yakitori, we deciphered some very tiny type offering an eight-piece combo ($18) after we overheard another table order it. The samples are chef’s choice, so we were surprised by skewers of butabara (pork belly), mi (chicken thigh), nankotsu (chicken knee cartilage), hatsu (chicken heart), sunagimo (gizzard), boneless beef and shiitake mushroom.

Yakitori usually comes simply salted or brushed with tare, a thickened sweet soy sauce. None of Osaka’s skewers featured sauce, although some tasted marinated, as with the beef. Most of the meats suffered from dryness, though—whether from overcooking or lack of marinade.

I conducted a mini yakitori taste comparison ending at Binchoyaki Izakaya Dining while reviewing Osaka, and the latter does not stand out. Admittedly, Binchoyaki is a hard act to follow, but even the chicken thigh skewers at Ryujin Ramen House showed better grilling than Osaka’s.

Ultimately, one of the best deals on the menu is the kid’s ramen ($3.50), a perfectly reasonable bowl of soup with chewy noodles, corn and ground beef. The broth looks and tastes a bit cloudy, but it’s a good option to have.

Osaka Yakitori probably fills a niche in Elk Grove for a family-friendly place with a lot of choices. There may well be other excellent items like the tataki, but for now, the yakitori isn’t their best work.