I’m thrilled that the Sacramento region’s restaurant scene continues to flourish and grow. Every year, it seems we have more dining options. As a result, I rarely visit the same places regularly.
But there are a handful of places I’m faithful to—my comforting go-to’s when I want relaxing familiarity and predictably good food. That list hasn’t changed much over the years, but every once in a while I’ll be so compelled by a new restaurant that I’ll add it to this exclusive lineup.
Yakitori Yuchan may be the next one to appear on my personal go-to list. Located in lively downtown Davis, this intriguing restaurant offers a dining experience far different from the overblown sushi feasts many people associate with Japanese cuisine. In fact, there isn’t a single lavishly sauced spicy tuna roll or tekka maki on the menu.
What this busy little restaurant focuses on is skewered, grilled meats, seafood and vegetables, collectively known as yakitori, though traditionally yakitori refers to grilled chicken. Customers can watch the chefs through a large glass window grilling these succulent little morsels, which arrive two to an order and are meant to be shared.
â–ºTonkotsu chicken ramen soup
In fact, most everything prepared at Yakitori is meant to be shared, and that’s the mindset you should have when you visit. Arrive with an adventurous palate and a group of food-loving friends and be prepared to pass around the skewered treats and small plates, from the beautiful slices of deep-fried kabocha squash with thick, intense curry sauce to the fusion-y caper-dotted smoked salmon and mizuna greens salad, enlivened with a bright citrus plum ponzu dressing.
Yakitori offers two menus. One, specifically for the grilled items, comes with a pen, so you can select your dishes and indicate the quantity in the appropriate box. I relished every one I tried, including an intensely garlicky garlic chicken, whose meat was so tender I barely had to chew it; and a fabulous pork belly yakitori, whose fatty, delicious meat chunks were interspersed with still-crunchy white onion. The juicy salmon yakitori was blanketed in feisty wasabi sauce. And if you want to deliver a jolt to your taste buds, try the shiny grilled shishito peppers. Other skewers include garlic calamari and quail egg with pork.
Though you could easily build a communal meal with just the yakitori (and I saw diners who did just that), don’t miss out on the treasures on the second menu. I may have found my gyoza nirvana on this menu. Arriving six to an order, the silky, tender dumpling shells were filled with meat that was perfectly seasoned, moist and not overly salty.
The noriten albacore may be the closest you’ll get to sushi here. The restaurant cleverly tops chewy rafts of tempura-fried seaweed with jewel-like diced spicy albacore tuna and chopped green onion. It’s a revelation of contrasting textures. The tofu dengaku, a custardy square of pan-fried tofu, is napped with a delicate, sweet miso sauce.
If you’re a fan of pork belly, try the buta suki maki, a cigar-shaped finger food featuring thin slices of the meat wrapped around shungiku (edible chrysanthemum) leaf and enoki mushrooms, then sauteed with sukiyaki sauce until brown and crispy on the outside. The tonkotsu chicken ramen soup—an intensely meaty broth loaded with silky noodles, a soft-poached half egg, slices of chicken and crunchy bean sprouts—is another winner. If I get a cold this season, I’m heading directly to Yakitori for a nourishing ramen cure.
Yakitori offers a nice selection of sake and shochu (a traditional Japanese distilled spirit). Ask your waiter for a recommendation.
Service is congenial and efficient, and the place is unabashedly casual. If you get there early enough, you may be able to grab one of the three semiprivate booths in the back, close to the yakitori chefs. Otherwise, there is no-nonsense table seating and an additional dining area at the bar.
If you’re burned out on California rolls and heavily battered shrimp tempura, it’s time to make the drive to Davis to experience another facet of Japanese cuisine. Just make sure to save some ramen and scallop yakitori for me.
Casual and congenial, yakitori yuchan fills up fast
109 E St., Davis
Best Dishes: Wasabi salmon and
garlic chicken yakitori, tonkotsu chicken ramen, gyoza, noriten albacore
Drinks: Good selection of sake and shochu; limited selection of beer and wine
Atmosphere: Casual and friendly
Noise Level: Lively but manageable
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 6–10 p.m., closed Monday
Contact: (530) 753-3196; yakitori