Japanhako is a yakitori joint in Koreatown, a neighbourhood already bustling with restaurants from cheap sushi emporiums to upstairs bars serving buckets of beer and popcorn to formidable hot pot champions.
Hako roughly translates to square or boxed in Japanese. They do create square sushi here, but it’s only one visually impressive item on a menu of many yakitori, sushi and sashimi options, plus a wide range of sake and many other Japanese delights.
The interior is more rectangular than square, long and narrow with plenty of seating.
Bar seating faces the windows looking out on Bloor and the kitchen where you can watch sushi being sliced and torched.
It’s one of very few places in Toronto to have a true yakitori grill: apparently there are five or six in Vancouver.
Yakitori comes in sets, like the special set for $13 which includes chicken wing, nankotsu (flavourful cartilaginous parts of the chicken), tsukune (Japanese minced chicken), negima (chicken and scallion) and my personal favourite, hatsu (meaty grilled chicken hearts).
There’s also a premium set ($15) which includes other types of meat, mainly pork and beef parts outlined in a helpful diagram on the menu, grilled until tender and savoury. This set also has a vegetarian-friendly yuzu miso tofu. A yakitori veggie ($10) set is all veggie, a medley of soft and juicy mushroom, onion, zucchini, asparagus and tomato skewers.
Yakitori joints are just as much about drinking as they are about eating, the small snacks acting almost as an excuse to keep downing pints and shots. Asahi goes for $9 a pint or $23 for a pitcher.
We try the regular sushi and sashimi set ($27), five pieces of sushi, eight pieces of sashimi, and our choice of the chef’s special roll. The board is heaped with Norway salmon, bluefin tuna, sea bass, albacore, toro and horse mackerel, finished off with strings of crispy onions and shredded radish, some sashimi and nigiri with a swipe of garlic mayo.
For our chef’s roll we go with the indulgent oven-baked scallop volcano ($9 on its own), a roll of avocado, cucumber and crab meat topped with scallop, mushroom, onion, and creamy sauce that’s warm from the oven and dripping with saucy toppings.
There’s a huge range of sake here, from Kubota Manju for $238 a bottle, to more reasonably priced Hakutsuru at $7 for 150mL. Shots of Kubota Senju ($73 a bottle) are suggested, and the clean, light flavour goes down smooth and pairs well with the food.
This place has the typical accents of this kind of eatery, dim with lots of light wood and funky oversized light bulbs. Big and small tables make it suitable for big groups or couples.