Yakitori is probably my favorite way to eat chicken. It's simple yet delicious, and is so easy to eat and enjoy. When I heard about a small restaurant in West Tokyo where guests can cook their own yakitori, I had to go check it out! Here's my experience.
'Smiley Jo' - 5 Minutes from Shakujii Koen Station
The cozy, retro interior
Smiley Jo (スマイリー城）is a cozy yakitori restaurant located in West Tokyo, near Shakujii Koen Station. From the outside, Smiley Jo seems like a very normal, local restaurant. However, this place is actually quite special! Not only are the staff extremely kind and friendly, but the restaurant offers a unique opportunity to grill your own yakitori on a special charcoal yakitori grill in the middle of the table!
Four of the tables at Smiley Jo have a yakitori grill in the middle. If you want to grill your own yakitori, you've got to sit at one of these tables.
Loading hot charcoal into the grill
First, one of the friendly servers brought out a fry pan of piping hot charcoal and filled up the grill. This special grill is designed for cooking skewers, and is the best way to make yakitori!
The grill's ready to go!
Next, I had to decide how I wanted to season the skewers. For some, I decided on a classic seasoning of salt, which I was instructed to sprinkle on before putting the chicken on the grill.
Coarse salt is the most simple yet delicious way to season yakitori
Turning the skewer
This is the fun part! I could turn the skewers, move them around to hotter or cooler parts of the grill, and cook them until they were as crispy as I wanted them to be!
There's just something so delicious about yakitori cooked directly over the coals on this type of grill that can't be recreated at home. The heat is perfect, and there's just the right amount of smoke to add a lovely flavor to the meat.
Dipping the skewer in the tare
I opted for tare (sauce) instead of salt on a couple of the skewers. There is a beer mug full of thick, delicious tare that I could dip the skewer into after the meat was cooked. I then put the skewer back on the grill for another 30 seconds or so to heat it up before enjoying.
Grilled to perfection
The meat was soft and juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside, with just a little charring. For some reason, getting to grill everything myself made it seem to taste better! Even the skewers that I seasoned only with salt were full of rich, smoky, chicken flavor. The tare was also delicious, and had a good balance of sweetness and saltiness that complemented the chicken perfectly.
More chicken, please!
I think I scarfed down the entire plate of skewers in under 3 minutes; They were too delicious to eat slowly!
In addition to chicken skewers, Smiley Jo also has pork and vegetable skewers, as well as a menu of nimono (stewed items) and a nice drink menu. I definitely want to go back to try out some of the other menu items!
Visiting Smiley Jo
As mentioned above, Smiley Jo only has four tables that are equipped with a grill. If you want to try your hand at making your own yakitori, it's advised to make a reservation for one of those tables beforehand, because they fill up quickly during dinnertime. Otherwise, there are two other tables and a counter where customers can order yakitori cooked in the kitchen.
The shop is an easy five minute walk from Shakujii Koen Station on the Seibu Ikebukuro line in West Tokyo. Check it out for a great yakitori experience!