Yakitori – every-part-of-the-bird Japanese chicken skewers seasoned and grilled over a charcoal fire – from Yardbird Hong Kong just might be worth crossing the world for. The Canadian duo behind this buzzing izakaya serve up some of the best in town. These ever-popular smoky bites started as street meat, but executive chef and co-owner Matt Abergel, who sharpened his skills in high-end Japanese restaurants, makes them finer dining.
At Yardbird, chicken is meticulously seasoned according to cut by spraying it with sake, salt and seaweed before it hits the fire. Although they serve more conventional breast and thigh skewers, offal yakitori – like crispy garlic-topped gizzard and neck skin with a citrusy ponzu sauce – established this spot as one of the city’s top restaurants and turned it into a home away from home for visiting chefs. (Bonus: cocktails made with the house line of Japanese whisky.)
When food is this simple, ingredients are everything, and for Abergel, his main ingredient is key. He sources hyper-fresh homegrown chickens (from Hop Wo Poultry, just a few blocks away), a practice that wasn’t common when he started out. The birds – a fatty local variety known as “triple yellow” – have a well-defined muscle structure, making them suited to yakitori cuts, and the restaurant uses every last morsel.
Abergel and co-owner Lindsay Jang, whose Hong Kong-born father ran a Chinese restaurant in the Edmonton suburbs, prove that good food doesn’t have to be limited by geography, a point they’ll reiterate in the near future by opening a highly anticipated Los Angeles spot. Though yakitori will be on the menu, the restaurant won’t be called Yardbird. “I want to maintain as much of our spirit as possible, but Yardbird Hong Kong is what it is because of Hong Kong. I hope our Los Angeles restaurant will build the city into its identity, too,” says the chef.