Little Tokyo’s classic and probably best Izakaya.
What is it about Chicken and Beer that grips us so?
I mean, c’mon…it’s Chicken. It’s literally the default meat. It’s the thing we literally compare all other tastes to when we’re eating.
“Hmm, tastes like Chicken…”
And yet, if we’re brought to a place that loves Chicken, that focuses on Chicken, that makes Chicken well, then we love that place. We cherish it…
…and if that place also offers tall bottles of cold Japanese Beer, then…what can I say?
The first time I heard about Kokekokko was watching the Los Angeles episode of The Layover with Anthony Bourdain.
What do you want me to say, the man covered my city pretty damn well.
Tony’s visit in that episode was to Kokekokko’s old location in Little Tokyo. It has since moved to the same Retail complex that houses Orochon Ramen, Curry House and the ever fantastic Kinokuniya Books. From what I can tell, what they’ve lost in space (the new location is just a wee bit cozier than the old), they make up for in foot traffic.
One of the things Tony suggested during the episode is that to sit at the bar, become a regular.
Well, looks like I got away with one. I got there just as the doors opened. It was like me and one other couple for a minute or two there, so I was allowed to sit at the end of the coveted counter space.
Totally worth it.
Kokekokko is an Izakaya that specializes in Chicken Skewers. They explain as you walk in, to newbies such as myself, that Kokekokko is expecting you to order at least 5 Skewers per person. Know going it that shouldn’t be a problem. The Kokekokko menu actually has 5 Skewer and 10 Skewer options that include things like soup and salad, but the catch is you give up a little bit of your control as to what you get. And if, like me, you have a slight aversion to Chicken Gizzards, you may want to stick to Al La Carte.
Don’t blame me…blame my Parents, both of whom grew up in Segregated Texas in the 1950s, and both of whom had to eat Chicken Gizzards as children. Both of them grew up with an aversion to the stuff that they passed on to me. It’s rare enough to like a food that one parent dislikes, but when you get it in stereo? Hoo-boy!
It’s one of those things. Cooking was invented to make things like Chicken Gizzards taste awesome, but it doesn’t mean that the memories associate with those nasty bits are always good ones. To this day, bring up Okra around my Father, and he’ll get visibly angry. Same with Chicken Gizzards. But bring up Red Beans and Rice, and Dad will happily eat that all day.
Anyway, where was I?
So, for me, Gizzards were off the table. But if you do the math, Al La Carte is a perfectly sensible, and affordable option at Kokekokko. But you are in a real damn Izakaya. You are watching a master chef cook up your Skewers individually across white charcoal flown in from the Kyshu prefecture in Japan.
Granted, Tomohiro Sakata wasn’t cooking my meal that night (It was a Wednesday), but one of his hand picked cooks (I’m sure) was. Sakata’s poster is still in there. Sitting where I was, at the counter, I was watching the show live in front of me. I saw the same economy of motion, the same focus on the fire, and each individual skewer live in person that I saw on film with Master Sakata.
For something that’s “just chicken” it is an amazing meal. Best of all, I was seated near the Chef’s…I guess Sous Chef, who finished the cooked Skewers in the appropriate sauce and garnishes. (You can see him in the Layover episode in the very last shot working with Sensei Sakata). In the new location, he’s right up next to the counter, and was extraordinarily helpful in noting for a newbie like me, to try “this” with this sauce. Try “that” with “that” garnish…
He was awesome. His help made the meal, and helped me dive into new things, which is what you want at a place like Kokekokko.
WHAT SHOULD I GET?: Well, like I said…you had to get at least five Skewers. I got a bit more than that, but let’s go down the meal and see how things played.
Oh, and let’s not forget there was beer.
One thing that happens at Kokekokko is that everything does not arrive all at once. The Chef is working on what he needs to work on, so Skewers come off the grill, individually one or two at a time, depending on your order. The first thing I got was some Japanese Pickles.
You can’t argue against a simple good thing. Just a few vegetables covered in sesame seeds and sauce. Absolutely delicious, and a fantastic way to clear your palate, in anticipation of the chicken bombing that’s about to hit your tongue. This is a must have as far as I’m concerned, and completely sharable, even though it’s tiny.
Next was the Chicken Breast. Just a couple nuggets of creamy, smooth Chicken Breast on a stick, garnished with tiny droplets of Wasabi. I knew what was I doing when I ordered the Breast. I knew it was going to be the most flavorless cut of Chicken I was served that night, but overall…because of the Wasabi, it was fantastic. They also serve the Breast meat with some hot mustard and other tasty sauces. And they helped make this a very tasty opener.
Next was the Thigh. This were tinier bits of Chicken Thigh, punctuated with cuts of onion, all cooked together. This was my favorite cut of the night. So good I ordered it again. The presence of the onion gave it a flavor and texture changer than kept everything interesting while at the same time stunning and delicious. Again, a must have in my book.
The next is not going to be for everybody. I got some Chicken Hearts, and…
Okay, I know. Some people (like my Father) are going to hear than and say “Oh, hell no.”
But they’re tasty nonetheless. Yes, there is an American-get-ye-past-offal mindset you have to push through, but if you think about them as sausages…which they kinda taste like, you’ll be fine.
Finally, I got the Meatball. And this was a buttery, melt in your mouth concoction I did not see coming. When I say buttery, it’s almost as though the meatball as marinated in real butter before hitting the flames. A perfect blend of fat and meat. You only get three per stick but this was easily my second favorite cut of the night. Definitely doing this again.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: Okay, first things first…and all of this is to help you not look like such the newbie as I did that Wednesday night.
One, you have to get at least five skewers. Doesn’t matter which type, as you can order A La Carte, but this isn’t a joint where you can eat up valuable counter space and nosh on a skewer or two. It’s an Izakaya…stay and drink Sake. Come in after a tough day at the office, which is why it opens at 6pm, and eat some of your cares away.
The service is first class, and ALL the waitstaff, trainees and veterans alike are looking out for you.
Two, as Tony said, the counter is usually reserved for regulars…which I’m going to try and become one. I only got on the Counter because I was by myself and it was early.
Three, they will ask you how you want your Chicken cooked. They start at Medium, but you can go longer if you want.
PARKING: There is a somewhat confusing, but ultimately decently spacious garage underneath the Retail complex that houses Kokekokko. They Parking Lot is Cash only, thought he restaurant is not. Take your Ticket with you, and let them stamp it. I was able to park there for free because I ate at Kokekokko.
123 S. Onizuka St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tel: (213) 687-0690
Monday-Saturday: 6:00 pm – 10:30 pm