Costa Mesa’s Eastside keeps reaffirming its standing as the epicenter of Japanese food in Orange County. The latest evidence is Oak & Coal, a new yakitori spot from restaurateurs Jeff Chon and Christian Fernandez, the guys behind popular drinking spots The Wayfarer on Costa Mesa’s Westside and The Alley in Newport Beach. The duo also owns a Japanese shabu shop in the same vintage plaza as this place.
Oak & Coal feels like their best effort yet. It is also the smallest. The restaurant is marginally larger than a shoe box, with an open kitchen on one side of the dining room and a communal table down the middle.
The menu is short and focused squarely on yakitori (skewers) cooked over Japanese charcoal. Most of what comes off the grill is very good, especially the beef short rib, “Kobe” tongue, and chicken thigh. And I especially like the Kurobuta pork sausages, which I like even more when they are intentionally burned around the edges. If you arrive early enough, before they sell out of it, you can partake in chargrilled chicken skin, an off-menu kitchen scrap that shrivels to a crisp and makes an addictive little snack.
Aside from the fairly short list of yakitori, the kitchen also serves panfried dumplings stuffed with kimchi, which the waiters always make a point of pushing. They’re alright, even if they don’t quite live up to the hype.
They also offer two versions of soba noodles, one hot, the other cold. The only version I’ve sampled is the hot one. The noodles arrived overcooked and mushy, completely lacking that chewy toothsomeness of properly made soba. But that’s not why you’re here. You’re here for the skewers.
Incidentally, every time I’ve mentioned this place to anyone, they want to know how it compares with Tustin’s Honda Ya. As far as the yakitori goes, I like the skewers here better than Honda Ya’s. That said, the real competition is much closer, and this place still has a way to go before it can fully compete with Costa Mesa’s Izakaya Hachi, which is still the one to beat. Fortunately there’s no such thing as too many yakitori restaurants, and I’m excited about this one.
Oak & Coal
Where: 333 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa
When: Dinner nightly