I’ve never been a big fan of Honda-Ya preferring its sister Kappo-Honda whenever I am hankering for izakaya fare. So needless to say, when I found Meijiya in Costa Mesa, I was tickled, mainly because I didn’t know about it before — even though they’d been open about a year — but also because they recently started serving lunch as well, which makes it more convenient for me.
I’ve visited them several times now, both for lunch and dinner. Although the entire menu is served at lunch time, they specialize in izakaya (bar style) fare — it is the little plates of tidbits specially prepared for the purpose of accompanying sake or beer that interest me.
For lunch, I like something light, like tempura udon/soba ($8.50) and I always request soba over udon, preferring their chewiness over the more doughy udon noodles.
The shrimp tempura is served on the side which is important because I really dislike the dampness of the noodles making the batter of the tempura soggy.
If I’m feeling hungrier at lunch time, saba teishoku ($9.50) is a lunch combo that will leave you more than satisfied when you’re done. The set includes a generous piece of moist grilled mackerel with a small side salad, miso soup, rice and a side dish. The lightly salted mackerel is oil-rich and cooked perfectly and the vegetarian side dish is also plentiful.
However, for dinner, I take on an entirely different personality when I come here. Beer is always part of my meal and I like the Asahi draft ($4.50) to accompany my little dishes. After all, it’s an izakaya and it would be blasphemous not to have a drink or two …… or three.
If you like raw fish, assorted three kind of fish ($12.50) is a lovely start. It is always wise to eat sashimi at the start of a meal before my your has been tainted with oils, sauces and seasonings of any sort. The variety is completely up to the chef, but tuna and salmon are usually two of the three fish.
My son loves cold tofu ($2.50). Here, the cubes are topped with grated ginger, bonito flakes and scallions.Although this may suffice for adults, my son needed a little drizzle of soy sauce on his for a little extra flavor.
Kinpira Gobo ($3.95) is something I love, but hate to make. It is a time consuming side dish consisting of julienned burdock root and carrots. They are lightly fried and THEN boiled down in a sugar and soy marinade. It is a lot of work for not a lot of return so I rarely make it and there aren’t any okazuyas here (like in Hawaii) where I can readily buy it already prepared. The salty sweetness makes for a delicious pairing with beer.
It isn’t hard to make sesame seasoned spinach ($4.50) and the simplicity of the crushed black sesame seeds sprinkled over the blanched spinach is sublime. So simple yet, so complex in flavor.
Not everyone can handle natto — fermented soy beans — because of its slimy texture and intensely pungent flavor. I find it difficult to swallow on its own but when mixed with rice or other ingredients, makes for a lovely pairing for other things.
Tofu served with grated yam, natto, okra, and topped with raw quail egg ($5.50) is delicious but not for the faint hearted. The texture alone is enough to send some people into a head-spin.
If you are a fan of beef, then beef tataki ($8.50) will definitely please. Beautifully seared beef, rare on the inside is sliced thinly and served with a tangy, citrusy ponzu dipping sauce. Absolutely delicious!
I love chicken wings, but grilled chicken wings ($4.50) tasted like they were braised not grilled. They had good flavor with the sweet soy sauce marinade they were braised in, but the skin was unpleasant because it had that rubbery texture of un-rendered chicken skin.
I ordered dumplings with garlic soy sauce ($4.95) for my son, but he wasn’t too excited about them. Without the dipping sauce, they are bland, unmemorable and tasted like they were bought.
Instead, he ordered grilled beef tongue ($7.95). Unfortunately it was sliced a little too thick causing them to be a tad chewy but that didn’t stop my boy from devouring most of the plate. He dipped each piece into the salted sesame oil and happily chewed on it. I agree it was very tasty and definitely goes well with beer, but it was definitely chewy!
Grilled shishamo smelt ($5.50) is delicious but some may find the fish heads still intact rather gruesome. Pick one up and bite it off and you will find it has a nice crunch to them. The cavity of the fish contains a pocket full of roe which is what smelt is prized for and this is precisely why I love eating shishamo.
If you think some of the items here are too exotic for your taste, don’t fret, there are so many other non-threatening items on their menu to choose from you won’t leave hungry. But it’s nice to know that when I want something different, I have the option and luxury of variety Meijiya offers.
**disclaimer: some friends visited Meijiya and thought it too hard-core — just a word of warning if you aren’t familiar with seriously authentic izakaya fare**
1113 Baker Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626