Honda-Ya: Still Crazy After All These Years
I ever reviewed. I wrote the review on the old Chowhound message board exactly 13 years ago on this date, October 13.
When I started the blog you are reading now, I archived that first write-up here.
If you read that review, you'd notice that it was just a list of what I had during that first visit to Honda-Ya, with barely any commentary and not even a picture. If you know anything about me (or heard that podcast interview by The Bull and The Badger a few months ago), you'll know that when I wrote it, I had no intention of becoming a food writer. What I was doing was just jotting down what I had and how much I paid for it--it was a journal entry, mostly.
Yelp, at the time, had not been invented.
But that post, and this restaurant, ended up being a seminal one for me--not only fostering my love (nay, obsession) for Japanese food, but also spawning more Chowhound write-ups, which led to Monster Munching, and then the OC Weekly gig.
And it is a testament to Honda-Ya that it's still the same and still popular after all these years--like a stone monument in the middle of a city on fast-forward.
I went again for the first time in years and it felt the same as the first time I stepped in there 13 years ago. The old tatami room still requires that you take your shoes off. The paper lanterns still wobble whenever a breeze is let in from the open door. And the potato salad is still cool and light.
More importantly, the robata-grilled sticks of quail eggs and chicken meatballs are still smoky and sweet; and the deep-fried soft shells--a favorite of mine, even from day one--are still crispy and gnarled, served with a bowl of tart ponzu.
But on this visit, I saw a few new dishes that I've never seen before, like strips of jellyfish laced with uni, served atop a flotilla of sliced cucumbers, lemon and a shiso leaf.
Still, the more things change, the more they stay the same: the sushi was just as I remembered--not very good. Honda-Ya has never been the place to get sushi. On this visit, the buta kakuni was also disappointing. The pork belly pieces were as dry as jerky despite being simmered in soy and mirin for hours.
After that throwback dinner and as I write this, I am again reevaluating what I want to do with this blog in the coming years. I'm reminded that it has outlasted a lot of the restaurants reviewed within it. But as wordless Instagram food pics and other snazzier forms of media supplant food review blogs like this one, am I crazy for keeping it alive?
For now I've decided that yes, I am still crazy. I'll continue this as long as at least one person is reading--even if I'm only counting myself as that person. After all, that's how all this started: I wrote that first post for myself.
I know one thing for sure, though: Whatever happens, Honda-Ya will outlive us all. Long live Honda-Ya!
Honda Ya Japanese Restaurant
556 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780
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