March 6 2015 06:21 PM

Grab dinner by the skewer in Kearny Mesa

Resplendent bacon-wrapped asparagus
Photo by Mina Riazi

A rather loud, red-and-black street sign called me into Hinotez on a rainy evening. Shaking off a soggy umbrella, I found the space immediately inviting; tables, booths, counter seats and floor cushions offer a range of seating options. Sister to nearby Yakitori Yakyudori & Ramen, Hinotez (4898 Convoy St.) would have been easy to miss if not for the noisy sign declaring its existence next to a smug-looking bar.

Hinotez's ramen options are appetizing, but I was craving the skewered, sizzling morsels that flavor the restaurant's Yakitori menu. Thumbnail-size pictures offer some visual guidance when navigating the bevy of options, which includes everything from bacon-wrapped asparagus to beef tongue to quail eggs. 

Chicken lovers will appreciate the Yakitori spread at the Japanese eatery, which spotlights some of the most underrated parts of the bird's anatomy. Chicken gizzards, hearts and liver counterbalance the more familiar wings, breast and thigh. Feeling unadventurous that day, I ordered the chicken breast brushed with salt, which was luscious.

Still, the Yakitori menu's porky offerings are the most tantalizing. Tender and lined with chewy, bursting bits of fat, the pork neck is richly flavorful. The bite-sized morsels are dangerously easy to eat, and the wooden skewer left over after your focused munching is the perfect tool for prying out any stubborn strings of smoky, salted pig—not that I would know from experience, of course. 

The pork shiso is more visually appealing than tasty: Skinless pork belly gets wrapped around shiso leaves, forming artful spirals that look great but don't offer the flavor punch you might be expecting. Still, savor the subtle minty-ness of the grilled shiso leaves—my grub buddy detected citrus undertones—which are normally the garnish decorating a plate of sashimi. Here, the herbaceous leaves nicely complement the grilled meat. 

The bacon-wrapped asparagus is most resplendent of all, bringing together many different textures and flavors. The crunchy asparagus is a great partner to the soft, salty strips of bacon. Adding to the unadulterated joy of this menu offering, the bacon-and-asparagus bundles are pleasantly "lollipopped" at the end of each skewer, calling forth several similar yet slightly less sophisticated foods: popsicles, lollipops, cotton candy, drumsticks. 

Hinotez's appetizers are alluring, too: There's the salad of sautéed garlic chives and bean sprouts, a mildly flavored but pleasant dish. The Shumai dumplings, steamed and filled with pork, might have been frozen before being brought to your table, but the gumball-sized morsels are still delectable.   

Perhaps the unassuming dishes are also the most satisfying, though: Hinotez's avocado and cucumber salad is perfect and, in my opinion, far outshines the restaurant's seaweed offering.  

Dessert was a single scoop of green-tea ice cream, which, I'm guessing, had been spooned into its dish before being returned to the freezer because it was rock-hard and completely unresponsive to my desperate spoon-scrapings. Fortunately, it softened after a few minutes and proved to be just as delicious as I had hoped: sweet, but not overly so.

Returning to the puddle-soaked parking lot after nearly two hours at Hinotez, I felt just a little warmer and a whole lot fuller.

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