Dinner Is Fire

3 Destinations for Yakiniku, Japan's Answer to Korean Barbecue

Tabletop grills meet seafood, high-end steak, even the occasional s'more.

By Allecia Vermillion Photography by David Jaewon Oh Published in the Spring 2022 issue of Seattle Met

KBBQ's Japanese spin-off presents a more composed take on tabletop grilling. Yakiniku can involve seafood, garlic butter, carefully trimmed bites of beef or chicken, even a plate of s'mores. Funny how something as specific as tabletop grilled meat proves so versatile: satisfying for barbecue geeks, easy for neophytes. This trio of spots offer high-end cuts worthy of special occasions, but you're not likely to find a more family-friendly way to let kids play with fire. (Meanwhile, don't miss out on our favorite Korean barbecue spots.)

Gyu Kaku

Bellevue

The Japanese yakiniku chain managed to inject some darkened wood ambience into a strip mall on the Redmond-Bellevue border—and to find that tricky middle ground between casual lunch stop and blowout meat-o-rama. A modular menu offers combos big and small (including ones for kids) plus a dizzying roster of raw grillables: pork or rib eye in spicy umakara sauce, fat garlicky shrimp, shoyu chicken thighs, even duck breast and vegetables. The staff presents each plate with its recommended grill time, one of the many user-friendly touches that help novices navigate. Meals here conclude with that most hallowed of Japanese traditions: a plate of s’mores for the grill. 

Ishoni Yakiniku

Capitol Hill

Owner Steven Su blazed a local avenue for yakiniku with his original restaurant in Bellevue, which built an outsize reputation despite a mere six-table capacity. In 2021, Ishoni resurfaced in a larger address on North Broadway. The tranquil dining room, with its studio apartment–size booths, is serious about its new (smokeless) ceramic charcoal barbecue tables but also unafraid to serve the beef combo platter on an endearingly goofy wooden platter shaped like a cow. More proof of Ishoni’s willingness to combine playful with pedigree: a plate with all the fixings required to assemble tiny sandwiches of grilled A5 Wagyu and housemade truffle spread. A slate of vegetable and seafood options balance out trophy beef, and meals generally start by plunking a ramekin of garlic butter onto the grill to ensure it’s melty and ready for dipping.

Niku Niku

Northgate

Hoist open the enormous double doors and you’re no longer in the garishly fluorescent antechamber to the Asian Family Market on Aurora. This first U.S. outpost of a Taiwanese chain offers yakiniku at its most polished, from triple-digit Japanese Wagyu to the special glass vessels designed especially for chilled sake. Luxury proteins show up on most tables (Seattle’s especially fond of the Kurobuta pork, it seems), but even the budget-preserving Angus or chicken thighs get carefully trimmed into perfect bite-size parcels—no need to wield your own scissors. Niku Niku pairs each protein with an ideal marinade (be it spicy miso, simple salt and pepper, or none at all), and a personal palette of six house sauces means the DIY continues even after meat leaves the grill. 

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