[Santa Clara, CA] Iroriya, robatayaki/ himono specialist

Iroriya is one of those restaurants that would get written about much more if it is in SF, Oakland or Berkeley. It has been around for a few years, got a total of one thread dedicated to it and 3 other mentions, which is, absurdly infrequent for what it adds to the dining scene in the Bay Area. Iroriya specializes in robata cooking, and within this category, himono. And they do their grilling very well. Robata is a Japanese way of grilling over charcoal, often seafood and vegetables, and at Iroriya, over slow and lower temperature non-burning oak binchotan imported from Kishu, Japan that doesn’t impart off-flavors like other charcoals.

Himono is sun-dried charcoal grilled fish, with the drying intensifying the seafood flavors and sometimes provides a contrasting flavor and texture between the outer layers and inner layers of the same piece of seafood if its partially dried.

A meal this week, all robata items:

Hobo (方々魚 / red gurnard/ sea robin). Seasonal/ off-menu himono item. Flaky smooth inside, dried, a little chewy and savory outside. A delightful combination of fresh and dry.

Tako leg (octopus leg). Cross between octopus-jerky if there ever is such a thing and grilled octopus. Marinated in shoyu? Sweet and intense seafood taste with a chewy texture.

Mochi Isobeyaki. Quite enjoyed the char/ grill flavor on this rice cake.

Nagaimo (長芋/ mountain yam/ 山藥). The yam had a unique, mineral-y taste when grilled. Quite delicious.

Hamaguri (はまぐり / hard clam) Came in 3. Sweet, bright, and salty at the same time.

Jyaga butter. Elevated version of Wendy’s baked potato. Delicious, skin and all.

Other items:

Isaki (イサキ/ gruntfish). This one was a ‘regular’ fish, not a himono.

Aka Ebi (red shrimp)

Yaki onigiri/ grilled rice ball

Part of the robata menu:

The binchotan at work behind the counter.

Still incognito. Right next to Orenchi in a random strip mall in Santa Clara.


How’d you like the food? We had some pretty good items there, and some ok items. Notably, our sashimi had some bones in it! Service was sometimes nice, sometimes very gruff. I had high hopes for this place but maybe I went on an off night.

For myself, I’d focus on himono, skip the regularly grilled fishes and seafood that one can get in other yakitori-yas, get one or two other items per person, carb, and some drinks. I think they grill non-himono items ok, but their raison d’etre is himono. Himono is to me better value, less easily found in the Bay Area and more interesting tasting than the rest, which can be found in other fine yakitori-yas in SF/ San Mateo, East Bay. With that said, I am not very aware of many other good yakitori-yas in the South Bay so if one wants non-himono yakitoris, Iroriya, and its sister restaurant Sumika do an adequate job.

What did you like there? And what fell flat besides the sashimi? But bones in sashimi- that’s just not good. Perhaps because they focus their energy on the robata cooking that sashimi is an after thought for them. Bones aside, how’s the fish?

We got very nice servers that evening. So the service was cheery and efficient. I noticed that they were very well-staffed that evening, maybe even surprisingly so for a dining room of that size.

Iroriya is now open for lunch, serving lunch sets like tonkatsus, and sashimis, though not terribly exciting, similar to many other Japanese lunches out there.

Sadly, Iroriya is no more. Last day will be tomorrow. They will then close for a week and reopen as the second branch of the izakaya Sumika.


Too bad about Iroriya. I had been intrigued to try it as it’s nice to see Japanese food represented in some form other than Ramen and Sushi around here but never got around to it. It also didn’t seem like great value from a price perspective.

What’s your favorite yakitori spot in the area? Have not tried any in South Bay but have been to Kokko in San Mateo and found the meat quality to be mediocre and many items were overcooked/underseasoned.

I think they allude to the price point issue in their announcement that they will change Iroriya to their cheaper cousin Sumika. I thought Iroriya reservations aren’t that easy to come by so I thought they were doing ok, but perhaps its not bringing in as much money in a similar sized space compared to Sumika, Orenchi, etc.

I don’t really have one since I don’t have a lot of yakitori-ya near me. I’d have to go to San Mateo for real ones. I think there are some in San Jose near Cupertino but that’s a little far for me. I went to Sumika a few times, but I like places where I can more easily sit at the counter right before the grill where the chef just hands the still-hot skewer to me after its done. For some reason I never got a counter seat at Sumika so I need to try harder.

In general, I don’t really go to izakayas that aren’t run by Japanese. Those are mostly imitators- they don’t get the nuance right.

There’s a new kaiseki restaurant in RWC- Ranzan. I haven’t paid much attention to it and have just been waiting to hear how people compare them against Wakuriya.

If you don’t lump udon with ramen, there’s Uzumakiya in Cupertino that opened a few months ago. There’s Kemuri in RWC, which is run by the same people as Uzumakiya, which I don’t know which category it falls under. There’s Kappo Nami Nami, which serves Kappo cuisine.

I’ll have to try the new Sumika once it opens. There are a few in the SJ, Santa Clara area as you said but they are a little far for me as well. Have not really found any true Izakayas around here as you noted a lot of them tend to be americanized and offer ramen/sushi/etc. which tends to water down the rest of the menu. Kaiseki is not really my thing so never tried it but have read good reviews of Wakuriya.

Udon and Soba I do consider separate from Ramen but have found few places that seem to specialize in them. I did read about Uzumikiya and find it strange that the broth is pretty much like Ramen broth. From my experience Udon broth is it’s own genre and is not usually interchangeable with Ramen broth. Do you know of any places that make Udon/Soba in house?

Yeah, when I think of udon/ soba I tend to think about them along the lines of what Soba Ichi in Oakland is serving, but that’s quite far. Closer by, its said the new Taro-san in Stanford Mall makes their udon in house, though I haven’t been.

Looks interesting. I do stop by there occasionally so may have to give it a try once the lines die down.

Don’t forget Marugame Udon, even thought it’s a global chain, for made-in-house udon.

Taro-san is good as well but toppings are not very traditional if that’s what you’re looking for.

For south bay Yakitori, Sumika is probably one of the better ones around. The other popular ones are Sumiya and Gaku (same owner) and Ajito in Cupertino.

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Fish market.
Credit: Ramesh SA, Flickr