The “Grand Opening” banner outside Teriyami is beginning to decay, which is what happens when plastic is left to face the elements for more than half a year. On the soundtrack is FM 94.7 The Wave. Whoever happens to work the counter beside the nice owner and the Latina cook never seems to get your order right. But other than those three sins, Teriyami is yet another delicious example of how the teriyaki bowl continues to evolve in Orange County.
This spot—tucked awkwardly between a Stater Brothers and a Laundromat—is simplicity at its finest. Bowls and plates contain beef, chicken or kalbi, the latter a natural choice considering Tustin’s large Korean community. A plate selection earns you macaroni salad, greens and other unnecessary roughage; the bowls feature meat piled atop white rice, with steamed cabbage serving as a buffer between the two. Diners can choose between grilling their meat over gas or coals, but the difference in taste is negligible: You’re still going to scarf down thick, juicy, perfectly charred chunks.
Great teriyaki bowls aren’t a find on the level of Sri Lankan cuisine or battleship tacos, but sometimes the gut demands something straightforward and filling. Thankfully, Teriyami does sneak in surprises. The teriyaki sauce reeks of garlic and ginger—and that’s a good thing, transforming what’s almost always a sickly sweet, unremarkable condiment into something potent, lingering on the palate and mind. Teriyami also offers bottles of barbecue sauce—a strange option, maybe thicker than it should be, but containing chile seeds and a burn that coats the meat and seeps into every rice grain, ensuring you won’t toss the bowl until it’s barren. And the pickled wax peppers, swimming in a container next to the soy sauce? Better-suited for a Philly cheesesteak, but surprisingly effective.
The latter two spicy efforts are a blatant attempt to draw in Mexicans, who are fast becoming the last ethnicity that truly appreciates the teriyaki bowl. That’s why horchata is on tap, only the second teriyaki business I’ve seen after the Mos 2 chain to offer the drink. It really is the ideal beverage to enjoy with the meal: the cold, super-sugary jolt cools your mouth after eating too much spice, complementing the teriyaki sauce and the naturally sweet meat. Yoshinoya, Flame Broiler, Yogi’s and the other teriyaki chains: Can you hear the Reconquista?
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Teriyami, 14215 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 832-3323.
This column appeared in print as "Tasty Teriyaki In Tustin."