It’s all about the sauce. At Teriyaki House on 1st St.—a shabby well-worn diner that’s served grilled beef sticks, burgers, and fried rice for more than two decades—a small tin can of teriyaki sauce sits to one side of the grill. Far removed from the sweet stuff you’ll find at most Japanese-American joints, the sauce at Teriyaki House is salty, tangy, and complex. It’s as viscous as aged balsamic vinegar and just as pitch-black. The owner, an elderly Japanese woman named Sachi, makes a large batch daily using her own secret recipe, enough for the kitchen and enough to fill several bottles that line the laminated wood counter.
Tucked into the far southwestern corner of Koreatown, Teriyaki House’s remaining clientele are mostly Latino, as is the restaurant’s grill cook (who shares the workload with Sachi). The menu offers a wide selection of combo plates, which include a can of soda than you pull from an antique Coca-Cola fridge in the back. For $8, you’ll receive a large portion of wok-cooked fried rice, a cheeseburger, and two beef teriyaki skewers. You can swap in a few pieces of fried shrimp or a fried egg if you like.
The teriyaki cheeseburger, with it’s thin, well-done patty, raw onions, vulcanized American cheese, is admirable in a backyard BBQ sort of way. The charred beef skewers are marinated to the point of being beef jerky, but are surprisingly edible. The homemade fried rice is supremely comforting. All three are improved by an extra drizzle of that fantastic sauce.
It’s unclear how much longer Teriyaki House will be around given factors like the age of the owner and the rapidly changing neighborhood. But until then, this humble diner—complete with weathered screen door and newspapers strewn across the counter—is charming in it’s own offbeat way. Maybe if I visit a few more times, I can find out that recipe for that sauce…