Many people probably know Benihana, the iconic Japanese-style hibachi restaurant that debuted in 1964 where chefs grill proteins on a teppanyaki (steel griddle) and put on a show. Benihana counts beating heart-shaped fried rice, an onion volcano, and shrimp flipped into toques among their signature moves. Mobile teppanyaki isn’t quite as theatrical—yet—but Bachi Yaki, El Arabachi, Kyoto Hibachi, and Benihibachi all operate hibachi truck fleets across California that cook premium proteins like filet mignon, lobster tails, and King crab legs that can cost up to $45 per plate.
Kyoto Hibachi co-owner Jo Chau’s family has been in the produce business for 80 years. She drew on fond childhood memories of “eating the freshest produce and seafood” possible and left her accounting career to partner with college classmate Craig Bowser on teppanyaki trucks.
“I want to bring my kitchen closer to my customers,” she says. “A truck is more easily accessible… Wait time is also significantly shorter than a traditional dine-in restaurant.” The model seems to be working, since Kyoto Hibachi parks trucks downtown and in two Hollywood locations.
Chicken, steak, and shrimp are in heavy rotation, though some customers prefer King crab legs, lobster tails, and salmon. Kyoto Hibachi makes all food to-order, pairing proteins with vegetables and a choice of steamed or fried rice. Chau is particularly proud of her fried rice, saying, “I made it very close to how my grandmother used to make it for me when I was a kid.”
Actor-musician-producer Joey Abril and wife Cindy Cea partnered on El Arabachi with Mike Perez, a veteran SoCal chef and culinary instructor. This “fusion cuisine” concept debuted last year, but El Arabachi’s three trucks have already become known for roaming Jurupa Valley, Ontario, and the San Gabriel Valley. They also just launched at Barrio Food Hub ghost kitchen in San Diego.
I caught up with the “express” trailer for a pop-up in front of El Sereno Branch Library. An exhibition window provides prime views of sizzling proteins on the griddle. Their seared tuna lunch special featured rosy, pepper-crusted tuna slices plated with egg- and carrot-flecked fried rice and stir-fried mushrooms, onions, and zucchini. El Arabachi’s menu also hosts scallops, shrimp, lobster tails, and “supreme” combos. Unique sauces include smoked teriyaki, agave chile, and “lava.” Mexican influence allows for aguas frescas like tangy apple cranberry and peaches & cream.
“Teppanyaki has been a favorite food style of ours for a long time,” Perez says. “We frequented establishments like Benihana and Shogun, where premier teppanyaki was being served…We discovered a food truck serving teppanyaki in Los Angeles. We were excited to see this type of food being produced with the simplicity of a food truck. We decided that we could produce teppan food of a higher quality, but we wanted to do something unique. We decided to take teppanyaki and give it a Mexican twist.”
One founding member ran a seafood distribution company called El Arabe’s Seafood and provided facilities and resources to help launch the business. To honor his contributions, the partners still use his nickname and image in their logo though he’s no longer affiliated with El Arabachi.
Bachi Yaki operates bright-red trucks decorated with colorful cartoon characters in DTLA, North Hollywood, and Paramount. They initially took direct aim at Benihana with their motto: “Benihana Done Better!” The company actually started with the Beni Yaki name but, no wonder, had to change to Bachi Yaki and update their motto to “Hibachi Done Better!” I found their downtown truck in a parking lot near L.A. Live.
Bachi plates are available in two- and three-protein combos, and they also stray from the norm with bachi burritos featuring a choice of protein, fried rice and veggies wrapped in spinach tortillas. “Yaya’s thicc n juicy” noodles are another atypical offering that features tangy udon stir-fried with zucchini, mushrooms, and onions, served on a bed or fried or white rice bed and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Each plate comes with a choice of two sauces from a potent pool that includes whipped garlic butter, spicy malverde fire, and sweet yumi yaki.
The bright-red Benihibachi truck has parked across from L.A. Live for about two years, setting up red pop-up tents, tables, and chairs. Benihibachi now operates locations as far away as Oakland and Las Vegas and opened an adjacent DTLA restaurant last fall featuring murals of fiery hibachi chefs wielding knives and spatulas, surrounded by flames.
Benihibachi’s menu mixes and matches seven different proteins, including lobster, scallops, and New York steak. Plates come with steamed white rice and vegetables. Fried rice and sauces are supplemental, including garlic butter, a ginger slurry, and spicy diablo sauce.
Hibachi trucks don’t offer as much flair as their sit-down counterparts, but they bring parts of the experience to the streets. In some cases, they can also be more experimental. I’d recommend ordering ahead; hibachi trucks streamline the level of ritual found in restaurants, but this isn’t exactly fast food.
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