A Costa Mesa classic for the District:
PHOTO by RICK POON
Dining at Anjin is a practice of patience, a lesson in how to temper your hunger while you wait at a place so perpetually packed that it logs hour-long lines 10 minutes after opening. But every eater at Anjin knows this. Some decide to kick around the concrete outside; others take a quick shopping break instead.
Kill time inside, however, and you endure a much different experience, your mind and spirit and stomach all worn down by relentless sizzling from the tabletop grills. It’s then that your eyes start to pick through every inch of the restaurant, shifting from the huge hoods and vents hanging over each table to the wall-mounted spotlights shining on those gas-powered grills. By the end of your wait, when your gaze fades to a hungry blur, you notice something more peculiar: a set of sculptures hung near the kitchen, each piece depicting a face of the seven deadly sins. Initially, the restaurant’s moralizing design doesn’t make any sense—it’s only well into your grill-it-yourself meal that it becomes clear.
Although Anjin’s self-cooking can at first seem overwhelming, the restaurant’s yakiniku style is truly foolproof, with bite-sized raw foods prepped for the quickest and easiest grilling. The menu is spread out with nearly every possible protein—rich cuts like Kobe beef and pork cheeks, or acquired tastes like intestines and chicken legs. Vegetables get the grill, too, served scored for maximum efficiency. There are even plates that bridge the two, like asparagus wrapped in bacon.
Despite that variety, Anjin is a restaurant devoted to meat. Here, beef is the focus, with one of the best and most economical choices being the prime short rib. Like all of Anjin’s meats, the short rib is of excellent quality, cut thin into practically see-through slices that are obscured only by marbled ripples of fat. Once the slices are laid on the grill, the beef becomes a thing of lust, crisping up in front of you in a fixating process that’s extremely satisfying. The result is a piece of meat far more tender and pleasing than just about any steak.
Seafood also appears on Anjin’s menu. There’s squid and other items from the ocean, but the best bet is the scallops, which take the grill’s high heat better than almost any other seafood. It helps that the scallops maintain Anjin’s excellent quality—the freshest little medallions that, after a minute or so on the grill, practically melt away on first bite.
To offset the potential gluttony of a meat-only meal, Anjin also offers an excellent vegetable plate. The dish comes piled high with carrots, onions, corn, peppers, eggplant and a couple varieties of mushrooms, all of which are well-suited for the grill and perfectly complement the rest of the menu.
Tying all this together even further is Anjin’s addictive duo of dipping sauces: a garlic-sesame sauce and a sweet soy-based sauce. Everything on Anjin’s menu does well with a dip in either—the rich cuts of beef turn even more tender, the sweet notes of the scallops are intensified and the simple flavors of the grilled vegetables get some complexity.
Given that nearly all of the restaurant’s items are cooked at the table, dining at Anjin is a long process. But never mind that—Anjin simply forces you to savor the restaurant’s great food. It’s then, finally, that those seven deadly sins start to make sense. What Anjin does, in fact, is cycle you through the culinary equivalent of those sins—look up from the grill and you can catch eager eaters queuing up with envious eyes, jealous of those already enjoying their meals. And take a look at your own table and you’ll probably find yourself enjoying the food a little too much. But Anjin’s lessons in patience pay off, as the restaurant ultimately delivers a stomach full of selflessness that begs you to give up your seat and let someone else take in the tastes of the grill.
ANJIN 3033 BRISTOL ST | STE N | COSTA MESA 92626 | 714.979.6700 | OPEN DAILY 5PM-1AM | FOOD FOR TWO $30-50 | BEER, WINE, SAKE