We all believe we’re interior designers. You see one photo on Instagram, and you’ve convinced yourself those DIY sconces would look great in your bedroom. In reality, most of our apartments are mixes of IKEA furniture, things that didn’t break in college, and an end table you haggled for at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. And yet, at RBTA, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that the space could be so much better. This casual robata bar’s design is what holds it back from being a spot we'll come back to again and again.
RBTA is located in Highland Park, a neighborhood increasingly dominated by destination restaurants. This place, on paper, is the opposite - a low-key hangout you can walk into on a Saturday night, quickly find some seats, and not burn your whole paycheck in the process of eating dinner. But in reality, the space doesn’t lend itself well to actually hanging out. The mix of concrete walls and floors and stark fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling leave the whole place feeling cold and uncomfortable. Not exactly what you look for in a neighborhood drop-in spot. Which is a bummer, because most of the food at RBTA actually works pretty well.
The menu is primarily focused on robata - grilled things on skewers - and there are also some cold and hot small plates to round out your meal. The curry rice balls are spicy and hearty, and you’ll eat one order and wish you had another, but stay the course and move on to the shrimp fried rice. We'd order the sesame dressing that comes on top of the tuna and avocado in an IV bag if they'd let us. As for the skewers, we like the miso black cod, which is reminiscent of a certain Nobu dish of the same variety. So yes, most of RBTA’s food is good. But unfortunately, none of it is so fantastic that it makes up for the lackluster atmosphere around you.
If you happen to stumble into RBTA on a random weekday or a Saturday night when everything else in Highland Park is booked up, you’ll have a perfectly fine meal. You just won’t feel the need to hang out long afterwards. And not just because your DIY sconce needs fixing.
These are dense, delicious, and spicy. You’ll be tempted to order another round, but stay focused. There’s plenty of other solid food to come.
Is this dish doing anything particularly different? No. But it’s still a very good bowl of fried rice.
Probably our favorite thing on the menu. The tuna and avocado are both fresh and fantastic, but it’s that sesame dressing on top that seals the deal.
This is a dish you can skip. The crab itself is fine, but the issue is the bread that it comes on. It’s thick and chewy and not at all what you want while eating seafood.
These deep fried chicken thighs are one of those dishes you love on the first bite, but will get tired of by the last. The soy ginger marinade coupled with the garlic aioli and lemon on top end up tasting overkill, with way too many flavors involved.
The skewers at RBTA are small, so definitely order a few of them. Just make sure to order the black cod. It’s perfectly glazed and quite literally melts in your mouth.