It’s not uncommon for restaurants and or chefs to come to Honolulu from Japan and set up shop. This phenomenon leads to a particularly exciting Japanese food scene. Here are my top picks of recently opened Japanese restaurants in Honolulu, direct from Japan, from my most recent visit.
Located on Kapahulu and tucked away on the second floor of an office complex this hidden treasure is insanely popular after being open just a few months. And for good reason. Tamafuji Tonkatsu is an import from Sapporo and everyone is talking about it. A local friend told me I must order the shrimp, the oysters and the pork. All are prepared in the tonkatsu style, meaning breaded and fried until shatteringly crisp on the outside yet gushing with juiciness on the inside. It’s a simple formula. You pick one of three different kinds of rice, grind some sesame seeds in your bowl and add sauce to taste. There is unlimited shredded cabbage and some jars with Japanese pickles on the table. But oh, the tonkatsu! It’s definitely as good as the tonkatsu I stood in for in Tokyo. Take my friend’s advice. Go with some friends and order a bit of each. No reservations, prepare to wait in line.
449 Kapahulu Avenue
Hee Hing Plaza, second floor
Denizens of Los Angeles know Tsujita, a branch of a Tokyo noodle shop that opened over 5 years ago. Lots of ramen shops thrive in Honolulu and each has their own specialty and Tsujita is no exception. At Tsujita Hawaii the must order dish is tsukemen, also known as dipping noodles. Stretchy ramen noodles are served in a bowl with a ridiculously thick syrup like soup on the side. It’s all so that your noodles stay chewy and don’t soften in the soup. The effect of perfectly cooked noodles and a rich thick soup to dip them in is pure genius. A little comic strip explains how to eat tsukemen. You can add a squeeze of lime to cut through the richness and once your bowl begins to empty you can request some broth to be added. You can also add kuro-shichimi seasoning to you noodles if you want some heat.Tsujita is located downstairs in Yokocho Gourmet Alley in Waikiki.
2250 Kalakaua Ave
Yakitori Hachibei is located in Chinatown in a lovely exposed brick building. The best seats are at the counter where you can watch the yakitori chef grilling away. It’s a restaurant that originated as a butcher shop in Fukuoka Prefecture. They now have locations in Tokyo and Taiwan and at each location they pride themselves on using high quality local produce. In addition to classic styles of grilled skewers and grilled pieces of chicken, they also offer innovative and unique creations such as sukiyaki on a stick, a kalbi skewer with vegetables, bacon and grilled egg maki and grilled mozzarella maki. I also thoroughly enjoyed the salad which was overflowing with fresh vegetables in addition to greens. It’s difficult to get a reservation so be sure to call as far in advance as you can!
20 North Hotel Street
Good sushi is not hard to find in Hawaii. Maru Sushi another Sapporo import, from a Michelin-starred sushi bar no less takes it to another level. The vast majority of the fish they serve comes from Hokkaido. Located in a strip mall location right around the corner from the Hawaii Convention Center, it can be a bit tricky to find since there is no obvious sign. The sushi bar has just 8 seats and the cost for the omakase only menu is around $200 per person. But the experience is exquisite. Some standouts included squid “somen” filely sliced into delicate slivers topped with yuzukosho, crispy white shrimp and sayori cured in kombu also known as Japanese half beak or needlefish.
1731 Kalakaua Ave
I use this Honolulu Dining Guide Google map to keep track of all my favorite restaurants in Honolulu. But I recently got another beautiful Honolulu map, the one at the top of this post, to keep stay focused on my home away from home. It's from Modern Map Art and is available as a poster in various sizes. Head over to find the city of your dreams!
Disclaimer: I paid for all meals myself, however I was given the lovely map as a gift. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post.