It’s good. Hella good. When it comes to wagyu, I have to say Ishigaki beef stole my heart. Yes, I’d pick this over Kobe beef any day. It’s simply unforgettable. Lucky for us, this was widely available in Okinawa. Makes sense since the Ishigaki islands are basically neighbors. Getting the meat fresh should be easy. And what I’ve been finding out since my encounter of this beef has been eye opening. First of all, most, if not all, of the cattle raised to produce the world renown wagyu, such as Kobe and Matsuzaka, have been brought in from Ishigaki. There’s just some special characteristics of this breed that’s making them more sought out. And now the island is producing their very own grade for regional consumption. Marketed as a “healthier” fat, the beef has grown in popularity in the recent decade. Fortunately for us, we leveled up in this sitting of with Ishigaki beef.
In an unassuming section of Mishiki Public Market, there’s a small little shop named Shishiya serving cuts of this beef. It seems to be a local hang out with the occasional tourists, like us. And when I say small I mean there’s bar seating for about six inside with several tables outside. It’s an eat-and-go spot. But for us, it was a night of overindulgence.
We stopped by before lunch to make reservations for dinner at 7pm. It looked as though this wasn’t a normal thing for them, but they took my name anyways. We really wanted a seat at the bar and sure enough, that night, we got them!
The staff was very accommodating. The host did his best to drop any English he knew while letting us know his favorite cuts. Given the many cuts to choose from, we were happy with any advice. After we ordered and got our drinks, the cooking started. We watched as the chef worked his magic. He was very thoughtful presenting each dish, letting me snap a photo and explaining how to eat it. Oh and you gotta try beef with yuzukoshō, a citrus salt and pepper paste. That stuff was amazing. Sorry horseradish, I’ve found a new lover. Back to the beef. It tender and the fat was not overwhelming. Usually the richness limits of Kobe beef limits you to one cut of steak. This stuff… wow. I could keep eating. We had to order more. The sirloin. The rump. The hamburger. It went on and on. Oh it was shameful. By the end of the meal, we had five cuts of beef along with our appetizers. The host must have thought it was our last meal. And thinking back, it sorta was. We were in heaven.
3 Chome-1-1 Makishi
Naha, Okinawa Prefecture 900-0013 Japan
Verdict: As an inexpensive introduction into Ishigaki beef, this place is a must.
Similar to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, heading to the Makishi Public Market means you’re looking for fresh local seafood. They do sell other things, but if it’s sashimi you want, good sashimi you’ll get. What you want to do here is to order food on the first floor and have the restaurants on the second floor prepare it. It does cost extra to have them prepare anything. Quite frankly if you’re only getting sashimi, you’re basically paying for a seat.
For us, we wanted a few cooked dishes. The place we picked charged us ¥500 and had a recommendation on which fish vendor to visit. This is common and I don’t think one place does this better than another. Or at least, that’s what I like to think given the food preparation is simple. We choose a place given the atmosphere, fun and lively, but not too crowded. We talked over how it all worked then went downstairs. There were about ten different shops to visit and surprisingly they had Mandarin speaking workers. They must get a fair share of Chinese tourists. Once we went through everything we wanted to try, we let them know which restaurant we would be at. After paying we went upstairs and waited. The food came out within ten minutes. First was the sashimi which was no surprise. The workers behind the counter were focused on preparing sashimi. And no, this isn’t the type of place you want handcrafted nigiri. This was local eating.
The restaurant staff was attentive for the lunch crowd. There was only one but she was effective catering about seven large parties. All we needed extra to the meal were the beers, Orion beer that is. I was a happy camper after this meal.
Makishi Public Market (第一牧志公設市場)
2 Chome-10-1 Matsuo
Naha, Okinawa Prefecture 900-0014, Japan
Verdict: If you check it out, be a little patient and check out prices at all the shops.
You usually see umibudo as a side dish. However here at this Ganso Umibudo, they celebrate this savory sea grape as the main dish. It’s a rice bowl topped with umibudo, nagaimo, ikura, and uni. Put together so beautifully it was a bit heartbreaking to eat.
The restaurant is easy to get to if you have a car. It’s right on the 58 and has parking in the back. Once inside, the atmosphere is relaxed. The waitress sat us down in the center tables. On the walls you can see all the celebrities that have given the place a visit. They have definitely benefitted from being featured in travel shows. And after eating their famous dish, I can see why. It’s pretty unique.
Ganso Umibudo (元祖 海ぶどう 本店)
6091 Onna, Kunigami District
Okinawa Prefecture 904-0411, Japan
Verdict: Worth seeking out to try. Get the set with the Okinawa soba if you want a big meal.
You may think finding good sushi in Japan would be easy right? Well, if you know Okinawa, you’re in for a surprise. It will take a bit of work, weeding out those that focused on rolls, to find a premium place offering quality fish and a dedication to the craft of nigiri. Enter Jirocho Sushi, a restaurant right by Araha Beach in Chatan.
Once I got to the restaurant I was eager to try out the omakase. Inside, the restaurant was big with about three sections, the bar, the center dining area surrounded by sunken seating around the windows, to the more intimate dining area located off the main area. It looked like most of the locals ate in that section while the foreigners, myself included, sat in the brighter sections of the restaurant. I chose the sushi bar like any other lost hipster doing what he’s been conditioned to do, which was fine for me. They brought out an English menu and maybe it was the jetlag, but I ordered a feast.
Service was great and the food hit the spot. I know I’m a bit spoiled when it comes to sushi. And while I left satisfied, I did enjoy the other dishes more than the chef’s selection of nigiri. It was the same variety of fish I find at most restaurants. Yeah, I wish I wasn’t this much of a snob. 🙁
Jirocho Sushi (次郎長寿司)
1 Chome-12-9 Nakagami District
Chatan, Okinawa Prefecture 904-0116, Japan
Verdict: An above average place when it comes to selection and quality.
You can’t avoid Okinawa Soba if you wanted on this island. Everywhere you turn you’ll see a shop serving up this classic that you probably never seen outside of Japan. Not sure why this local dish hasn’t made it to the popup scene. Maybe that’s a good thing. Let’s keep this local secret here. And whenever I want another bowl, I’ll just have to come back to the Ryukyu Islands. I don’t mind, really.
There’s a whole bit of history behind this bowl of noodles, including its misclassification as a soba noodle. But putting that aside, it’s a lighter noodle soup than its close relative, ramen. Made with pork as its primary protein along with the pork broth, you’d expect the bowl to be overpowering, but it was nothing like that. It was perfect, especially when you’re dealing with the summer heat.
Although, in a span of seven days I’ve had about five meals that involved Okinawa Soba, I’m only going to highlight three. Not like the others were bad. These were the eye opening belly happy places that if you could only pick one, I’d say try one of these. I mean that’s why you’re here reading this right?
Hamaya Soba (浜屋そば)
2-99 Miyagi, Nakagami
Chatan, Okinawa Prefecture 904-0113, Japan
This was my favorite place. It was the third helping of soba for the week and instead of getting overloaded, I got re-energized over the stuff. It actually felt more like “Why didn’t I eat here all week?” I happened to be snorkeling right by the restaurant along the Sunabe Seawall and looked up this place for a post swim meal. What a find!
The place is foreigner friendly with their signs, menus, and staff. And I guess it must be pretty popular because a film crew was on location filming the kitchen. Not a bad sign. So how was the bowl? Simply delicious. Even on a hot day I found myself finishing the bowl completely. I guess I needed to stay hydrated. I can’t say the same for the jushi rice. Only able to get through half of it before deciding not to stuff myself.
Verdict: Must go! Get some snorkeling in while you’re out here.
1 Chome-6-10 Ameku
Naha, Okinawa Prefecture 900-0005, Japan
Now this was the first place I had Okinawa Soba. It was nearby where I was staying by so I stopped by. It had a small coffee shop feel. A small space for you and your friends to stop by and get a bowl of noodles. It’s self serve when it comes to getting water, but I was there to try out this much talked about bowl of goodness. After trying out all types of soba throughout the week, I had to place this on the list. They delivered a solid rendition of this classic.
They’re situated behind a shopping center and difficult to get to without a car. Parking is on the other side of the street (in case you can’t read Japanese).
Verdict: If you happen to be close by and don’t want to deal with tourists and crowds. Don’t go too late because they did run out of their jushi rice.
473 Kina, Nakagami District
Yomitan, Okinawa Prefecture 904-0302, Japan
We were on the hunt for beni-imo (purple sweet potato) soba noodles, but we arrived late and they were out. However, they had something else for us to try, a bowl of Okinawa Soba made with green noodles. That was interesting to try and write about. Because of the creativity, it made the list. Sure there’s the purple noodles to try next time, but to keep within the theme of this post, it’s about the noodle soup, which surprisingly enough was good.
This restaurant was had English menus which helped in the service department for ordering food. However, the rest is up to you if you wanted water or tea. They have a machine which you need to know a bit of Japanese or even Chinese to use. Keep that Google translate close at hand.
Verdict: Swing by for beautiful photos of food that won’t leave your tummy disappointed.
Sushi in kaiseki style is the theme of the omakase at Kusakabe. And that drew us here. Along with the fact that it was finally a bit easier getting a reservation. That is of course, if you don’t mind four weeks advanced booking for a table at opening time. We certainly didn’t.
Inside there was seated and given a tasting of dashi as the waitress explained the meal. There were two types of omakase. The normal included 19 items with a price of $95USD a person while the Grand included 25 items with a hefty price tag of $150USD a person. It was a Friday night so why not? We went for broke and got the Grand Omakase. Also we didn’t want to sit there after the meal wondering what six items we had missed. That’s the real eater’s remorse. After we ordered the server explained that we should eat the nigiri with our hands and clean our fingers with the oshibori cloth she provided. I always heard that sushi was meant to be eaten with your hands but never tried it. Now I could say I have and now understand why. You can read about that below in the pictures.
Throughout the meal I realized many of the dishes we had we weren’t going to find around the city. There’s not many serving kaiseki for one, then with sushi, that brings the number to about two in my head. What we were having was a meal to remember. And as I’m writing this I’m already thinking about when I’ll be able to try it again. Way to bring this level of food to the city Kusakabe!
584 Washington St
San Francisco, CA 94111
+1 (415) 757-0155
Verdict: Yes, it’s worth the wait, the hype, and the price.
New York’s Koreatown has some of the best BBQ restaurants around and today we could confirm that statement. My friend arranged dinner for us at Don’s Bogam BBQ, a favorite for this New York alumni. Little did I know, this was a Michelin Recommended restaurant that, come to think of it, was the first for me when it comes to KBBQ. Wow. A place I go, to gorge on beef, drink lots of beer and soju, celebrate with my friends in the most rambunctious manner and leaving with the sticky film of smoke and garlic. This type of place got the attention of the Michelin peeps. Well, when we got to the restaurant I could see that I was about to up level my KBBQ experience.
The restaurant was like a merger between the traditional and high class dining. We had a few drinks at the fancy bar in front while we waited for everyone to arrive. Table for twelve? Not a problem. However, we had to be split us between two tables of six. Understandable because they are very service driven here. Even though the menu says “Cook your own” the servers do all the cooking for you at your table. So they need the tables to be accessible for the servers. I loved the attention and only had to flag someone down once to, you guessed it, order more of their wonderful beef. Yum!
Expect to stay at least an hour to relax and enjoy your dinner. This isn’t your typical KBBQ place that’s trying to rush people in and out. And although the higher pricing may keep people away, it means you’ll hardly see a line outside. But to be safe, make a reservation.
Don’s Bogam BBQ
17 E 32nd St
New York, NY 10016
+1 (212) 683-2200
Verdict: On the pricey side yet well worth it.
On the list of restaurants to try is Momofuku. If it isn’t on your list, it should be. David Chang has several restaurants in New York with others worldwide, each one catering to a genre in Asian taste. I wouldn’t come close to saying it’s fusion or even experimental. I’d like to think of it as the classic journey of an artist, pushing the boundaries of modern mediums. Here at Ssäm Bar I got my first glimpse into his work.
Reservations were a must, especially with our party of eight. Booking a month advanced, there were two openings, 5:30pm or 10:00pm. Of course the later time worked with our West Coast time frame for dinner. So we chose that. And with our group size, we had to go with the $75 prix fixe menu. There were wine pairing options for an additional price of $50 and up. We decided to order off the drink menu, a decision I personally didn’t regret. I had found myself a new favorite drink!
The courses themselves were brought as plates for sharing, family style. Something we weren’t quite expecting, but we’re all friends here. So that didn’t stop us from enjoying every spoonful. Each dish was brought out all at once so no one was left waiting for their dish. The staff was well synchronized on that. However, dinner was long and spanned over 2 hours. It was a good two hours though. By the end of it, we were so stuffed, I forgot to take pictures of the dessert, a Trifle – honey ice cream topped with broken bits of deep fried mantou. Oh it was so amazing that our typical non-dessert eaters were caught finishing the bowl.
Yeah, I loved it, even though half the dishes were a miss for me. Setting aside all the hype, I have to admit, each dish was unique. They were taste combinations I’m not going to easily find, except at other Momofuku restaurants. Great. Did I just sign myself up for more adventures? I better start making reservations.
Ssäm Bar – Momofuku
207 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003
+1 (212) 254-3500
Verdict: Come with a small group to order off the menu or a larger one to try the pork shoulder. I’ll see you next time pork shoulder!