Casual Cuisine of the Southern Islands - Habuya Okinawan Dining [Thoughts + Pics]

Habuya Okinawan Dining is a charming, tiny mom & pop eatery specializing in the cuisine of Okinawa, Japan. While Sushi and Ramen usually garner the most coverage and popularity, Okinawan cuisine represents a fascinating look at various foods that stand out from the more ubiquitous “Japanese food” menus.

Walking into the quaint restaurant, you’re greeted by the friendly staff and your eyes are bombarded by all the bright, colorful and kitschy decoration on the walls. :slight_smile: It feels festive from the moment you enter.

Perusing the menu, there are some key standout Okinawan dishes, as well as more commonly found Japanese comfort food items as well. I’m always on the lookout for a great Japanese Curry, so we decided to see how Habuya’s turned out…

Pork Cutlet Curry:

The complimentary Side Salad was fine. There were a couple of the Mixed Greens that were starting to brown (but this sadly common at many places). But otherwise, the Housemade Dressing and rest of the Greens made for a nice little starter.

The complimentary Soup wasn’t the standard Miso Soup seen any many local places, but a clear Konbu Dashi that was warming and another nice way to begin the meal.

The Tonkatsu (Deep Fried Pork Cutlet) was nicely fried. It’s not going to topple Tonkatsu specialist Kagura, but for a tasty bite of comfort food, this hit the spot. :blush: The Pork Cutlet within was juicy as well, with the breading exhibiting a slight light crunch.

The Housemade Curry was nourishing and tasted more elevated and more complex than the standard S&B or House Foods flavor profile. We like nearby Tanakaya’s fantastic Housemade Curry more, but this was tasty enough, comforting, with a fair price to boot ($10).

And I loved that they serve it with a healthy Mixed Grain Rice. :blush:

Stewed Pork Rib, Pork Belly, Pork Foot Lunch Set:

While the English name doesn’t really say too much, Habuya’s Stewed Pork Rib, Pork Belly and Pork Foot Set is actually a greatest hits of Okinawan cuisine all in 1 delicious Lunch Set. :slight_smile:

Tebichi (Okinawan Style Stewed Pork Foot):

The Tebichi was delicious! Slow Stewed Pork Foot is cooked down to a ultra tender consistency, savory, mouth-watering morsels of porcine goodness in a light Soy Sauce & Mirin flavored Sauce. Highlight of the trio! :blush:

Sokini (Okinawan Style Stewed Pork Rib):

Their Sokini (Okinawan Style Stewed Pork Rib) was also fantastic: Stewed, tender Pork Ribs, in a similar lightly sweet Soy Sauce-based Sauce. :blush:

Rafute (Okinawan Style Stewed Berkshire Pork Belly):

Their Rafute (or Okinawan Style Stewed Pork Belly) was the only disappointment on this visit: It tasted old, like it was reheated refrigerated leftovers. :frowning: It wasn’t terrible, but there’s the unmistakable funk of meat that’s been cooked a few days earlier, being reheated. It didn’t taste freshly cooked. But recipe flavor-wise, it was similar to the Sokini and Tebichi.

(Complimentary) Housemade Pickles:

These were excellent! Wonderfully tart-salty with a nice crunch.

(Complimentary) Mixed Grain Rice:

And as before, you have a choice of Steamed White Rice or Mixed Grain Rice. Their Mixed Grain Rice is a healthy alternative and I loved the light nuttiness of it as well. :slight_smile:

Okinawa Soba:

The Lunch Set also comes with a generous bowl of Okinawa Soba(!). One thing that throws people (new to Okinawan food) for a loop is when they hear the term “Okinawa Soba” and immediately think of the more commonly seen thin Japanese Soba Noodles made with Buckwheat Flour. Okinawan Soba is more akin to Udon Noodles, thick, hefty Noodles served in a clear, light Dashi Broth.

2nd Visit:

Goya Kimchi (Bitter Melon Kimchi):

Another noteworthy item from Okinawan cuisine is the use of Goya (or Bitter Melon) in various dishes. Habuya’s Goya Kimchi is potently bitter! :slight_smile: Pungent, bitter, salty with a slight al dente quality, it’s a nice wake up call to the taste buds.

Grade A5 Miyazaki Wagyu Beef Rice Bowl Set:

In a bit of shock for such a casual, laid-back restaurant, Habuya serves a Grade A5 Wagyu Beef Bowl(!). :open_mouth: The prohibitively expensive Beef from Japan, true Grade A5 Wagyu Beef carries a hefty price tag, and felt a bit out of place for a little mom & pop shop like this.

Visually something was off, as it looked nothing like real Grade A5 Wagyu. It was also overcooked completely for a such a delicate and well-marbled meat. :frowning: Taking a bite… tough, chewy, if this was real A5 Wagyu, then they unfortunately destroyed it. :sob: This tasted like an overcooked, standard USDA Select Flap Steak at best.

The Okinawa Soba that comes with the A5 Wagyu Beef Set was the best part of the lunch combo.

Jimami Tofu (Homemade Okinawan Style Peanut Tofu):

Their Homemade Okinawan Style Peanut Tofu was softer than normal Silken Tofu, lightly nutty and a pleasant starter.

Umi Budou (Okinawan Sea Grapes):

This edible Seaweed is crunchier than most Seaweed you might be used to eating. It’s lightly oceanic, refreshing (chilled) and another nice palate cleanser before the heavier meat dishes.

Stewed Pork Rib, Pork Belly, Pork Foot Lunch Set:

Wanting to see how their consistency was, we ordered the Stewed Pork Rib, Pork Belly and Pork Foot Lunch Set again.

Rafute (Okinawan Style Stewed Berkshire Pork Belly):

Their Rafute (Okinwan Style Stewed Berkshire Pork Belly) was better on this visit, but still not really fresh (this one tasted like it was only the night before’s leftovers). It also wasn’t as tender as you’d expect Stewed Pork Belly to be.

Sokini (Okinawan Style Stewed Pork Rib):

The Sokini was as delicious as the previous visit, fresh-tasting, tender, fall off the bone Stewed Pork Rib. :blush:

Their Tebichi (Okinawan Stewed Pork Foot) was still as great as before as well. :slight_smile:

4th Visit:

Habuya serves an expanded menu for Dinner, so we had to pay them another visit. :wink:

Orion Beer (Draft) (Okinawa, Japan):

Ah! It had been so long (well before COVID-19 / 2020) since I’ve had Orion (Okinawa’s most famous Beer) on draft! Super crisp, refreshing, this was fantastic and easy drinking to start Dinner! :blush:

Edamame (Steamed Soy Beans):

Excellent, addictive.

Ton Ton Ton (Stewed Mix Pork):

This was basically the Dinner portion of their Lunch Special with all 3 Okinawan Stewed Pork dishes. For this 3rd time trying it (now at Dinner service), it was pretty consistent as before: The Tebichi Stewed Pork Foot was fresh, tender and the best item. The Sokini (Okinawan Stewed Pork Rib) was also very good, fresh-tasting and tender and savory, and the Rafute (Stewed Pork Belly) is their weak link.

Kirakucho - Chokarakuchi - Junmai Ginjo Sake (Shiga, Japan):

This came recommended by our waitress. The Kirakucho was indeed a dry finish, but the initial taste was harsh on the palate, with a strong alcohol burn, almost astringent like a bad Soju, before finishing dry. :frowning: (@ColinMorey @ipsedixit @A5KOBE)

We’d probably stick with their selection of Awamori (Okinawan distilled alcoholic beverage) or go with more tried and true, safer Sake such as: Hakkaisan Yukimuro, Nanbu Bijin “Southern Beauty” Tokubetsu Junmai, Dassai 39, or Tama no Hikari Junmai Daiginjo Sake.

Yaki Tebichi (Grilled Pork Feet):

Their Okinawan Style Stewed Pork Feet (Tebichi) were already excellent, but you must try their Yaki Tebichi (Grilled Okinawan Style Pork Feet) for Dinner! The outer Pork Skin is grilled to a slightly crisped exterior, giving way to gelatinous and meaty Pork within. Lightly seasoned, savory and utterly delicious! :heart: :blush:

Don’t forget to add a little bit of Koregusu (Okinawan Chili Condiment) to cut through the fattiness:

It’s made with Awamori steeped in Chilies. :slight_smile:

Kani Kuri-mu Korokke (Crab Cream Croquette):

In a big surprise, Habuya’s Crab Cream Croquette is wonderful! Perfectly fried, not too oily, with a rich, creamy, molten center with a nice balance of flavors. One of the best versions we’ve had locally. :blush:

Tori Karaage (Chicken Karaage):

Their Tori Karaage, or Japanese Fried Chicken, is decent. It’s not as standout as Torihei’s revival with Sasaki-san at the helm, instead, you get a rather soft, lightly fried exterior, but juicy Chicken meat within. Great Sake and Beer food still. :wink:

Tsubonira Mimiga (Marinated Pig Ears with Chives in Spicy Sauce):

This was… hardcore! :sweat_smile: I was expecting Mimiga (Okinawan Pig Ears) to be the focus, but actually the star of the dish was their Sauteed Chives! The Spicy Sauce was very salty, a little funky and lightly spicy. It sort of dominated the entire dish.

Goya Kimchi (Bitter Melon Kimchi):

Goya Chanpuru (Bittermelon, Spam, Egg, Tofu):

Another classic Okinawan dish, Chanpuru (or Champuru) are usually Stir-Fried Dishes of Veggies, Tofu and other ingredients. For this one, we chose Goya (Bitter Melon). It tastes pretty close to the sum of its parts: Sauteing Bitter Melon pieces (some bitterness), mixed with Tofu (light), Scrambled Eggs and some Spam (saltiness). Not bad, and something to experience at least once to understand one of the basic Okinawan dishes.

Takowasa (Marinated Octopus with Wasabi):

I always love a great Takowasa (Marinated Octopus with Wasabi), and Habuya’s version was a solid rendition, with slippery, silky pieces of Raw Octopus marinated with Wasabi. It could’ve used a touch more Wasabi (for our tastes), but still tasty and a fun snack food to go with Orion Beer. :blush:

Nasu Miso Chanpuru (Eggplant & Pork):

The surprise highlight of the evening was their Nasu Miso Chanpuru, where they stir fried Eggplant with a delicious, earthy Miso, Sesame Seeds, Green Onions and you get this crave-worthy, satisfying sweet, earthy, salty, tender chunks of Sauteed Eggplant. :heart:

There aren’t enough places in the Southland to enjoy Okinawan cuisine, and if memory serves correctly, Habuya might be the only specialist right now. Thankfully, this little mom & pop shop has the chops to create some tasty renditions of dishes famous in those southern islands. The Sokini (Okinawan Style Stewed Pork Ribs) and Tebichi (Okinawan Style Stewed Pork Feet) are consistently delicious, just the right balance of savory-lightly sweet and satisfying.

Try one of their Goya (Bitter Melon) dishes to help cut through the variety of heavy meat dishes, as well as the excellent Nasu Miso Chanpuru (Eggplant Miso Saute).

But I’m still thinking about their sublime Yaki Tebichi (Grilled Okinawan Style Pork Feet), and their Kani Kuri-mu Korokke (Crab Cream Croquette) are a fun reminder of food we had in Japan. Add in some Okinawan excellence of crisp refreshing Orion Beer on Draft, some Awamori or Sake and you’ve got a great evening out.

Habuya Okinawan Dining
14215 Red Hill Ave.
Tustin, CA 92780
Tel: (714) 679-7453

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Only thing worse than biting into chewy Wagyu beef is getting a piece of stringy otoro.

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Thanks for this! Looking forward to trying some of these dishes.

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Too bad the rafute was bad. I was wondering how well the awamori (if they used any) worked with the soy sauce and the stew pork. Have you had a chance to try the awamori? How’s their selection?

Not that easy to find an Okinawan specialist. The closest I ever came to an Okinawan restaurant was long time ago at a Japanese restaurant in Salt Lake City where the chef came from Okinawa. He had one or two Okinawan items on the menu and that’s what I had.

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Hi @ipsedixit,

Yes! Don’t remind me. :cry: :slight_smile:

Hi @sck,

Yah, did you ever get to try Shin Okinawa Izakaya? It was in the Torrance / South Bay area. Delicious! Their Rafutei was amazing. :heart: I’m so sad they closed down.

Habuya has 5 Awamori bottles to choose from (and you can get it by the glass). I am not an expert on Awamori if you have any suggestions let me know. :slight_smile: They have:

Shimauta
Hanashimauta
Ryukyu O Cho
Kumesen
Mizuho

The SF area has some nice selection of Japanese restaurants, so it’s surprising there hasn’t been a specialist up there. Thanks.

OG export protein in Okinawa along with Agu pork

Try pairing the Sokini + soba + koregusu next time for a classic soki soba

No habu in awamori sighting ?

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Hi @Sgee,

Thanks for the link! :slight_smile: I had no idea Okinawa was exporting A5 Wagyu.

I’ll try the Soki Soba combo next time, thanks! :grin:

If I saw Habu in Awamori I wouldn’t have been able to eat there. :cry: :sweat:

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That Orion draft beer is calling my name. :grin:

Beer and pig feet, what a combo

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Lol, I was hoping they would steer you to their favorites and you would tell us how it was. No I don’t know much about awamori since we rarely have sightings of Okinawan food/ beverage up here.

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Hi @sck,

Ah OK. :slight_smile: Yah I’ll be sure to ask next time I go. I’m sure they have some favorites in that selection to try. We were just wanting some Sake since it had been so long since we dined out. I’ll report back how that turns out. :wink:

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold