After failing to secure a reservation for one month prior to his visit, our reporter gets in with some luck and ascends to tuna heaven.

Our Japanese-language correspondent Kouhey often tries to escape the chill of autumn by venturing to Okinawa. Prior to Covid, he had visited the southwestern-most Yaeyama Islands maybe once or twice per year and thought he had already exhausted all of the must-have foods such as yagijiru goat soup and Tommy’s Bread. However, one popular izakaya [Japanese-style pub] on Ishigaki Island recently came on to his radar that he hadn’t visited yet–a tuna specialty restaurant called Izakaya Hitoshi. 

There are two restaurants on the island–the main restaurant and the Ishiganto location. He decided to try his luck at the main one.

Reservations are taken by phone only. Incredibly, he had been calling steadily for a month to try to secure a reservation, but was never able to reach a human voice without the call going to voicemail.

▼ Kouhey’s phone log over two days. Top line: the main restaurant’s number, second line: the Ishiganto location’s number

Now that he was in the city, he decided to try another tactic entirely–entering the restaurant without a reservation 30 minutes prior to the “last orders” time. On this particular day, last orders were at 10 p.m., so he arrived a little prior to 9:30 pm.

Just as he was about to enter, he noticed an ominous-looking notice taped to the door.

▼ Summed up: “Due to a staff shortage, we are operating with fewer tables than usual and it may take us longer to serve you.”

Well, that probably explained why it was nearly impossible to talk to someone over the phone. For a restaurant that even at the best of times was always bustling, this sign sure made it sound like fortune wouldn’t be in Kouhey’s favor. However, he mustered up some courage and took a step inside the door.

A quick sweep of the room showed that all of the tables were filled. When a server came by he told them that he didn’t have a reservation. They replied that he was welcome to wait for a table to open up, but couldn’t guarantee that he would get in on time. He responded that he didn’t mind taking the risk.

There was one other party ahead of him without reservations that was waiting to be seated. After some time, a nearby table paid their bill and cleared out, and that party took their places. Kouhey waited anxiously and started to feel a glimmer of hope when he saw another table getting ready to leave. Sure enough, about five minutes later, he was led to a wide table despite being a solo diner.

Phew! He had overcome the biggest hurdle by getting seated at this restaurant where he had been trying to make a reservation for a month. Since there were only a few minutes left for placing orders, he quickly scanned the menu and made up his mind.

He had previously looked up the recommended dishes and so decided to go with those. Not even three minutes later, his awamori [an Okinawan distilled alcoholic drink made from rice] on the rocks arrived, followed by bluefin tuna akami [lean part of the fish] sashimi, the latter of which was 1,080 yen (US$7.70).

Eager to experience the taste of tuna at a tuna specialty restaurant in Okinawa, he smeared some wasabi on top of a piece and popped it in his mouth…

…to be dazzled by the stunning deliciousness. 

Now, Kouhey often buys discounted tuna sashimi at the supermarket just prior to the stores closing, but this tuna was from a whole different dimension. Despite not even being the fatty part of the fish, it had the same soft texture as if it were. He thought he understood another reason why it was so difficult to get a reservation here.

Next up was a plate of skipjack tuna covered with spring onions. A half-sized portion was 550 yen.

That size turned out to be more than enough for one person. As someone who loves both skipjack tuna and spring onions, Kouhey shoveled up a heaping spoonful and was just as blown away by the taste as with the last dish.

Spring onions, regular onion slices, and garlic chips covered the tuna, all drizzled with a special sauce and mayonnaise. There was an incredible sense of unity among all of the ingredients inside of his mouth, but the garlic in particular added a sharp edge. He probably wouldn’t have gotten tired of even a full serving size of this dish.

The last dish to arrive was the sea urchin somen chanpuru, an Okinawan stir-fry. A half-sized portion was again 550 yen.

Somen chanpuru is another favorite of Kouhey’s that he usually orders at Okinawan restaurants. This particular version, however, was unlike anything he had seen before. The idea of using sea urchin was novel in his view. How would it stack up to other chanpuru that he had tried in the past?

As he’d predicted, it was also nothing short of delicious. Actually, it would probably be more accurate to call this one “soup spaghetti with a sea urchin base.” The somen noodles themselves were thicker and springier than other somen noodles and paired well with the creamy broth. This half-sized portion was again perfect for one person.

He continued to wash all of the delicious tuna dishes down with the awamori.

Before he knew it, his plates were completely empty. Since he had only had time to try three recommended menu items, he couldn’t help but wonder what some of the other menu items would be like.

In any case, his biggest mission had been accomplished simply by being seated without a reservation at Izakaya Hitoshi. He definitely recommends trying to get a reservation, though, if you’d like to arrive earlier than 30 minutes before the last order. Please also note that the restaurant is a cash-only business.

Kouhey looks forward to the day when he can visit Izakaya Hitoshi again, but in the meantime, he’ll try entertaining himself with some of his other favorite local attractions on Ishigaki Island, such as the Yonekoyaki Shisa Garden to the north.

Restaurant information
Izakaya Hitoshi Main Restaurant / 居酒屋ひとし本店
Address: Okinawa-ken, Ishigaki-shi, Shinei-cho 15-8 
沖縄県石垣市新栄町 15-8
Open: 5 p.m.-11:30 p.m. (though may vary by day)

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