Monday, April 25, 2011

Cafe Ukulele

My husband and I had seen this building before on an excursion to the "Kaichu Doraibu," or the "Sea Road" that leads you across the ocean to Henza Island, Miyagi Island, and Ikei Island to the East of Okinawa, but we didn't realize that there was a restaurant inside until my husband rode past it again on a bicycle ride. We had been too enthralled with the ocean view directly across from the building. But if you're looking for it, you can't miss it- it's a huge tan and burgundy building with a large parking lot and several "Cafe" banners outside.

We had been headed to White Beach for lunch, but decided last minute to try Cafe Ukulele. There were also signs for the "Tree of Bread" Bakery, which we later discovered supplies all the bread for the sandwiches at the Cafe upstairs.

We noticed this cute little sign outside that listed the full menu along with prices. It was written in Japanese, but between the pictures and the little Japanese I know, we decided it looked like a really good place to try! Plus, the highest price we saw on the smaller menu was only ¥1,000 for a full meal set.

Once we made our way upstairs, we walked up to the counter, where they handed us an English menu to look at. There were a few items with interesting translations, and the staff didn't speak especially good English, but we were able to order without any problems. There were three categories of meals: light meals, which cost between ¥300 and ¥400 or so for a small lunch set; "~ Don" or bowl lunches that seemed to be around ¥1,000 with a few ¥850 Japanese style curry options; and Soup sets for ¥1,000 or so.

We ordered at the counter, then sat down and they brought our food out to us. We chose to sit at a bar on the window, so we could admire the ocean view pictured above, but there were also tables, and even some lounge chairs that looked like a perfect place to sit down with a good book and a cup of coffee.

The lighter lunches looked like the perfect size for my smaller appetite. My husband ate through an entire bowl lunch and a small set, but he'd been cycling that morning. I barely made it through half of my bowl set, but wanted to keep eating since it was so delicious!

There was a very nice free drink bar, which offered iced tea, water, grape juice, and orange juice, along with some hot drinks (coffee and tea). They also sell sodas for ¥350, and Orion beer, though I didn't see the price.

My husband ordered the Loco-Moco meal. It was a hamburger steak with garnish over rice, and it also came with a Japanese salad and an egg over easy. He got a small bowl of soup with it as well. The soup was a cross between a typical egg drop soup and a Japanese seaweed soup. It was different than he expected, but he said it tasted good.

I ordered a Tonkatsu Don, or pork cutlet bowl. The pork cutlet is deep fried in a special batter, and served piping hot over steamed rice and sauteed onions, with an egg cracked over top. The food is hot enough to cook the egg to an over-medium consistency. It was on par for a Tonkatsu Don- there isn't really too much a restaurant can do to make this dish uniquely their own, since the pork cutlets have such a distinctive taste, but I really enjoyed it. I got a bowl of soup as well.

This was my husband's second lunch- a ham sandwich from the light meal menu. It was small, but with the side salad and potatoes, it makes a decent sized lunch if you have a smaller appetite. The bread was very good, but my husband said there wasn't much meat to the sandwich. The salad had a nice sesame dressing.

I would love to go back and try their curry, or some of their light lunches, like the pizza bread. Luckily, it's cheap (We got out for ¥3,000 exactly for 3 meal sets and 2 sodas) and only a short 10-15 minute drive from Courtney!


From Courtney Housing gate, turn right onto Route 224. Continue around the curve and over the bridge. You'll make a left on Route 8. Follow Route 8 until you come to a Y intersection. Keep left onto Route 37. Continue along this road until you see a tan and burgundy building on the right.

From McTureous, turn right out the gate onto Route 8. Stay on Route 8 across Route 75 and across Route 224. At the Y intersection, keep left onto Route 37. You'll see Cafe Ukulele on the right.

View Cafe Ukulele in a larger map

Hours and Contact Information:

Cafe Ukulele is open from 11:00 am until 6:00 pm, last order at 5:30 pm. Lunch is served between 11:00 and 3:00 pm. Their phone number is (098)983-0160. Payment is yen only, I believe.

Cafe Kelp

Cafe Kelp is the restaurant that sparked my interest in finding more great restaurants around the Courtney/McTureous area. When you live stateside, it's easy to judge a restaurant by how it looks on the outside. Westerners tend to put a lot of emphasis on their store front, and it's a lot easier to find restaurant reviews of a place that looks questionable when you speak the local language.

Like most places on Okinawa, Cafe Kelp really doesn't look like much from the outside, but it has a lot to offer. The beautiful garden outside, the calming music, and excellent lunch fare all add up to a great experience.

The food is traditionally Japanese, but is palatable even to those who aren't very bold about trying new foods. The staff speaks some English, and they are quite friendly. Their menu does come in English, and has four options, including chicken, pork, fish, and beef. Each meal comes with a plate of Japanese appetizers, soup, your entree with a side of rice, and a choice of dessert and drinks after the meal. Prices range from ¥1,000 for chicken and pork to ¥1,300 for the beef entree.

The appetizer plate varies depending on what day you go in, but typically includes a small slice of omelette, a few Okinawan style pickled vegetables, some vinegrated seaweed noodles with cucumber and shiquasha flavors, and a small slice of cooked carrot, purple sweet potato, and a Japanese miso gelatin square.

The soup they serve here is very delicious! The first few times I tried it, I assumed it was either broccoli or cream of spinach, because of its creamy lime green color. This last time, I finally gathered up the courage to ask our waitress. She explained that it is a cream of potato soup, and that the green color comes from a traditional Okinawan leafy green vegetable. I couldn't remember the Japanese name of it, but I believe it's a sort of spinach. They also serve home made grissini cracker sticks with their soup. They also sell several flavors of grissini (including vegetable, curry, and a few others) for between ¥180 and ¥300 for different sized packages.

The chicken set consisted of a grilled chicken breast cooked in traditional Japanese seasonings underneath a lettuce and apple salad with a Japanese onion vinaigrette. It's light but filling, and I love the tangy flavors in it. The pork meal is essentially the same, but with pork instead of chicken. They are both excellent.

My husband's favorite meal at Cafe Kelp is the beef stew. It's a little heartier than the other meals on the menu, and perfect for a cooler day. When I tasted this dish, it reminded me of Hayashi rice, which used to be my dad's favorite. The stew comes with several vegetables, usually a slice of acorn squash, onion, broccoli, and mushrooms.

The dessert menu varies from time to time. Every time we have been, there has been the option of a cheesecake and sherbet. The cheesecake is rich and delicious, and comes with a mint garnish. The last time we went, the sherbet selection was fantastic! They offered a shiquasha/yuzu (okinawan lime) sherbet, a goya sherbet that I was nervous to try, and a carrot sherbet. As you can see from the picture, I chose the carrot sherbet. It was surprisingly good! I loved it, and my husband thought it was good too.

You will also be served an after-lunch drink with your dessert. They offer hot and iced tea, hot and iced coffee, and an herbal tea that includes lemon, mint, and hibiscus flavors. My husband prefers the iced tea, but I always get the hibiscus tea! They bring it out in a clear teapot so you can see all the herbs used, and the tea takes on a bright fuchsia color from the whole hibiscus flower they steep in the tea. It's very pretty, and tastes amazing as well.


Cafe Kelp is located just outside the Commissary gate of Camp Courtney. Simply turn onto the road that leads to that gate, then take the first right hand turn. You'll see a cute little brown sign that says Cafe Kelp in katakana. Cafe Kelp will be the second building on the right.

If you have a car that sits lower to the ground, like my husband's MR-2, you may want to take the longer way around, as there is a pretty steep hill with a dropoff. To get around, simply continue north on 75 past the road to the commissary. Take the next left. You'll see a small brown sign for Cafe Kelp in katakana. You'll want to take the first left that leads to an actual road. You'll see the English sign pictured above. From there, continue a short ways down the road to get to the parking lot, which will be on the left.

View Cafe Kelp in a larger map

Hours and Contact Information:

Cafe Kelp is open for lunch only from 11:30 am until 3:00 pm on Tuesday through Sunday, closed Mondays. Their phone number is (098)979-9452. Their business card mentions that they will serve dinner with a reservation, but I am unclear on the details- they may require a certain number of people. They do take reservations here, and there have been times where we have arrived to find all the tables reserved, so if you are comfortable calling, you may wish to make a reservation.

Payment is cash only. I believe they take dollars, but I have only ever paid in yen, so I'm not 100% sure.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kaisen Sumibiyaki Shinsenmaru

My husband took me to this great Izakaya (Japanese bar and grill type restaurant) a few weeks ago. He had his eye on it for quite some time, but recently I have been very picky about what type of food I am in the mood for. He finally convinced me, and we both really enjoyed it! We plan to visit again sometime when I can get up the nerve to call in and make a reservation in Japanese.

When we arrived, there was a valet outside. Since there was an open parking spot right across from the door, we just parked and walked in, but we saw him retrieve a car for another couple after they had finished their meal. I believe his main job is to make sure customers aren't parked in spaces where they'll get towed.

After you go through the large entrance way, you'll climb a flight of stairs to get to the restaurant. They have mostly Western style tables that are separated into rows by wall dividers. It's dimly lit like you'd expect a bar restaurant to be. They told us when we arrived at 6:00 pm that we needed to be finished by 8:00 pm because they were booked solid for the night. I would recommend making a reservation if you plan to try this place!

The food there was fairly good, and not too expensive. They served a variety of a la carte items, including pizza, salad, yakitori, assorted appetizers, and a big variety of sushi and sashimi. Prices for each individual item were around ¥300-¥400 for the smaller items like yakitori or some of the nigiri sushi. Pizzas were a little more expensive, around ¥600 for the one we tried, but some were more expensive. The pizzas were a little small, if my husband had ordered only it, he would've left hungry. They come in 6 pieces, about the size of a small in the states. Some of the larger items and the set arrangements of sushi and sashimi were around ¥1,200 or so.

It was pretty dark inside, so we couldn't take pictures of our food, but we enjoyed it! I loved their vegetable Kimchee, and I also ordered an asparagus and bacon kebab. We ordered a set arrangement of sashimi, and two kinds of nigiri sushi. Their fish was very good! We both loved it. My husband also ordered fried cheese, which was essentially a cheddar cheese lumpia, and it came with ketchup and mayonnaise. He also tried the Potato pizza. It was good, but not at all what we expected! It had mashed potatoes on a thin crust with no sauce, and it was covered in cheese and a mayo sauce. Next time, I would rather try the taco pizza, it sounded good! We got out for only ¥4910, which is pretty good for the amount of food and drinks we had ordered.

The best deal there seemed to be the drinks. They have a great special where if you ask for it ahead of time, every alcoholic drink you order for an hour's time is only ¥105. Kirin Draft beer and their cocktails are usually ¥399. I ordered a soft drink, which was ¥300 or so, but beware there are no free refills! My husband ordered two draft beers, and ended up paying ¥210, while we paid ¥600 for my oolong teas!

The staff spoke fairly good English. However, I will warn you that the English menu they brought us didn't include the list for sushi or sashimi, the day's specials, or the drink menu. I am unclear whether there is a printed English drink menu or not- he seemed to understand that I could read a little, and since we didn't order mixed cocktails it wasn't an issue for us.

So how much Japanese should you know to go here?

Overall, you could probably get away with little to no Japanese knowledge, if you are smart about reading the menu. If you don't read Japanese, but want sushi or sashimi, there are a few premade sets of each. You will be able to identify them on the menu because they are more expensive than everything else listed, and they have numbered how many kinds of fish come in the set. If that fails, you can point at the pretty picture of the set on the menu, and your server should be able to help you from there. Don't do this if you are picky about fish, because our sashimi had both ika (cuttlefish) and tako (octopus) sashimi in it! Luckily, I like ika and my husband can stomach anything.

If you are fairly proficient at reading Katakana, you will be able to make out everything on the drink menu. If you know both Hiragana and Katakana, you can read about 90% of the sushi and sashimi list. I have taken some Japanese classes in college, and I was able to read everything I wanted to on the menu, albeit slowly! There was some kanji that I didn't completely remember, but it is pretty self explanatory what it means.

If you are calling to make a reservation, I think it would help to know some Japanese, but you could probably get away with just leaving your name, a time, and the number of people in English.


Kaisen Sumibiyaki Shinsenmaru is located on top of the Lawson convenience store on the corner of Route 75 and Route 8.

From Courtney, simply hang a left onto Route 75, and continue until you see the Lawson at Route 8. You can turn straight into the Lawson parking lot, just be careful not to park in the marked "Lawson Customer" spots. (The first letter in Lawson in Japanese looks like an empty square box.) Or use the valet.

From McTureous, take a right on Route 8 immediately out the gate. The Izakaya will be on the left immediately after KFC.

From Foster or Kadena, make your way to Route 330, and head north. Route 330 will turn into Route 75 as you enter Uruma city, so just continue straight until you see signs for Route 8. The restaurant will be on the left, so turn onto Route 8, and then hang the first right into the parking lot.


View Kaisen Sumibiyaki Shinsenmaru in a larger map

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cafe Holoholo

My first encounter with Cafe Holoholo was on a girls' lunch excursion. Our first choice had been closed, and Jenny suggested we try it. I vetoed it immediately, because I thought it was a Coffee house. The next time I drove by, I noticed a banner hanging on the retaining wall that said "Lunch" in katakana letters. I just had to try it! I'm so glad I did, because it is now one of my favorites.

The lounge-like space is roomy and filled with neat Hawaiian touches, like these cute pillows, and even hand sewn napkin holders. The patio outside has an assortment of beautiful flowers (even my favorite, amaryllis!), and overall there is a very relaxed, quiet feel to the place.

The food is absolutely amazing! There is a mix of very healthy traditional Japanese lunches, and some Italian-inspired pastas and casseroles. Prices hover around ¥1,050, and your meal includes a free drink bar with water and hot and cold coffee and tea, usually a small side salad with tasty Japanese onion dressing, and dessert.

My husband ordered Pasta Carbonara, for ¥1,000, and his meal came with two dinner rolls. The daily pasta selections vary, and are displayed in katakana on a chalkboard that lists the day's specials. When we went, there were 3 pasta options, including a Pepperocini pasta, and another that I couldn't make out. (My Japanese was sufficient, but I couldn't interpret what it was in Italian!)

I ordered a dish called Doria, also for ¥1,000. I had never heard of it before, but it was delicious! They give you a choice of white or brown rice. (I chose white rice, but I have been back, and Jenny said she enjoyed the brown rice!) Basically, it is a casserole with rice on the bottom layer, pasta, mushrooms, and onion in a mushroom sauce in the middle, and a very delicious cheese topping. It was very filling! I barely made it through half of it before I was full!

I have since gone back and tried the healthy lunch, and it was delicious! They offer a traditional Japanese meal with an array of traditional small dishes, including a buckwheat soba soup with seaweed and chives, a daikon radish salad, your main course, some pickled veggies, a key lime pie for dessert, and even a small portion of tempura! Regrettably, I was too hungry to think of taking pictures that day, and the food was demolished before I could capture it. But I can vouch for it being very healthy and very filling!

The staff speaks some English, and are very friendly. The food is a little grown-up for most kids' taste, but it's perfect for a girl's day out. My husband found the portions to be small for his appetite- he ended up eating half of my food (and mentioned ice cream after we were done!)- but if you're in the mood for a lighter lunch it hits the spot.

The only payment accepted is Japanese Yen (¥), no dollars or credit cards, but you shouldn't need more than ¥1,500 per meal. Their hours are from 1100-1500 for lunch, and for dinner until 1700. They are closed on Sundays and Japanese Holidays. Their phone number is 098-989-1381. They have a small parking lot for about 5 cars, but it is roomy enough that you could maneuver a bigger car if you must.


Cafe Holoholo is located on Route 8, halfway between Camp McTureous and Route 75. If you are traveling from 75, it will be on the right hand side. It is the first building past the big light blue building labeled "Zukeyama Furniture," (the road that's the "shortcut to McT"). It is surrounded by a white wall, but it's still fairly easy to find.

From Courtney's Housing gate, turn left onto 224 out the gate. Continue straight through the light across 75, and take the forced left at the stop sign where the construction begins. You'll come to another T-intersection, and take a right. Continue on until you reach Route 8 (another T), and turn right at Zukeyama Furniture. Cafe Holoholo will be on the right. You will see a taller one story white building. One side of it is Cafe Holoholo, and the other is an Esthe salon which may be easier to see from this direction.

If you like sticking to main roads, take a left on 75 from either Courtney gate. Continue down for a few stoplights, then turn right on Route 8. Follow around the curve past the first 2 stoplights, and look for the Cafe on the right just past Zukeyama Furniture.

From McTureous, simply turn right out of the gate, and look for Cafe Holoholo on the right a few blocks down. You will cross through one stop light before you get there.

View Cafe Holoholo in a larger map


Thank you so much for visiting!

My name is Katie, and I'm a Marine Corps wife living on Camp Courtney in Okinawa, Japan. I love exploring the island and finding neat new places to eat and shop that are close to home.

I decided to start this blog because I got tired of seeing all the cool places on other Okinawa blogs that were "only 5 minutes away" from a base that's a 30-40 minute drive away from where I live. I was sure there had to be so much more to see and do on this island, and with the help of my adventurous husband, David, I have learned to love trying new places! As I start this blog, I want to focus on the great Cafes and Soba shops that the Uruma/Gushikawa area (close to Courtney and McTureous) has to offer. I have already found quite a few gems!

As time goes on, I may start to branch out to places that are further away, but off the beaten path. I am eager to brush up on my new Japanese skills, but I remember how intimidating it is to go into a place that doesn't have any English on the signs. Hopefully, my blog can also help you feel more comfortable and confident when you try some of the less Westernized places that are out there.

In any case, I promise to always make sure that the directions are clear and easy to follow, no matter where on island you start out from!

I hope you all enjoy exploring with me!