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New Look at Gyotaku on King

We recently returned to Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant on South King Street for Diner A’s birthday, where the restaurant underwent a complete renovation about a year ago in December 2012, and I must say, it looks FAB’! *Snaps fingers and shakes head with attitude*

From here I’ll let the photos do the talking.

Gyotaku S. King Street – newly renovated dining room (first floor)

Gyotaku S. King Street – newly renovated dining room (second floor)

Gyotaku S. King Street – newly renovated dining room (second floor)

Gyotaku S. King Street – newly renovated dining room (second floor)

While I didn’t go in there myself, I heard the bathrooms are totally renovated as well.

Namesake to the restaurant, Gyotaku is a style of Japanese relief art where ink is applied directly to a fresh-caught fish, then the canvas is pressed on the inked surface to take an impression of the fish. It was originally done so fisherman could record their catch, however in modern times has developed into a popular style of Japanese art. Let’s take a look now at some beautiful Gyotaku pieces they have on display in the restaurant.

Opah Gyotaku

Onaga Gyotaku

Spotted Knifejaw Gyotaku

Ulua Gyotaku

Mahimahi Gyotaku

Tako Gyotaku

Getting to the business of eating, let’s check out the Lunch Specials…

Gyotaku Lunch Specials, current as of March 2012. Image courtesy of GyotakuHawaii.com

Gyotaku November 2013 Specials

None of us were exactly starving that day, so we all just ordered entrees, where first-up we have birthday boy Diner A’s California-Don & Tenpura…

California-Don & Tenpura. $15.95

Next-up, Diner E’s California Delight…

California Delight. $10.95 (including Miso Soup & Salad, not shown)

And Yours Truly ordered the Gyotaku Lunch Box…

Gyotaku Lunch Box. $12.95 (includes Miso Soup and Salad, not shown)

The Lunch Box and California Delight specials include Gyotaku’s House Salad and Miso Soup to round out the meal (ala carte appetizers not necessary!)…

Select specials come as complete meal set, including Miso Soup and Salad. Ocha (“bottomless” hot Japanese Green Tea) comes with all meals.

A note on the service, once we were seated, it was fairly prompt, with food arriving within about 12 to 15 minutes of being ordered. However going there without reservations, we had to wait 15 minutes to get a table. Parking on the property is ample, so no problems there.

Let’s try the Miso Soup while it’s still pipin’ hot…

Miso Soup

Pretty basic, yet done right. Nice balance of shiro miso, with about a small handful of cubed soft tofu and a few slices of konbu for added depth. As odd as this pick may seem, I still say one of the best Miso Soup I’ve had in restaurants here is at, of all places, Ethel’s Grill. Go figure.

Let’s try the salad…

Gyotaku’s House Salad

The dressing is light, with somewhat of an asian flair to it, tasting like it’s based on mirin, vinegar, and either a little miso, dashi and/or soy sauce. While there’s a generous chunk of crab that’s imitation, its quality is decent for the price point, having a pleasantly fresh, genuine crab taste, FWIW.

Time for the main attraction, starting with the sushi…

Assorted Sushi part of the Lunch Box set

Not the worst, yet not the greatest presentation, but hey for $13 for the whole spread (this being just one part of it), I’m not complaining!

While it’s still as fresh-made as possible, the very first thing I hit is the Maguro Nigiro…

Maguro Nigiri

First of all the sushi rice is EXCELLENT. Turns out they use a sushi rice brand I’ve never heard of called New Rose. Sounds rather generic, however in flavor and texture, it’s a quite respectable sushi-grade rice. Only extreme sushi connoisseurs would expect any better.

From there, I always hit the also fresh-as-possible Hamachi Nigiri…

Hamachi Nigiri

Again, this is some oishii bang-for-the-buck sushi. Like the Maguro slice on the previous, the Hamachi slice on this one was melts-in-the-mouth, not on your hashi fresh as can be.

Assorted Tenpura and Grilled Yakitori style Chicken (not on skewers)

OK, let’s switch-up and also take advantage of the tenpura (notice they spell it with an ‘n’) while’s it’s also still crispy fresh out of the fryer, starting with the biggest, the Eggplant Tenpura…

Eggplant Tenpura

The tenpura batter was light and crispy, and not greasy at all, while the eggplant within was soft ‘n tender. If anything, I’d like to see more crispy bits swirled on the batter while it’s fried, but hey, for a high volume restaurant, I’m happy with this. Also to note, the tenpura sauce had good dashi depth, with just a few dabs of grated daikon in it for added dimension. While I’m a grated daikon FREAK, I was happy with how it was served as is.

Let’s try the Japanese sweet potato tenpura…

Japanese Sweet Potato Tenpura

I swear, I so LOVE root vegetable tenpura varieties such as this. As for the Shrimp Tempura, that one’s not going to win any awards for the genre, yet again, FWIW, A-OK.

Yakitori (Japanese style grilled Teriyaki Chicken)

As you can see, there’s my NOT so favorite meat, chicken included in the Lunch Box in the form of Grilled Teriyaki Chicken (very similar to Yakitori on skewers). Which I would have preferred grilled Saba, or better yet Misoyaki Butterfish, and probably could have asked to substitute the chicken for fish, but just rolled with it, as I didn’t want any confusion on our order.  Thankfully they ACED this! It was super juicy and tender, with great grilled markings and a deep, nicely balanced sweet-to-savory, perfectly thickened Yakitori style sauce. Like the Nigiri Sushi, I really can’t see expecting any better unless you were a die-hard Yakitori fan, and know those small Japanese bars around Japan such as Torigin who REALLY know their Yakitori.

Summing it up, between the fantastic sushi and the wonderful rice used, light ‘n crispy outside, tender inside tenpura and nicely grilled, full-flavored, juicy ‘n tender Yakitori style chicken (not on skewers), I give Gyotaku’s budget-friendly Lunch Box special a very solid 4 SPAM Musubi.

California Delight lunch special (part 1 of 3): Vegetable and Shrimp Tenpura & Karaage Chicken

As for the California Delight, both Diner C and E gave it a thumbs-up as well, also noting the quality grade of the sushi rice, and the fried foods being light and crispy, and not greasy at all, while being very, very tasty (great word!).

California Delight lunch special (part 2 of 3): California Tobiko Roll

Last but not least, let’s get a better look and taste of Diner A’s California-Don…

California-Don (ingredients of a California Roll topped over sushi rice in a bowl)

This Donburi is a big bowl of King Crab & Kani Kamaboko Tossed with Mayonnaise, Cucumber, Avocado and Masago, served over Sesame Seed Nori Furikake Seasoned Sushi Rice.

California-Don (deconstructed California roll in bowl)

And? Two thumbs-up by Diner A. He raved about it the entire time digging through it, mentioning several times he’d return and order the same dish. That usually says it all. I got to try some of the chunky topping of avocado and imitation crab mixed with mayo and all the other “goodies”, and must say, OMG, that thing is to die for.

Anyway, this also says it all…

California-Don bowl both literally and figuratively “polished”

Yes, you must polish the “polished” bowl when it comes to that oishii California-Don! lol

I did quite well myself….

Gyotaku Lunch Box special “polished”

I love when portions are just right, and this was perfect for lunch.

For some of us, even this was too much food, where here Diner E had enough to take home for later….

California Tobiko Roll and Karaage Chicken takeout box

Gyotaku will be opening a new location in Aikahi Park Shopping Center (Kailua side) in early 2014, while they also have locations in Niu Valley Shopping Center and Pearl City.

Diner A about to rock out on some Gyotaku for his birthday

The beautiful renovations to the King Street location, consistently good to great Japanese dishes, affordable prices (especially for lunch and early bird), prompt service (on our visit), and lots of parking on the premises make Gyotaku a highly recommended choice on your next family or business outing.

Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant
1824 South King Street
Honolulu, HI  96826
(808) 949-4584

The Tasty Island Rating:

Related links:
Mo’ili’ili Eats: Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant – The Tasty Island
Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant – Yelp user reviews


16 thoughts on “New Look at Gyotaku on King

  • November 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Gyotaku look so nice my mom and I and some friends will got to head there. What you had seem good and other specials too.

  • November 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    I can attest to that California Don – it’s my favorite! It actually does have some real king crab meat in there in addition to the imitation crab. So the overall texture is really good. Yum! :-9

  • November 13, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    @ Sunny – Thanks for the 411, which I fixed after reading the description on their menu more carefully. Essentially, it’s like adding real crab with imitation crab, akin to adding breadcrumbs to ground beef to “stretch it out” without noticing when serving hamburgers. Ha!

    @ Amy – Being you’re Chinese, I’m curious what likes and don’t likes you have (as well as your mom and friends) about Japanese food, and vice versa (Chinese food). I’ll elaborate after you do, regarding both sides. ;-)

    • November 13, 2013 at 11:41 pm

      Pomai, you might say Asian food use pretty much same ingredients in cooking. That why it is easy . Vietnamese food most is from Chinese living in Vietnam as for history of Japan long ago discovered Japan so Japanese are descendants of Chinese.

      It the same with the Koreans that why they have same names as Chinese.

      • November 13, 2013 at 11:50 pm

        Might I add that my late father side of the family came from Taiwan and see culture of Japanese is close to Taiwanese due to was a Japanese colony for many years. People there love sashimi and have miso in cooking too. Japanese food can be found all over Taiwan and shocking good and low cost too. The Pake in me. HaHa.

  • November 13, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    Puh-leeeez, tell me you sampled the Nattochos!… or at least some Hamachi kama…

    • November 13, 2013 at 8:05 pm


      Indeed we have sampled Gyotaku’s famous Nattochos…


  • November 14, 2013 at 9:33 am

    That room looks great, nice and clean design…. I could seriously do some culinary damage in there…LOL. That pic of the Hamachi Kama gave me a great deja vu, arriving in Tokyo late one night, dead tired, about to begin a concert tour of Japan with Amy Hanaiali’i. Our lovely tour coordinator/translator said “you need food”, and dragged our whole entourage to a little joint near our hotel in Ginza district…. and she just ordered for us, and in about three minutes, a whole bunch of Hamachi Kama and cold beers just magically appeared. It was perfect…. one of the best meals of my life. Needless to say, we were all energized and ready to go after that. ;o)

  • November 15, 2013 at 5:51 am

    The place looks great and so does the food. I only have one criticism, personally I was really never a big fan of pictures in a menu. I always feel disappointed if the food doesn’t look like the picture. In culinary school we were taught how to write menus, how to describe the dish with our words. Pictures IMO, take away the mystery of the dining experience. This would make a good poll…how do others feel?

    • November 15, 2013 at 6:10 am

      Surprisingly it is often counterproductive. Recently on Maui I almost decided not to go to Tante’s in Kahului because the menu pictures as shown on the internet looked so meager and bland. But it was in walking distance so wife dragged me there anyway. What a shock. Huge portions. Food way better than pictures. More side dishes manuahi than shown, including a very interesting sweet potato salad and an out of control baked potato.

      • November 15, 2013 at 6:25 am

        @ Dean – I never looked at it that way (no pun intended), however now that you mention it, I’m KINDA’ with you on that. Yet on the other hand, I still appreciate having a visual of at least how the dish is SUPPOSED to be presented.

        If you wanna’ talk over-stylized food photos, just look at the posters up at your local McDonald’s, Jack in the Box and Burger King, amongst every other fast food restaurant. Tell me you EVER received a Big Mac that looked as good as it did on that poster? NO WAY EVER! If I got one that looked as good as the poster photos, I’d pin a medal on them.

        Then you have the Japanese who take depicting their dishes to the extreme, with their “Sampuru”, which are the plasticized replicas of their signature dishes, always on display in a case fronting their restaurant. Incredibly, the actual dish you get in those Japanese restaurants usually look way BETTER!

        @ pat – never heard of Tante’s in Kahului. I’ll have to check them out on my next hop there. Anyplace that serves an “out of control” baked potato are A-OK in my book!

        That said, while this food blogs such as this one aren’t a restaurant menu, I’m sure you appreciate there being photos of the dishes and recipe steps, vs. the writer trying to describe the dish or cooking method they’re talking about with thousands of words.

        I should try that soon. I’ll write a post that has NO PHOTOS. I’m curious what the hit numbers and feedback will be. In fact, I’ll place that poll you suggested in that post. Should be interesting!

        • November 15, 2013 at 3:14 pm

          Oh absolutely. That is the real deal. Not advertising copy.

          • November 15, 2013 at 11:03 pm


            I take it you’re referencing the most recent post on the cookbook. Which is all good. I totally understand.

            An all text, no photo post will be really fun to write!

  • December 7, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    Finally went to the King St. Gyotaku for a late lunch today. (The Waiau/Pearl City location is more convenient for us.) Wow – the renovation is REALLY nice! This sounds silly, but it even made the food taste better! You know, the food is good, but when the setting is plain or showing its age, then the food is just good. But the snazzy new decor kicked things up more than just a notch. Also, I broke out of my California Don mode (I love that dish), and had other favorites that I hadn’t had in a while, so they tasted even better. (We shared the zaru soba-tempura-sush teishoku, nattochos, agedashi tofu, and the Okinawan sweet potato pie. All good!)

    • December 8, 2013 at 6:01 am


      You must be a Yelper.

      I agree about the renovation at Gyotaku’s King St. location, as it does help the food taste better, psychologically. Next time I’m so game for that Okinawan Sweet Potato Pie. Have you ever tried Ani’s Bakery Okinawan Sweet Potato Haupia Pie? THE BOMB! You can only stay get ’em at their bakery in Halawa.

      Nattochos is a BRILLIANT dish. Probably the best way to convert “non-believers” into the wonderful world that is Natto!


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