A TASTE OF TSUKUNEYA

Whenever my family is celebrating a special occasion—birthdays, graduations, old friends in town, etc.—Tsukuneya is one of our go-to spots. It’s located in a standalone building right along University (the old Pizza Hut), so it’s a bit of an unexpected location for a Japanese robata grill. But this place is a gem. 

Tsukuneya has a robust menu, so I have not tried every single thing they offer. However, my family has our set of favorites that I’ll get into below. Don’t forget about their specials, which have been different every single time I’ve gone. The specials are often unique dishes you can’t find anywhere else, like egg-drop ramen with Zuwai crab, ribeye donburi, or yakiniku maki sushi. I’ve never been disappointed with any of the specials I’ve tried. 

Tsukuneya’s style of Japanese food comes from Nagoya, so it may be slightly different than a lot of other Japanese restaurants around the island. Here’s a rundown of our favorites:

TSUKUNE

Tsukune is a Japanese chicken meatball. It’s different from yakitori because it’s made with ground chicken, but both are often served on a stick. Obviously tsukune is the namesake of the restaurant, so it’s what they’re known for. Tsukuneya makes every meatball from over thirty all-natural ingredients that marinate overnight before being cooked to order on a robata grill.

Tsukuneya
Garlic tsukune

They have about twenty different tsukune options. We like the curry, garlic, spicy miso, and teriyaki ones. There are also some atypical flavors like parmesan and tartar sauce, misonnaise, and cayenne. But my personal favorite is the teriyaki.

Tsukuneya
Curry tsukune

Tsukuneya’s tsukune are well-flavored and tender. Especially with the teriyaki ones, there’s a perfect “crust” on the outside that is so satisfying to bite into before sinking your teeth into the succulent meatball within. 

Tsukuneya
Teriyaki tsukune. Again. Because I like it a lot.

PAITAN RAMEN

The paitan ramen here is actually one of my favorite comfort noods. It’s simple and no-frills. But the broth is what sells it. The paitan broth is rich and almost creamy in consistency, due to all of the collagen it contains. Most other paitan broths I’ve had are white and cloudy, but Tsukuneya’s appears golden. It has a full-bodied, savory chicken flavor. The collagen is supposedly excellent for your skin, hair, nails, and joints. Many people believe it can help reduce wrinkles and add more shine to your hair, so I like to call this #selfcare in a bowl. Even if that’s not true, it’s just plain yummy.

Tsukuneya
Paitan ramen

TOFU DENGAKU

Tsukuneya prepares its tofu daily from soybeans imported from the Gifu prefecture of Japan. We enjoy the tofu dengaku, which features four pieces of grilled tofu slathered with a sweet miso sauce. There is an umami depth to the sauce because of the miso paste, and the teriyaki flavor goes well with the bland simplicity of the tofu. It inclines towards sweetness though, so if you’re not into sweet-savory combos then this may not be the dish for you.

Tsukuneya
Tofu dengaku

KAMAMESHI

I’m a huge fan of crispy rice, so I love kamameshi. The only hard part is being patient enough to wait for it to cook! Our favorite is the chicken and vegetable kamameshi, but there are several other tantalizing seafood options as well (unagi, uni & crab, salmon & ikura, etc.). The kamemeshi comes served in a small cast iron pot with a wooden lid, which cooks at your table over a small fire. You have to wait until the fuel tablet goes out before digging in, which takes about 30 minutes (and a lot of willpower). You lift the wooden lid, inhale that comforting fragrance of hot rice mixed with the aromas of steamed chicken and vegetables, then dive in with your wooden rice paddle! It’s very light and simple in flavors, but I think that’s what makes it so comforting to me. There’s something about chicken and rice that speaks to the soul. The kamemeshi comes with garnishes like thin slivers of nori, pickles, green onion, and wasabi that you can add to your preference, and there is a ceramic vessel of hot dashi broth to pour over it all. Mmm!

Tsukuneya
Waiting for the fire to go out takes such patience!

If you want crispy rice though, you need to have even more patience. What we like to do is serve most of the kamameshi once the flame burns out so the whole table can enjoy it, then press the remaining rice up against the edges of the pot to crisp up for those who want some. Afterwards it can be a bit of a challenge to chip the crispy rice off the edges of the pot with the wooden rice paddle, but it’s so worth it.    

Tsukuneya
Chicken & vegetable kamameshi

FINAL NOTES

If we still have stomach space (which is rare), sometimes we like to finish with the warabi mochi and matcha ice cream to end on a sweet note. The restaurant is spacious and has larger tables that are good for families. There’s free valet parking in the small lot outside. I’ve always found the servers to be smiley, friendly, and accommodating. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays, but opens its doors for dinner and stays open quite late the rest of the week.

Tip: For a limited time, Tsukuneya is offering course dinners that require two days of advance ordering. The set menus are served tsukuneya style for a minimum of four people. There are $30 and $35 options—good deals for set menus!

Tsukuneya
1442 University Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96822
Ph: 808-943-0390
www.tsukuneyarobatagrill.com