Mo'ili'ili Eats: Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant

GYOTAKU translates to GYO = fish + TAKU = rubbing, a traditional Japanese art style dating back to the 1800’s. In this medium, sumi ink is strategically applied in various colors on all exterior surfaces of a fresh fish catch, then rice paper is carefully pressed directly onto the inked surface of the fish to capture its impression.

GYOTAKU is also the name of a popular Japanese restaurant in Honolulu. It’s one of Diner A’s wife’s favorite places to eat, and Diner E’s as well. With that, we celebrated Diner E’s birthday there this past week. Gyotaku has three locations, with the original one on South King Street, another one on Kaahumanu street in Waimalu (Pearl City) and their newest location in the Niu Valley Shopping Center in East Oahu. Our visit here is at the King street location.

Aside of their giant GYOTAKU lightbox sign, this could be any other duplex business building along the bustling and lengthy King street corridor…

GYOTAKU Restaurant occupies the entire property, with ample parking surrounding it. As you see, there’s two levels, which we were seated upstairs, where just about everyone else was seated on this visit…

There’s private seating available in the back area beyond those Shoji doors…

Fittingly, GYOTAKU artwork adorns all walls within the establishment. Here’s one fine example of an Opah (moonfish)…

If you visit GYOTAKU’s website, you’ll notice their menu is very visual, including beautiful photographs of many of their dishes. Well, their menu in the restaurant is exactly the same, which is a nice touch, taking out some of the guesswork of what to order from their vast selection.

So let’s eat! Itadakimasu.

Last month we did a review of Natto from Iwamoto Natto Factory in Paia, Maui, where in the comments I mentioned GYOTAKU’s “Nattochos”, which is exactly what we ordered here as one of our appetizers…

GYOTAKU – Nattochos: Crispy Wonton Chips topped with Spicy Ahi and Onion Poke, Natto, Avocado, Yama-Imo, Green Onion, Daikon Sprouts, Nori and Sesame Seeds, $9.95 (full order shown)

How is it? AWESOME! Well, to Diner E and myself anyway. Fellow diners and “natto green horn” Diner A, C and AC weren’t as receptive trying the perceived pungent, sticky-gooey, slimy stuff, even when disguised among the many other layers of ingredients going on here. Which is just fine, as that left more for Diner E and myself to enjoy! Seriously though, this has got be one of the greatest adaptations of Nachos with an asian twist ever created. It’s fantastic!



Just the combination of the Spicy Ahi Poke (which was very fresh B-T-W) and Natto alone was great, then you got all the other textures and flavors adding to the mix, including the Yama-Imo (grated Japanese Yam; that white stuff), nori, bean sprouts and avocado, along with the golden crispy wonton chip… oh man! Good stuff! The gooeyness of the Natto makes it all that much better, along with it’s robust coffee bean-like element it adds. I could just whack a whole plate of this and I’d be good. Nattochos… that’s a winnah right there. Solid 4 SPAM Musubi rating, borderline 5.

So much so, I was lucky enough to get the fully-loaded “scrape everything off the plate” last bite!…


Moving on, we have a Dragon Roll…

GYOTAKU – Dragon Roll: Naked California Roll topped with Boiled Eel and Eel BBQ Sauce, $11.95

A closer look…

I’ve always loved Unagi, and this maki adaptation of the dish doesn’t disappoint. You can also tell it was made-to-order, not premade. Oishikatta.

That was enough shared appetizers to keep our chopsticks busy. Now onto the entrees, starting with birthday boy’s dish…

GYOTAKU – Yakitori Tenpura Combo Bento: California Roll served with Assorted Tenpura, Kobachi, Salad and Miso Soup, $17.95

A closer look…

Yakitori (grilled Chicken)

Shrimp, String Bean, Eggplant and Sweet Potato Tenpura

Kinpira Gobo

Naked California Roll

Diner C’s dish…

GYOTAKU – 2-choice Combination Bento: Misoyaki Butterfish and Tenpura, $13.95 (lunch special)

A closer look….

Misoyaki Butterfish

Shrimp, Eggplant, Sweet Potato and String Bean Tenpura

Diner AC’s dish…

GYOTAKU – 2-choice Combination Bento: Misoyaki Butterfish and Tonkatsu, $13.95 (lunch special)

A closer look…

Misoyaki Butterfish


Diner A also ordered a 2-choice combination bento, with he also opting for the Misoyaki Butterfish…

Misoyaki Butterfish

and Mochiko Chicken…

Mochiko (rice flour batter) Chicken

All bento combos include the protocol Miso Soup, Tsukemono and a Tossed Oriental Salad…

Oriental Salad, Miso Soup (with Konbu, Tofu and Negi) and Tsukemono (pickled vegetables)

Ah, why not? A closer look at this stuff too…

Oriental Salad with Gyotaku’s signature dressing (available for retail sale)

Shiro (white) Miso Soup with Konbu, Tofu and Negi (green onion)

Tsukemono – Pickled Cabbage, Cucumber and Carrot

Last but not least, yours truly ordered the Ten-don (not the tissue that connects muscle to bone)…

GYOTAKU – Ten-don: Shrimp and Vegetable Tenpura basted until moist with a special sweet sauce over rice, served with pickles and miso soup, $9.95 (lunch special)

How was it? My Ten-don was great. Light and crispy traditional style Japanese Tempura batter, while that mildly-sweet sauce drizzled over it all didn’t make the batter too soggy. It still had some crunch to it, while absorbing the sauce’ flavor and giving it that extra “zippidity-zip-zip-zap”.  The slightly-sweeted tempura sauce also complimented well with the rice. The massive “sumo-sized” shrimp were very succulent and sweet. Equally as tasty and succulent were the massive eggplant and sweet potato tenpura. Yum. Overall I really enjoyed my Ten-Don, especially for the price. Based on flavor, portion and value,  this deserves 4 SPAM Musubi.

Diner E raved about the Yakitori, noting its pronounced seared, flame-grillled accents and very moist and tender chicken and veggies on the skewer. Overall he rated his entire dish a solid 3 spam musubi, possibly borderline 4. Wow! That’s a lot said coming from super critical Diner E.

His polished plate backs up that borderline 4 SPAM Musubi rating…

Diner E’s “polished plate”… burp

Diner A gave a thumbs-up to the Mochiko Chicken, proclaiming it moist and tender inside and perfectly golden brown delicious on the outside, just as any good fried chicken should be.

I tried a few pieces of Diner AC’s Tonkatsu, along with the provided sauce and think it’s pretty good. Not as good as mine, but I’ll roll with it. The sauce tasted sort of like the Bull Dog brand, but a little more spicy, so I’m not sure what brand they use or whether they make their own. I think it’s bottle Japanese stuff though.

Then you have the Misoyaki Butterfish, which Diner A, C and AC ordered (is that some kind of electrical formula?), to which they all gave a thumbs-up on taste, but thumbs-down on portion. It was more like a “tease” than a serving in their opinion. Ya’ know? You can tell by looking at each serving shown above just how little is given. To put it into proportion, those serving dishes are only about 4″ square.

Everything considered, Diner A, C and AC gave their respective 2-choice bento entrees and side dishes 3 SPAM Musubi, although by a stretch considering the small portion of the Butterfish.

For dessert, Birthday boy Diner E was treated to a complimentary bowl of Dave’s Ice Cream…

Dave’s Ice Cream: Chocolate, Vanilla and Strawberry (Neopolitan)

We also tried the Green Tea Shave Ice…

GYOTAKU – Green Tea Shave Ice with Sweetened Azuki Beans and Vanilla Ice Cream

Just as you might assume, it’s shave ice (not shaveD ice) flavored with a sweetened green tea syrup. To top that, the sweetened azuki beans and vanilla ice cream compliment it beautifully, as you might be familiar with being that these are the most common accompaniments you’ll find at most shave ice shops around the island. The sweetened green tea flavoring the shaved ice retains its robust character, yet not so much where it’s obnoxious. Diner C enjoyed it the flavor so much that she went as far as asking the server whether they sell it for retail. Rounding it up, the Green Tea Shave Ice was a very light and refreshing way to finish a delicious lunch. Another interesting dessert item on their menu was the Okinawan Sweet Potato Pie. Next time for sure.

GYOTAKU also offers bentos to go (<–link downloads/opens menu PDF) from this handy-dandy take-out window in front…

It must also be noted that the service was fast and friendly, with all our orders arriving within 10 minutes of them being placed. That alone adds to the SPAM Musubi rating scale here.

Gyotaku is a great choice to have lunch or dinner, whether you’re with family, friends, coworkers or clientele. The food’s delicious, prices are reasonable, service quick and the dining room clean, spacious and comfortable. Highly recommended.

GYOTAKU Japanese Restaurant
1824 South King Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96826
Tel. 949-4584

The Tasty Island Rating:

Related links:
Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant – Yelp User Reviews

P.S. On behalf of Diner E’s birthday, we also enjoyed this scrumptious Dream Cake from Napoleon’s Bakery…



19 thoughts on “Mo'ili'ili Eats: Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant

  1. Nate, I’ll have to get back to you on that. I grew up in Kaneohe, so wouldn’t know the answer to such a “townie” question. lol

    As for Dream Cake, I’m not a chocolate cake fan, but gotta’ admit, Napoleon’s take on it is very moist and well executed, albeit very RICH! Don’t give this stuff to a hyperactive kid, that’s for sure. lol

  2. Pomai, the Gyotaku Special is not bad. I do like to try the green tea shave ice that something different for dessert. Boy I remember Ducth Girl Bakery on Lililha made this dream cake also. Mom brought it for once a month for the family.

    I almost forgot next time to try the natto nacho.

  3. The Dream Cake is not the same as I remember. It use to be my absolute favorite!!! Perhaps the quality of the ingredients has changed through the years.

  4. The last time you posted about natto I thought it looked gross. But, those nattochos look fantastic! I’m not too far from the Waimalo location, so I may need to give Gyotaku a try.

  5. One of our favorite restaurants to eat at with the kids. I’ve never tried the Nattochos tho b/c I’m not a big fan of the stuff…but maybe I should reconsider and give it a try. As always, love your pictures, Pomai.

    Okihwn, it used to be Suehiro. Don’t know what it was before that.

  6. Gyotaku’s an great place to go for decently priced Japanese food, but I still have a fondness for the old Suehiro’s that used to be there. The nabeyaki udon was excellent and the chicken karaage was amazing. I give Gyotaku props for evolving into a contemporary local Japanese restaurant (Nattochos!) that still has great staying power, though; how many other restaurants can boast that they can easily fill two floors with customers in these tough economic times? And for those of you who can’t handle natto, there are “Poke-chos” available, same thing but without the natto.

  7. We’ve only been to the Gyotaku in Pearl. It was football night so the place was really hopping. I don’t recall seeing the nattochos on the menu. We’ll have to try that next time.

  8. We’ve only been to the Gyotaku in Pearl. It was football night so the place was really hopping. I don’t recall seeing the nattochos on the menu. We’ll have to try that next time.
    Sorry, forgot to add great post! Can’t wait to see your next post!

  9. Syndrax, I see on that “Kids Eat Free on Monday and Tuesday” banner, that kids 10 years of age or under qualify for that deal. Yet what a deal! Not only do they get a free meal and dessert, but Origami paper and a toy too.

    CAB, speaking of football, I know you’re referring to a UH game at Aloha Stadium (bringing more crowd to the area), but what was a very nice to see at the King Street location was that there was not one giant flat screen TV in sight. In a day and age when it seems everyone’s trying to become a sports bar as a side attraction for added revenue (which I understand, but still!), it’s refreshing to go a restaurant that remains being just that: a RESTAURANT.

    Molly and Claire, now that you mention Suehiro’s, I believe I ate there before. It sounds so familiar. Molly, speaking of contemporary Japanese, I have yet to try Shokudo near Ala Moana Center, which I’ve heard favorable comments from coworkers who’ve been there. Yelp reviews seem to back that claim up.

    Molly, I must say, Ahi Poke and Natto go together like peanut butter and jelly… those two are a perfect match! The supermarkets need to start adding this to their Poke cases. At least on a trial basis to see how it does. I’ll blog a bowl of Natto Ahi Poke later. Winnah!

    Kristin, if you’re not so sure about the Nattochos, I’d recommend starting with Pokechos as Molly suggested. I’m quite confident you’ll enjoy it. Well that is, if you like Ahi Poke.

    Penelope, are you referring to Napoleon Bakery’s version?

    Michael, you and Nate brought up some old school bakery names I don’t even know or remember. Dutch Girl Bakery in Liliha? Are they still there? Alexander Young Hotel Bakery? I’m guessing they were on Hotel street? Or on Young street? lol

  10. No, Dutch Girl quit the business many years ago. But left many fond memories. Their orange chiffon sponge cake was the best and my uncle love their apple pie very much.

  11. Pomai, the only way I will get misoyaki butterfish is at Roy’s on Mission in San Francisco. Roy Yamaguchi’s restaurant. It been years since I had it. Of all the shave recipe this green tea shave ice is awesome looking. I got to try this place when in town.

  12. I thought that building had Suehiro before. My family went there many times.

    And by the way it was cousins of my mother that had Dutch Girl Bakery. They even opened a second in what is now Kahala Mall when it was just a one-story neighborhood shopping center – forget the name of it then.

  13. Man, that building brings back lots of memories. Before moving to the mainland I lived three blocks away, and used to eat there all the time when it was Suehiro.

  14. Sounds like the nattochos were all I’d hoped they’d be. Love that natto goodness!

    Gyotaku is definitely on the list for September.

    I’ve been to Shokudo a couple of times. It’s fine, but the honey toast dessert (with chocolate) is hands down my favorite thing there.

    I’m intrigued by the natto-poke combo …

  15. I totally agree with your assessment of Ahi Poke and Natto (and agree that those Nattochos are killer). The folks with the sushi concession at Marukai (Dillingham branch) make an Ahi Poke/Natto combo mixed with bits of pickled daikon spread over rice (that’s even better after 4pm cuz it’s 20% off).

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