Sushi Zen

Should You Bring The Kitchen Sink?
SushiZenSign, originally uploaded by okinawa hai.

PHOTOS & REVIEW CONTRIBUTED BY AVIVA BOWMAN

This past July, a new restaurant, Sushi Zen, opened its doors near the Sunabe Seawall. Local sushi lovers frequent this neighborhood spot to enjoy conversation with the friendly chef and owner (who moved here after spending 25 years in Queens, New York – and loves to talk about it), eat delicious rolls and sashimi, and spend time in the quaint, inviting environment. There really isn’t much in the way of cooked food on the menu. The extent is probably the shrimp tempura roll and the grilled unagi, but if it’s the raw fish delicacies you’re craving, this is the place. Beer, sake, and awamore are served in addition to the regular non-alcoholic beverages.

My friend and I walked in past the well-lit menu placed outside the front door, and the red and black vertical sign overhead. We sat in the larger tatami area next to the eight-seat sushi bar. The warmly lit room was very comfortable, and there were bits of New York memorabilia tastefully scattered around the restaurant. A subway map is on the wall in the hallway toward the rest rooms, and in the main dining area you’ll spot a framed set of New York license plates. The room is small, and so the conversation flows easily, even among the patrons, and the staff is attentive and kind.

I ordered some cold sake (daiginjyo), which was served in the typical way. The server put down a cube-shaped wooden cup called a masu box, and placed a tall slender glass inside. She unsheathed a large green bottle and started to pour, and when it got to the top of the cup, she kept going. The sake overflowed into the square cup until it too was filled. This is a gesture of generosity and hospitality.

We ordered house salads with a citrus ginger dressing and edamame to start. For the main course we ordered a flower roll (tuna wrapped around the rice and seaweed with avocado in the center, put together in a flower shape), a rainbow roll, negihamachi roll (yellowtail with scallions), a dragon roll, hamachi sashimi, and a spicy tuna roll. The hamachi was a bit firm on this visit, but very tasty, and the other fish and the salad was fresh and delicious. At a previous visit, I had tried the seafood salad (assorted raw fish atop a cool fresh salad with the ginger citrus vinaigrette) and the tako (octopus) and they were also fantastic. At the end of the meal, the server placed a plate with some sweet pear slices in front of us as she presented the check.

I’ve eaten there several times (I live in the neighborhood) and I’ve yet to speak to anyone who doesn’t love the food and the experience at Sushi Zen.  The prices are reasonable for the quality. The only complaint I’ve ever heard is that it’s crowded and the wait for a table might be too long. In my opinion, it’s sushi worth waiting for – or just go early!

Hours: Sunday Closed. Monday- Friday: 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm; Saturday: 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm

Phone: 098-936-5586

Address: 15-64 Minato, Chatan

Google Maps Coordinates: 26.3209967, 127.74942899999996

Directions: (taken from comments):

Sushi Zen is located very close to the Sunabe sea wall. Go out Kadena gate one south on 58. Make a right at the light with the Chinese restaurant on the right/Family Mart on left (toward the Sunabe Sea Steps); go almost all the way down until you are at the second to last block and make a left. Take this all the way to the end and you will reach a one way road, go right (the only way you can go) the road curves around to the right and runs along the sea wall, park along the wall. This location is two or three doors down from where the road curves, on your right.

 Website: http://sushizenokinawa.com

43 COMMENTS

  1. I have tried this restaurant three times since 2012, and each time the service was notably worse. The first and even second time we tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, but after the third time I will never go back. We were only able to order after flagging down a waiter (no one came to our table for upwards of 20 minutes), and once our food was brought out, no one ever returned. We wanted to order more (or at least a drink refill) but finally gave up waiting. We had to go to the cashier to ask to pay so we could leave. It’s sad because this place has the potential to be awesome, although the policy towards Japanese people is also really off-putting. Life is too short; eat at one of the amazing other restaurants in Okinawa!

    • they strongly dont want u to order more. just waiter got angered by the owner for it and the owner usually wont acccept it cuz he sucks
      so they dont have to stop at your seat normally, and its causing u flagging down.

  2. Finally tried the great Sushi Zen after being here two years and I was not impressed! Slow, slow service, don’t go there hungry, you will starve! Rolls were okay but nothing special. Spendy, for the four of us is was $80! Ouch! You get to the point that it is taking so long, did they forget your order. Will not go back, too many really go places to eat!

  3. It’s worth mentioning that, even though their website (and this article) says they’re open Mon-Sat, they’re not. They are closed Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

  4. I have been here twice. The first time we had slow service and an argumentative waitress. She insisted we ordered a roll that we didn’t. We took it anyway as not to make a fuss but she kept making note that she was correct and we were wrong. The tempura flakes on one of the rolls we ordered were oily and old tasting. It didn’t leave a great impression. We decided to give it a second chance hoping it was just a bad night. We had reservations for two. For the first hour we received water and were unable to even place an order from the waitress. She kept saying she would be with us shortly. It didn’t even appear to be busy. Next she brought some hot tea and left again and we didn’t see her again for the remainder of the hour. We got up and left. I figure with the wonderful plethora of eating establishments in Okinawa, this wasn’t acceptable. I do not plan to return here again.

  5. Sushi Zen Okinawa is without a doubt an experience you will never forget!

    I am a US Citizen and a veteran of our Armed Forces, with 13 years living in and around Honshu and the Ryukyu Islands. This is a snapshot of my experience at Sushi Zen Okinawa, an over-inflated sushi house on Sunabe’s Seawall.

    Being my first time to Sushi Zen Okinawa, it was recommended by friends to make reservations in advance. Having done so, I expected a bit of quality reserved seating for my party. I was wrong. I should have suspected something was wrong when I tried to make reservations and the person over the phone asked me a strange question. “Are there any Japanese in your party?” I identified my wife and child are Japanese and the response I got was a drawn out pause followed by heavy breathing. Was the person making notes on paper or thinking about what to say next? When we arrived the following evening, my family and I were welcomed to a tacky membership notice posted on their front door and advertising fees for Japanese patrons to abide by in order to enjoy the establishment. I understand the back story and the owners association to charge different people different prices, hell, there was a time in American history when there were “White’s Only” signs posted at drink fountains and bathrooms across our nation. But to operate a sushi restaurant in Japan (where sushi is staple) and then tax the local nationals with a membership fee, thereby segregating the Japanese, made for a very uncomfortable feeling entering the restaurant with my family.

    We were immediately greeted by a lovely Japanese hostess. Missing was the typical Japanese phrase of welcoming patrons into your doors, “いらっしゃいませ!” (Irasshaimase!), rather a quiet approach took its place. I announced I had a reservation for three and after the hostess validated my seating, she glances at my wife and kid. The hostess then leans into my ear and asks, “are they Japanese?” Wait a second, am I in some Manzanar incarceration camp in the middle of Death Valley? “Yes. My wife and kid are Japanese.” She inspects them further and took about 10 seconds of calculation to finally decide and lead us past the threshold. We were immediately ushered to the first room with a table that was out of sight and out of mind to the other patrons. This wouldn’t have bothered me, had this been a prepared table set for the number of guests I reserved for. But the table was not set, it was filthy from the previous guests, and the walls had stains from weeks/months of Shoyu neglect that stained through the walls. For a place advertising membership and claiming, “You Tried the Rest, Now Try the Best” written on their menus, this establishment required some much needed TLC in the housekeeping, hygiene and customer service department.

    The menu. English. When I asked for a Japanese menu, I got the deer in the headlamps routine, as if I had green skin and was asking for a Dodger Dog and a Super BIG Gulp. How dare I ask for a Japanese menu for my Japanese wife, from my Japanese attendant, working in a Japanese sushi restaurant, that happens to be sitting on a Japanese island. I didn’t get the menu, because “we don’t have any Japanese menu’s.” We make do with what we have and place our order a few minutes later. And it wasn’t surprising that when my wife would speak Japanese to our Japanese attendant, she would reply in English. Our attendant was trying very hard not to respond in Japanese; there must me some rule in affect where the staff is not allowed to speak Japanese in order to preserve some surreal appreciation for Americana in the sushi house; the decor was U.S. military and Harley Davidson paraphernalia, cliché.

    Our order comes in and its portions are definitely catered to the western palette. Lemon slices were on my salmon sashimi. Really, lemon slices? My kids Yakitori were the biggest I have ever seen in Japan. They were more like chicken kabobs from your local commissary–minus the vegetables–just huge chunks of chicken breast skewered and micro waved to room temperature. Apparently this is the norm as everything we got was SUPER SIZED and cold. I will give this to the sushi house, the cuts for both the Sashimi and the Nigiri were very well done. Not exceptional, but well done to where I could appreciate the marbleized fat off the salmon, and the Kampachi was very fresh and chosen carefully as it did not have the rubbery texture associated with more muscle tensed yellow-tail. Those are the only compliments I will give. The chef knows how to choose and cut his fish. But what threw me over the edge and had me ready to leave the sushi house was the chef. I was taking my daughter to the restroom and not knowing where it was located, I asked the chef behind the sushi counter in Japanese, “Excuse me, my kid needs to use the restroom, where is it?” He hears and ignores me twice (he actually turned and looked at me once). But after realizing my error of speaking Japanese in a Japanese sushi house, I finally asked in English. The response I got was the chef blindly pointing with his knife in the general direction of the toilet. Luckily, another attendant was within ear shot and probably saw the anger in my face, because she had already made moves to escort me and my kid to the stall. Seeing her mechanical smile is what saved me from jumping over the counter and unleashing my Mexican Judo on the Ginsu.

    Overall, having my family insulted at this exclusive “White’s Only” sushi house was a depressing reminder of humanities shortsightedness in categorizing a majority, based on the actions of the minority (the few decide the outcome for the masses), “it’s not easy being green.” After hearing so many great things about the food and the ambiance of Sushi Zen Okinawa, I was truly disappointed by its lack of upkeep, cleanliness and staff. There are many more options available to those wanting a dining experience that is both culturally and family accepting. Yoshihachi’s and Kami Kami are two establishments that fit this category and both are close to Kadena. For traditional Nigiri, head over to Kokusai St. in Naha where you will run into a sushi house on every block.

    BOTTOM LINE: “A hyped up, over-priced sushi house with no character. Avoid.”
    Good: Accepts Visa or Mastercard, fresh fish & cuts to match and oversized portions for the hungry.
    Bad: Discrimination, customer service, hygiene, poor lighting and parking.

  6. Went to sushi zen tonight with the family, great ambience. The grown ups were louder than my son so I didn’t mind bringing him along for dinner. Well, as for the sushi, delicious is a great word to describe it. The selection is plentiful, I will certainly be back and try all 40 rolls throughout my time here. Parking can be tricky, it might take a few loops around the block to find a good one were you won’t be ticketed.

  7. I’ve heard nothing but great things, and I can’t wait to try this restaurant. However, my girlfriend is Japanese and I don’t want her to feel out of place or have to pay extra (because I’m the one paying after all). Any insight or past experience with bringing a japanese spouse or significant other into Sushi Zen?

  8. Hey! My husband and I are going there tonight for the first time. We have been here on island for 4.5 years..so it’s about time!
    About the membership: The owner of the place is a retired military who is fluent in Japanese. When he first opened, locals were allowed, but they were speaking ill of Americans. The owner understood them and that is when he decided that he would not allow them to come eat there anymore, unless there was a type of fee and with another American.
    There are places here on island where American’s are not allowed and we must respect it. It’s not that the business is being ignorant, it is preventing a lot of possible fights from happening. Sushi Zen is located around bars and Gate1 can get rowdy…so preventing those of us who do speak Japanese and can understand the smack talking, some rules have been applied.

  9. Everything sounds great if it weren’t for the chef’s explicit intention to deliberately keep Japanese people away from his restaurant.

    Japanese people need to become “members” of the restaurant. The membership fee is $5000 and the annual fee costs another $6000 (yes, with all the zeros), while Americans can go and eat free of nonsense membership fees.

    I understand the fact that he wants to create an American-friendly environment in his restaurant, but I don’t understand the need to discriminate and rip his own countrymen off like that.

    Unfortunately, for someone who loves the local culture and people like I do, it is just sad to see someone making distinction of ethnicities like this, promoting discrimination.

    I will never go to such a place. I suppose that being in Japan it is not difficult to find true traditional Japanese sushi round here. Besides, purporting to offer authentic Japanese sushi and having California and New York rolls on the menu sounds more like a joke to me.

    I wonder if people from nationalities other than American can also walk in for free there or the rule only applies to US citizens only.

  10. My husband loves Sushi Zen and considers it the best sushi restaurant on the island. I prefer Yoshi’s because I find it’s a little less expensive and you get a bit more plus Yoshi’s has non-sushi dinners for the picky eaters. One thing I do like about Sushi Zen is that you rarely see children in there – it’s more of an adults only atmosphere.

  11. Janet,

    Sushi Zen is open Monday thru Saturday, from 5-9. Yuki is closed on Sunday. My husband took me for my birthday last month, and we loved it!! It seems to me that the menu has changed a bit since we last ate there though… perhaps he downsized a bit, or perhaps it has been over 6 months since we have eaten there.

  12. I just heard from a buddy of mine that there will be an article about Sushi Zen in the English version the Daily Yomiuri this week. Hopefuly, it will give Yuki-san the respect he deserves. I will post a link when its online,
    Peace,
    DD

  13. With regards to the “Japanese Discrimination” rumors. I went to Sushi Zen with my friend, who is not shy. He blatantly asked the owner/sushi chef, Yuki-san, about the fee for Japanese customers. In so many words, we were told that the fee is to ensure they really want to be there. Yuki-san told us that we couldn’t understand what the Japanese customers were saying, but that he, speaking Japanese, could indeed understand and was offended by their anti-American comments. Yuki-san stated that he respects the American service members very much – feels comfortable around them after living in NY for over 20 yrs, and wants to provide a place where Americans can eat in peace, enjoy themselves, and not worry about Anti-American sentiment. This is the reason that unless accompanied by an American, Yuki-san will charge. He’s not discriminating against the Japanese, so relax. For goodness sake, all of his employees are local. Do you think they’d really work for him if he were so awful? Sushi Zen is the best sushi I’ve ever had, and Yuki-san’s generosity and graciousness is much missed by me since I left Okinawa. He is a dear man.

  14. From Gate 1 kadena turn left. Go down 58 and make a right at the light before the sega store. Go down that street until you come to a light at 4 way intersection (i think there is a taco place -pink tacos?0 on the right. Turn left there. This road dead ends at the begining of the sea wall. Drive down and after a few blocks there will be a sharp right hand turn. Sushi Zen will be at the end of that block. you cant’ miss it.

  15. We have heard great reviews about Sushi Zen. Being on the island for 3 weeks now, we decided to venture out to find the place. After reading the postings on updated directions, we had no luck. It must be a small place, or just not marked well?? All I know is, we drove around for over an hour and finally gave up :(. We ended up at the Four Seasons, which exceeded beyond our expectations! I will definetly have to look into finding directions leading us to Sushi Zen. It’s at the top of our list for Sushi!

  16. Is this restaurant connected with Restaurant Zen on the route 58 parallel near Foster, just south of the “Bunny Store”? Has anyone eaten there? Thanks!

  17. I know that this is a little after the fact, but Sushi Zen is the best sushi by far on the island. If you don’t like seaweed, try the soy wrap, unbelievable!
    If you are concerned with the membership, I highly suggest that you speak with the owner, who is also the chef, of Zen before you make any assumptions.
    If you would like to avoid the wait, try to make reservations ahead of time, it makes the wait a little less, but the food is always worth it.

  18. Sushi Zen has moved, it is now located very close to the Sunabe sea wall.
    Out Kadena gate one south on 58. Make a right at the light before the Sega building (toward the Sunabe Sea Steps) go almost all the way down until you are at the second to last block and make a left. take this all the way to the end and you will reach a one way road, go right (the only way you can go) the road curves around to the right and runs along the sea wall, here you will want to park the new location is about two or three doors down from where the road curved downstairs from a bar. it is clearly marked but can be hard to see at night due to lack of lighting.
    and i’ve never seen any sign saying locals cant go in there. i’ll have to look next time but i see Japanese people in there all the time.

  19. I just got here about 3 weeks ago and have been craving sushi but haven’t found a place to go. I was interested in Sushi
    Zen until I read about the no locals allowed. I can’t give a company business that is that ignorant. After all, they are in Japan…right?

  20. I’ve heard of some places here where Americans/foreigners are not allowed or with restrictions, but this is the first time I’ve heard of a place here where the restriction/condition is placed on a local national. Huh…

  21. I don’t know if anybody has noticed but the entrance door has a sigh. In English, it says something like “We welcome all service men and women” kinda stuff. In Japanese, it says “Members Only”. My wife is Japanese and she clarified with a staff that she is allowed to dine there only if escorted by me, an American. If she wanted to come with her Japanese friends or parents, they will have to pay 100,000yen, yes, $1000 per year on top of a 50,000yen, $500 sign-up fee. Oh, and my wife will have to have two “recommendation letters” by current Sushizen members (like there is any!). I just thought this was outrageous! Basically, they want to keep the Japanese out. Whatever the reason may be for this decision, I am not sure if I can support the business if they are going to discriminate against my wife for her race…!

    Any of you readers had any issues with your Japanese spouse or friends who went without the “American” escort???

  22. We just got on island last week and a friend of ours took us there the other night and it was delicious! I am sure I will be there quite often over the next 3 years!

  23. I just spotted it on my run tonight and it had an “open” sign posted. I had my dog with me so I did not investigate more…
    It is now located in the Minato neighborhood; just a few doors up from the bar/restaurant with the large moon on the corner, by the seawall steps.

  24. Sushi Zen is now going to be right around the corner from Sunset Music School and Eclipse and Cafe Nirai on the southern corner of the sea wall near the marina. The sign on the NEW door (which I spotted while taking my kid to her Piano lesson on Monday) says “Open November” – but no specific date in November. I go on Mondays – if I see it’s open I’ll post a comment. I saw the construction and I can’t say it looks like it’ll be November first, but the Japanese workers can be fast! I can’t wait for the new one, but I’m bummed – it’s a much longer walk home when I have a few drinks now!

  25. Drove by today. Sign is down. They have moved out. (looks boarded up) I’ve heard they have relocated- but not sure where. Sad. Was such a quaint, cool place. Anyone know where they went?

  26. Never mind — Sushi Zen is still there. And fantastic! We got there before 6pm and there were plenty of tables. We sat at the bar to watch the master at work. Had a fun conversation with Yuki about how eating the “garnishes” is actually a part of dealing with any issues related to eating raw fish — the wasabi and radish, mint and parsley. Cool info!

  27. This place is good, but the wait is horribly long. We waited a really long time for a dish to come out; 10-15 minutes per dish. We were starving and the waitress really needed to be flagged down to refill us on water. Food not worth the wait.

  28. According to one of our readers, Sushi Zen is going to be relocating at the end of August and will reopen in September. Will keep you posted when we know more! – Kelly

  29. Thanks, Kelly! Yeah, I hear ya – I am thinking of having one more baby but will miss sushi & sake the most – just like last time. Thanks for the photo compliment too. I’ll be ready & waiting to be company when you (collectively with hubby too) want to go!

  30. Yum! It looks great. It sounds great. Can’t wait until the time that I can sit down and enjoy some sushi (and sake) again. Will definitely have to hit it! Thanks for the great review (my husband’s mouth was watering while reading it!) PS – like the dramatic picture!

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