Everybody has their favorite izakaya (pub). They’re all kind of similar in a way, but every izakaya has their strong points – Honda-ya has a gargantuan menu to please everyone, Kappo Sui has a wonderfully tired 90s feel to it and has the best fish dishes, and Torihei has their Kyoto-style oden – so it’s hard to say which one is the best.
That said, our current favorite is Shin Okinawa Izakaya in Torrance, right in the izakaya warzone off of Western Ave with the likes of Musha, Torihei, and Yuzu. We love this place because not only is the food good, it’s different. It doesn’t cost and arm and a leg. And there’s Okinawan booze!
Okinawan cuisine has strong Chinese and Thai influences because the Ryukyu Islands used to be a Chinese providence until the late 19th century, and was on the trade route. And because it’s a secluded island, the food culture is vastly different from mainland cuisine. The cuisine utilizes a lot of Southeast Asian vegetables like goya (bittermelon), luffah, papaya, shallots, and chili peppers, and the main protein is pork, due to a belated introduction to Buddhism (in the mainland, meat was not part of the everyday meal until the 19th century. An example of heavily Buddhist-influenced food would be Kyoto cuisine – which means lots of soy and vegetables.) And spam. Yes, spam (due to US occupation).
Mosey on to check out some island food (but first, turn on some Okinawan music. And make sure to grab a pitcher of ice cold beer)!
Shima Tofu Salad (6.75). Shima (“Island”) Tofu is dense, unlike regular tofu. Love the oniony punch is the dressing.
Goya Champloo (6.75). Champloo means stir fry in Okinawan. Usually has lots of bean sprouts, eggs, and shima tofu in it. The goya is so effing bitter, it’s goooood.
Rafuteh (7). Which is simliar to the mainlander’s Kakuni (simmered pork belly), or the Chinese Dongpo Pork, or the Vietnamese Thit Kho. A-ha! Cultural crossovers! Rafuteh traditionally uses spareribs though.
Hubby wanted some “substantial” alcohol to go with the Rafuteh, so he ordered a glass of Shimauta Awamori (6). Awamori is a distilled rice liquor that is only made in Okinawa. It’s like shochu/soju, but more badass. It’s got a funky, earthy nose to it, much like sweet potato shochu.
Shikwasa Chuhai (4.80) for me. Shikwasa or flat lemon is a citrus fruit that is endemic to Okinawa. Very sour and refreshing.
… And some Shikawasa-ade (3) for the kids.
Pork and Eggs (5.50). Straight up American GI influence. Basically spam and omelets.
Beef tataki (5.95).
Mimigar Miso-ae (4.50). This is true nose-to-tail eating. Pork ears, boiled, then tossed in miso. So good with beer. Don’t get the garlic one, get the miso!!!
Housemade Sausages with organic herbs (4.95).
Karaage (5.95). Because you can’t go to a Japanese pub and not order fried chicken. That’s blasphemy.
Some carbs to shime (end) the meal:
Spicy garlic potatoes (3.95).
Somin Champloo (6.75). Somin = somen in Okinawan.
Soki Soba (7.50). It’s called soba, but it’s actually Chinese-style wheat noodles instead of buckwheat noodles. Chewy noodles x clear, simple Bonito-heavy soup x a little bit of rich rafuteh = OMGsogood. Especially when you’re kinda drunk.
Annin Purin (almond jelly) with Passion Fruit gelee. Finito!
Shin Okinawa Izakaya
1880 W Carson St
Torrance, CA 90501