Three little restaurants you should know about

By David Higgins

Som Chai serves the most authentic Thai food on the island.

If you ever walk around Koza/Gate 2 area during the day you’d be surprised to discover there are some culinary treasures lurking within the shadows of the rundown appearance of the area.  The place looks beat up and tired, and it seems its energy and enthusiasm has been waning.  It’s no wonder why plenty of building space is vacant; customers just aren’t swarming the area like they used to. With all the free space, rents have dropped, allowing savvy entrepreneurs a chance to make their dreams happen.

Three very delicious restaurants in the area have tickled my fancy recently and I rotate through each of them weekly. The first restaurant is called Som Chai, a Thai restaurant that must be the closest thing to Thai food outside of Thailand in my opinion.

The restaurant is always busy.  Every time I have visited, no matter what time it’s always packed and the chef is completely slammed, but the food quality is so high it’s unreal.  I always order the same thing every time I go; Pad Thai and the Yam Gai chicken over salad with sweet chili dressing.  The Thai chicken salad is delicious and topped with peanuts, cilantro and lemon.  It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

I highly recommend a visit to Som Chai because it’s really just the best place to eat in that area.  Prices run about ¥800 a dish.  Bring some extra cash as you are likely to want to order two dishes, it’s so good.

Som Chai is easy to find. It’s located on a small alley just at the north end of Ichibangai Mall in Okinawa City.

Dos Manos is open only afternoons, but the food is incredible.

The next best place to eat in the area is a Mexican restaurant called Dos Manos.  Unfortunately, its operating hours are not that desirable, but the incredible food makes up for them.  Dos Manos is open 12 to 5 p.m. but closed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

This Mexican food is the most authentic Mexican food that exists on Okinawa.  It’s nothing like Tex-Mex, and every time I have eaten there the patrons are speaking Spanish, which I tend to believe indicates that you are eating real authentic Mexican food.  So far the most delicious thing I have had on their menu is the soft tacos.  You will notice the quality of the food right away because the tortilla is homemade, thicker, and very flavorful.  The soft tacos are exquisite because they do not have too much sauce, too much salt or cheese, but are far from dry.

The owners are a Japanese couple who are fantastic at creating authentic Mexican cuisine.  Go to this restaurant if you want authentic Mexican food the way it’s originally made. The restaurant is located on Route 330. From KAB go to Goya Intersection and turn left, and it’s on the left about 50 meters from the intersection.

Taiwan Restaurant is hiding on a small alley next to Ichibangai Mall.

The third place is the Taiwan Restaurant. Although the storefront may lack splendor, this restaurant is a delightful discovery.  The interior resembles an old karaoke/snack bar, which it definitely still is or was in the past.

I lived in Taiwan for a total of four years but I had never tasted Taiwanese food like here.  One of the best items on the menu is Fried Noodles. They definitely hit the spot and the owner makes them spicy which is a detour from the decidedly bland and “safe“ foods found in many restaurants on the island.

As the location is tucked away down a hidden alley, this restaurant should not be overlooked.  The owner’s recipes are unique and refreshing if you are tired of the same old thing. The Taiwan restaurant is at http://goo.gl/maps/XWHmB

It’s so wonderful that these restaurants exist, and it creates a feeling of excitement and anticipation in the Koza/Gate 2 area for more restaurants and shops to come.  It is hoped that those who have the entrepreneurial spirit will take the chance and use their ingenuity to open creative quality shops that will populate the area.  I highly recommend all three of these restaurants in any order and I will guarantee you will be impressed by any of them.