Habuya, a True Okinawan Restaurant (and maybe the only one) in California

Remember the movie Karate Kid 2? Where Mr. Miyagi goes back to Okinawa to get his honor back?

What he meant by honor, was to honor his stomach by eating some bitter melon, an ingredient in signature Okinawan dishes like goya chanpuru which is a stir fry of bitter melon, tofu, egg, and sliced pork or Spam. Since Mr. Miyagi likes his alcohol, you know he washed it all down with a Okinawan brewed Orion beer. All of which was the honorable way to do it. *cue Peter Cetera “Glory of Love.”*

Okinawans (a.k.a. Ryukyuan) are Japanese, but the cuisine has some distinctive differences

Just like Hawaii is part of the United States, the culture in Hawaii is dramatically different from the mainland much like Okinawa is to Japan.

More originality here than Chotskies, Buca Di Bepo, and Applebee’s combined.

A Cool Interior With a Lot of Character

One of the coolest interiors in Orange County because a lot of the art in the restaurant was done by the owner Mayumi Vargas herself.

From the 808 to Okinawa, what’s up with people on small islands and their love for Spam?

Distinctively Okinawan Dishes/Foods

Goya chanpuru $6.80, is one of the most iconic Okinawan dishes, so don’t pass it up when putting your order in.

Those are not anal beads, but they are a type of seaweed often referred to as “sea grapes” or in Japanese “umi budou.

This was my first time having umi budou, and if you want to get all fancy, the latin name for this type of algae is called “caulerpa lentillifera.”

When it comes to epic salads, this is an epic Okinawan deluxe ocean salad, $15.

How was my sashimi and umi budou salad? Think fresh and crunchy algae/seaweed (it is nothing like tiny grapes) mixed with fresh salmon and tako sashimi. All those ingredients amount to an epic salad well worth the money.

Bdubs (Buffalo Wild Wings if you don’t know) has nothing on these wings because they aren’t overcooked, tough, and dry like it had sat in a tanning booth.

Japanese restaurants typically have either a grilled (teba/tebasaki) or a deep-fried (tebasaki karaage) chicken wing. Regardless how they are prepared, you won’t get the overcooked wing you would find at an American chicken wing restaurant.

That time doodling in class really paid off for someone.

The Owner, Mayumi’san

There are always the occasional hand drawn and written signage and promo’s on the tables. The amount of time it takes to creates these just reflects on how much effort Mayumi’san puts into her business.

What do you get for $8, you’re looking at it.

The Rest of the Menu

Yea, they do a very basic shoyu ramen here and a number of other noodle dishes which are just aiggghhhht, but throw that in with a number of other items and drinks, and we coo.

Even Okinawans eat dessert (just not deep-fried Twinkies).

Okinawans do eat dessert, and I think they typically have daifuku which is an anko/azuki filled mochi or a yuzu sherbert (I like both).

Coming here is like a mini gallery exhibit except you don’t have to stand in front of it pretending to  be moved by the interplay of colors and juxtaposition of shapes.

Characteristics of Okinawan cuisine

  • Okinawan dishes are a combination of S.E. Asian, Chinese, and American influences due to trade or the U.S. presence in Okinawa.
  • Common or signature ingredients are goya (bitter melon), turmeric, miso, salt, kombu, and katsuobushi.
  • I found this surprising, but due to a number of factors from the hot climate, religion, to the surrounding types of fish species, seafood is not a huge part of the Okinawan diet.
  • This is a good one, it’s quotes about Okinawan cuisine which goes that it: “begins with pig and ends with pig” and “every part of a pig can be eaten except its hooves and its oink.”

Popular Okinawan dishes and drinks

Here are a few of the most distinctive Okinawan dishes that are a combination of S.E. Asian, Chinese, and American influences due to trade or the U.S. presence in Okinawa.

  • Gōyā chanpurū (bitter melon, egg, and pork)
  • Okinawa soba (the base stock is like ramen)
  • Rafute (braised pork belly)
  • Taco rice (Americanized taco ingredients with rice)
  • Tofuyo (fermented tofu)
  • Umi-budo (sea grapes/algae)
  • Awamori (a dialcohol unique to Okinawa made of long-grain indica rice from Thailand)
  • Orion (brand of beer from Okinawa)


This took some research because I knew there were some distinct differences when calling somebody from Taiwan, “Chinese.” Something you may want to have a sensitivity to because just like Taiwan is an island off of China, Okinawa is also a tiny little island off the Southwest tip of Japan. Both countries have their own distinctive roots and culture much like Hawaii does in contrast to the mainland U.S.

Okinawa is part of an island chain called the Ryukuan islands, and they are considered a part of Japan. The indigenous people of these islands are called Ryukuan or Lechewan. There’s a bunch of subgroups within the population, and Okinawans are considered to be a part of it because even though they do speak Japanese, and their nationality is Japanese, they are still considered Japan’s largest minority group with 1.3 million living in Okinawa or dispersed outside of Japan, mostly in Hawaii.

So after reading all that, and if you still feel the way I do which is like Hank Hill:

Hank: So are you Chinese or Japanese?
Kahn: I live in California last twenty years, but first come from Laos.
Hank: Huh?
Kahn: Laos. We Laotian.
Bill: The ocean? What ocean?
Kahn: We are Laotian. From Laos, stupid! It’s a landlocked country in Southeast Asia. It’s between Vietnam and Thailand, okay? Population 4.7 million.
Hank: (pause) So, are you Chinese or Japanese?

If that’s you, you need to read Kelly Yamamoto’s response about “Do Okinawans identify themselves as Japanese first, or Okinawan? The answer is so well done, so go read it.

If Masaaki Komori can make bitter melon look this good, this is who I would go to if I needed a pic of myself bathing. #valentines Used under CC rights.

It is not just Pat Morita’s character in the Karate Kid who have Okinawan roots

How about some famous celebrities with a Okinawan connection:

  1. Tamlyn Tomita, the actress best known for her role in “The Karate Kid, Part II” who is a a quarter Filipina.
  2. Brian Tee, the actor best known for “Fast and the Furious, Tokyo Drift” was born in Okinawa, but left when he two years old. He is of Japanese and Korean ethnicity.
  3. Merle Dandridge, the actress in “The Last of Us” was born in Okinawa, and she is of Korean, Japanese and African-American heritage.
  4. Namie Amuro, is a musician and actress, and she was born in Okinawa. She is a quarter Italian and Japanese.

Where da hell is Okinawa

Where is Okinawa? It’s that tiny little island that I circled in red. For a closer look in and around Okinawa via Google Maps, click this link or Google Earth here.

If you went through the American school system, that round circle is either highlighting Great Britain or Okinawa.

Here’s your chance of getting a taste of Okinawa in Orange County without doing a 22 hour flight from SNA to OKA for about $1k.

Habuya Okinawan Dining

14125 Red Hill Ave
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 832-3323

11:30am-2pm, 5:30-11pm5:30-11pmClosed

Instagram: Mayumi’san, the owner of Habuya is amazingly creative, so a lot her work adorns the menu, the walls, to the artists she has performing in her business regardless how tiny her venue is, it doesn’t stop her from having musicians and other entertainers. So don’t miss out on the food and entertainment, and make sure you add her on Instagram at

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