The Lost Blogs #27
Travel Dates: Sat, April 28, 2012 – Thu, May 3, 2012
After our string of bad luck the previous day, picking up this neon green rental car was probably one of the most exciting parts about our trip! My friend was thrilled to drive a car again, and we were lucky to have GPS to help us navigate around the main island. The weather was still wet and gloomy, so we knew there wasn’t going to be any sun-bathing or swimming, but we still wanted to get our feet on the beach, and Naha’s Naminoue Beach was NOT gonna cut it.
Japan-Guide, one of my favorite travel websites covering Japan, wrote a very nice guide to Beaches on Okinawa Main Island. I knew I should’ve trusted it when it said that “Okinawa Honto is not considered to have the prefecture’s very beast beaches,” but, regardless, beaches do exist. We drove out to Sunset Beach, which is just next to Mihama American Village.
The beach is open from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm and is absolutely free. The weather was cold, and the water even colder, but it was so nice to finally set foot on a beach with clean sand and feel the water running between our toes!
We hung out for a bit, but then it looked like the rain was on its way, so we headed over to Mihama American Village to eat lunch.
It’s hard to come from California, where the cuisine is just as diverse as its population. The four of us missed a lot of foods from back home, like Mexican tacos, and real, big, beefy, American burgers (McDonald’s doesn’t count!). Before we came to Okinawa, we had asked some of our friends, students, and co-workers what they thought about the islands, and while everyone had differing opinions, we heard a lot of people say, “Okinawa is great, but the food is terrible!” Some popular local specialties of Okinawa are goya (bitter melon), soba, and Taco rice… Maybe they just sat around eating goya all day. I hate goya. Can’t stand even the sight of the stuff. But taco rice? Yum. So good. Delicious. I could eat it all the time! But what we were really excited for was the other kind of cuisine you can get in Okinawa – American food.
We ate lunch at a burger joint called Captain Kangaroo’s Burgers. It was my husband’s job to do all the foodie-research for our trip, and he did a really good job! Captain Kangaroo’s is famous for making not only big, American-size burgers, but they are made with real beef.
LOOK AT THAT. Wait. Wait. Let’s compare to a typical, tiny, non-beef, Japanese burger, like Mos Burger…
Captain Kangaroo’s served one of the best burgers I have ever eaten in my two years living in Japan. The next best thing would be the more easily-accessible KUA’AINA, which is actually a Hawaiian burger joint with locations in Tokyo and Yokohama. Unfortunately, I discovered today that the Captain Kangaroo’s location at Mihama American Village is now closed as of December 2, 2012. But, there is still a location in Northern Honto which is open, as well as an Osaka location in mainland Japan.
We were also able to enjoy Chili Fries and Root Beer Floats at A&W. The root beer floats were made with vanilla soft cream rather than ice cream, so not quite what I expected, but still tasty. We actually intended to eat at Ballpark Hot Dogs for American hot dogs and Bacon Ranch Fries, but they had closed!!
After our fattening lunch, we continued driving north up to Zanpa Beach. This place was actually quite scenic and would’ve been a nice beach to hang out at, except that the storm seemed to be following us north, and we ended up having to hide out under shade until the rain stopped.
While we waited for the rain to go away, I snapped a couple of pictures, then went on my phone to tweet about how bummed we were about the weather. That’s when I read some news tweets on Twitter announcing “RAINY SEASON ARRIVES 11 DAYS EARLY IN OKINAWA”
And we still had had four more days in the Okinawa Islands.
We decided to give up on beaches for the day, so we turned the car around back south for Shuri Castle. Shuri is the name of the former capital of the Ryukyu Kingdown, and Shuri Castle served as the residence of the Ryukyu kings for several centuries before the islands became “Okinawa”, a Japanese prefecture, in 1879. Shuri Castle is listed as as UNESCO World Heritage Site and though it was built in the late 1300s, the castle that stands now is a reconstruction dating from 1992. I’ve seen a lot (and I mean a looooooot) of castles in Japan, and after a while, it can feel like “seen one castle, seen them all”, but Shuri Castle is very different, and definitely worth a visit.
Our last stop for the evening was a trip out to Ginowan for dinner at Tortilla Factory. We read about Tortilla Factory on a food blog that no longer exists, which described it as a restaurant serving Chipotle-style burritos. I already had my Chipotle fix by eating at the copycat-restaurant Frijoles in Tokyo, but never one to say no to tacos or burritos, I was totally fine with the drive back out of Naha.
Calling it “Chipotle-style” is a bit of a stretch. It’s not like Frijoles, which copied not just the food and serving style, but also the packaging and decor. The burritos and tacos are made fresh-to-order, and they offer tacos, burritos, and bowls, but the similarities pretty much end there. The owner/manager speaks great English and said that Chipotle did serve as the inspiration for his otherwise unique restaurant.
Here’s what they have to offer:
- Okinawan Taco Rice — these are basically “burrito bowls”, but come in flavors like Asian-Beef Steak, Meat & Beans, Honey Chicken, Carnitas, Original Taco Beef, and Black Beans Vegetarian.
- Burritos, in the same meat offerings as above.
- Tacos — crispy beef tacos, shrimp soft tacos, and fish soft tacos!
- Various toppings like cilantro, cheese, pico de gallo, sour cream, jalapenos, etc.
- Chips! Corona! Mojitos!
Check back again for Part 5 in the Okinawa travel series!