On our last night on Kauai, we decided to go find a sushi place for dinner. It turned out there was a Japanese restaurant just down the road from our hotel - Kintaro Japanese Restaurant - that we had passed many times during our trips up and down the Kuhio Highway. It appeared to be a very popular place during the evenings and we found out why it was so popular while we were there.
The restaurant is named after a Japanese folklore hero - Kintarō - which roughly translates into "Golden Boy". Popular in kabuki dramas in Japan, legend has it that as a boy Kintarō was raised on a mountain and he became friendly with the animals that inhabited the mountain around him. He had superhuman strength, catching a notorious man who terrorized the citizens on and around the mountain. Kintarō may have been based on the life of a real man who lived sometime during the 9th to 11th century and his legend has grown with generations who have told his story for years. It is customary for Japanese households to display a Kintarō doll on Children's Day (May 5) with the hope that boys living in the house will garner the strength of Kintarō.
Kintaro Japanese Restaurant in Kapa'a has been in business for nearly 20 years and is run by the Kim family. It's located along the Kuhio Highway on a little triangle of land that is bordered by Lanakai St. and Papaloa Rd. (see map) It was less than a mile from our hotel to Kintaro and while we could have walked the distance, we decided to make the short drive to try the place out.
When we pulled into the parking lot, it was full. We contemplated going somewhere else, but then Cindy saw a car pulling out on the far side of the lot. We pulled in there and went in.
We were met at the front hostess stand and we were told that it was a 45 minute wait for a table. We told her that we preferred sitting at the sushi bar and she said, "Oh! I can get you seated there much more quickly!" She has us sit in the bar area while we waited for a couple spots to open at the sushi bar.
The majority of the bar was packed with 20-somethings having fun on a Friday night. We took a couple seats at the bar and ordered up a couple of mai tai's. It took awhile for the drinks to get to us - the bartenders were overwhelmed that evening.
The dining room just off the bar area had an oriental decor throughout. There were teppanyaki grills located in the back of the restaurant. There was also a traditional Japanese dining room in the back for private dining. The dining area was cozy and the atmosphere was laid back. It was certainly packed the whole time we were there.
It was less than 20 minutes when the hostess came over to let us know that two spots were open at the sushi bar. We took our drinks and were shown to two seats at the end of the bar. It wasn't a large sushi bar and there was only one sushi chef working. Usually, there's at least two, if not three guys working behind the sushi bar at most sushi restaurants we've been to.
Now, I have to say something about this sushi chef. When we realized he was the only one behind the counter making sushi, we thought, "Well, it's going to be awhile until we get our sushi." But it turned out he was the FASTEST sushi chef I've ever seen work a knife. He looked to be in his late 40's or early 50's and he was slicing fish, packing rice and rolling sushi out at a feverish pace. It was evident that he'd been making sushi for years and years. We were just amazed watching the guy do his work.
We ordered up some spicy tuna rolls. Less than 5 minutes after we ordered the rolls, he handed them across the top of the cooler to us. The pieces of the roll were plump and filled with dark-reddish/purple pieces of tuna.
The tuna in the spicy tuna rolls was ultra fresh and delicious. The spiciness in the roll wasn't overpowering, and that was a good thing as the taste of the tuna was absolutely outstanding. We made short work of the rolls and went on to order some regular sushi.
We ordered up a couple pieces each of the tuna, salmon and smoked salmon sushi. He gave us the salmon and tuna first, the smoked salmon came a little later. Both the tuna and salmon were outstanding. They were generous cuts of fresh fish. The equally generous cut smoked salmon made it over the cooler moments later and while it was good, we thought the fresh salmon was better.
When we were at Sansei on Maui earlier during our trip (click here to read about our trip to Sansei in Kihei), the couple seated next to us at the bar were eating something cooked. Cindy asked them what it was and they told her it was kama. That roughly means "fish collar". It's something I've seen a colleague order before at a sushi restaurant and it consists of the cheek of the fish. Cindy asked our sushi chef if they had kama and he said that they had smoked salmon kama that evening. She wanted to order some of that and that influenced how much sushi we ordered earlier in the evening.
The cheek of a fish can be the most desired part. The cheek meat is usually the most tender and less "fishy" tasting of the fish. The smoked salmon kama was grilled lightly and served with a soy-based sauce. At first, Cindy was frustrated because she didn't know how to attack the kama. She didn't know if she needed a fork or if she could use her chopsticks. I took the kama and stuck my chopsticks in and pulled the fish from the cheek bone. It was very tender and flavorful with sort of a charred taste from the grill. Cindy said that she liked the kama, once she got the hang of figuring out how to eat it. I liked the kama, but I thought the sushi was better.
The best thing about Kintaro Japanese Restaurant was that we thought it was super cheap. With the kama, the spicy tuna rolls and the six pieces of the sushi - along with drinks - it was just under $60 bucks for the meal. Kintaro is called the most popular sushi place on Kauai and we could see why. The sushi was delicious, the kama was very good and interesting, and we thought it was a killer value. We noticed there were a lot of locals in the place, but they were welcoming to the tourists like us. We're happy we tried Kintaro before we left Kauai the next day.