Sunrise Restaurant

If we want restaurants to offer Okinawan dishes, we need to prove that Okinawan dishes are worth having on the menu! Let’s all go out and eat! In this issue, we spotlight Sunrise Restaurant on Kapahulu Avenue.

Photos by Todd Maeda Photography. View Sunrise Photo Album.

Background of Sunrise:

Sunrise is a gathering place for local and overseas Okinawans. It is run by a husband (Chokatsu) and wife (Tomoko) who manage to keep the place full of good food and music.

Chokatsu Tamayose opened Sunrise Restaurant with his Aunty Kiyo Irei in 1999. Aunty Kiyo was in the kitchen making Okinawan dishes and Katsu in the front serving sushi. It was a great collaboration that continued until Aunty Kiyo retired. Aunty Kiyo sometimes comes back to help out and Katsu’s son James chips in when he is not at University.

Chokatsu’s big personality is a major part of the restaurant. He runs things from his sushi counter and loves to interact with his customers. Katsu, who was born in Uruma City, came to Hawaii when he was 15 years old but returned to Okinawa to train to be a sushi chef. He has over 25 years of experience as a sushi chef.

For those wondering why a restaurant mostly open at sunset is named Sunrise, the name derives from the Sunrise Coffee Shop, which Aunty Kiyo previously owned.

Important Information to Know:

Sunrise is open for lunch (Monday and Thursday only) and dinner (Monday to Saturday). It is a small space that seats 30 people. Call 737.4118 to make reservations. Expect to be crammed in. With everyone so close, we usually end up talking to the people at the other tables and offering them some awamori and dessert.

If you have a large party, you can also book the place on Sundays. There is a minimum of 15 people and you work out the cost per head and what dishes will be served in advance.

They do accept cash and credit card (VISA and MC). Sunrise is BYOB. They only offer water and hot tea, so bring whatever you want to drink (booze, soda, etc.). It is also BYOD (Bring Your Own Dessert). I always make sure to give some to Katsu (who has a sweet tooth). Birthdays are fun at Sunrise! Katsu leads the entire restaurant in singing Happy Birthday (twice!).

Parking is limited to 3 stalls in front. There is metered parking on Kapahulu. I just end up parking at First Hawaiian Bank, which is free after hours. If you park at the pay lot adjacent to Side Street Inn, be really careful. One minute over and they tow your car!

Chokatsu loves playing the sanshin and singing when he is done cooking. Look closely. He uses an old saimin spoon as his pick. Never seen that anywhere else! Okinawan musicians tend to eat at Sunrise and will usually perform afterwards. If you’re lucky enough to be there, definitely stick around for the free show.

The Food

Okinawan dishes include Oxtail Soup (only Monday and Thursday), Pigs Feet Soup, Nakami Soup (sometimes available), Sparerib Soup, Okinawan Soba, Yakisoba, Chanpuru (Goya, Vegetable and Nakami), and Rafute.

Katsu observes his customers and will actually adjust dishes to match the tastes of locals, Okinawans, and newbies! Like adding in an extra egg to the goya chanpuru for those not used to the dish.

Aunty Kiyo’s Yakisoba: This fried noodle dish uses Sun Noodle Okinawa Soba, Spam, cabbage, mushrooms, bean sprouts and ginger. Okinawa Soba is thicker and chewier than Japanese yakisoba noodles. Lots of flavor in this dish. I order this every time I go to Sunrise.

Goya Chanpuru. My friend was surprised that the bittermelon in this dish had just a hint of bitterness to it. Katsu said there’s no cooking trick. He just knows which goya to buy. This version has goya, pork, tofu and egg. Spam can be put in upon request.

Pigs Feet Soup. This comes with generous portions of pig hock, mustard cabbage, daikon and konbu. Interestingly, at Sunrise the base of the broth is katsuo dashi. Really nice flavor combinations.

Special Miso Soup. This is not your ordinary miso soup. The broth has a shrimp base and there is even a shrimp head sticking out of soup which has Chinese cabbage, spam, tofu, egg, mustard cabbage, and daikon!

Rafute: This is not always on the menu. You need to call at least a day in advance to put in an order. Most days they offer spareribs because uninformed customers don’t like the fat on rafute and leave most of it on the plate. That’s just wrong.

Katsu boils the pork belly in water, then drains it to help render out the fat. He then simmers it with shoyu, dashi, ginger, garlic, sake and a slice of lemon. The long simmering process also helps render out the fat. If done right, you get pork that will just melt in your mouth with layers of fat that has absorbed all those lovely flavors it was simmered in. So yes, there is a lot of fat in rafute slices but don’t be afraid of this fat!

Tomoko points at a framed print that has “Ichariba Chode” (Once we meet, we are family) inscribed on it. She said that represents how she and Chokatsu feel about their customers, that they are family.

Elsie Uechi and Paul Yabiku, regulars who eat at Sunrise at least once a week, chimed in that the food is home cooking, like what mom would have made. They also emphasized that the prices are very reasonable. I agree!


Sunrise Restaurant
525 Kapahulu Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815