Comfort Food, Japanese Style

Courtesy of HotaruRestaurant.com

There are plenty of places in the Bay Area to get a decent Japanese meal. You can find sushi or your typical tempura or teriyaki at so many places that they can be indistinguishable. But when you want a truly authentic homestyle Japanese meal, I always head to one spot.

Hotaru in San Mateo on 3rd Avenue at El Camino is known for their homestyle Japanese specialties, “tapas” style side dishes, as well as their sushi and rolls.

Some of their best sushi rolls include the Geisha and the Spicy Tuna Tempura Roll. The Geisha roll has cucumber, salmon, scallop, and is topped with spicy tuna. The flavors are at once clean yet exciting. And the Spicy Tuna Tempura Roll is lightly dipped in batter and fried tempura style. These rolls may seem simple enough, but the ingredients they use are so fresh and high in quality that they’re worth trying. Even their california roll is made with real crab and fresh creamy avocado. My only complaint is that the rice is always a bit warmer than I’d like. Chilled rice would make their sushi perfect.

But you should really visit Hotaru for their side dishes and entrees. Their selection of small plates is vast (I like to call them “tapas” because you can really make a meal out of them if you order a variety). Notable ones are the deep fried tofu with fish flakes in a sweet soy broth, deep fried soft shell crab, yakitori (skewered grilled chicken with teriyaki sauce), or grilled beef tongue. All are delicious and authentically prepared.

Courtesy of HotaruRestaurant.com

Then there are the entrees. There are so many places where you can find decent tonkatsu, but this place makes the best. Besides the moist pork chop, the panko breading is crisp, not too thick, and doesn’t pull away from the meat. It’s always perfect.

Other great items include their donburi, potato croquettes, and beef teriyaki, which is always cooked to order and made with some damn fine quality beef. It’s the best version of this dish I’ll ever have. And the shrimp soup that comes with some of their bento dinner combos is so delicious with it’s clear broth, bits of sweet shrimp and egg. A dash of red chili powder makes it perfect.

I’ve been here at least 10 times and I’ve never had a bad meal. Never. The service is hit or miss, but the quality of their food and authentic preparation more than make up for it.

Prices for many of their set dinners are between $11 and $14 and portions are huge, so they’re a great deal. They include the typical salad and miso or shrimp soup, but it’ll also include rice or noodles like udon or soba, a meat entree or tempura, and even some sashimi or california rolls. Many of these specials are listed on the wall, so make sure you look beyond the menu.

The worst thing is the long wait for a table during dinner service. But if you go before 6:30 or after 8:30, you won’t have to worry about it. They’re even open 365 days a year and close at 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays (it’s the burbs, so that’s considered late).

There’s no better place, at least on the Peninsula, for a wonderful Japanese meal. Hotaru is in a class by itself.

Hotaru – 33 E. 3rd Ave @ El Camino Real – San Mateo – 650.343.1152

Hotaru Japanese on Urbanspoon