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Itadakimasu!

Cover Story

May 16, 2021

Story By: Ginger Keller | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO

Hostess Maaya Seki is ready to dive in to TsuruTonTan’s expansive menu of Japanese fare.

At the heart of TsuruTonTan is an unfaltering determination to provide authentic, fresh and affordable Japanese dishes — each and every day. Since its 2018 start, the Royal Hawaiian Center eatery has made it a mission to introduce Japan’s tastiest delicacies to people from far and wide, and with locations in New York, Boston and, of course, Honolulu, you could say that TsuruTonTan is living the dream.

“We wanted to bring something new and we realized udon was not yet vastly spread throughout the United States, especially in the mainland,” says Takuma Lathrop, president of Dining Innovation, which owns and operates TsuruTonTan. “We thought that TsuruTonTan, which is in Japan already, has a concept that would ease the American people into trying out udon for the first time, mainly because a lot of the dishes that TsuruTonTan serves are similar to pasta. We have a lot of cream-based udons, a lot of different variety, aside from the traditional dashi. We thought that would be fun and exciting, and help spread the udon culture quicker in the United States, rather than just having a traditional udon restaurant.”

Mentai Kamatama Udon ($20 regular; $16 happy hour)

Ingredients, such as flour and salt, travel across the Pacific, and the restaurant even goes as far as changing its water chemistry to mimic that of Japan’s.

Offering two happy hours each day (11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4:30-6 p.m.), TsuruTonTan gives diners a chance to take a trip to Japan from the shores of Waikiki — at a reasonable price.

“People are still recovering from the COVID effects on the economy, so we want to help them get as much value as we can,” says Lathrop. “We want to give the best prices we can to help out the community.”

Nabeyaki Udon ($21 regular; $18 happy hour)

To that end, a hot-ticket item on the menu is Uni Cream Udon ($25 regular; $21 happy hour). A unique concept, uni — or sea urchin — not only tops off the noodle dish, but is also incorporated into the base. Mentai Kamatama Udon ($20 regular; $16 happy hour), meanwhile, is served cold, and encompasses slow-cooked egg, tempura flakes and green onion.

“This one is really nice because of the presentation of that slow-cooked egg — cutting it open and having the yolk ooze into the udon,” says Lathrop. “The mixture makes it a lot more creamier … and it has that bit of crunch from the tempura flakes, as well.”

Uni Cream Udon ($25 regular; $21 happy hour)

The restaurant’s namesake — TsuruTonTan Deluxe ($25 regular; $20 happy hour) — is the perfect match for those who just can’t make up their mind. It’s a “loaded udon” as Lathrop puts it, and the restaurant’s most popular dish. It features the flavors of beef, chicken and egg, with vegetable and shrimp tempura. The Curry Deluxe ($25 regular; $20 happy hour), meanwhile, features exquisite beef flavoring, along with pork katsu and shrimp tempura.

Lathrop adds that the Nabeyaki Udon ($21 regular; $18 happy hour) is ordered most by kupuna “because it’s a traditional udon that people ate growing up.”

Open for dine-in and takeout, TsuruTonTan offers a bento lunch (prices vary), as well as a weekly changing special for $9.95. Check them out on Instagram (@tsurutontan_hi) to keep up with the latest news.

Coming up, the restaurant is set to debut new menu items, as well as an outdoor seating area, this summer.

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