Okinawan restaurant in Orange County

Okinawan restaurant in Orange County

Mayumi Tomita Vargas (right) runs an Okinawan restaurant named Habuya in Orange County.

April 23, 2012 Sadao Tome, Correspondent of the Ryukyu Shimpo

In December 2010, Mayumi Tomita Vargas, who is originally from Yonabaru, opened an Okinawan restaurant named Habuya in Orange County, California. She said, “My dream has finally come true after coming to the United States back in 1991.” The restaurant has a distinctly Okinawan atmosphere. Tomita always plays Okinawan music in Habuya, hoping that customers will feel nostalgia for Okinawa as they enjoy the Okinawan home-style cuisine. The word habu in the name of the restaurant has two meanings: one is that of a pit viper found in Okinawa, and the other representing Tomita’s wish for the restaurant to become a hub of the local community.

The restaurant serves authentic Okinawan food as cooked in izakaya, or Japanese-style taverns. Goya chanpuru, an Okinawan stir-fry dish featuring bitter melon, and tebichi, or boiled pig’s trotters, are the most well known dishes on the menu. Soki soba, or Okinawan noodles with spare ribs are also very popular, and some customers who have heard about Habuya through the Internet even come from other regions and states.

Many Okinawan restaurants have opened in the vicinity of Los Angeles in the past, but most of them have ended up closing down. Tomita took this into account, and investigated the realities of the situation, so is confident of managing the restaurant to a successful outcome.

Tomita considered the taste options and the selection of foods on the basis that many Japanese Americans live in Orange County. She included different types of ramen or noodles on the menu. She feels confident that the restaurant would be successful if it could achieve excellent service. Tomita supervises two Japanese cooks in Habuya, which targets a wide range of customers such as Japanese, Chinese and Korean and American. Articles in the Los Angeles Times and other local newspapers that give the restaurant favorable reviews are stuck up on the wall. One day a reporter suddenly appeared without any prior notice and ordered soki soba, and then a couple of days later that reporter named Habuya as the restaurant of the week.

Although Habuya is a relatively small restaurant, seating only about 20 people, it is always crowded with regular customers. Tomita wears a T-shirt which says: “No mongooses,” because the animal is the natural enemy of the habu, or pit viper.

Huntington Beach resident Takahiro Mafune ordered soki soba. He said, “The spare-ribs are delicious and not at all fatty. The food is so good that I will never forget it. I want to come back again sometime soon.”

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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