One of the under-appreciated Japanese restaurants in Honolulu has to be Jimbo, which specializes in udon. The buses and people lining up in Waikiki suggests that Japanese tour companies favor Marukame Udon, which features make-your-own udon, a concept that has been picked up by U:Don in Seattle’s University District. Jimbo is located in a part of town north of Waikiki (McCully-Moiliili, on the other side of the canal) that is somewhat worn, certainly without Waikiki’s glamor and glitz. But locals know about it and could very well be glad to keep this place to themselves.
We were here before in 2010 and were looking forward to a return visit. My wife got her ume wakame udon that she had been dreaming about ever since the last visit and wasn’t the least bit disappointed this time around.
For me, the memory of their wonderful nabeyaki udon tugged at me, but one of the chef’s specialties on the menu was Japanese curry nabeyaki udon, which I felt I at least had to try. I like curry udon in general, but was hesitant about ordering it tonight for one big reason. It would overwhelm Jimbo’s wonderful broth. And it did. Yet, Jimbo’s was a very good version, served in a very hot iron bowl with shiitake, baby bok choy, nappa, broccolini, shredded carrot, snow peas, kamaboko and a raw egg that gets cooked by the piping hot liquid. A good broth is hard to keep down; it shone through the curry with its substantial umami. On the side came single pieces of excellently made shrimp and sweet potato tempura, a welcome change since our last visit when they were served in the bowl, the batter soaking up and softening in the broth. Any respectable udon restaurant should have excellent noodles. The udon at Jimbo is made in-house by a dedicated chef and it shows. They have a unique al dente texture, having a slippery and soft surface but firm interior chewiness that characterizes the best of them. To make their dashi, Jimbo imports its dried bonito (katsuobushi) directly from Japan.
Our dinner at Jimbo was a happy return visit.
Disappointment on My Return Visit (March 2016)
I hate when the food changes at your favorite restaurants. I’d been to Jimbo twice before, and I loved their nabeyaki udon. The noodles were wonderfully chewy and the broth soul-satisfyingly rich and flavorful. The current disappointing version consists of oddly cut noodles (thinly rectangular in cross-section) and while starting out firm, they quickly became soft. These were not the noodles I had in the past. And the broth? It had none of the smoky and umami-deep flavor of my memories, having transformed into a thinner version of the original. I’ve discovered since that other recent reviewers apparently felt the same. Something has changed in the kitchen. I will not be going back. Marukame now has a better udon.
1936 S King St # 103