Connecting the foreign community in Okinawa

Avocafe – An Avocado Themed Cafe on Okinawa’s Yagaji Island

Tucked away in the placid backstreets of Yagaji Island, Avocafe serves a delectable fusion of Okinawan and Japanese delights.

Tucked away in a quiet leafy neighborhood on Yagaji Island amid rustic Okinawan homes is Avocafe, a restaurant that bills itself as Japan’s first avocado-specialty restaurant. Perhaps best described as Okinawan fusion cuisine, the experience is worth the drive. The streamlined menu offers four delectable choices, all featuring a generous helping of fresh creamy avocado, in addition to a decent selection of drinks and a winsome assortment of gourmet desserts.

Having eaten there a few times, I can attest to the fact that they rotate their menus frequently, serving different sets on different days. For people who visit a lot, this can be great, since it means that you get to try something new every time. The downside is it’s not always possible to get the same set you ordered last time if you happened to find something you really liked. But that hardly matters, since everything is so awesomely delicious.

The cafe opened its doors in 2017 as the Okinawan branch of a business that launched in Tokyo in 2007. The building looks like a renovated old Okinawan house, and that’s what I thought it was until the waitress explained to me that it was actually built from the ground up as a new construction. This practice is becoming more common in Okinawa as it gets harder and harder to find traditional houses worth renovating. The exterior is alive with luscious greenery, including papayas and young avocado trees. And, as with almost all Okinawan establishments, a pair of elegant stone shisas straddle the front door, guarding against evil spirits and greeting visitors as they enter.

Low Selection, High Quality

I’ve been to Avocafe a couple of times and the second time I ordered the Avocado Green-Onion and Tuna Bowl set (アボカドネギトロ丼). This is basically raw tuna ground up and served on rice with tororo, a type of sweet potato cut into long, thin slices. In terms of its texture its a bit like eating natto, which to say it’s a bit slimy, so be ready for that. However, unlike natto, its taste is extremely mild and its almost melt-in-your-mouth texture is dangerously addictive. There’s also a fresh salad, a small bowl of soup with mushroom and wakame (flat green seaweed sort of like kelp) and a tiny but satisfying bowl of mozuku (another kind of seaweed) served in ponzu (a salty, sweet and sour marinade super-popular in Japan). To top it off, this set included a slice of Spanish omelet with all kinds of goodies mixed in, plus a generous helping of jimami-dofu (Okinawan peanut tofu).

Avocado green-onion and tuna bowl set at Avocafe, served outdoors

I should note that people who need or want to eat gluten-free will love this set. While the cafe does not promote itself as being gluten-free, most of their offerings seem to be made without wheat. Be sure to ask before you order and use an allergy card in Japanese if you need to.

Also, one word of caution. Some people may be surprised to find that such a high-end cafe would proudly serve spam as the main attraction in one of its sets. This is because spam enjoys a special place in the cultural memory of the Okinawan people. After World War II when food was scarce and meat was in short supply, spam brought in by the US military was a sought-after commodity. While there are many better options available now, spam seems to have retained some of its exalted status. If you’re like me and you make a practice of avoiding spam, just be on the lookout for menu items that include the characters スパム.

Desert options include avocado cheesecake (not gluten-free), avocado pudding and honey on avocado. We just the little dessert that came with the set, which included a refreshing drink of jasmine tea with ice, a square of jellied guava and a little fruit the Japanese call ‘kinkan’ or きんかん (known in English as a cumquat) boiled in sugar and cooled.

Dessert that comes with the set

Drinks include all the standard offerings such as coffee, tea, juice, wine and beer, but if you’re going to go to an avocado specialty restaurant, you really should consider ordering the avocado smoothie. Yes, combined with the main course that’s a lot of avocado, but if you’re going to overdose on any kind of food, it may as well be something healthy, right?

A Rustic Okinawan Neighborhood

If you like the ambiance of traditional Okinawan neighborhoods, Yagaji Island makes a great day drip. If all you did was park your car somewhere and go for a meandering walk through the peaceful leafy streets surrounding Avocafe, it would be a worthwhile way to spend a quiet afternoon. However, while I recommend exploring the immediate neighborhood, there are also lots of other attractions to enjoy around Yagaji Island, most of which are in relatively close proximity to Avocafe, including some famous tourist spots, and places that are not well known at all.

The streets around Avocafe offer a distinctly Okinawan ambiance

One such place is the grave site of two unfortunate Frenchmen who came to Okinawa by ship in the 1800s and passed away while here. Notably, this site is called the Dutch Graveyard because back in the 1800s, owing to the long history of trade with the Dutch, the Japanese called all foreigners “Oranda-jin” or Dutchmen. Located on a quiet bay across from Untenkoryokaku Terminal (the Yagaji Island ferry port where you can board a boat to Iheya Island or Izena Island), the grave itself is right near the water, a short walk along a well-worn path from the parking area. On the way to the grave site, there are scenic lookouts all over the place along the roads. The Kouri Island bridge offers some nice views and some wonderful opportunities for photos if you’re any kind of shutterbug. If you want to go all the way to the northern tip of Kouri Island, you can view the famous heart-shaped rock. Kouri Island also has some great little desert places where you can get uni-don (eel on rice) and other Okinawan delights.

Getting to Avocafe

Without some form of satellite or cellular navigation, Avocafe might prove difficult to find. Even with Google Maps telling you where to turn, you might also end up making a few wrong turns. Even if you don’t make any wrong turns, you might still end up having to back your car along a narrow alley when you find your way blocked by a vehicle inexplicably parked in the middle of the road with no driver in sight. Of course, you might not encounter any problems at all on the trip there, but if you do, it’s best to consider whatever navigational challenges you encounter to be part of the adventure. 

One thing to keep in mind is that the parking area for the restaurant, which is quite ample, is not beside to the restaurant itself. It’s very close, perhaps a three-minute walk, but it pays to understand that once you locate the restaurant itself, you still need to find the parking lot. If you’re the kind of person who navigates by compass, you’ll find it roughly to the north of the restaurant sign (or straight ahead if you approach with the big stone Avocafe’ the sign to your left). There is an arrow to the right of the Avocafe sign and the parking lot, which is really just a big square of gravel, is well-marked.

Best Time to Visit

You should always consult Google Maps for hours and busy times, but it’s been my experience that 1:30 PM is about the best time to arrive. Last order for lunch is at 2:30 PM, so you can’t afford to be too late. Unlike certain other cafes in the north, they seem to be well-stocked, so you probably won’t be turned away on account of them selling out, but you want to give yourself time to sit and enjoy the pleasant decor and quiet atmosphere.

If you are going with a large group, it might be best to go at dinner time, when you can make a reservation (they don’t accept reservations for lunch). If you’re going with Japanese friends, you might be best to have one of them call, because while they’re thrilled to serve foreign customers, they may not be able to help you much in English, particularly over the phone. If you show up at lunchtime, you might have to wait a while if you arrive at peak times. They have an outside seating area, but since this consists of nothing more than a small picnic bench and an umbrella, on super-hot, rainy or windy days you won’t be comfortable sitting there. That said, we were sitting outside and, blessed with perfect weather, it was a great place to be. While we ate, we had the opportunity to watch a few large groups get turned away. Pairs had better luck. One thing to keep in mind is that while I did see a family with young children dining happily there, Avocafe is not really a family restaurant and the atmosphere is more adult-oriented.

If you do go to Avocafe, do yourself a favor and don’t just go to the cafe. Make a whole trip out of the journey and go check out some of the sites I recommended above or just go exploring some of the amazing beaches, forests, scenic lookouts or trails around Okinawa’s north.

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