Chirashi Sushi-Don by Jiro is one of the freshest, most affordable places to eat sushi on the island
Some of the best grub can be found in unassuming spots; hole-in-the-wall diners, gas stations, strip malls, airports, abandoned warehouses, you name it. Our latest find, though, is a sushi kiosk located in a strip mall parking lot in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. To be honest, we’re a little hesitant to disclose its location, as it is quite arguably some of the best sushi we’ve ever tasted, but it’s the holidays, so we’ll throw you a bone. The best part? It’s also one of the cheapest places to eat fresh fish in all of Hawaii.
When on the island—any Hawaiian island, really—poke is one of the best things to eat. And while Da Poke Shack will always be an obligatory stop, a local on the Big Island suggested we check out Chirashi Sushi-Don by Jiro, a tiny shack in the parking lot of Lanihau Center shopping mall. While it’s not technically hidden, it’s so small and unassuming that people walk right past it daily without even realizing it exists. The first attempt ended quickly, as we arrived only to find they’d capped out for the day and would be closing soon. “Give us a call tomorrow,” the woman inside the shack said.
To be clear, Chirashi Sushi-Don by Jiro is neither poke or normal sushi that you’re used to eating. It’s in a class of its own, serving up some of the most vibrantly colored (and flavorful) Chirashi-Don bowls that exist. If you love poke, consider Chirashi-Don your new best friend. "Don," short for Donburi, means “dish in the bowl,” says chef and owner Jiro Oki, and “chirashi” means "scattered." “It's seasoned sushi rice in a bowl topped with different kinds of seafood and vegetables and it’s one of the very traditional forms of sushi in Japan,” he adds. Fresh sashimi-style fish and seafood, plus cubed vegetables on top, are what sets it apart from poke.
Oki, along with his wife, Jasmine, opened the space in May 2015 as a take-out-only chirashi sushi kiosk—the first of its kind in Hawaii. “We wanted to create something that is authentic Japanese style, adding Hawaiian local flavor with an inexpensive price,” Oki says of his bowls, which range from $9.25 to $14.95 each and are served alongside a bowl of miso soup. If you’ve done enough adventuring around the Hawaiian islands, you know this is quite a steal.
Originally from Japan, Oki made the pilgrimage to Hawaii in 1980 and now has over 35 years of experience in Japanese restaurants and hotels under his belt. “It all started because my wife and l enjoyed eating assorted fresh sushi,” he adds, “and being that chirashi prices in restaurants are often $30 and above, we decided that we wanted to do something different from other regular take-outs—and something that we loved with an affordable price. That's how Chirashi Sushi-Don by Jiro came to be.” Due to popularity, others have since popped up, but nothing compares to Oki’s kiosk, according to local and international fans.
If you visit, expect a serious wait. As we learned the hard way, you can't just make a last-minute decision to roll up an hour before they close. The demand is high, for many obvious and delicious reasons, but Oki and his wife are big into quality and customer satisfaction. “I'm very concerned about quality of ingredients, especially fish and vegetables, so l go to the markets daily and pick them out with my own eyes,” Oki says. “Our main focus is to consistently provide the best quality Chirashi-Don with reasonable costs. My wife and l put our heart and soul into each bowl."
Each bowl takes around 5 to 10 minutes to craft, and if you’re around while the duo works their magic, peek into the tiny kiosk and see firsthand what an art it is. “Because we are a very small operation and all bowls are made fresh upon order, we can only serve limited amount of bowls,” he says. Point in case, get there early, and trust us when we say it’s worth the wait time of an hour or more—or call ahead as you’re leaving the beach, and it will be the most spectacular post-surf snack ever.
Popular bowls are the volcano bowl, the spicy half & half (half ahi and half salmon), as well as the Edomae bowl, a traditional Japanese-style offering. Chirashi Sushi-Don by Jiro is typically open Tuesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., but it’s wise to call before making the journey to Kona, otherwise you may drive off without a coveted bowl (or three) in hand.