Akaihana Japanese Restaurant is at 22560 Foothill Boulevard, right in the beating heart of downtown Hayward. And by “beating heart” I really mean the barely breathing clogged artery that is central Hayward, written with all the love of a long-time local. This place used to be Ichiban, which was a highly famed Japanese joint in the area during its heyday about 20 years ago. As I understand it, Ichiban became a bit less popular over the years and then changed over to Akaihana sometime in the recent past (last 2 years?). And from what I can tell, this change has yet to add a spark of life to Hayward’s Japanese culinary needs.
Essentially, the decor hasn’t changed since Ichiban, though I was certainly no expert on the layout of the old place. Upon entering it appears to be just a simple, hole-in-the-wall Japanese place that could easily be “the best kept secret in Hayward” or “adventures in food longevity”, it’s just too soon to tell at this point. The menu is decent: the layout could use some help but that seems to be the norm at many small, local, non-chain restaurants in my experience. The food selection seems pretty standard, with sushi rolls, sashimi and soups filling the more traditional roles along with the standard “American” choices of teriyaki chicken and tempura.
Right from the start the service was slow. Then, meeting our waitress, we realized that the service was also going to be a bit surly. Ok, well, not a good selling point, but we’d certainly put up with it if the food were decent. My mom and I ordered dinner boxes, I had the teriyaki salmon and tuna sashimi, she had teriyaki salmon and chicken. My boyfriend ordered a spicy tuna tempura roll, and mom’s boyfriend went all traditional with a bowl of chicken soba.
The outcome was a bit odd. After the soba finally arrived (it was the last dish and it took an inordinate amount of time to exit the kitchen) we all weighed in on our choices. The salmon and sashimi were good, and the delicious tuna roll tasted curiously like lumpia, which I found to be an excellent – if odd – surprise. The teriyaki chicken on the other hand was chewy and gristly (as reported by mom) while the soba was inedible to mom’s boyfriend. And did I mention the service was a bit slow?
The miso soup was good, which is often a criteria that I will use to solely judge a Japanese restaurant. The tea kettles were plastic, which was a mortal sin and, frankly, an insult to mom’s boyfriend who is half Japanese. The sushi chef was characteristically friendly. The temperature swung wildly in the room during the course of (waiting for) our meal. So as you can see, the experience was pretty much the definition of “hit or miss”. I would say that the few dishes that were decent were worth getting if you end up in the restaurant, though I would probably not seek them out again for my local Japanese-food-related needs. So, it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t exactly a place to rave about either.
On a partially related note, there was a fine local Hayward resident posted outside the restaurant, apparently as a “greeter”, who we had the fortune to avoid-eye-contact-with on the way out of the establishment. I would probably refrain from saying anything about him if I feared he may stumble upon this blog, but since I’m fairly certain that he’s not a technological sort of fellow, I will tell you that my Missed Connections personal ad to him might go something like this:
“You: semi-homeless, rudely rambling, possibly schizophrenic, Caucasian male crouched on the sidewalk outside Akaihana
Me: educated, well dressed, blond female leaving Akaihana with group of three other people
I think we should be together. You clearly demonstrated that you care for me; you were speaking directly to me as we walked by on our way back to the car, even though I couldn’t really understand what you were saying. At least you were probably speaking to me – you may have been trying to start a fight with my mom’s boyfriend. But no matter, we are clearly a good couple. I have change in my pocket and you probably want that. You obviously have great public speaking skills and that is something that I really need help with. I know I ignored you but that is because I have had really bad experiences being burned (figuratively and literally) by partially homeless and/or medically insane persons that I’ve met on the street at night. But I realize now that I need to look beyond the past because you have something real to offer me and we made a true connection the other night. Please give me a second chance. Next time, if you follow me to my car or reach out to grab me as I walk by, I will know you have read this letter and you forgive me. I hope we can be together.”*
*Yeah, I got carried away with that, I know. But do you think he will call?