Make a tasty stop at Okinawa's Sea Side Drive-in
Trips up north on Okinawa’s main island have always been a great getaway for my family. Whether it was saying hi to Flipper, visiting the Expo Park or just relaxing on Okuma Beach, the journey has always been an enjoyable one.
Part of that joy every trip came along the way, just off the Okinawa expressway. Whether homemade curry rice or a tasty vanilla shake, I always knew my taste buds would be happy with a stop at Seaside Drive-In Restaurant.
The 24/7 retro-looking diner that stands on a coastal road near Maeda point in Onna village, is a five-minute drive from Iashikawa exit of the Okinawa expressway.
Located at a spot called “Nakadomari” or “Nakayukui,” which literally means “time off” in Okinawan dialect, it has been my family’s tradition to take a little detour and time off from the drive at the diner.
I have vivid memories of enjoying Seaside with my family, something that manager Hiroko Ooshiro has found to be common since it opened in 1967.
“With no family restaurants available back then, this was the place people could stop by on their way to Nago or Naha. And it still is,” Ooshiro said. “Being open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, this is a place people can always count on for homemade food.”
Hiroko’s husband, Yasukazu, was involved in launching this place 50 years ago with his father.
“My father, Hozou, decided to open a drive-in restaurant after he was inspired by such restaurants on the military bases,” Hiroko said. “I remember many American-style drive-in restaurants opened on the island after us.”
Yasukazu’s father originally planned to provide carhop service to remain loyal to the name “drive-in.” But so many customers showed up that the restaurant didn’t have time to provide that. Instead, a small counter for take-out was installed, and it has remained ever since.
After eating there so many times, Seaside has become a truly nostalgic place that takes me back to the “good ol’ days.” It is a place I hope never changes.
“Here, almost everything stays the same since we started,” Hiroko said. “Just like old days, we home cook all the menu items, with no changes to the recipes. Although it takes a lot of time and effort, we kept doing that because that’s what customers expected from us.”
It’s not just the food that has withstood the test of time at this restaurant. When asked why Seaside has outlasted most other diners, Yasukazu noted the hard work his staff provides every day.
“We have been providing 24/7 service since we started,” Yasukazu said. “For take-out, we don’t close even if a typhoon comes. Our staff is very dedicated. And customers count on us to stay that way.”
After five decades, this place is not a complete stranger to change. There have been menu items that have come and gone. Another change has been more and more tourists from mainland Japan showing up after “Document 72 Jjikan (Hours),” a Japanese TV show, introduced viewers across the country to this place.
But it still remains to be the same drive-in restaurant that people return to, looking for the familiar taste and happy memories they had back in the old days.
Miyagi, an elderly lady from Onna village who has been a regular customer since Seaside opened, has noticed the influx of people.
“These days, I am surprised to see far more people coming here than before,” Miyagi said. “But having oxtail and looking out into the ocean still makes me feel at home, just like it did back then.”
Seaside Drive-in Restaurant
Hours: Takeout (24h); Dining room (8 a.m. – midnight; last order 11 p.m.)