33 East 3rd Ave (near El Camino Real)
San Mateo, CA 94401
Downtown San Mateo has a very high concentration of Japanese restaurants with one on almost every block. Hotaru is one of the best and most economical. No surprise, there is a line out front most of the time. We’ve tried pretty much all the nearby Japanese restaurants. Sushi Sam and Kisaku are also good but more expensive. Nearby Yuzu and Sakae are also very good Japanese Restaurants. Our last visit was in 2016.
Decor, Vibe – Hotaru is a cramped small place with lots of people inside and people waiting outside. Families, couples, small groups eating together. There is a line out the door much of the time.
Hotaru Menu Pictures: (Click to zoom in on any picture)
To Go Menu
Hotaru’s Menu has Sushi, Sashimi, Teriyaki, Rolls, and appetizers. They have it all. Be sure to look at the specials and additions that are only on the wall. Prices are reasonable.
Nigiri sushi set ($15.50) is a sampler of many different sushi items along with udon or soba ( hot or cold). Maguro, Shiro Maguro, Ebi, Unagi, Tako, Inari, Tamago, and Tekkyu are all accounted for. We found their fish pretty good and fresh, although the shrimp in the ebi was pretty forgettable.
Udon ($5.25), both hot and cold, is of good quality and quantity. This al dente udon is not as thick as other restaurants.
Chicken Teriyaki ($9.75) is down right huge and priced reasonably. Good quality, not burned, sauce is just right, not too sweet. We prefer the Chicken Teriyaki bowls at nearby Kaz. It includes a typical tasteless small salad and small cup of average miso soup.
Chicken Teriyaki Don ($9.75) is a similar dish in a rice bowl. Still pretty massive.
Beef Sukiyaki ($12.25) is a recommended dish. Reasonable portion of beef, doused in the sweet broth. Lots of cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, and tofu.
Curry Beef ($7.50) is on the spicy side. Not a lot of beef, but still an acceptable dish for curry fans.
Hamachi Kama ($11), yellow tail collar, is available from time to time and is cooked well. Salted or teriaki style, this is the filet mignon part of the fish. They are the only ones to include a bonus piece of the fish!
Cha wan mushi ($3.80) or hot egg custard, is smooth and filled with a couple of buried shrimp. It comes super hot out of the kitchen and just a little sweeter than most versions.
Salmon Roe Sushi ($3.80) was salty and slimy but we liked it nonetheless!
Udon Special ($12.25) includes Udon or Soba and a choice of Chicken Teriyaki, Pork Cutlet, or Broiled Mackerel, plus California roll. Pretty filling and a nice range of items. All items are of decent quality including their cold soba. California roll uses fake crab but you should pay more to get real crab.
Spider Roll ($8.45) was filled with crab, soft shell crab, avocado, fish eggs, and cucumber. It was crunchy and soft at the same time. Excellent version.
Hotaru OK: (Order only if you like this dish)
Dynamite Roll ($7.95) has lots of Cooked salmon and avocado but the sauce makes it real spicy. Get it only if you like heat.
Beef Tongue ($4.80) has 4 big pieces of beef tongue. Very chewy. Very nice flavor.
Chicken Yakitori ($3, Salted) had 2 good sized skewers of lightly grilled chicken with good flavor and a very crispy crust.
Hotaru’s service is fair and unemotional but has improved over the years. Waiters used to be Japanese but have morphed into Hispanics instead. The chefs are not too flexible as there have been times when we tried to return something and the chef actually said no! When the place is busy, they are apt to not want to perform any special accommodations. Hotaru is not a place to linger, as they’ll push you out the door through indirect pressure. Alas, sacrifices have to be made at places with good value like Hotaru.