Hotaru Restaurant Review, San Mateo



33 East 3rd Ave (near El Camino Real)

San Mateo, CA 94401


Hotaru Website

Hotaru San Mateo Exterior

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.

Hotaru San Mateo Interior Decor

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)

Hotaru San Mateo Menu 5

To Go Menu

Hotaru San Mateo Menu 2

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.

Website Hotaru menu
Hotaru Full Picture Set

Hotaru Picks:

Hotaru San Mateo Nigiri Set 2

Hotaru San Mateo Nigiri sushi set

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.

Hotaru San Mateo Cold Udon

Udon ($5.25), both hot and cold, is of good quality and quantity. This al dente udon is not as thick as other restaurants.

Hotaru San Mateo Chicken Teriyaki

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.

Hotaru San Mateo Beef Sukiyaki

Beef Sukiyaki ($12.25) is a recommended dish.  Reasonable portion of beef, doused in the sweet broth. Lots of cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, and tofu.

Hotaru San Mateo Curry Beef

Curry Beef ($7.50) is on the spicy side.  Not a lot of beef, but still an acceptable dish for curry fans.

Hotaru San Mateo Hamachi Kama

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!

Hotaru San Mateo Cha Wan Mushi

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.

Hotaru San Mateo Roe Sushi

Salmon Roe Sushi ($3.80) was salty and slimy but we liked it nonetheless!

Hotaru San Mateo Chicken Teriyaki Udon Special

Hotaru San Mateo Udon

Hotaru San Mateo California Roll

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)

Hotaru San Mateo Dynamite Roll

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.

Hotaru San Mateo Beef Tongue

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.

Hotaru Japanese on Urbanspoon
Restaurant Map:

Hotaru Overall Rating: (Good 2)

Come Back?

Food Rating: (Very Good)
Service Rating: (Good)
Atmosphere Rating: (Good)
Value Rating: (Very Good)

Guide: 0 = poor, 1 = Below/Average, 2 = Good, 2.5 = Very Good, 3 = Excellent , 4 = Extraordinary

Alcohol:Beer, Wine, Sake
Hours:Mon-Fri 11:30-2pm. M-Th 5:30-9:45. Fri 5:30-10. Sa 11:30am - 10pm, Su 11:30am - 9:45pm
Prices:Lunch ($5.25 - $9.50) , Dinner ($5.25 - $16.75).

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