Hanamaru (sushi), Sunnyvale
675 S. Bernardo Ave.
There is decent quality fish to be found in this unremarkable boat moat, tucked in a corner of a strip mall just a half-block west of El Camino. But the overall experience doesn't add up to a particularly compelling value. To put it in context with its competitors in the bargain-sushi strata, this is clearly superior to Miyake, which it appears to emulate in many superficial ways. But it is not in the same league as Sushi Maru on the other side of Sunnyvale, the only kaiten establishment to offer consistently high-quality nigiri. (Sushi Maru also beats Hanamaru handily on per-plate pricing.)
The best strategy here: Position yourself at the far end of the moat, as close to the kitchen as possible (this is important if you're going to do any grazing off the boats, so you can see items as they're being loaded on the boats). Astonishingly, this is a kaiten where most of the boats are ghost ships, captained by rubber duckies (yes) and carrying no cargo at all. The meager offerings that are on the boats are most unappetizing. Most of the patrons here seem to recognize this and wisely do their ordering directly from the three itamae.
Best calls are marinated ikura and uncommonly sweet hamachi. On the specials board the three-piece oyster platter at $5 was a good value, while the toro at $8.95 was not. Tai off the specials board was about as delicate as a cinderblock, thanks to the shiso and overpowering sauce. Other specials I noted but didn't try included ama ebi, uni and hirame. Overall, presentation is weak and the cuts are often ragged. On the cooked menu, expect the standard teriyaki and tempura specials at $5.95 and box lunches at $7.95.
I have a high-tolerance for funk when it comes to atmosphere. A little funk is good. But Hanamaru is just plain beat-up and shabby, with faded paper "specials" posters (Miyake-style) on the back wall that look like they've been there since Reagan was in the Oval Office. This is a good place *not* to impress a date. Acoustically, this place is louder than a box of M-80s, with all the hard, bright surfaces amping up the volume to the point where you're routinely shouting at the harried itamaes – and they're shouting back at you. One can just imagine what a Friday night must be like here when the sake-bomb brigade gets down to business.
The fact that this restaurant is a sister to the highly-regarded Nami Nami on Castro in Mountain View doesn't seem to have any bearing on the operation. If it's relevant in any way, it escaped me. Several have characterized Nami Nami's Japanese menu as very artful and carefully constructed. The sushi here is certainly neither of those.
Bottom line: For cheap sushi, $4.70 per plate (including my customary 20 percent tip) is not *that* cheap. There is some good quality nigiri to be found here if you order carefully. But plate-for-plate, this isn't even the best kaiten in town. When in Sunnyvale, I'd turn to Sushi Maru in Sunnyvale Town Center for better quality at a much better price.
On the Big List v. 2.5, I am slotting Hanamaru at No. 24 (out of 45), just above Jun in Burlingame and just below Kisaku in San Mateo.
I whole-heartedly agree with your review. The prices can pretty amazingly low, but a lot of the sushi is just lacking in flavor and the service is terrible. I tried the Anago that KK mentioned in his review, and found it rather limp and mealy, though the portion size was generous. Sushi Maru is so much better.
With the closing of Sushi Maru, we tried recently tried Hanamura. It wasn't as good as Sushi Maru was, but not bad.
It's now run by a new owner who took over about 6 months ago. The new owner has done some remodeling, making the place a little nicer than it was when this review was first written. The little rubber ducks are still on the boats, but the boats are not as barren as they were at the time of this review.
It may be worth a second look.
Have you found a good nearby alternative to Sushi Maru RikkiMama? I still mourn the closing of the Sunnyvale location, and occasionally drive out to Milpitas to their new shop, but it's too far to go there regularly. I've been to Hanamaru a number of times, but I don't think I've been since the ownership change, though.
We haven't found a sushi place that we like as much as Sushi Maru. Hanamaru is okay, but not as good as Sushi Maru was. We haven't been to the Milipitas location yet. One of my former coworkers is thrilled that Sushi Maru is now near her. She and her son go there regularly. Sad for us. :(