Oh, the shame. Not finishing the best burger found on Okinawa. Especially when my wife and all the rather petite Japanese women surrounding me devoured theirs without issue….
In and Out isn’t part of the in-crowd on Okinawa…mainly since it doesn’t exist here. Apparently there aren’t enough meaty guys on the island to have a Fives Guys. You can get steaks and shakes on Okinawa, but not coincidently enough to have a Steak and Shake. There is an Applebee’s, but it’s on base, overpriced and full of loud and usually overly boisterous Americans watching some inane sporting event. And while they do serve a pretty good burger, at twice the cost and half the taste, it “udderly” fails in comparison to those award-winning beefy concoctions at Captain Kangaroo’s!
Now, Jody and I debated whether the burgers there are alone worth the long drive to Nago, and while the outcome is close, we agree there probably needs to be another reason to make the trek. Even if it’s just for the scenic drive up Highway 58. On an island full of “hamburg” joints that serve what amounts to really good meatloaf, a REAL hamburg-ER is a rare and treasured culinary find.
“‘Roo’s” is minimally furnished with an eclectic assortment of comfy chairs and lounging couches. The quick-order counter, at an unusual height that’s not high enough for bar stools and too low for the dining chairs provided, is a great option if you are either in danger of dehydration from uncontrolled salivation or simply on the move and don’t want to wait the 20 minutes we did during high time from 1300-1500.
Diners will find themselves surrounded by surfer-themed movie posters and random knickknacks, from an empty SPAM tin repurposed as a napkin holder, to our table’s hamburger warps held in place by an old Kraft Cheese cylinder…. A large selection of Japanese comics are easily selected from a wall of simple bookshelves, and randomly interesting magazines are for the borrowing in the small waiting area.
We were seated in two easy chairs alongside a classic low coffee table of just the right size, an arrangement both casual and comfy at the same time. To top off the café’s relaxed experience, soft reggae and world music plays softly in the background, and for those lucky enough of eating in the back raised corner of the small shop, there is an incomparable view of the East China Sea certainly not found at any burger joint found back home.
Café Captain Kangaroo came to Nago, Okinawa, in 2007, purposed specifically to become an iconic burger shop. The Captain’s family tree is traced all the way back to Osaka, Japan, on Honshu, where the surname was established in 1997 as only a bar; no explanation is given for the rather odd moniker. The staff are all very friendly and cheerful, and good English is widely spoken. During our visit on a lazy almost-Spring Sunday afternoon were about a half and half mix of Japanese and gaijin, all enjoying their beefy meals. There were about five people working during our visit, and their smiles combined with the fun, casual attitude of the place certainly helped to make the burgers even more delicious. Oddly enough, we witnessed one of the staffers eating a late lunch. Their pick off the menu: TACO RICE!
Yes, that Okinawan ubiquitous meal is indeed offered, but as one of only eleven mains on the menu – one key to the café’s massive success. The focus is on quality and taste, and with only a few items to master, both are promises made and delivered upon. The menu is offered bilingually in Japanese and English, with most items costing about 1,000 yen or less. Combos can be made by adding in a potato set offering a choice of hashbrowns, wedges with skin, or traditional fries. Drinks can also be added at a “set” price to complete your combination platter.
Jody and I both ordered the “Sparky” burger, and within about 10 minutes, were served a veritable skyscraper of a burger! A home-baked sesame-covered bun grilled crispy and served hot off the griddle, slathered with BBQ sauce (not overdone), a beef patty, cheese (Swiss we believe), tons of fresh, crispy lettuce and juicy tomato, and finally topped with our favorite: an impossibly large serving of crispy deep-fried delicious shoestring onions. The tower was held against toppling by a long bamboo spear, and multiple triangular sandwich holders are provided – and required!
Ketchup is served on the plate, but placed there with great care. The Japanese couple next to us had their sauce in the shaped of animated musical notes, while ours came in the shape of blood-red beating hearts – very fitting since this was our first date and outing on our own in many weeks! On the table are salt, pepper, chili spice, and garlic salt, the last of which I *forgot* to use. Oh well, a great excuse to return. And SOON.
Captain Kangaroo’s rates 4.5 out of 5 stars on Trip Advisor, where it is also ranked the #1 restaurant in all of Nago (out of something like 348 establishments). Given some of the styles and qualities of foods that can be found in this corner of the Far East in a large city, this standing is quite an accomplishment. I have been hearing the hype about this place for over a year now, and generally don’t give into such popularity contests: seldom does anything live up to such impossibly high expectations. Hamburger Island Café Captain Kangaroo’s does, on all accounts. And all our deliciousness for 2,600 yen, or about $23.50.
Oh, and about that shame of not finishing my burger? In my defense, I did have a large portion of chocolate ice cream for lunch.
At least I have my priorities in the right order….
Ambiance: Eclectically furnished and casual burger joint of the highest caliber. Furniture groupings provide comfy and casual seating for couples and large groups of up to eight.
Service: A small establishment which prides itself on quality and perfection. Food is all cooked fresh order, and the joint can be crowded during lunch and in the afternoons. While the wait to get a spot inside may be 20 or 30 minutes, your order is taken promptly and the food appears quicker than you might think possible. The staff is overly laid-back and friendly, and English is widely and easily spoken.
Food Quality: Excellent without question. Ranked on Trip Advisor as the #1 restaurant in Nago.
Features: Quaint eatery with conditioned indoor seating. Easy-going atmosphere which is beachwear and kid-friendly.
Cuisine: Burgers, burgers, and burgers. Plus eight more types of burgers. Plus taco rice.
Address: 183 Umusa, Nago City
Opening Times: Every day except Holidays and Wednesdays, 11:00～20:00 (last order 19:40)
Directions: Take 58 north to Nago (or the Expressway until it ends and joins 58), then a slight left onto 449 once passing the seaside Nago baseball stadium. Captain Kangaroo, a small shop that’s easy to miss, is about 0.9 kilometers down the road on the left. Additional parking is found just before the storefront, and also to the rear of the burger joint.