It's easy to overlook Hisami, tucked away in a nondescript building in a quiet corner of Kumamoto's Nagamine neighborhood. Just far enough off the main thoroughfare of Rt 232 and looking more like your neighbor's house, a small sign and an even tinier menu board are all that indicate food is to be found inside.
Hisami sports only four tables in a cozy, tatami-covered dining room. The proprietress is also the waitress and the chef, and she won't even ask you for your choice of meal as there isn't any. With one set meal served a day, she'll merely confirm how many are in your party before heading for the kitchen. The quiet sounds of recorded shamisen music cover the goings-on in the kitchen (this place is quite tiny) and in winter, a heater is thoughtfully placed closest to wherever diners happen to sit. If the tables are full, however, it might be wise to break out a book. The food is very good but it's a one-woman show.
The lunch special is an absolute steal at ¥1000. The food changes daily and pays attention to what's in season. On a recent December day, my family and I dined on fresh sea bream simmered in a sweet soy sauce and mirin concoction, a salad of root vegetables with thin strips of beef, a spicy lotus root salad and a simmered daikon. A unique croquette - featuring sticky potato and local mushrooms - was served with ketchup, alongside a bed of shredded cabbage and an excellent tempura mushroom. This was all joined by a small bowl of miso soup with tofu, a large portion of rice and the obligatory plate of pickles. If that isn't enough, the owner will consistently ask if you need any more rice, and she's not shy about topping up your bowl if you say yes. Dessert was a plate of freshly peeled apples and coffee, and the entire meal was accompanied by a rather large pot of tea.
Hisami prepares set dinners as well, for only twice as much as the price of lunch. I'm not sure if the portions of food are doubled as a result, but I'll return in a heartbeat for the excellent-value lunch.