The restaurant business is sizzling around 12th and Wai‘alae.
Image: ragnar carlson

A couple of new options--and one old favorite--along Wai‘alae
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Waialae Avenue is home to old Kaimuki establishments, a run-down movie theater and a plethora of restaurants. A recent Friday night dinner experience left me in a bit of a parking dilemma, proving once again that everyone eats on Waialae on weekend nights. And why wouldn’t they? A treasure trove of culinary tastes, this little street offers something for everyone–Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese or Himalayan, even? The recent economy has also caused this dining hot spot to succumb to the revolving door effect–the closure of old establishments make way for newcomers to try their hands in the restaurant biz. Make friends with two newly opened eateries, to THAI for and 4 King’s, but don’t forget to revisit old neighborhood favorite 12th Ave Grill.

Live to (eat) Thai

The sweet and spicy combinations in this Southeast Asian cuisine make it a favorite among people of all ages and cultures. To THAI for still shows signs that it only recently opened–the lime green painted walls are still naked and decor is still barren. However, simple tables and chairs will do just fine in this little place if they keep serving the delicious dishes they are currently putting out.

The menu is classic Thai restaurant fare–noodles, fried rice, curries and seasoned meat dishes. If you can’t decide over summer rolls or spring rolls get the Happy platter ($12.95). Piled with four shrimp fire crackers (basically shrimp lumpia), two spring rolls, 2 summer rolls and chicken satay, the platter definitely makes everyone happy as it is a hearty starter for any table. I did not try the Devi Wings or Devil Popcorn Chicken but I wonder how spicy “Devil” can be. Sounds menacing. The green curry with chicken ($10.95) was a tad sweet from the coconut milk and basil. I paired it with sticky rice, which came in a cute little straw purse container. I was surprised when the Pad Seyu with beef ($10.95) arrived. Usually the dish only includes noodles, egg, meat and broccoli or broccolini stir-fried in a sweet soy sauce, but to THAI for includs a heaping portion of cabbage, carrots and other veggies. It does make the dish more filling and I am assuming, healthier? Some specialty dishes I had my eye on included Secret Dungeon ($24.95) which the menu describes as “chopped whole Dungeness Crab stir-fried with yellow curry, egg, celery, onion, garlic, carrot and bell pepper”, and Sun Tanned Beef ($15.95). Ask about Mom’s Special Dessert. Also noteworthy is the lunch combo for $12.95, served Monday through Friday 10:30am to 2:30pm. Two spring rolls, two chicken satays, and soup comes with your choice of Pad Thai, Pad Seyu, fried rice, curries or stir-fried fresh veggies.

to THAI for, 3571 Waialae Avenue, open 10:30am–9:30pm daily. Cash, credit cards, traveler’s checks accepted, 734-3443

A Royal pairing

When I walked by 4 King’s, I noticed the sign that read Sushi bar & Green Papaya cuisine. A Japanese and Vietnamese restaurant combined? No, it’s not a fusion restaurant. They just serve both side by side. In a way it’s a smart idea, because sometimes dining partners disagree on what to eat. It reminded me of the Chinese restaurants in Queens, NY, that serve Chinese food and a Spanish food hot buffet to cater to the large Latino population in Queens. Is the restaurant trying to stretch itself too thin?

I’m happy to report the food is perfectly decent and some dishes are quite good. Salads and appetizers include everything from summer rolls to agedashi tofu. The ‘ahi poke salad is worth trying. $8.95 gives you a large salad of mixed greens topped with a generous amount of quality ‘ahi poke. The sushi menu has more variety than many sushi restaurants. Some notable menu items are the “stupid” and “smart” rolls. The smart rolls are basically fancy sushi rolls made with shredded crab and topped with seared sashimi while the stupid rolls are shredded crab rolls topped with cooked fish. Perhaps they are implying cooked fish on sushi is “stupid”? Who knows, but the names are entertaining.

The Stupid Roll #3 ($12.95) is a roll of spicy ‘ahi topped off with cooked white fish and drizzled with eel sauce and spicy mayo. If you’re not a fan of too much sauce ask them to go light on the sauce. Their bowls of Pho look pretty large and start at $7.95. They also offer ramen and soba and even thai noodle soups. To please the bento loving crowd they have set meals of bbq meats served wth rice, miso soup, pickles, salad and two spring rolls and two gyozas for $12.95. A quick run through of the menu is all you need to realize that at 4 King’s, they do not joke about variety.

4 King’s, 3579 Waialae Avenue, hours still evolving, cash and major credit cards accepted, 737-8820

Timeless cuisine

12th Ave Grill represents casual upscale dining without the attitude. The food is grade-A and the service is top-notch, and chef and owner Kevin Hanney always finds lesser-known brews and wineries to showcase. I can’t get enough of the ginger and lemon martini with muddled mint.

The menu offers nice variety of hot and cold appetizers starting at $6 and wonderfully intricate salad plates too. Sometimes I’ll interest myself in a salad and another small hot dish, like the scrumptious baked macaroni and cheese ($6) with black forest ham ($2.50). My last meal there was comprised of two specials–prosciutto wrapped asparagus and dates over a citrus-infused cream sauce, and a flank steak served with goat cheese scalloped potatoes and some long beans. Make room for dessert–I drowned myself in an affogato ($7), three scoops of vanilla gelato steeped in a shot of Illy espresso and topped with a handful of chocolate chip cookie crumbs, caramel sauce, whipped cream and nuts. I think of it as a grown-up sundae. My table neighbor opted for the double chocolate buttermilk cake ($7) which looked like at least four layers of dark brown indulgence. Tuesday through Thursday from 5:30pm to 6:30pm they offer a craft bar. It’s bar seating only and drinks are half off. Check out the 1/2 lb burger for $7 and the stuffed calamari $6. The craft bar is a hit with the locals–some days it’s quite difficult to find a seat. And oh, eat the bread. The basket is packed with a homemade foccacia that’s crusty on the outside and perfectly soft in the middle and the baguette is flown in from La Brea Bakery in California.

12th Ave Grill, 1145C 12th Avenue, open Mon–Thu, 5:30–9pm, Fri & Sat 5:30–10pm , major credit cards accepted, 732-9469

Thai For Restaurant