sanrio cafe
Cat fancier: Sanrio Cafe is a treat.
Image: ryan senaga

At Sanrio Café, cute is what counts

sanrio cafe / Perhaps it was inevitable that Sanrio Cafe would disappoint. An eatery dedicated to that mouth-less white cat with the dot-eyes and red bow already brings expectations of unfathomable levels of adorable-ness, and being the first officially-licensed eatery in the country just magnifies the pressure.

The cafe is nestled next door to the Sanrio Surprises store in Pearlridge Shopping Center and it’s less of a cafe and more of a counter. You order, pick up when your name is called and either take it home to munch or dine at one of the tables scattered throughout the mall. Keep in mind, this is Pearlridge Uptown though, where the surroundings are decidedly un-adorable. (You know a mall is “urban” when there are two parking spaces right outside the entrance reserved for police officers. Come here often?) For those who turn a blind eye to gleefully (or barfingly) happy-happy joy-joy cartoon animals, Sanrio is a Japanese company with licensed characters stamped on stationary products, stickers and various other household items like toasters, lamps and stereos–all designed to delight young girls all over the world. Throw a Skittle into an elementary schoolyard and chances are, it’ll land on a backpack with Hello Kitty on it. The fact that Hawaii was chosen for Sanrio’s first company-endorsed food venture in the United States shows how pop culturally relevant, or virally permeated, the brand is in the Islands.

The food itself is created by one of the people responsible for the venerable Kaimuki eatery Cafe Laufer and what you get is essentially Laufer-lite. The only real substantial sustenance comes in the form of Hello Kitty Face Sandwiches ($5.95) with fillings of chicken, tuna, ham, turkey, egg and salami. And a packet of mayonnaise. Depending on the day and supply at hand, the bread is either in the shape of Hello Kitty’s head or a cutter of sorts is used to stab the cat’s facial likeness into the white between the crusts. Either option makes you feel a touch guilty about chomping her face or noggin.

Where the cafe truly shines are the desserts and pastries. They are morsels of sweet goodness ranging from $2.95 to $3.75. Like Cafe Laufer, there is an irresistible refrigerated display counter filled with intricately designed delectables that practically goad you into purchasing. There’s little balls of cream puffs, tapioca and chocolate mousse treats that come in cool diamond-shaped plastic cylinders, and bars of lemon, German chocolate, oatmeal cranberry, caramel apple and more. They are all relatively bite-sized, so purchasing and consuming them all is within the realm of possibility.

Also available is an ice cream sundae, a fruit cup and a salad–all for $5.95. Various coffee and tea drinks are there to fuel your rush through the store next door grabbing those pencil boxes. Italian sodas ($2.75) and smoothies ($3.95) fulfill those not needing caffeine.

Much of the food is on a get-it-early basis, so it might be best to call first if you want Hello Kitty-shaped cakes or chi-chi-dango.

The tagline for the establishment is “Tastes so cute,” but surprisingly, that’s where it falls a little short. With a name like Sanrio Cafe, one expects… cuter. After the grand opening madness of the person in the Hello Kitty suit, one is left with just those sandwiches emblazoned with the famous trademark character. Of course, the emphasis is on the eponymous feline, but it would have been nice to see other Sanrio favorites like Tuxedo Sam, Bad Badtz-Maru, and Pochacco. The golden opportunity could have been cocoa desserts riffed on the delectably named Chococat. (Food based on the frog character Kerokerokeroppi probably wouldn’t go over too well.)

Everything is served by pleasant young girls with voices softer than a Little Twin Stars plushie.

As an alternative to the fast food courts and other franchises in the mall, Sanrio Cafe is, unfortunately, adequate. Still, the culinary strength of this place is the tasty, sweet-tooth satisfying snatches of pastries. All the kids really need to see in order to explode into squeals of delight is that logo in the chocolate oval nestled in the whipped cream of whatever assorted puff, brownie or cake. Loading up on the these items for a young girl’s birthday party will make you Uncle or Aunty of the Year.

But the real question is: Without a mouth, how does poor Hello Kitty eat?

Sanrio Cafe

Pearlridge Shopping Center

98-1005 Moanalua Rd., ‘Aiea

Mon-Sat 10am–9pm, Sun 10am–6pm, 488-0981

Sandwiches $5.95, smoothies $3.95, desserts $2.95–$3.75