Food & Drink / The best place to get poke bowls: Paina Café
Paina Café has been serving up one of the best poke bowls on the Island since it replaced the old Chowder House in Ward Warehouse. Not only does it serve good fresh poke, but you also get to choose the bowl size, the kind of rice and the poke–it’s “create your own” done right. There are even a variety of toppings to choose from, such as kim chee, yamaimo and natto, so you can customize your bowl to perfection.
Best idea that nobody’s doing yet: Cornish Pasty Food Truck
Savory meat, potatoes and vegetables all wrapped in a buttery, flaky pie-crust; these things are amazing. They were made in the 17th century for British coal miners so they had a hearty meal while they were underground, and I saw 7-Eleven stores carry a chicken version for a very brief period of time. One of these babies, and you have lunch-on-the-go dialed. I’m pretty sure whomever starts this will be rich. You guys can have this one for free.
Best way to spend your last two bucks: Kozo Sushi
First thought: cupcake, maybe a cookie. Nowadays, you can’t even get one of those for less than $3. What the…? Only in Hawaii can you get a maki roll for $2.95, a pretty decent one, that is. We’re not talking top-of-the-line, award-winning sushi here; we aren’t talking crap sushi made from scraps either. Good, satisfying and actually healthy grub for only a couple bucks. Yep, Kozo Sushi has delish maki rolls for those on a penny-pinching budget: tuna maki, crab/cucumber and egg, all for less than $2.
Best Japanese restaurant: Akasaka
The ambience is appropriately Land of the Rising Sun. The sashimi is fresh, and the butteryaki scallops are original and tasty. It’s a great place to munch, sip hot or cold sake, and just be Asian.
Where is it? Right next door to Aaxtion Video, a parlor specializing in films of the adult nature. It’s also a hop, a skip and a jump away from Club Femme Nu, a club specializing in naked female flesh.
Seriously, it’s one of the best Japanese restaurants on the island. Just be sure to tell your date that you didn’t realize what neighborhood it was in.
Best rude restaurant: Sorabol
Upon arrival, you are greeted with a fish tank, which houses a fish with an eel-type face and hisses at people like a cat. But enough about eel-cat. After the waitress’s many brusque attempts to get your order, you will panic and order the first thing you see. If you are a muggle (non-Korean blood), then you may be told the item you’ve selected is “too traditional.” Aside from the ethnicity-based treatment, the food is satisfying and the service is entertaining, in the funny-sad kind of way. I still love you Sorabol, even if you refuse to love me back!
Best non-sushi use of wasabi: Wasabi Bloody Mary at Morimoto
Vodka, lime juice, wasabi, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce, salt… but that’s just a guess. The point is, this is a very dangerous drink. Morimoto, my tongue thanks you. My wallet does not.
Best new website to hit the local foodie scene: Big Fat Dish
Big Fat Dish is a social media network for foodies. The company is local and very, very new, and since it lets you connect through Facebook, it’s creating a big fat buzz throughout Honolulu’s community of chefs, restaurateurs and wannabe food snobs. It’s also a place where aspiring self-feeders can learn how to re-create dishes we love from places like Alan Wong’s, Hiroshi’s, Roy’s and others. You can upload images, “dish” on a particular restaurant or menu item and even create your own cookbook. It’s only a matter of time before we’re all eating, reviewing and recreating our favorite foods.
Best steamed clams: Crouching Lion Inn
Don’t mistake this for “Best Steak” or “Best Seafood” in general… We’re just saying that a large metal pot filled with clams steamed in lemon butter is hard to come by. Crouching Lion does it right, though.
Best business that doesn’t give a damn about your Yelp review: Coffeeline
Dennis of Coffeeline is notorious for his anti-service attitude and his bullying (“What, you can’t find anything on the menu to eat?” he said when I recently declined breakfast). The advent of Yelp now gives Dennis a digital realm to unleash his scorn. A one-star review is met with the response: “You drink at Starbucks all the time, so your idea of ‘good’ is suspect.” And yet, there are those of us who still remain ever loyal, for the coffee, the food, the eclectic lounge and, yes, even for Dennis.
Best lunchtime getaway: Art’s Hideaway
Walking down the stairway, you’ll wonder if you’re in some kind of astrology club, but then you’ll find yourself in a sort of whacked-out café complete with downhome food like meatloaf, club salads, wraps and plates filled with (real) mashed potatoes and gravy. The staff is efficient and friendly, and within 30 minutes, you’re in, you’re out and you’re satisfied.
Best revised menu: Fresh Café
Maybe it’s the energy from Art & Flea, M.I.A. or something else, but Fresh Café has a new menu and a fresh attitude. Don’t miss out on a bowl of piping hot corn chowder or the Thai latte. The house coffee alone is worth the trip.
Best tea pot entertainment: Blooming tea at Tea Farm Café
To be completely honest, it tastes a bit like…tea. But the experience will bring back your childish revelry.
The best restaurant for authentic Japanese bentos: Bento-ya Iyasume
This tiny, hole-in-the-wall bento restaurant serves cheap, delicious bentos with a wide variety of choices from musubi and salmon to Japanese-style hamburgers. The fish is always fresh; the portions aren’t stingy–all orders come with an entrée, miso soup, your choice of one or two side dishes and rice topped with furikake.
Best poke found in a parking lot: Ono SeaFood
When we asked the owner of Ono Seafood, Judy Sakman, who’s been in business for over 18 years, if the bowls were a popular item, she said, “Now everybody’s happy.” Their most requested poke is the soy sauce and spicy tuna combo.
Everything is freshly made to order, and they will put together any combination you desire. If you get the chance to try “The Works”–it’s sesame seed, sesame oil, tuna, limu, onion, chili, kukui, soy sauce–it’ll hit all the right buttons
Best new (and only) pop-up restaurant: The Pig and the Lady
The Pig and the Lady pop-up restaurant gets points for being the only of its kind in Honolulu. But rest assured, founders Andrew Le (formerly of Chef Mavro) and Martha Cheng (Honolulu Weekly food editor and Melt co-founder) aren’t resting on any kind of laurels. With a rotating menu of Vietnamese-inspired dishes, main chef Le pays ample tribute to his Vietnamese roots (his mother also helps out in the kitchen, cooking her famous Vietnamese soups). Trotter croquettes, braised pork belly with poached quail eggs and jasmine tea ice cream with mung bean cake are just a few of the dishes you may encounter at the five-course, $55 BYOB dinner, which seats 20 diners in a communal fashion inside Hank’s Haute Dogs. —
Best place to score free food: Opening day at the Legislature
Oh, sure you want to celebrate the first day of the session with your particular representative or senator, and then meet up with him or her at the Capitol to go over relevant issues, but really, if you live in Hawaii Kai, what the hell are you doing in Rep. Chris Lee’s (Lanikai, Waimanalo) office?
You’re there to mooch the food, free of charge. And don’t think you’re sly, flying under the radar with political pretenses. The homeless know all about it too, and they show up in droves, shopping carts parallel-parked by one of the four swamp-like lagoons on the ground floor.
“I like take one nodda plate fo’ my wife,” one of them will say.
Sure… And you probably want $1 for gas as well? (For the last bloody time: No, I don’t have an “extra” cigarette!) —
Best café you’d like to live in: The Sundial CafÉ
The Sundial Café feels like the cozy living room of your favorite relative’s house broke off and floated over to the heart of Waimanalo, landing gently to provide a place for you to go that is quiet and peaceful. The café offers good coffee and has an actual cubby against the wall for you to bring in your favorite mug. The welcoming owner will strike up a conversation with you, further perpetuating the feeling of a thinly disguised living room marked as a café.
After you’ve received your coffee, smoothie or wrap, you move into a spacious room that is decorated with comfortable chairs, an assortment of books and a piano. The lighting, which is not too bright, feels perfect. That’s when it will occur to you that you might be able to pull a Where the Heart Is and live there in secret. What Wal-Mart is to Natalie Portman, Sundial Café is to me.
Best place for breakfast: The Original Koa Pancake House
Opened in 1988, this restaurant in particular feels like you’re eating breakfast in an old wooden church. Even before you even get to the front door, a hostess welcomes you into the restaurant, and then she guides you to your booth. The food is piping hot, the prices are affordable and the coffee says it all. —
Best Kalihi eats: Alicia’s Market
“How can anybody give this place less than five stars?“ says frequent yelper Tom S. “The poke is excellent… They sell cold beer… The staff is friendly. Even the frickin potato salad is excellent.” That pretty much says it all. —
Best restaurant idea: Macanese food
OK, it’s because we just watched the Macau episode of No Reservations. But it’s also recalling world travels and remembering how good fried potatoes are with cod. Considering our state’s strong Cantonese and Portuguese heritages, it’s surprising there isn’t a thriving eatery combining the two cuisines. Let’s get beyond our versions of Portuguese tarts, sausages, bean soups and pastries. Let’s get an eatery that will not only fill a great gastronomical niche, but will also help preserve a dying culture.