Of the 10 meals recapped below at Asian joints that we hit up during seven days in Honolulu, only four of them were planned. We discovered other great restaurants that don’t top the list on Urbanspoon but were well the visit. 10 Asian meals! And there’s a whole other blog post for the food during that week that wasn’t strictly Asian!
Izakaya Tako-No-Ki [Yelp]
After ascertaining that our room was acceptable, we walked around the neighbourhood on a Friday night at 10:00 looking for food. Bars and clubs were certainly open but I was a little confuzzled by the options and we went with Japanese and a izakaya on the second floor on the same street as our hotel.
The ramen was cheap but plainly adorned but the noodles were good. I ordered my first poke of the visit and enjoyed every bit of it down to the sweet onions and branch-like seaweed.
I made an 8 pm reservation at Nobu Waikiki but really just wanted to enjoy some drinks and their “foursome” deal of three appies and a dessert for a fixed price. We never got a chance since they weren’t seating anyone after the tsunami warning as issued and thereafter we found they weren’t conveniently located in a cool area and didn’t return.
The idea of a Japanese food court inside a Japanese department store inside a Western mall sounded cool but it was actually quite low key. I picked up pre-packed containers of sushi from the musubi kiosk and paid for them at central cashiers.
It was the only musubi I would have and it was mediocre. The presence of Spam was a novelty and the seasons onigiri was tasty but we aren’t used to so much rice in our sushi.
Marukame Udon [Facebook]
Marukame Udon is apparently some chain in Japan with over a hundred stores and a must-do in Honolulu. The line out the door looks long but it moves quickly because its a very casual eatery and I marveled how with out intervention by a host everyone seemed to get seated even though people got food faster than people are their food.
The menu seemed big and the description accompanying pictures were frustrating, like “Noodle in hot broth” or “Noodle in sauce”. Then when you see it being “prepared” you see how simple it all is. The appropriate size portion of mostly cooked noodle is dumped in a bowl and quickly reheat in a basket in hot water. Another server pours in hot broth or sauce and tops it with an egg or beef and green onion and tempura bits. We pick up our own sides from trays just before the cashier who assesses your tray’s value and charges you.
The noodle tasted fresh and had the required chewiness and the broth was light while the sauce was a little sweet. It was dirt cheap with one large noodle, one small noodle and two sides coming to $14. It’s nothing gourmet or astoundingly good but a fun and satisfying dinner.
NPY turned up this hidden gem and we aimed to visit at 6 pm when happy hour started and would last two hours. It was on the third level of a Hawaiian-style (i.e., stucco) house and did not sound busy so we visited Genius Outfitters on the ground level and freshened up in our room and returned at 7. It was still not busy but we were hungry.
Drinks were half price which meant a glass of housemade sangria was merely $2.50, sake cocktails were $4 and 150 mL of sake was $5.
I ordered a pokedon so we’d have rice and NPY ordered the pasta vongole to have noodle. We also ordered the rock shrimp tartar to not ignore the happy hour food menu entirely.
NPY really liked the tuna pokedon which was made with Genius’ “secret” miso sauce and the rice was also drizzles with some sauce also umami. We like the pasta that was tapas size in portion. There was no description for the rock shrimp tartar which.I thought meant tartare but misspelled but could have meant tartar, the dipping sauce for fish and chips. Fried shrimp with a fluffy and thin batter? Loved it.
Well, Chinatown was vastly underwhelming and the most fascinating thing was the closest thing to a wet market which I didn’t dare bring NPY into in Hong Kong but I dragged him through the Mauna Kea Marketplace to get to the museum which I didn’t end up visiting.
For Chinese food in Honolulu, Little Village tops the ranks and I can see why. The menu looks catered to tourists and Westerners but we ordered noodles as did also an Asian woman who was dining by herself.
I only tried NPY’s wonton mein broth which I though tasted a little funky and one wonton that was a little spoiled by the shrimp and a little salty. I enjoyed my dan dan mein that had chewy Northern noodle and a slightly thin but appropriately nutty and spicy sauce.
Good grief, did I go to Hawaii and eat at PF Chang’s?! In our defense, we’ve never been to one before despite our many trips stateside and they had patio tables available when we really wanted a place to sit and watched costumed Halloween revelers walk by. An additional bonus was that the service and food was slow to come and we could longer longer.
The server showed us PF Chang’s special sauce which is mixed from your favourite ratio of soy sauce with wine vinegar, mustard and chili paste. It wasn’t my favourite taste.
Since the time I wanted to try PF Chang’s the item I wanted to have, despite whatever is their best dish, was their mapo tofu. And by sheer happy coincidence, or perhaps similar taste, NPY chose the Buddha’s feast, also vegetarian and containing tofu. I was really excited! The mapo tofu was the oddest one I’ve had yet. Sweet, barely spicy. The nest of broccoli was steamed which was just fine but I used the opportunity to dip into my PF Chang’s sauce. The Buddha’s feast also present more broccoli and the sauce was oddly sweet as well. It was a decent medley of vegetables but I found that some of the pressed and baked tofu tasted off, not very fresh.
Who knew that a morning of driving and hopping in and out of the car to take pictures at scenic points would help us work up an appetite? After a few hours of driving, we had Giovanni’s shrimp and after watching green sea turtles crawl ashore, we were ready for dessert.
There was a friendly crowd around the store standing around and enjoying their shaved ice concoctions. At a counter in the middle of the store, we place our orders which were written in code on the bowl then given to behind the counter for preparation. The most basic shave ice is small size with three flavours. I did that basic creation a few better by ordering it on a bed of vanilla ice cream and azuki beans, selecting three “exotic” flavours in mango, lychee and pineapple, and topping off the whole thing with condensed milk. That was a lot of condensed milk and everything tied together so very well. The price for DIY shave ice was just fabulous.
Mikawon Korean Restaurant [Yelp]
I planned the whole island day trip and had nothing lined up for dinner. Thankfully NPY stepped up and used Yelp to find Mikawon in a passageway not far from the hotel. It is a dive restaurant so I was careful to stay balanced on my toes and not touch too much. That’s why I like to order scorching hot food at Korean dive restaurants.
The banchan we were presented with was really great and we liked all the dishes save for the spicy ones, I because I don’t like the sour pickled spice (kind of odd for me). When we were partway through our meal, we were offered a refill of the banchan we wanted and got more bean sprouts and potato which was potato salad, they having run out of the marinated potato.
I ordered tofu stew which at mild was very spicy. NPY ordered a bibimbap with a great assortment of shredded vegetables and meat and it was just the best way to wrap an action-packed day of touring and eating.
Ramen Nakamura [Yelp]
The last day was a little difficult. I hadn’t lined up any restaurant in particular and we had hit up pretty much all the big ones I wanted to. Still, I’m always game for ramen so after we decided we weren’t feeling happy hour at a Japanese lounge again, we stopped at Ramen Nakamura on Kalakaua which I read a review rating it to have the best noodles of eight Honolulu ramen shops.
As per usual, we got one ramen combo so NPY can have rice and noodle and I could have a gyoza and we got contrasting broths and, it turns out, contrasting noodles. I dug into the tonkatsu ramen first which has rich broth, a slice of cha siu, plenty of mustard vegetables and chili-marinated bamboo shoots. I should have picked out the ginger but otherwise it was good with chewy noodles. I tried the Tokyo ramen which has a clear and refreshing broth and a soft egg-like noodle. That is what NPY liked so we did not share too much our noodles for once.