Aficionados of local grinds have long considered Kapahulu Avenue to be the food mecca of Honolulu. From Leonards’ malasadas, to Rainbow’s mix plate, to Waiola’s shave ice to Sam Choy’s Diamond Head Restaurant and Hee Hing and Ono Hawaiian Foods, this one-mile stretch has it all.
Man (and woman), however, cannot live on plate lunch, alone (maybe). If you’re looking for something a little different, maybe a bit more upscale than a hamburger steak plate lunch, you don’t need to travel far. Just head mauka, up Kapahulu Avenue, then, just after passing under the H1 freeway, take a right at the fork in the road, and head toward Koko Head, up Wai’alae Avenue.
Wai’alae is the main thoroughfare through Kaimuki, an older, working class neighborhood. While the Wai’alae commercial district had been in decline for some time, it has experienced a recent revitalization, with many interesting new restaurants and small businesses opening over the past several years.
3660 on the Rise
The jewel of the avenue is 3660 on the Rise, located, of course, at 3660 Wai’alae Avenue. Although not one of the 12 original chefs that founded the Hawai’i Regional Cuisine movement, co-owner and Executive Chef Russell Siu has certainly become one of the most well known proponents of this Euro-Hawaiian culinary concept.
The Ahi Katsu, sashimi wrapped in nori and quickly fried, is Siu’s signature dish, but choices such as the Alaea New York Steak, Macadamia Nut Crusted Rack of Lamb and Tempura Catfish with Ponzu Sauce will make selecting an entrée a challenging task. This is haute cuisine, along the lines of Roy’s and Alan Wong’s.
As an aside, while not located in Kaimuki, you may also want to check out Russell Siu’s other restaurant, the casual Kaka’ako Kitchen (in the Ward Centre, at 1200 Ala Moana Boulevard) that serves upscale plate lunch fare. Dis one stay one of bruddah Dale Minami’s favorites.
Big City Diner
With a nostalgic 1950’s decor, Big City Diner (3565 Wai’alae Avenue) is similar to the Bay Area’s Mel’s Drive-In, but local Hawai’i-style. Many locals frequent this family-friendly restaurant for the great hamburgers, but Big City has a huge menu with something for everyone, including many local home-style dishes. Da Two Japanee Bruddahs like Grandma’s Kim Chee Fried Rice, but da Guava Barbecue Ribs and da home-style Meatloaf stay ono too. So hahd fo’ choose, yeah?
Be warned that it’s big food at Big City. You’ll be tempted by pupu such as the crunchy Tempura Calamari Strips with a Wasabi-Garlic sauce or the Spicy Garlic Fries, but don’t overdo it, or you may be taking your entire entrée home in a doggy bag.
12th Avenue Grill
The cuisine at 12th Avenue Grill (1145C 12th Avenue, just off Wai’alae Avenue) is often described as “retro-American.” While best known for their updated American comfort foods such as Baked Macaroni and Cheese or Grilled Pork Chop, their signature, must-try dish, is the Kim Chee Steak. It’s a skirt steak, marinated in kim chee sauce, then grilled. Ho, da ono! Garans, you goin’ be dreamin’ about dis one fo’ days. In fact, Japanee Bruddah Kyle stay hooked, trying fo’ duplicate da recipe at home evah since he wen go 12th Avenue Grill.
Also, be sure to save room for the broke-da-mout desserts, by Lisa Siu of 3660 on the Rise. Only stay open fo’ dinnah, an’ small-kine place, so make resahvations befo’ you go.
One of the newer restaurants in Kaimuki is town (yes, it is spelled in lower-case, located at 3435 Wai’alae Avenue). The menu features contemporary, simply prepared American fare with Mediterranean influences, using the freshest local, largely organic, ingredients. Da food stay ono, everything from da salads to da desserts! Dey get one new menu every day, depending on da mos’ fresh ingredients, so check ’em out often. Goin’ remind you of one San Francisco SOMA bistro, but stay in Kaimuki an’ mo’ cheap too.
By the way, town owner, Ed Kenney III, is the son of Beverly Noa and Ed Kenney, Jr., who starred in the lead role of Wan Ta in the original Broadway production of Flower Drum Song.
We wen hea dat Beard Papa, da Japanee cream puff chain goin’ open one store in San Francisco pretty soon. (Ey, we no undahstand da name too.) Sort of like the Krispy Kreme of Japan, when first introduced to Hawai’i and New York, customers waited in long lines for the delectable pastries. Not to take anything away from Liliha Bakery’s Coco Puffs or Komoda Store’s famous cream puffs, Beard Papa’s light, crunchy and not too sweet puffs are the best. We tink we goin’ go wait in line fo’ da opening wen we stay pau write dis column.