With the explosion of Hawaiian plate lunch restaurants in the Bay Area, it might be easy to think that Honu’s Island Grinds & Bar in San Francisco’s Japantown is following a trend.
The Hukilaus, Kilohanas, the more than 25 L&L Hawaiian Barbeque franchises and other plate lunch restaurants in the Bay Area are making a gravy-drenched loco moco easier to find than a Double-Double from Inn-N-Out Burger.
But Honu’s is doing a much different take by offering “real Hawaiian food” and extras such as a poke bar, healthy entrée salads and espressos, said co-owner Edgar Dang.
“We don’t see ourselves as competing with L&L, Hukilau and the other places,” said Dang, whose restaurant partner is Pat Fong, one of the lead organizers of the Nihonmachi Street Fair. “We’re going to cater to an older crowd, more tourists and, of course, the Japantown crowd.”
Honu’s, which is scheduled to open in mid-November, took over the space that once housed Kansai restaurant. Its addition right next to Aloha Warehouse (owned by Edgar and the Dang family) is creating a Little Hawai’i in the middle of Buchanan Mall.
The poke bar will feature an assortment of made-to-order dishes, including one from a recipe by Dang’s sister Ina that won first place in the recent Sam Choy Hukilau Poke Contest. The poke bar and other pupu will fuel late-night patrons as Honu’s plans to stay open until two in the morning.
“We’re also offering a line of salads and our food will use rice oil with no trans fats,” said Dang. “You just can’t get a decent salad around Japantown.” Honu’s will also have vegetarian entrées on the menu.
Health-conscious food is just part of the mix. Dang said that they’ll serve selected desserts from Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop and espressos and lattes.
Take-out will be available as well. “JCCCNC already told us they wanted to order plate lunches for their office,” said Dang.
Round all of that off with live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights and Honu’s seems ready to bring some Hawaiian style food and fun to Japantown.
Email Edgar Dang at firstname.lastname@example.org to let him know what you think. The Honu’s website will be live soon.
In the meantime, Hawai’i expats and other Bay Area residents can’t seem to get enough of plate lunches, which University of Hawai’i ethnic studies professor Jon Okamura says probably grew out of the Japanese bento. “Because bentos were takeaway kinds of eating and certainly the plate lunch continues that tradition,” said Okamura in an interview with Honolulu television station KHNL.
“I like Kilohana Grill (in Emeryville),” said Deb Aoki, the cartoonist we covered in a previous column. “My fave thing about it is that they serve homemade lomi salmon on the weekends with their lau lau. And they have ‘just like auntie makes for potluck’ mac/potato salad. I also like that the owners are always full of aloha whenever you drop by. ‘Auntie Pam’ is genuinely friendly and likes to ‘talk story’ while you’re waiting for your mixed plate to be ready. They also make something I’ve never seen in Hawai’i — spam katsu!”
Christian Neville likes the plate lunches at San Mateo’s Takahashi Market. “They have the best Hawaiian plate in the Bay Area because they use the real kalua pig shipped from home every Thursday,” said Neville. “I bought lomi lomi salmon and poke side dishes which perfected the meal … like it was a real luau plate from a party back home. Some ono!”
Dean Suzuki is a fan of Waikiki Hawaiian BBQ in Concord. “The plate lunch prices there are the lowest I’ve seen in the Bay Area, but the quality is just as good as the other Hawaiian plate lunch restaurants. The taro leaves in the lau lau are ‘broke da mouth’ good.”
“I’ve gone to Ray’s near San Mateo College that has pretty good plate lunches and the owner is from Hawai’i,” said Chih Chen. “Very reasonably priced and they also serve breakfast and saimin close to nothing.”
Rod Valedez suggested Thaiwaiian Bistro in Pacific Grove on the Monterey Penninsula. They have “broke the mouth loco moco and fried noodles … onolicious.”
What’s your favorite plate lunch place in the Bay Area? Email us at email@example.com.
Keith Kamisugi and Kyle Tatsumoto are da Two Japanee Bruddahs. Visit twojapaneebruddahs.com for past columns and blog posts.