Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kahai Street Kitchen

Kahai Street Kitchen is a dive restaurant located on Kalihi St. in Honolulu, Hawaii (across from Ethel's Grill). Owners Bruce Watanabe and Nao Iwata opened Kahai in summer 2006, starting out as a catering-only kitchen -- and they've catered for roughly 1,000 to 1,200 people in the past. The current executive chef is David Yamamoto.

Kahai Street Kitchen is very popular. they may only be open roughly 3-4 hours (just for lunch) just four days a week (Tue-Fri), but they can sell upwards of 150+ plates, with many people choosing to call in their orders 60-90 minutes BEFORE Kahai even opens. Oh, and did I mention that the Neelys (from Food Network) apparently ate here?

This place is literally on the corner of Kahai and Kalihi St. It's rather dark inside; it could use a bit more lighting. The interior is also small and feels dated (right down to those old-school menu boards from Coca-Cola where you have to snap in the letters one at a time).

Even the Neelys (from Food Network) came here!

Regular menu (December 2011)
Specials of the day!
They check off how many special plates they have left
Kahai Street Kitchen has a regular menu of about 10-12 items. Consider the Teriyaki Boneless Short Ribs ($8.95); the Loco Moco ($8); Pork Chops ($8.95); or the Hamburger Steak ($8.95).

But the owners guess that 90 percent of their customers order the daily specials. Roughly 8-12 dishes are featured, with about 15 portions each. In other words, you may want to consider arriving early or calling in your order so you can get the item you want!

Parking can be a hassle, but the owners pointed out that regulars just park right along the street (even illegally), and there is a small garage on Kahai Street, just after the restaurant, that could fit about 2-3 cars (one obviously being for the owners).

I came in on a Tuesday around 10:45 a.m. Only one person was dining one else in line. The owner said it's been a slow day -- as he packaged four or five phone-in orders, amounting to over a dozen plates. They had only been open for 15 minutes...dang, better order!

Surveying the more gourmet-sounding daily specials, I ordered the Opakapaka Escabeche ($9.50): pan-fried crispy opakapaka (Hawaiian red snapper) with a sauce containing oyster sauce, garlic, ginger, and sauteed onions. Plates come with a choice of white or brown rice (I got brown) and potato-macaroni salad or tossed salad (I chose the potato-mac).

Opakapaka Escabeche
(Kahai Street Kitchen)

The opakapaka is a firm fish that was cooked well here. I easily tore pieces of fish off with my fork...who the heck needs a knife here? Exceptional pan-frying, but the advertised crispy exterior was non-existent because the aforementioned orange-red sauce considerably covered this fish.

The sauce became the star also from a flavor standpoint. Perhaps this sweet, tangy sauce got a bit too assertive, as the garlic lingered on my tongue for at least an hour after I finished my meal. No wonder I couldn't find a date after that one.

Props on the potato-mac salad. The flavors were spot-on, complete with a peppery bite. My one concern was the salad's warm temperature; this is best served cold, in my book. The brown rice is the real brown rice, complete with that fibrous texture.

And by the way, at least for right now, they don't have mini plates. The portion wasn't intimidating anyway, but just an FYI.

Kahai Street Kitchen is a great place to go for gourmet plate lunches. And because Bruce, Nao, and David run so many specials, it may be a while before you get through the entire menu (if it's even possible to pull off). Check these guys out! 7.5/10

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