Kalihi Eats: Pho Dillingham & Grill

Pho Dac Biet

Pho Dillingham & Grill Vietnamese & American Food Restaurant recently opened for business on December 10, 2008, replacing the former popular local grinds hot spot, Spot’s Inn, who closed their doors on August 23rd, 2008.

They’re located on the corner of Dillingham and Kokea street across Honolulu Community College. If that isn’t enough of a landmark to help you find it, the beautiful Hawaii Kai Marina-like Kapalama Canal is nearby. Or there’s also a radio tower towering behind it.

Let’s start with their name, PHO DILLINGHAM & GRILL, which sounds grammatically incorrect (not that my grammar on this blog is any better). Perhaps “DILLINGHAM PHO & GRILL” might sound better. Or, “PHO DILLINGHAM & KOKEA”. Or even “PHO & NEAR DILLINGHAM”. But to combine the location with “& GRILL” just doesn’t make sense. Kind of like saying “THE SHACK BAR & HAWAII KAI” in reverse. Ya’ know?

Anyway, just had to get that off my chest.

Pho Dillingham & Bar…. oops, I mean, Pho Bar & Grill.. oops, I mean, Pho Dillingham & Grill describes themselves as specializing in Vietnamese & American Food. Yet, considering the shoes they’re filling (Spot’s Inn), they really should include “local grinds” in there somewhere, as that does make up a noticeably-contrasting variance of their menu, which otherwise is predominantly Vietnamese.

Speaking of which, let’s get right to that by clicking here to download and view Pho Dillingham & Grill’s menu in PDF format. Did you get that? If you didn’t, see a Geek Squad expert at Best Buy Iwilei and they can help you get it. Or even better, drive up mauka on Alakawa street, make a left Ewa-bound on Dillingham, and just a block up the street you’ll be right there (actually on the left) at Pho Dillingham & Kokea… I mean Grill. lol


Notice the radio tower behind it, which you can see pretty much from anywhere around central Honolulu.

Like most other fast food & plate lunch joints around, as you walk in here, you’re greeted by a front ordering counter with a lit menu board above and behind. Here’s Ben, the owner (and very nice guy) taking an order from a customer…

Ben (da’ ownah) takes an order

If you’re wondering whether he’s Vietnamese (you know, ’cause he really looks French), yes he is, and speaks his native tongue quite prominently when calling (more like yelling) the orders to his cooks (one of which may be his dad or uncle) in back. Yet his English is very good, so no worries on that part.

While this place is relatively new, they seem to already have a following, as was evident by the steady stream of patrons arriving to order while I was there…

You can dine in or take out here. If you decide to eat there, there’s a substantial amount of seating in the air conditioned dining room…

This is actually just the right and back side of the dining room. The front side along the windows were filled with folks.

That bottle of Thai Chili Sauce to the far left with the cap off seemed to be a popular condiment with patrons dining in.

With PHO being the primary part of their name, you’d expect that dish to be their specialty, which is exactly what most folks were ordering during my visit. . As went out yet another Pho Combo bowl, along with a side of Summer Rolls…

Dine-in order of PHO (combo) and side-order of Summer Rolls

Looking back at the take-out menu PDF the Geek Squad Expert so kindly helped you download, notice it’s not separated by category. Well, the menu board in the restaurant is, so I’ll explain which is what, to help you make your decision what to order.

Obviously the first item listed is the breakfast…

Ben should extend the hours to 10:30am, just to stay in check with McDonalds. I’m a little disappointed the selection here doesn’t including anything uniquely Vietnamese. Isn’t there a Pho-flavored sausage of some kind? Or, perhaps use Quail eggs instead of chicken eggs. And Jasmine Rice instead of short grain white rice. Ya know?

What I admire about the rest of the menu is that every item is NUMBERED, along with alphabetized sub-selections. Very nice. EVERY restaurant should use the alphanumeric menu system to reduce screwing orders up.

• #1 ~ 3 = EGG/RICE NOODLE (Mi, Hu Tieu)

• #4 ~ 11 = NOODLE SOUP/PHO (One size large

• #12-18 = BEEF STEW

• #19 ~ 25 = VERMICELLI RICE NOODLE (Dried Bun)

• #26 ~ 32 = RICE PLATES – Co’m Dia

• #33 ~ 36 = FRIED RICE – Co’m Chien (Egg, Pea & Carrot)

• #37 A ~ D = PAD THAI (Pho Xao Sauce Thai)

#38 = SALAD (Goi)

• #39 ~ 41 = VIETNAMESE SANDWICH (Banh Mi)

• #42 ~ 44 = CURRY (with Rice or French Bread or Rice Vermicelli)

• #45 ~ 50 = VEGETARIAN FOOD

• #51 ~ 59 = LOCAL PLATES (Served with 2 Scoops of Rice & Toss Salad)

• #60 ~ 64 = BURGERS (Served with French Fries, Lettuce & Tomato)

finally, there’s DRINKS

Notice there’s a POST-IT® covering the Strawberry and Avocado flavor. Could those be the hit flavors that sold out quickly? Dunno. French Coffee with Condensed Milk sounds interesting. I’ll have try that next time there.

So what did we get? Diner A ordered the Pad Thai #37-A…

PHO DILLINGHAM & GRILL: Pad Thai – Fried Rice Noodles, Veggies of Special Thai Sauce & Ground Peanuts (Pho Xao Sauce Thai) with Chicken (or you can choose beef, shrimp or tofu), $8.75

Diner E went with the French Bread with BBQ Pork Vietnamese Sandwich…

PHO DILLINGHAM & GRILL: French Bread with BBQ Pork Vietnamese Sandwich, $5.00

Accompanying that, he also got some Summer Rolls…

PHO DILLINGHAM & GRILL: Summer Rolls (Goi Cuon), $4.95

And yours truly went for the signature dish, the Grilled Dillingham. Oops, I mean the PHO…

PHO DILLINGHAM & GRILL: Pho Combo (Pho Dac Biet), $7.75

Usually I’m apprehensive about ordering any kind of soup for take-out, mainly for fear of it spilling as I drive to my destination, but this time took a chance. Besides, I need to begin earning my stars as a seasoned PHO tasting expert, especially with so many new shops popping up all over Oahu to try out.

Speaking of which, there’s a little shop on King street named PHO MAI, which always makes me chuckle when I pass by there. lol

And I’ll come straight forward and say this is truly the very first bowl of PHO I’ve ever had for myself. The only time having tried it before was back at Bac Nam where Diner C shared some with me to taste. From that time on, I knew PHO, like Ramen, was something I coulld REALLY get into.

Thankfully the folks here pack PHO-TO-GO (hey, that would be another catchy name for yet another PHO restaurant!) very well, separating the precious hot broth in one sealed container, the noodles and meats in the main bowl which is also sealed, and the veggies in a plastic bag, which I transferred onto this tray…

PHO Combo take-out kit

According to the menu, the Pho Combo is made up of sliced beef, meat ball, brisket, tendon and tripe, served with bean sprouts, basil, lime and hot green peppers.

So when you get it in unassembled form like this, the thin slices of beef are served raw…

Deconstructed bowl of PHO (sans broth)

Here’s a better look…

Looks like a tongue, huh?

Check out this solid slab of FAT…

If not for anything else, all I can think this is in there for is MOAH FLAVAH.

Now with the hot broth added, you can see it immediately begins to cook the raw beef…

Pho with hot broth just added

I actually nuked the broth for about a minute-and-a-half in the microwave to get it scalding-hot again.

Here you can see underneath all that meat is a bed of vermicelli noodles…

But what the heck is that tentacle-lookin’ thing in there? Take a closer look…

Could this be a decendant of the elusive GIANT SQUID? Or how about the testicle of an alien? But alas, according to Diner E and C, they think it’s Tripe. I guess. It’s kinda’ rubbery and “meaty” in a fatty way, but otherwise not much flavor, yet it does add an interesting texture to the dish.

Another mystery was that meatball…

I COULD NOT make out what this meatball was made of. As long as come Monday I don’t start becoming attracted to female cats or dogs, I’ll be OK with this. Meow. Seriously, it wasn’t beefy, nor porky, nor chickeny nor shrimpy (are those valid words? lol), but kind of gamey in a nondescript way. Interestingly, this was the only solid items that was kept in the broth. Perhaps they’re some kind of magic PHO Balls that bring the dish good luck. Dunno.

So how did I like this Pho? Simply said, it was PHO OUT! Seriously, coming from my amateur Pho palate, I’d easily grade it a 5 SPAM Musubi rating. Just excellent. The broth had a rich beef and star anise flavor to it without being overpowering. It wasn’t too mild nor too salty. It did detect a hint of sweetness to it, which I imagine is why they give you the lime to counter that.

There was an abundant amount of beef in it, as well as other meaty goodies and also an abundant amount of vermicelli noodles. In other words if Campbell’s made a CHUNKY® version of Pho, this would be it. That, along with the fresh veggies to top it was as perfect as I could imagine Pho being. I didn’t make much use of the accompanying Hoisin sauce, as I don’t care for Hoisin. The broth had enough flavor as is anyway.

I have yet to try that Pho restaurant on or near River Street in Chinatown, who I hear is the benchmark Pho restaurant in Honolulu. So until I do get to try a bowl of what everyone proclaims as benchmark PHO, this one gets a solid 5 SPAM Musubi rating from me.

Diner A wasn’t as fond about his Chicken Pad Thai. I tried some and agree, it was soggy for one, and also a little dry. And the sauce it was mixed didn’t wow us. The problem seems to be that it tasted like something they have already made and sitting in a steam pan waiting for service. It certainly did not taste cooked-to-order. Diner A also said there was TOO MUCH peanuts. I’m nuts about nuts, so I don’t think I’d have a problem with that, but he didn’t care for it. With that, he gave his Chicken Pad Thai 1 SPAM Musubi.

Finally we have Diner E’s BBQ Pork Vietnamese Sandwich. If you scroll back up and look at the photo of it, notice the pickled Vietnamese style veggies are tucked way back into the inner crevice of the bun. Well, if you look at the sandwich before he cut it in half, you’d think it didn’t have ANY veggies, which he was initially dismayed by. Still, even after cutting it to reveal what veggies there were in there, he was still bummed there wasn’t any CILANTRO. Now go back and look at the photo of the sandwich on the menu board, where you’ll see it’s depicted as having CHOKE cilantro and veggies piled high on it. Well, that’s not what he got.

Fortunately the saving grace was the delicious, char-grilled teriyaki pork, which he really enjoyed. In fact, he wants to get the plate version of that next time. That along with those pickled veggies was a winner. The only other shortcoming he mentioned was that the french bread’s crust wasn’t as “crusty-crunchy” as he’d prefer, such as the one at Ba-Le Sandwich Shop. Still a decent French Bread, just not as good as Ba-Le’s in his opinion.

As for his Summer Rolls, he said they were good, but not great. Pretty much standard fare.

That said, for his BBQ Pork Vietnamese Sandwich and Summer Rolls, he gave them an overall 2 SPAM Musubi rating.

Still, this polished-off plate just might be an indication there are better things to be had than what Diner A and E tried…


That must have been really ono!

Again, my bowl of PHO, coming from the palate of an amateur, was STELLAR. If anything, try that. The BBQ Teriyaki Pork was also highly favorable. If you order the sandwich and like plenty of veggies, make sure to tell Ben that, and I’m sure he’d be more than happy to accommodate your request. He’s a really nice and friendly guy.

There’s ample parking in the strip mall its in, but I can see it easily being full during peak lunch hour. Fortunately someone had just pulled out when I arrived.

I’m certainly returning here, as I think the place has promise; and the blunder of not having Cilantro in the sandwich could have easily been fixed had we been eating there at the restaurant. Next I’d like to try their curry.

On the corner of Kokea and Dillingham (across HCC)
Tel. 843-2263
Menu (2-page PDF document; current as of 1/09. Prices and selection subject to change without notice.)

The Tasty Island Rating:
(Averaged from Pho being 5, BBQ Pork Vietnamese Sandwich & Summer Rolls being 2 and Chicken Pad Thai being 1)

(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it. (Ono)


34 thoughts on “Kalihi Eats: Pho Dillingham & Grill

  1. WHAT? Spot’s closed? NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! I wonder when it happened. I really liked that place. And yes, the parking lot does get full when it’s lunch time.

    BTW, I think the GBC store would also make a good landmark for that area.

  2. Marvo, I just edited my post.

    SPOT’s INN closed their doors on August 23, 2008. I just got off the phone with Ben, and he told me PHO Dillingham & Grill opened for business on December 10, 2008.

  3. The number 21 is what I like to order by thie time done with it too full for anything else . I use to head to HCC for their bake good at such a good deal made by students. My brother had his car painted there too and mom her hair done and dress made there also.

  4. Arg…ditto to the WHAT? I was just there at Thanksgiving and didn’t even notice they were closed. I always used Spot Inn as my point of reference when I went to Nisshodo’s in the back for chi chi dangos. Then after that we had plate lunches at Spot’s. Oh well, another one bites the dust.
    The PHO looks kind of skimpy compared to the kind we get here in LA. Hope it tastes a lot better in real life? Gotta hand it to you Pomai, you take great pictures and do a good review.

  5. Nate, Oops! Sorry about that. And here I was making wise cracks about saying to seek the Geek Squad for help. I need their help! lol The menu PDF link is correct now.

    Calvin, thanks for info on the curry and the spaghetti. The curry is watery? Whoah, I don’t mind it being like a thin stew, but watery like soup sounds kinda’ strange. I suppose if get choke rice for soak ’em up that would be OK. Or perhaps to dip the French Bread in? I was kind of wondering whether they use Banana Ketchup to make the Spaghetti. That might be interesting.

    Clinton, yeah, there’s a whole thread on the subject of Spot’s Inn closing over at HawaiiThreads.com. They must have been really popular. I only ate there once or twice, as that area is off my beaten path, but I’ll be around there more often in the upcoming year. Thanks for the compliments about the photos and reviews. Really appreciate that!

    Amy, the #21 ay? That one actually does sound pretty good. I did not know HCC sold baked goods baked by students. I’ll have to look into that. I know KCC has a restaurant where the students in the culinary course make the dishes, with some very good reviews on it. Damned, if I can get my car painted at HCC courtesy of tax payer’s money (including mine of course), count me in! Besides, I’d like a new coat of shiny Pearl White on my ride. But they better not have any drips! lol

    Sharon, you know it really did not taste like beef. Maybe veal? Either that, or it was just emptied of flavor after being boiled so long with the stock? It was a little rubbery as if it indeed were cooked for a long time. Not bad though. Just different.

  6. Know exactly where the place is, though never tried Spot’s. On the other side of the building facing the canal is my doggie’s vet. And to the left of Pho is a “lounge” I’ve been to a few times. Heh heh!

  7. Actually, that thing you label “fat” is tendon.

    First time i tried Pho, my friend said get the house special, which is just what you describe. I never chewed so much in my life… didn’t like it so much then, but now I dig it.

    oh and french coffee with the condensed milk is AWESOME. Best if they let you make it at your table (little metal thing on top of the cup & a glass with ice to pour it into when it’s done), but it’s good no matter what.

  8. Nate, again: (said very slowly) “hana kokolele”. lol

    Mr. Lunch, now that you mention that, it IS indeed quite tendon and cartilage-like. If that sounds at all sounds appetizing. Yet I must admit, it WAS! You sold me on the Coffee with Condensed Milk. I mean, how can anything with condensed milk in or on it NOT taste good?

  9. That there piece of “fat” (beef tendon) is what the Chinese normally use in their “beef stew” noodles. It is mixed in along with chunks of anise-flavored brisket and egg noodles typically found in soup noodle dishes (which is my favorite) called beef stew won ton noodles. Ah, great comfort food same as PHO. My stomach is growling!

  10. Nate, I think I tried strawberries with condensed milk on it before. Ono! I’ll try bananas too next time. Ever try dipping fresh white bread in condensed milk? That’s ono too. My late grandmother taught me that one.

    There’s a recipe to make home-made Guri Guri (the famous Tasaka Maui Sherbert) using Condensed Milk, Strawberry Soda and Lemon Lime Soda. I forget what the ratio is, but I’ll get it for you later.

    Clinton, whatever that Chinese soup is you’re talking about sounds ono too! Maybe I can find it if we hit Chinatown today for the Kung Hee Fat Choy celebration.

  11. Ah Pomai…Gung Hee Fat Choy to you! May good fortune find you in seeking out that very popular soup noodle dish called beef stew won ton noodle. Surprisingly, you never heard of that before since my mother tells me that it’s a very common street food in Canton. Most of the better restaurants here in LA serve it. I even had that at Thanksgiving somewhere on King Street near Maunakea at this popular dim sum place…I’m guessing Golden Dragon? Not quite sure but it was crowded and the dim sum was very good. Not as good as Legends but decent and cheap. Real nice on a cold rainy day…oh wait? I forget you’re in Hawaii and I’m here in 40 degree weather right now. Sorry.

  12. Oy Pomai, speaking of condensed milk with bread, my brother made this modified version of bread pudding at Christmas using a loaf of King’s Hawaiian sweetbread, but instead of condensed milk he used coconut milk. There were other things in the ingredients but as a whole, I’m not normally a sweet eater…I ate a double helping of that aromatic decadent dessert!

  13. Clinton, I just looked at the schedule of events for Kung Hee Fat Choy in Chinatown, and it looks like we missed it. It all took place Friday and Saturday. Oh well.

    Ah, so the soup you’re talking about is simply called Beef Stew Wonton Noodle. I think I’ve had that before. I’m not heavy on Chinese food, but certain things I like. The usual things like Beef Broccoli, Egg Fu Yung and Shee Show Shee (Sweet n’ Sour Shrimp), and of course Manapua, Pork Hash and various other Dim Sum. Mostly the steamed items I like. Not too much into stir-fried stuff.

    That dessert your brother made sounds ono too! Try get da’ recipe. I like try make ’em! Especially the idea of it having Sweet Bread and Coconut Milk. That sounds awesome!

    Weather here in Honolulu is currently comfortably cool and sunny. Nice day to hit the beach!

  14. I love pho and banh mi sandwiches — I’d eat them every day if I could. The star-anise flavor in the broths rock. Seattle is a pho-crazy town and in some neighborhoods I think you could find a pho place on every block, as you could an espresso stand. One successful family-owned chain here serves a variety of pho, beverages, their signature cream puff and NOTHING ELSE (not even fresh spring rolls). It doesn’t seem to deter people from packing the joints. I enjoy getting tripe in mine.

    My experience is that if a restaurant specializes in one type of ethnic food, I should probably order from that ethnicity even if they offer other types of foods on the menu. For that reason, I would be hesitant to order curry or pad thai in a Vietnamese joint since those items are not Vietnamese and I assume the cooks do Vietnamese best. Just a personal bias of mine.

  15. Go eat the beef stew noodles or the tendon stew noodles at Eastern Food Center on King Street in Chinatown. Can get in noodle soup or over wat mien (how I prefer it). Awesome!

  16. Hey Pomai, great blog. Up here in Minnesota, I usually get the standard pho tai (just rare beef). I’m not sure the tendon and tripe really add that much.

    It seems like pho is getting more popular in Honolulu. How would compare it to saimin? It seems like there are some similarities, but I’ve only had it once (years ago).

  17. Pomai,

    Here is the recipe for the bread pudding my brother made. Haven’t tried it out yet but all I can tell you that it was ONO when he made it! The coconut milk really upped it up a notch.

    Hawaiian Style Bread Pudding

    Enough sweet bread to fill a 9×13 baking pan (1 loaf)
    2 cups canned coconut milk (approx. 1 can)
    1 cup sugar
    1 stick butter
    4 to 5 eggs
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    raisins (optional)
    cinnamon or nutmeg

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in sugar and stir well.
    Add coconut milk and stir until sugar has melted. Remove from heat.
    Add eggs and vanilla to milk mixture and stir well.
    Break up bread in pan. Add raisins.
    Pour milk and egg mixture over bread.
    Sprinkle cinnamon or nutmeg.
    Bake 20-25 minutes.

  18. $5 for a sandwich? Is that what they’re charging for banh mi in Honolulu these days? Wow.

    I’d have gone for the beef stew, but I get the suspicion that I might not like this restaurant. We’re pretty spoiled for Vietnamese food here in San Jose.

    Eh, Nate, you really brought back a taste memory when you mentioned beef stew noodles at Eastern Food Center. I remember they were really good. Man, now I’ve got a craving.

  19. $5.00 is pretty high for sandwich been back from San Francisco on Irving St. It cost 2.50 to 3.50 for same sandwiches. Other neighborhood is same too.

  20. All this talk about Chinese beef stew made me and my friend go out to lunch today in Gardena at this place called Tasty Kitchen nest to teh 99 Ranch Market. I got the lunch special for $5.25 which was a heaping platter of jasmine rice topped with a real generous helping of tendons and cubed brisket along with Chinese greens mixed in. Wish I could have took a picture of it because I could not finish it all. I thought of all the starving children in China as my mother used to tell me all the time…

  21. Amy and Nate ’88, try buy a (mediocre) sandwich at Honolulu International Airport. Your eyeballs will pop out and your credit card company will call you saying they temporarily suspended your account. lol

    But seriously, yes, for $5, Diner E’s sandwich should have been spilling over and out with fresh veggies. As is, I would have sent it back had we had the opportunity to do so. I’ll have to start checking all our orders before leaving the establishments.

    Ken, thanks for the compliments from way up north. I could imagine exotic hot soup dishes like Pho would be very popular in such cold places like Minnesota. How’s the Japanese Ramen Shop scene up there?

    Nate, you got it. Eastern Food Center is where I’ll put on my #1 to-do list on my next trek into Honolulu Chinatown. I’ll order exactly what you prescribed.

    Jenny, I’d imagine there’s even more vietnamese restaurants in Seattle (west coast) then there are in Ken’s area of Minnesota. Here in Honolulu, they’ve easily overtaken ramen shops in presence. Which makes it even better for food bloggers like me to sample!

    Clinton, mahalo for the providing your brother’s Hawaiian Style Sweet Bread Pudding recipe! I’ll give it a shot and blog it here later.

    I’m thinkin’, what if you kicked that up one notch higher and served this Hawaiian Style Bread Pudding over a wedge of Haupia? Hah? Sound ono ah! Or perhaps along with a scoop of Roselani’s most excellent Haupia Ice Cream. Oh man! Money right there!

  22. When I come back to Oki on trips I bring my own food to the airport. Usually stuff that I’ll also take on the plane and eat and if I can’t finish either give away or leave. Like manapua stuff. Yah, the airport prices are ridiculous!

  23. I wonder if the grammar problem comes from Vietnamese grammar. I think Pho places are always Pho ____ not _____ Pho yeah? So maybe it didn’t make sense for them to say Dillingham Pho? Maybe should be… Pho and Grill Dillingham? haha… idk…

    I always thought those meatballs in pho had fishcake too. Idk, maybe the texture just reminds me of fishcake. I don’t like them that much.

    I was excited to have a new place for banh mi but I guess Bale still wins. I think their sandwiches are around $4 yeah? Can’t remember… I wonder if banh mi is the same size in Hawai’i as the mainland. You know, sometimes we get into supersizing…

    And Pad Thai, even just the price, I can tell Bangkok Chef would be better!

  24. Aha. Well, my uncle (Ben) was shouting orders to me dad in the back. They’re brother in laws. And it’s not really Ben’s… because he doesn’t cook. He’s the waiter/cashier.

    Just wanted to point it out. I can’t believe someone wrote a review for my family’s restaurant. Makes me feel proud. :3

  25. Pingback: University Ave. Eats: Spot’s Inn - share delicious, menus and more - Tasty Guide

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