Kalihi Eats: Boulevard Saimin

Just looking at that HAS to put you in the mood for saimin. It has to! I’m already drooling, and it’s been a few days since that went from those chopsticks to my mouth.

A few days ago would be last Thursday, when Diner A was in the mood for saimin, with the first place coming to mind for us to try being Boulevard Saimin on Dillingham Boulevard in the heart of the industrial/business district of middle Kalihi.

Boulevard Saimin is certainly old school, having being in business for over 60 years now, with their start in 1955. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It’s owned and operated by sisters Joan and Lynn, daughters of the founding Tanaka family.

Our official Kalihi Eats Tour Conductor, Diner E, has been here a few times in the past when he used to live in the area, yet even he hasn’t been recently, so it was a fresh new/renewed discovery for all of us.

Boulevard Saimin is located on the makai (ocean) side of Dillingham Boulevard (hence the name?), next door to Midas Auto Service on the corner of Waiakamilo home road. As you see in the photo above, they’re located in a rather unassuming walk-up duplex business building (a.k.a. Plaza) on the ground floor.

Here you can see exactly where it is in relation to the other landmark institution known as Bob’s Bar-B, with McDonald’s across the street…

There’s about 10 parking stalls on the side of the building that are designated (marked on the stall front) for Boulevard Saimin.

As you see here, it’s a one-way turn OUT of parking lot, so (if you’re driving here) on Dillingham,  it’s best to enter from the backside of the building which is on Colburn street off of Waiakamilo road.

There’s an entrance to the restaurant from either the front or in back, which the latter you’ll probably be crawling out from after you get stuffed from da’ ono grinds here…

Once inside, the interior completely belies its obscure appearance from the outside, suddenly revealing this spacious, comfortable, cozy ‘n warm,  just-like-home ambiance, with decor elements and materials that throw you straight back to the 70’s or even earlier than that…

The service here on our visit was superb, taking just minutes for our wait person (a nice local lady) to arrive and bring us the menu…

Wow, what a spread! Obviously there’s a whole lot more going on here than just saimin. We were all rather taken aback and almost undecided. Coming quickly to my senses, being this place is known first and foremost for its namesake SAIMIN, that’s what I was determined to try here on this debut visit. So I chose the classic combination of a saimin with a hamburger…

Hamburger Sandwich with small saimin combo, $8.75

This is listed as the > Hamburger Sandwich with small saimin < as a featured item under the SANDWICH PLATTERS section on the menu. You gotta’ love that pickle thrown on the side as a “garnish”. Hey, at least it adds some additional green! I feel healthier, already. lol

Diner A chose this place specifically because he had da’ “onos” (craving) for saimin,  so he went with that too with this combo…

Boulevard Saimin  – Saimin Combo (large), $8.70

According to the menu description, this Saimin Combo, listed under the NOODLE SPECIALTIES section, includes a large (or you can choose small) saimin, teri beef slice, shrimp tempura (1 piece), and macaroni (or you can choose tossed green) salad.

Like Diner A and myself, after several minutes of deep deliberation looking over the vast menu offerings, Diner E decided on trying the Boulevard Special Mix Plate…

Boulevard Saimin – Boulevard Special Mix Plate, $8.45

The Boulevard Special Mix Plate is listed under the MENU section of the menu. lol It’s described as having a mixed plate of shrimp tempura, teriyaki beef slice, rice and choice of fried saimin, macaroni-potato salad or tossed greens.

Wow, what deals! Can you believe the prices for all that grindz?!!! Not to mention the QUICK service, which was such a welcome relief after several dining experiences I’ve had recently that were painfully slow. So nice when a restaurant is running efficiently, as it was on our visit on this day at Boulevard Saimin. Our plates landed on the table within 10 minutes of us placing the order with our friendly waitress. NICE.

So let’s dig in and sample the goods…

First of all, thumbs-up on the macaroni-potato salad. Cool, creamy and seasoned just right, without too much or little going on.

On to the shrimp tempura, which, as you see, is done in the more western beer batter style…

The shrimp itself is butterflied instead of the more traditional whole tail left intact. This makes it look bigger. Also more western style, it’s served with a standard tartar sauce vs. the traditional Tentsuyu (tempura sauce). According to both Diner A and E, Thumbs-up on this one too.

Both Diner A and E said the teri beef had a very flavorful, nicely-thickened teriyaki sauce, but the beef was a little too thin and lacking in flavor, being almost cooked to dead, likely because it was a cheap cut of beef. Certainly not sukiyaki quality. It also could have standed to be seared more. Still, it was workable (edible enough) for the dish. One thing we couldn’t figure out is why Diner A’s teri beef was sliced in strips, while Diner E’s teri beef was left in whole steak sizes. Cut either way, they were alike in said description above by the two of them.

Now let’s check out my “side dish”, the Bar-B-Q (teriyaki) Burger…

Boulevard Saimin – Bar-B-Q Burger

Look at it, all drippin’ and oozin’ with thick teriyaki sauce and mayonnaise melting onto it from the bun on top. Gotta’ love that visual!

Let’s cut it in half and take a closer look…

Even after cutting it, it’s still oozin’ ‘n goozin’. lol I ended up putting the pickle inside one half of the burger.

How is it? Not bad. It basically tasted like a filler-ridden teriyaki-marinaded May’s patty. Very dense and “breaded-beef” like. Nothing wrong with that, but of course it isn’t gonna’ compete with the amazing Kobe Beef Hamburger patty I had from Kiawe Grill anytime soon. It wasn’t char-grilled, but griddled, so minus points for that. Like their teri beef, the teriyaki sauce generously coating the burger was delicious, so point added back based on that. FWIW, she go. The bun was nice and supple, which always helps any burger out. Being this burger actually serves as an accompaniment to a hot bowl of saimin, it’s fine just the way it is.

That said, we move on to the star this Dillingham Boulevard show, the saimin…

That was my order, which was the “small”. Here’s the large that came with Diner A’s order…

Kinda’ “manju” (tight wad) wit’ da’ Charsiu, eh? Look back at my “Charsiu Min” in the last post and you’ll see what I mean. Speaking of charsiu, that in itself was rather flavorless. The Hawaiian Pride charsiu I garnished my saimin with is way, WAY better than theirs. Not that I should expect that, as this isn’t termed to be a “Charsiu Min” anyway. In fact, they don’t even offer that.

Next time what I’d like to try is their Boulevard Special Saimin, the Wun Tun Min.

Boulevard Samin’s noodles are “aight”. I still stand by Sun Noodle as THE BEST, but these work. Thankfully, they’re cooked perfectly al dente, not soggy or stiff, so that’s good. They get their noodles from Island Noodle Company.

Their broth tasted EXACTLY like a more concentrated version of the shrimp shell based broth at Forty Niner Restaurant in Aiea. I could barely detect dashi, if none at all. Perhaps they also steep Konbu (kelp) and maybe another type of seafood in it to make the broth. It’s certainly unique, and like Forty Niner Restaurant, one you must have had to grow up with in order to love. Personally I prefer a dashi-based broth, yet I still respect this type. It just takes getting used to. Remember again, you’re talking to a Tokyo-style Ramen fan here, so my opinion on saimin broth is often (regarded by myself as) highly biased and pretentious.

Overall, Boulevard’s Saimin and Bar-B-Q (teriyaki) Burger combo is a winnah for sure. Especially at that PRICE! So much a winnah that I polished both my bowl and plate…

So did Diner A…

Diner E enjoyed his meal so much, not only did he polish his plate, he also gave it a BIG SHAKA as a seal of approval…

“Burp”. Oh-RIGHT!

That steaming saimin bowl icon is arguably the BEST restaurant logo I’ve ever seen. So simple, yet so defining. All I’d add to that is the rim on the back of bowl. Otherwise,  I LOVE IT!

In fact, we all loved this place, regardless of the shortcomings mentioned about a particular dish. The sum of its parts somehow magically come together beautifully. Boulevard Saimin is cozy and casual, with a true old school feel and local as it gets. You’d be just as fit dining here whether it’s a first date, entertaining an out-of-town guest, a lunch out with the gang at the office, or on a weekend morning with the family after going to church. The prices are great, service is quick and food is, overall, really ono. All our “polished” bowls and plates proved it.

Boulevard Saimin is yet another one of those hidden gems that reminds us why Hawaii is such a special place to live. Highly recommended.

Boulevard Saimin
1427 Dillingham Boulevard
Honolulu, Hawaii 96817
Tel. 841-7233

The Tasty Island rating:

(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)

Related links:
Boulevard Saimin – ‘Ono Kine Grindz
Boulevard Saimin – Yelp user reviews


16 thoughts on “Kalihi Eats: Boulevard Saimin

  1. @Amy: I’m not sure but is it Taiyos that serves mabo ramen? I know they have mabo tofu and rice and I’m pretty sure they do it with ramen too.

    Pomai, that saimin looks so good! 🙂 I love your website so much. You always give great suggestions on places to eat. 😀

  2. Oh boy, will be going there! Love the place. On my list.

    And my daughter used to wait tables there. So when I went to pick her up after she finished work sometimes I went early so I could eat saimin!

  3. Yup, Taiyo has mabo ramen. I think it’s maybe not on the menu but they will still make it.

    I went to Boulevard once with my friend who is a very picky either. I think it is her favorite. She’s the kind who likes plain hamburgers and thinks having cheese on top is weird. She doesn’t like many vegetables. So I think that this is really one of those like places that you like if you grow up going there. Like she is just used to it and maybe even likes it kind of on the plain side. I thought it was okay but the shrimp broth stood out to me also. It was different than what I usually have (at Taiyo).

  4. Pomai, Every time when I am there can’t make up my mind what to have. Everything so good on menu. Even planned it ahead ended up maybe this maybe that and it drove me crazy and silly about it every time.

  5. That bowl of saimin is just calling to me since you posted it, especially since it’s a little chilly and breezy right now. So went to CVS and got the Sun Noodle frozen saimin, the round tamaboko (that has the red swirls), Okuharu fish cake and char siu (wish I had made your char siu this weekend). Would have bought a box of that teriyaki strips (May’s ?) but they jacked the price up to $30 a box. And the teri-burgers to $36. Even the lau-lau went to $12 for a 3-pack. Gonna have to start doing my own these days. I’ve started doing my own kalua pork now. Well, gonna do the tamago now, chop up some green onions and have my saimin-fix.

  6. Wow, what a post! I remember Boulevard as a new place. Course, the old places are all gone now. There was one for each neighborhood. Kaimuki Saimin, Liliha Saimin, Washington Saimin. All gone. There’s still Palace Saimin, if you get remember when it’s open. And Jane’s Saimin on Liliha Street is till running. That might be the oldest. But, frankly, all pretentiousness aside, the best is Zippy’s. That’s why Zippy’s is so big. I think they serve more saimin than anyone in the world. Course, they only serve saimin in Hawaii. In Japan, it’s all ramen, which is saimin spelled differently. Being an up to date kind of guy, I am now a fan of Yotteko-Ya in McCully Shopping Center. They have one special they only make 20 servings of per day. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. Gone….! Gotta try it.

  7. Alvin Papa Al, wow, you get da’ scoops on all da’ hole-in-da’-wall saimin stands, eh?! Awesome! I’ll certainly take you up on Totteko-Ya in MSC. You know how passionate I am about a Ramen. As for Zippy’s Saimin, or even more specifically, their ‘Zip Min’, to be honest, that’s one dish I haven’t had from them in AGES! Shame, yeah? The only noodles I order from Zippy’s as of lately is usually either the fried (saimin) noodles or the Somen Salad. I’ll have to reacquaint myself with their saimin to see you’re raving about.

    Gwyn, with those prices up there, it certainly sounds more practical to make your own. What state are you in, if you don’t mind saying? Just curious where it is that CVS is bringing these Made in Hawaii food items.

    Debbie, now that you mention the Wun Tun Min, it smacked me upside the head as well, thinking I should have chosen that, too! Duh.

    Michael, yeah, we got thrown into a loop what to choose after seeing the vast menu. Everything sounds so ono, and so reasonably-priced, too!

    RobynT, yeah, the rather “plain jane” shrimp broth is certainly an acquired “had to have grown up with” taste (especially if you’re used to Japanese style Ramen like myself), but you quickly get used to it. I did. Especially when it’s served fresh and piping hot like they do at Boulevard Saimin.

    Nate, wow, your daughter used to work there? What a small world. I’m still sticking with meeting up with you at BWS Cafeteria, though, preferably on Oxtail Soup day!

    Kasey, mahalo on that!

    Jenny, I came very close to ordering one of the Donburi selections, but stuck by my guns on the saimin.

    Amy, there you go, Taiyo Ramen, which is still located adjacent to Ala Moana Center on the Ewa end, next door to I Love Country Cafe, Blockbuster Video and Payless Shoes. Easy to find and plenty of parking.

  8. If you manage to get the special broth at Yotteko-ya (I’ve always gone too late for it to be available), I think a shootout with Tenkaippin’s Kotteri broth may be in order. It’s thick and tasty, and when you throw in that garlic in there…man, I wish I had some right now.

  9. Pomai, Boulevard Saimin may not be fancy but I like simple eatery places. Always goes for the combo real good deal.

  10. Boulevard Saimin is now Dillingham Saimin, and the granddaughter of the founder is setting up a new restaurant named Tanaka Saimin. End of an era.

  11. Ryan, Diner E had lunch yesterday at Dillingham Saimin, pointing out that they had changed their name. Truly an end of era. So is Tanaka Saimin going to be the name of their location that will be opening up on the corner of Alakawa and Nimitz? I’ll call later today and find out.

  12. See my blog post (linked here and above). From what we were told, it’s a split, not a move or “new location,” and perhaps not on the best of terms.

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