Honolulu Chinatown Eats: Hifumi Restaurant

As odd as it sounds to its surroundings of predominantly Chinese restaurants and shops, nestled on the riverside ground level of the Chinese Cultural Plaza in downtown Honolulu’s Chinatown district, you’ll find Hifumi Japanese Restaurant, who have been in business at this location over 30 years. 30 years! Plus 10 more at their original Kalihi location.

Which is where we had lunch last Friday in celebration of Diner E’s birthday. Otanjo-bi omedeto gozaimasu! Or being where we are on this visit, would it be more appropriate to say “Sàangyaht faailohk!”? That would be Cantonese for “Happy Birthday”. Ah heck, we’ll just say “Happy Birthday Diner E!”

Although this is a first time visit here for most of us, Hifumi is actually a favorite regular spot for Diner E, and for good reason as you’ll soon find out.

First let’s check out the place…

Wait, this is supposed to be a Japanese restaurant? Well, looking at the decor, they could have fooled me. This certainly looks more like a Chinese fast food/takeout joint than anything else. Especially when you factor in the location. There’s not a sign of Tatami or Shoji treatment anywhere to be seen to suggest a Japanese theme. Well OK, perhaps a few Japanese art pieces here and there on the wall and ceiling, but it comes across mostly as an afterthought. Actually, overall this place looks a little too casual for a birthday luncheon, yet this is what Diner E wanted, so we’ll roll with it.

Of course the food is what matters most, therefore without further ado, let’s check out the menu…

Ah so desu, we must note that it says “Local Family Style Japanese Restaurant”, so leave all your pretenses of traditional, formal Japanese cuisine at the door.

The bento is plated teishoku style like this, with only the miso soup served separately (for obvious reason)…

Wow, that’s quite a selection.

Notice on the ‘July Specials’ dry erase menu board above that it says ‘Giant Jumbo Shrimp Tempura’, which — along with their Wafu selections — is one of their signature dishes. Measuring about 12″ in length each, Hifumi claims to have the largest Shrimp Tempura on the island, where they have their giant tiger shrimp specially flown in from Thailand. This, according to Elsie, our server, manager and 26-year veteran of the restaurant.

This wasn’t our order, but here’s a couple plates of already massive Jumbo Shrimp Tempura (smaller than the Giant Jumbo Shrimp)…

Hifumi – Jumbo Shrimp Tempura

Note that these are pretty much standard-sized dinner plates, so you get the idea what they mean by “JUMBO”. Now imagine “GIANT JUMBO”!

Getting to our spread, like most Japanese meals go, we begin with the house Miso Soup…

Pretty basic shio miso soup broth, which while it can’t touch the OUTSTANDING Miso Soup at Ethel’s Grill, was never-the-less satisfying, being neither too watery or too strong. Garnishes are simply cubes of soft tofu and green onion.

On to the main attraction, here we have “birthday boy” Diner E’s choice, the Bento Special, which he chose Tempura and Ahi prepared Teriyaki style…

Hifumi – Bento Special: 2 piece shrimp and vegetable tempura, teriyaki ahi, rice, tofu, tossed salad (with Thousand Islands dressing), tsukemono and miso soup. $10.95 lunch price ($11.95 dinner price).

Accompanying his Teriyaki Ahi and Tempura Bento is a side of Hamachi Sashimi, flown in fresh from Japan…

Hifumi – Fresh Hamachi Sashimi from Japan (5 slices). $6 when ordered with Bento Special

I’d just as well order a big platter of that sashimi and call it a day… and a mighty fine day at that.

Next we have Diner AC’s choice, the Bento Special, opting for Tempura and Ton Katsu (what I would have chosen)…

Hifumi – Bento Special: 2 piece shrimp and vegetable tempura, ton katsu (panko-breaded fried pork cutlet), rice, tofu, tossed salad (with Thousand Islands dressing), tsukemono and miso soup. $10.95 lunch price ($11.95 dinner price).

Diner A also chose the Bento Special, he also choosing the Tempura, along with Chicken Karaage…

Hifumi – Bento Special: 2 piece shrimp and vegetable tempura, chicken karaage, rice, tofu, tossed salad (with Thousand Islands dressing), tsukemono and miso soup. $10.95 lunch price ($11.95 dinner price).

What’s kinda’ interesting is that they add ketchup in their Tonkatsu sauce as a dipping sauce for the Chicken Karaage and Tonkatsu entree items…

Normally I’d shudder at just the thought of adding ketchup to ANY Japanese food, but you know what? I think this is BRILLIANT! It totally “localizes” the flavor, yet in a way I find pleasing. I wanna’ try this at home, adding ketchup to my Bull Dog Tonkatsu sauce and serve with simply-seasoned garlic salt and pepper fried pork chops. I bet that’s gonna’ rock!

Moving on, we have Diner C’s choice, the Shrimp Tempura…

Hifumi – Shrimp Tempura Special: 3 pieces Shrimp Tempura with Mixed Vegetable Tempura. Includes Rice, Miso Soup and Tsukemono. $11.95

Finally, yours truly couldn’t resist the Monthly Special 10 oz. filet Opakapaka and got that, opting to have it prepared in Hifumi’s signature ‘Wafu’ style…

Hifumi – Monthly Special 10 oz. Filet Opakapaka (Hawaiian Pink Snapper) prepared Wafu style: fresh garlic soy sauce, ground onions and sake. Includes rice, miso soup and tsukemono. $13.95 clipout coupon price ($15.99 menu price)

Here we have the included gohan (rice) and tsukemono (pickled veggies) included with the Wafu Opakapaka (and most other entrees)…

Diner AC was curious about this whole ‘Wafu’ hype and decided to order a ‘sampler’ plate (actually an entree item) of Wafu Chicken to share with everyone…

Hifumi – Wafu Chicken. $12.95

Further explaining this whole ‘Wafu’ thing, the menu goes on to say “Wafu style is a Japanese style of western dishes. This involves a hot plate heated to be served along with the entree. After applying the soy sauce, it produces a sizzling effect, which gives it the garlic aroma.”

What I will say is that Wafu style is WA-FREEKIN’ DELICIOUS! Seriously, do not leave Hifumi without trying it. It’s definitely unique and very tasty (<—-good word). As you see on the menu, you can choose any meat and have it prepared this way.

As for the Wafu Chicken, the thin slices of boneless white meat was super moist and tender inside, with this ever-so-delicate coating on it that, according to Elsie, is Sweet Potato Flour, which she claims is comparably expensive to regular flour. Yet it does impart this interesting texture that’s not quite crunchy, but as said earlier, delicate, while also imparting a little bit of sweetness. That is, unless the sweetness is coming from the grated onions.

Grated onions you say? Well yes, and that particularly is what makes this amazing Wafu sauce really stand out from the rest. Here, take a closer look now at my Wafu-style Opakapaka…

There on the front center edge of the sizzling platter you notice there’s translucent grains of “stuff” that sort of look like grated daikon, but that’s grated onion. What that grated onion does is become caramelized from the heat of the sizzling platter, imparting this incredibly rich and savory flavor to the garlic soy and sake sauce. That gritty texture also adds an extra dimension to the sauce, helping out the abundance of regular sliced caramelized onions in it. If you appreciate the virtues of onion in the land called “Flavortown”, Wafu is definitely for you. Goodness, my mouth is watering just writing about it here!

Also notice how moist, tender and flaky that cut piece of Opakapaka is there, which I easily severed using just chopsticks. Let’s have a bite, and another bite and another bite…

The Opakapaka itself was as fresh as could be and seared to perfection, being just cooked through, nothing more, nothing less.All I can say more is this was oishii-licious, broke da’ mout’ winnahz.

But. BUT. Yes, there’s a “but”, being what I realized is this ended up (no pun intended) being too much of a good thing, where after eating through about half of this giant 10 oz. filet (it seemed much bigger than that), I kinda’ got “Opakapaka’d out”.  I’m surprised Elsie didn’t mention it, but what I really think is the huge portion of this fish is better suited to be served family style instead of for just one person. What Hifumi should do (maybe they do but I didn’t ask and don’t see it on the menu) is offer a Wafu combo option. If they do, on a future visit, I’d get the hypothetical Opakapaka and NY Steak Wafu combo, or perhaps make it a threesome and add Scallops. At least then it would remain interesting, balanced, and not so one-dimensional, regardless of the multi-dimensionally incredible Wafu sauce.

That said, if you order the signature Wafu and/or Tempura dishes at Hifumi, I’d recommend you serve it family style with the “one entree per person rule”. This way there’s variety for everyone to pick and choose, and not be confined to just one big dish of this or that.

Summing it up, I give my absolutely excellent Wafu-style Opakapaka a very solid 3-SPAM Musubi, losing a point from what I would have given a 4 or 5 had their been more variety for my entree than just one big honkin’ filet of fish. Not that I’m complaining about portions, which are certainly generous and a fantastic value. Do this Wafu thing family style and no doubt you’ve got yourself and guests a winner meal.

As for everyone else on our table, they unanimously also gave their respective dish a very solid 3-SPAM Musubi with no complaint. They also noted the fantastic value at just $10.95 for each well-prepared and generously-executed bento and $11.95 for the generous serving of Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura. The latter of which Diner C noted the tempura batter was light and crispy and not oily at all, while the tempura sauce had great flavor, only missing the grated daikon. I’m not sure if they forgot that important finishing touch or they just don’t offer it.

Following tradition, our server brought us a piping hot pot of Ocha (Japanese style tea) at the end of our meal, which is always a welcome way to help melt down any heavy oiliness feeling in the throat and stomach…

Speaking of tea, knowing we were celebrating a birthday, Elsie so kindly brought us all complimentary bowls of Lappert’s Ice Cream for dessert, including (real, not artificial) Green Tea, Strawberry and Kona Coffee flavors…

Lappert’s Hawaii Ice Cream: Green Tea, Fresh Strawberry and Kona Coffee flavors

She noted the complimentary ice cream is only one scoop, while the regular ice cream dessert off the menu includes two scoops. Turned out one scoop was jussss’ right, and I must say, this Lappert’s Ice Cream is some good stuff. Really good stuff! Very creamy and rich. I had the Kona Coffee flavor, and that was by far the best example I’ve had of it yet. 4 SPAM Musubi on that.

Ah, gochisousama deshita (what a feast)!

Step out the side (or front door, depends which way you’re coming from) and you’ll find yourself transported right back to China(town)…

Yes, this is in the middle of Honolulu, not Beijing…

Here on the front window of Hifumi, they have a printout of a Star Bulletin article about them…

As for parking, the Chinese Cultural Plaza has a structure and the restaurant validates, where we paid just $2 for about 2 hours, which is cheap compared to standard downtown Honolulu parking rates.

Summing it up, if you’ve never tried Japanese Wafu-style prepared meats and seafood — which once again is a combination of the meat crusted with sweet potato flour, served on a sizzling-hot platter drenched in sauce made of grated onions, garlic-infused shoyu and sake — then make your way to Honolulu’s Chinatown district and hit-up Hifumi. Highly recommended for good Japanese eats at a great price.

Hifumi Japanese Restaurant
100 N. Beretania Street
Suite 113
Honolulu, Hawaii  96817

Tel. (808) 536-3035

The Tasty Island rating:

(3) Very Good. Considerable of another visit or purchase. (Supah’ Ono!)

Related links:
Hifumi Restaurant – ‘Ono Kine Grindz
Hifumi: good, cheap, plentiful Japanese food – Midweek
Hifumi Japanese Restaurant – Yelp user reviews
Lappert’s Hawaii: Coffee, Ice Cream and Bakery Goods with the Aloha Spirit

Honolulu Romantic Vacation


18 thoughts on “Honolulu Chinatown Eats: Hifumi Restaurant

  1. Excellent choice! Haven’t been there in ages, I think its definitely time for a visit!  I remember going to Hifumi with the family enjoying great food.  Good times!

  2. Pomai, I really enjoyed the Wafu Entree there that make it more special to go.  There not that many restaurants that offer it accept Chinese Sizzling Platter in Chinese Restaurants. Prices not bad average overall. Pomai are you planing to trek more into Culture Plaza to try other restaurants?  Location is great with no problem in parking shopping afterward.

  3. Pomai, I like ordering Wafu Entrees for it so different from average Japanese entrees.  When I am in a Chinese restaurant always also look for hot platters dishes to try at time.

  4. Aaron, there were a couple other Chinese restaurants in the Chinese Cultural Plaza that were PACKED. And CHEAP! Must go. I must go!
    Paki, do it. I’m confident you’ll leave Hifumi very satisfied. We were.
    Melissa, with Hifumi being over 40 years old, surely many folks who grew up in the Honolulu area have memories of dining here. Me, I’m not a “Townie”, so don’t have that under my belt, yet glad to become indoctrinated!
    Michael, I’d say Hifumi’s Wafu entrees far exceed “average” and are the primary reason to visit this restaurant.

  5. Pomai, Mr. Ojisan was first time I had a wafu dish. It was steak and enjoyed it.  Pineapple Room also had steak served wafu style with ponzu sauce. I like Chinese style sizzling platters dishes and price low cost.

  6. Never had this Wafu style dishes before so now I have try it and it not far from my home. I wonder where to find Kamameshi style rice casserole in Oahu?

  7. I haven’t tried ketchup and shoyu, but will have to give it a try — I can imagine the flavors would play nice together. The bento photos look fantastic and the tempura looks wonderfully crisp. I haven’t had really good tempura in a while; they’re always soaked in oil or the batter and breading is too heavy. The ones in this post look just right!

  8. Ketchup and shoyu is real old school. As kids (we’re talking a loonngg time ago), that mixture was turned out when we had steak. It tastes like A-1 sauce.

  9. I’ve not been here very often, but I had the wafu-style fish (don’t think it was Opakapaka) multiple times. So tasty. Have also tried wafu-style hamburger steak at other places, and while not served sizzling, it was different enough to be interesting.

  10. Yah, ketchup and shoyu was what I ate steak with when kid-time. Then changed to ketchup and Worchestershire sauce. Still do, same with my daughter.

  11. Raph’, VERY informative article! Thanks for the link! Ultimately, the Wafu style at Hifumi relies its essence on the finely grated onions and high heat the garlic-infused shoyu and onions get on the flat top.

    Midge, I seen a food-related ad recently on Yahoo’s home page that instead of saying ‘Click Here’ said ‘Lick Here’. Was pretty clever.

    Nate, I have yet to make my “local style” fried pork chops served with Tonkatsu Sauce and Ketchup. Can’t wait!

    Spotty, yeah, I’d say Hifumi’s take on Wafu is certainly different than any other sauce out there. Deliciously different.

    Gwyn, OK, I’m going to have to call you out on that one. Ketchup and Shoyu doesn’t even taste REMOTELY like A1 Steak Sauce! Not even close! Neither does that combination, say give or take with some Worcestershire sauce compare with authentic Japanese Tonkatsu Sauce. It’s A1 for steaks and Bull Dog (or Ikari or Ginza Bairin) for Tonkatsu or nothin’ for me!

    Wasabi Prime, ketchup and shoyu is probably the most common east-meets-west fusion thing done here in Hawaii next to SPAM Musubi. Plus it’s only natural, being that most restaurants here have both Ketchup and Shoyu practically hugging each other in the condiment station on the table. What’s said to see is the lack of Hawaiian style “Chile Peppah Wattah”. You don’t see that much, anymore. Now it’s that Shiracha stuff or Tobasco.

    Sally, I’ll have to check out the reviews of Rokkaku on Yelp. Never been before. Thanks for the tip!

    Patty, um, Rokkaku perhaps? See Sally’s comment.

    Kimo, next time I hit-up Hifumi, I’m definitely putting the Wafu-style NY Steak on the table. MOST DEFINITELY.

  12. Tony, glad to hear from you! I’ll take you up on that Kake Udon dish. Sounds oishii, as I LOVE anything that involves Negi. Actually, just for snackin’, I like to take Kamaboko and slice it thinly “sashimi” style, lay that on a bed of finely sliced cabbage, and top it with choke green onions, along with a heavily-laced wasabi-shoyu dipping sauce and whack ’em. I call that my “poor man’s sashimi”. lol

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s