Kalihi Eats: Gulick Delicatessen

Gulick Delicatessen is one of the most recognized and well established Okazuya on Oahu, having been in business on Gulick Avenue in the heart of Kalihi, a.k.a. “God’s Country”,, a.k.a. “The Center of Hawaii’s Food Universe” for over 30 years.

Founded by the Takara family,  the new generation has since remodeled the original location, as well as opened a second Gulick Delicatessen on King Street at the former King’s Bakery location recently in 2007 under the ownership of son’s Cory Makishi and Lee Takara, along with Lee’s wife, Denise. This new location also sports a hip new local Japanese restaurant named Kochi by Gulick Deli.

As mentioned earlier, they’ve done a nice remodel to their shop on Gulick Avenue, with contemporary ceramic-tiled walls and new stainless steel warmers and refrigerator display cases in front…

Like Masa & Joyce, Marujyu and a few others, along with the prepared Okazu selections on display to pick and choose, there’s also a menu board where you can order plate lunches in set form, breakfast plates and other specialties they have to offer…

Yet, I don’t know about you, but when it comes to an Okazuya, the Okazu line where you get to pick and choose is what it’s all about for me. LOVE that. Plus, I don’t have to wait for anything to be cooked. It’s in and out in a snap.

With that, let’s check out what was on the Okazu line at the original Gulick Deli on this lunch hour visit, which specifically was yesterday, Friday, September 10th…

Wow, what a spread! All the usual Okazuya suspects are there. The only things missing that I would have liked is Kabocha (pumpkin) and specialty fishcakes, which Nuuanu Okazuya is known for.

What’s nice about Gulick is they put a SIGN in front of each item with the description, and more importantly the PRICE, so you know exactly what you’re plate is going to cost. Some Okazuya shops don’t do this, and I’ve been sticker shocked a couple times when the counter person rang up my bill. Not here. Mind you, even here it will add up if you’re not careful — especially if you choose with your eyes only, and not your stomach or wallet in mind.

That said, on this visit I walked out with this plate from Gulick…

Gulick Delicatessen (original location) – Okazu plate (clockwise from top left): Ume Musubi, Furikake Musubi, Vegetable Tempura, Maki Kombu and Nishime. $7.55

Diner E put the pedal to the metal, coming out with this V-8 of a plate…

Gulick Delicatessen (original location) – Okazu plate (clockwise from top left): Vegetable Tempura, Tofu Patty (hidden underneath) Shoyu Chicken, Inari (Cone) Sushi, Gobo Kinpira, Nishime, Kombu Maki and Chow Fun noodles. $12.50

Whoah! Here’s that same plate taken apart so we can itemize it better…

Back to my plate, here’s where I was kinda bummed: the “gravy” from the Nishime had spilled over the plate divider and all but demolished and ruined my Ume Musubi on the bottom left…

Look at it… it’s a mess! Whah! Whah! I’m so sad! Whah!

As it turned out, both Musubi had “rice issues”. You regular readers of this blog may recall my last post on Musubi-ya Iyasume, who I raved about as being EXPERTS in making a GREAT Musubi. Well, in contrast, the musubi at Gulick simply paled in comparison. The musubi rice here didn’t taste seasoned at all with salt, while being on the dry side (yet still acceptable), and most importantly, was WAY TOO LOOSE. Even the Furikake Musubi that didn’t get damaged by the Nishime gravy practically fell apart in my hand as I tried to eat it. NOT good.

The only saving grace here was the Ume (duh) and the Furikake (double “duh”), where I reluctantly give Gulick’s Musubi even 1 SPAM Musubi (average), but I’ll go with that.

Note to Gulick management: if you’re going to offer as many Musubi selections as you do, you MUST cook and season your rice properly. Must! Invest in a better rice cooker (Grant’s Grill did!), and/or perhaps better quality ‘premium’ rice. If Iyasume does it, so can you!

Things can only get better from here, which for the most part thankfully it does, where next let’s check out the Nishime…

Shiitake Mushrooms? Check. Maki Konbu? Check. Fried Tofu? Check. Konnyaku? Check. Daikon? Check. Carrots? Check. Everything all cooked Al Dente and well saturated with the Nishime gravy? Check, check and check.

Oishii desu ka? CHECK! Omai! Really good!

There was just one problem both Diner E and I noticed, which is that the fried tofu tasted a little sour, like it was beyond its freshness date. Not repulsive, but detectable. Other than that isolated component, the Nishime as a whole for me was fantastic, where I easily award it 4 SPAM Musubi. Throw in FRESH fried tofu and I’d easily give Gulick’s Nishime a solid 5 for the slam dunk.

Next let’s try Gulick’s Maki Kombu…

Gulick Delicatessen – Maki Kombu: Kombu (seaweed) wrapped around chicken, carrot, takenoko (bamboo shoots) and gobo (burdock root) and tied with Kannpyo (calabash/gourd).

Both Diner E and I have just one problem with this: it’s WAY TOO BIG. This is like the Japanese equivalent of “why make the burger 1 story high when you can make it 10″ approach. Just look at how big it is in the previous photos. It’s HUGE, measuring 4″ in length by 1-1/2” diameter. I’d rather have it being a tiny compact morsel where I eat the whole thing in one fell swoop, not nibble at it section by section. Ya’ know? I just want to taste all the ingredients TOGETHER, not separately, which you’re sort of forced to do in this super-sized Maki Kombu form.

Other than that issue, the flavor and texture of the components combined was spot on, and everything was well saturated with the sauce. I also noticed a distinct ginger accent to it, which was really nice.

Summing it up, I give Gulick’s Maki Kombo 3 SPAM Musubi, where believe it or not, if they scale down the size, I’d say it can only get better.

Only one thing left on my plate to share my thoughts on, where actually this photo is from Diner E’s plate, which is the Vegetable Tempura (on the right next to the cone sushi)…

Winners. The vegetable tempura batter has a nicely seasoned flavor and delicately-crispy texture that’s quite unique and unlike tempura I’ve had from other Okazuya establishments. This is definitely one of their “MONEY” items and worth driving out of your way for. Best of all it didn’t taste greasy, while the medley of veggies and Kamaboko (fish cake) all brought their A-game to this party. Summing it up, 4 SPAM Musubi for Gulick’s Vegetable Tempura.

Back to Diner E’s plate, check out how tender and juicy the Shoyu Chicken was…

A closer look at the Gobo Kinpira (left) and Tofu Patty (right, in chopsticks)…

Diner E enjoyed the Gobo Kinpira, while noting it was on the sweet side, which he thought was good, but noted could have used a little more spicy hot in the form of Togarashi. The Tofu Patty was just “a-aight”, but not a choice he’d make again.

Finally, we have Gulick’s all-important Okazu dish, the Chow Fun…

“Too busy” says Diner E. Too much carrots and cabbage. The seasoning was also too pronounced, where, like Mac’ Salad, both Diner E and yours truly believe in the “Simple is best” approach to this dish. Which St. Louis Delicatessen remains the reigning KING of Okazuya-style Chow Funn Noodles.

Service at Gulick Deli was friendly and quick, prices are “competitive”, while street parking in this suburban neighborhood location can be hit or miss, depending how busy they are when you arrive and/or how far you’re willing to walk.

On a future visit, I must try their “high ticket item” Butterfish, while for some reason I’m intrigued in sampling their Pinak Bet (notice the spelling). Which is what’s so great about the typical Okazuya in Hawaii, where the’s so much cultural diversity under one roof that you can mix and match on one plate. Love that.

It’s GREAT to see “old school” mom ‘n pop Hawaii businesses such as this place still thriving, thanks to the next generation of ohana carrying the torch. Long live Gulick Delicatessen!

Gulick Delicatessen
1512 Gulick Avenue
Honolulu, Hawaii   96819
Tel. (808) 847-1461

The Tasty Island rating:

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


17 thoughts on “Kalihi Eats: Gulick Delicatessen

  1. Pomai, place look so upscale. It more like Patti Chinese Kitchen and Kam Wah Chun but I do like it still. I still enjoy heading to the older okazuya places for it charm.

  2. When I was little mom would take me to an okazuya and first thing we do is look at the selections from outside the window and then go in to buy it. Gulick is very good when in the area. I am in the Nuuanu area more.

  3. Love love love this place. A must-eat every time we come to the 808, along with a pitstop at Mitsu-Ken for garlic chicken. Only trouble is that my eyes are bigger than my stomach and I pick out way too many things for my box. You didn’t get one of my favorites though, the potato-mac salad. Best one on the island.

  4. Pomai, after Traci J comment on potato-mac it sound so good so must try it this week when I am there. That one my favorite side dish ever. The corn beef hash patty I had when my older sister brought at Honda now gone at Liliha is what I miss the most.

  5. Pomai – try their garlic chicken next time. I know I going get slack for this one – but I think it beats the chicken down the road in Kalihi. IMHO…

  6. Pomai, this place is a deli not a okazuya. It bigger and more food and it hot food also in steamed counter. But still so good. Okazuyas serve food that are cold to go but not any more time change. I always get sweet potato temperas, vegetable tempuras.

  7. Good read Pomai. Aaron broght up an Okazuya name from the past and that was Honda’s on Liliha. Great memories from “small kid time”.

  8. the rice cooker or the type of rice does not have anything to do with making a good rice for sushi/musubi. my sister learned from a true sushi chef and showed her that it’s all in the technique of cooking and mixing the right ingredients in the rice. can’t blame GD for this since it’s not a dedicated sushi/musubi establishment. i remember before the old GD, when the boys were there during the lunch time rush helping out. fish is good, shoyu fish i think. the hash is good.. stopped going ‘cuz the prices went up really high and everybody blamed the boys for it since they started taking over..

  9. Pomai, I saw on Korean channel how they make their own musubi. Instead of shaping it with hands that been wet and salted, they add salt to uncooked rice stirring well and and cook it. Shaping it in plastic wrap is easy if no plastic gloves available and it does not stick to hands. Salt is already infuse in rice when cooking.

  10. Well I was at Mana Bu the other day and they doing so well looking for help at the 6-11 morning to make musubis and sales everyday.

  11. Michael, I actually wouldn’t mind doing that job part-time just to learn their craft in the art of making fine Musubi. Seriously! I’ll go check them out this weekend and see what the qualifications for the job is.

    Erica, I thought of adding salt to the water before cooking the rice. I’ll try that some time. Diner E hooked me up with some brown rice he made, which he added just a dash of Knorr Chicken Bouillon to the water before pressure-cooking it. It tasted really ono! Great texture too from the pressure cooker method.

    Jl, I suppose it was unfair for me to compare Gulick’s Musubi with Musubi-ya Iyasume, but still, it is quite some difference. In defense of Iyasume, keep in mind their prices are right on par if not CHEAPER than Gulick, considering the prime location (center of Waikiki) and super premium-grade rice they’re using. Well OK, if it’s not the rice cooker or quality of rice, that makes it even more the point that whoever is making the musubi at Gulick needs to learn this proper technique. Send a Sushi Chef to the Gulick kitchen, stat!

    I’ll reply to more comments later. Gotta’ go.

  12. For the most part, I do like Gulick’s stuff, and when in the mood for local comfort food, I often go there. Couple things, though. Their hot dogs are a little strange in that the shoyu flavor is just too light, and the type of hot dogs they use have a different kind of consistency than most other okazuya – makes me think the hot dogs they use are on the cheap side.

    Also, I don’t get their hash patties. They have a slightly sweet taste to them, when they should be savory IMHO. Also, for the teeny-weenie amount of corned beef they use, you’d think they wouldn’t charge so much – I mean, it’s more than a piece of fried chicken!

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