Kalihi Kai Eats: Monarch Seafoods

For today’s review we’re back in Kalihi, where it’s repeatedly and affectionately designated here on this blog as “The Center of Hawaii’s Food Universe”, a.k.a. “God’s Country”. This time around at yet another hole-in-the-wall gem over at Monarch Seafoods, located next door mauka (towards the Koolau mountain range) of Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory on Kalihi Street, with Bank of Hawaii’s Dillingham Boulevard branch also adjacent to them if that will help you find them.

Monarch Seafoods is a fish distributor that also offers catering services, as well as what we’re sampling here in this review from their daily takeout operation. And the place is strictly takeout with no dine-in seating.

Without further ado, here’s their most current menu as of this writing…

Upon entering, you’ll find the customer service area is rather small, where as little as 10 people waiting in line for their order can already make it feel crowded. Yet that’s how it is at most hole-in-the-wall gems. Here’s the front end service counter, made up mostly of a refrigerated display case filled with a goldmine of ono kine grindz…

Being a seafood purveyor — with nearby Honolulu’s fish auction block right down the street, mind you — naturally there’s no shortage of fresh fish and prepared Poke to be had here…

Of course they also have prepared bento lunches ready to go…

Next time I visit here, I definitely need to try “Pop’s Homemade Banana Cream Pie”, as that’s one of my favorite kinds of pie…

So on this first-time visit, Diner A decided to go “Surf ‘n Turf” and chose a mixed plate of Monarch’s Deep Fried Poke and Hamburger Steak with Sauteed Mushrooms and Onions…

Mixed Plate of Monarch’s Deep Fried Poke and Hamburger Steak with Sauteed Mushrooms ‘n Onions and House Nalo (as in Waimanalo) Greens. $8.45

A closer look…

OMG, Monarch’s Deep Fried Poke is da bomb!…

Seemingly simple, yet easy to mess up if done the wrong way. Yet Monarch NAILS this, as the thoroughly cooked-through Ahi cube is seasoned with just the right amount of what tastes like a shoyu-based marinade (because you know, it’s Poke), while the Panko crust is offers a wonderful “GBD” taste and texture contrast to the delightfully tender and moist Ahi meat. Superb indeed. In fact, , just drop a bunch of these absolutely scrumptiously onolicious Deep Fried Poke bites in a big bowl along with a case or two of ice cold Heinekens amongst a bunch of you and your best friends, and you’ve got one heck of a great paina (party)!

They provide a chili Aioli sauce for the Deep Fried Poke, but both Diner A and I agree what REALLY makes this OUTRAGEOUSLY OFF THE CHARTS is their AMAZING House Salad Dressing…

Chili Aioli Sauce (left) and Monarch’s signature House Salad Dressing (right)

I swear, you could dip your car bumper in Monarch’s salad dressing and it’d taste awesome. Seriously, if you ever visit this place, ASK FOR EXTRA DRESSING. Trust me, you’ll thank me (and them for giving you an extra cup) for that tip.  It goes great with, well, EVERYTHING.

To explain it, it’s got a sweet ‘n sour-meets-creamy flavor profile goin’ on, with a subtle hint of garlic. It sort of reminds me of Costco’s Parisian Dressing that comes with that salad kit they sell. But this one BLOWS that and is by far one of the BEST salad dressings I’ve ever tasted in recent memory.

As for the Hamburger Steak, the gravy is solid (tasting that is), also sporting garlic undertones, with plenty of depth and “beefy-ness”, while having perfect thickness and body. The single hamburger patty was on the small side, yet according to Diner A it was seasoned nicely and had all the right fillers that make a hamburger steak taste like it should.

Overall, Diner A gives Monarch’s Deep Fried Poke and Hamburger Steak mixed plate a super solid 4 SPAM Musubi.

Next up is yours truly, where I just had to go with what everyone on Yelp raves about, which is Monarch’s ever-popular Nori-wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi…

Monarch Seafoods – Nori-wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi with Nalo Greens and Brown Rice. $8.95

A closer look…

What nobody on Yelp mentions nor probably haven’t tried experimenting with, is dipping the Nori-wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi roll in their AMAZING House Dressing!…

Oh man, I tell ya’, that dressing takes what is already an awesome dish to levels unknown to mankind. Bam! You can see they drizzle the Nori-Wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi with Wasabi, which is great. Then you add the creamy, sort of garlic-ee, sweet ‘n sour element from the dressing and, I swear, it  just makes you wanna’ roll your eyeballs backwards in your noggin. lol Seriously, so ono!

Construction-wise, it appears they take a thinly-sliced slab of ahi and top it with minced imitation crab that’s mixed with other ingredients I couldn’t quite pinpoint, although I’m sure there’s at least some mayonnaise in it. They take that and roll it up all wrapped up in several multiple layers of nori maki, then it gets a quick dredge in tempura batter then deep fried. You know, the kinda’ thing Kahai Street Kitchen right down the street would probably do.

The end result is Ahi that’s super moist and imparted with plenty of “Umami” thanks to the Nori and (imitation) crab meat surrounding both sides of it, while you get that “decadent crunch” factor from the lightly crispy tempura coating it’s encased in. Genius.

As for the Nalo Greens, they were super fresh ‘n crispy, and incredibly packed into the left corner pocket of my plate. Where after I finished the Ahi, I was able to fill the entire main entree section with my salad!…

I tell ya’, it was like having a refreshing appetizer salad after the main dish!

Summing it up, 4 SPAM Musubi for Monarch’s Nori-Wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi. Use real crab meat and I’d give it 5. Trade out the crab for lobster and I’d probably give it a TEN! Bu-Ya!

We enjoyed our lunch from Monarch Seafoods so much, that we made a hana hou (encore) visit just a week later! This time around with Diner EY (different guy than Diner E) in tow, where he decided to give their Garlic Roast Pork plate a spin…

Monarch Seafoods – Roast Pork with Gravy. $7.95

I got a taste of the gravy, and can cofirm it’s certainly “garlic-ee”, yet not obnoxiously so. In words of Rap Replinger’s “Aunty Marialani”, it’s “jussssssss right”. Go check ’em now, check ’em now, go. lol  Diner EY also gave a thumbs-up of approval for the roast pork, saying it was fork tender and packed with flavor. 4 SPAM Musubi.

This time around, Diner A decided to try Monarch’s Crab Cake, Mochiko Chicken and Fried Poke Bento…

Monarch Seafoods – Bento: Crab Cake, Mochiko Chicken and Fried Poke. $7.95

The crab cake…

How was it? 3 SPAM Musubi.

Finally, yours truly laid it down this time with Monarch’s Garlic Butter Sauteed Tiger Prawns with Zucchini and Mushrooms over Linguine pasta…

Monarch Seafoods – Garlic Butter Sauteed Tiger Prawns with Zucchini and Mushrooms over Linguine. $8.95

A closer look…

How was it? Eh, it’s OK but nothing really worth writing home or here about. It wasn’t drenched in garlic butter as much as I would have liked, while the tails were on the verge of being overcooked and rubbery. They also weren’t as sweet as I was expecting it to be. As for the pasta, the linguine was cooked perfectly al dente, but the “cream” sauce just did not work. It literally tasted like somewhat thickened canned cream, while having barely any seasoning or flavor, whatsoever. Someone please pass me some butter and fresh grated parm’ please. I gotta say though, there were generous slices of zucchini and sauteed white mushrooms in it, yet even then, the really lame, plain Jane cream sauce didn’t lend them a helping hand in flavor ‘tat all.

Summing it up, I give Monarch’s Garlic Butter Tiger Prawns 1 SPAM Musubi, which I’m being generous at even that. Thankfully, again, I had their awesome House Salad Dressing to save the day and make a lame plate at least decent enough to eat.


Leave it use to take advantage of a scale when we see one, where here we weighed my Nori Wrapped, Crab-stuffed Ahi plate on our first visit, which clocked in at 1.065 pounds…

So if they charged us $11.95 per pound (the average price of their fresh raw ahi), this plate would have totaled out at $12.73. Thankfully that plate is just $8.95, which is truly a bargain for a truly inspirational and creative seafood dish you’d easily pay 3 or more times that in a finer dining restaurant.  Gotta’ love Kalihi for that.

Monarch Seafoods
515 Kalihi St
Honolulu, Hawaii  96819

Tel. (808) 841-7877

Monarch Seafoods & Catering menu (71k 2-page PDF document download; current as of 1.11)

The Tasty Island rating:

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


4 thoughts on “Kalihi Kai Eats: Monarch Seafoods

  1. Pomai, I wouldn’t write home about the this place. I would run to it and get a lot of the food you have taken with camera. It look so awesome and tako onion is try for sure. Never had fried poke and that one to try first on my visit and lot more time later. This is a great find indeed.

  2. The crab stuffed ahi roll sounds so good, I may have to try making it. Loved your SPAM label, particularly the Spamwich Isles! I’ll be voting for you, good luck!

  3. Kelike, Monarch’s Fried Poke was definitely the highlight, especially when combined with their BROKE DA’ MOUT’ House Salad Dressing. Do get that on your first visit, making sure to request a “back-up” cup of extra dressing!

    Jan, the Nori-wrapped Ahi stuffed with (imitation) crab and then dipped in Tempura Batter seems very “doable” to make at home, albeit, it would certainly be an involving kitchen project.

    I’d actually like to try trading off ingredients though. Like say, instead of Ahi, using Monchong, and instead of imitation crab — or REAL crab for that matter — stuff da’ super oily (fatty) Monchong with Lobster. Then I’d, then I’d, and then I’d.. oh sheesh, sorry, I’m drooling already just thinking about how “Crazy Tasty” that would turn out!

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