Kalihi Eats: The Old Saimin House

We’re back again at the “Center of Hawaii’s Food Universe” in the heart of historic and scenic Kalihi, this time sampling some truly “old school” saimin at The Old Saimin House.

This is actually part 1 of a 3 part series, leading up to a review on S&S Saimin’s new “Old Time Island Style Saimin”. Which makes it seem even more apparent that just like cars, ‘retro’ is the “new cool” in the food industry as well.

Notice on this label it touts “Traditional Shrimp Soup Base”, differentiating it from Sun Noodle’s Hawaii’s Original Old Style Saimin product, which uses the bonito-based dashinomoto saimin soup stock more commonly used nowadays.

That said, the reason this is a series, is that I needed to refresh my palate on what is the benchmark representation of Hawaii’s truly classic saimin taste in order to compare with S&S’s (under parent company Sun Noodle) latest attempt to replicate the “Traditional Shrimp Soup Base” broth flavor. Therefore I chose two old school saimin stands as my benchmark source: The Old Saimin House and Palace Saimin, both almost within a stone’s throw of each other in Kalihi.

How “old school” is The Old Saimin House? Well, they were established by Okinawan nisei (second generation) in 1963. Whereas Palace Saimin right across the street on King was also established by Okinawans in 1946.

Not to forgot the many other classic saimin stands around the island, including Forty Niner Restaurant out in Aiea, who was established around the late 40’s. Then there’s Boulevard Saimin, which has since changed to “Dillingham Saimin”, who got their start in 1955, while over on the Garden Isle of Kauai, Hamura Saimin set up shop in 1952. Not to leave out a few more places still in business that feature saimin as their signature dish, including Shiro’s, Shige’s and Zippy’s.

So we’re here today at The Old Saimin House, which is located at 1311 North King Street (nearby the Kalihi Post Office), in a tiny strip mall next to New Diner’s Drive Drive-In, with another notable neighbor being Kiawe Grill.

Without further ado, let’s check out The Old Saimin House tableside menu…


The Old Saimin House menu (current as of June 2011)

As is “standard” on the menu at most old school Hawaii saimin stands, The Old Saimin House has the requisite basic option of either Saimin or Wun Tun Min (the latter often spelled in various ways), along with a (teriyaki beef) BBQ Stick to go along with it. Think of the BBQ Stick to Saimin as what Gyoza is to Japanese Ramen. From there, the menu can vary quite a bit at each place.

The table condiments often say a lot about what type of cuisine is being offered. Where like most local style food restaurants in Hawaii, The Old Saimin House has the usual Shoyu, Tobasco, Salt ‘n Pepper. While indicating their Japanese/Okinawan influence, there’s also a shaker bottle of Shichimi Togarashi, which is a ground mixture of chili pepper and several other unique ingredients that make its spicy flavor unique…

One thing you hardly see anymore at local eateries on Oahu is Hawaiian Chili Pepper Water, whom Hamura Saimin on Kauai still includes on the tables in their condiments set.

The Old Saimin House was founded by Okinawan nisei Tomizo and Mitsue Ikei in 1963, where today you see their “Uchinanchu Pride” up in the form of a painting of what I’m assuming is their family’s home town of Henza Island in Okinawa…

As for the restaurant space, like most saimin stands, The Old Saimin is rather small, while being very clean, with a rather newly renovated look to it…

There’s a decent amount of designated free parking in the front of this tiny strip mall, although of course it does become tight during peak dining hours.

Getting to my order, on this solo mission, I stuck with the bare bones basic Saimin, this one being the large…

A closer look…

Now this truly is your bare bones basic Saimin, with just sliced Charsiu pork and green onions garnish, and that’s it. Not even Kamaboko nor sliced egg omelet is to be had here, making this a far cry from the “everything, including the kitchen sink” approach at Shiro’s Saimin Haven.

The reason I didn’t order the more popular Wun Tun Min, which is essentially the same dish with the addition of ground pork-filled wun tuns in it, is because I didn’t want the wun tun to muddle or change the flavor of the basic broth.

As for not ordering the usual BBQ (Teriyaki Beef) Stick as an accompaniment, upon asking how they were cooked, my server told they were griddled on a flat top, so I passed. No probs, as this large bowl of saimin by itself was plenty enough to fill me up on this lunch hour visit.

Hai, itadakimasu. Let’s begin with a taste of  what appears to be rather clear-toned, mild looking broth…

And? Definitely yet another shrimp shell based broth, albeit not particular “shrimpy”, while being seasoned with salt (possibly of the Hawaiian rock salt variety), and that’s about it. I don’t think there’s any katsuoboshi stock enhancement or dashinomoto in it, nor pork or chicken bones in the stock-making process. Overall, It’s very much back-to-basics to the core, not being under nor overpowering.

As long as you arrive with your palate in a neutral state (like you didn’t just get done snacking on some chips or anything salty), the broth should be acceptably seasoned without any further enhancements. Yet it is still on the very low key end as far as saimin broths are concerned, leaving the broth door wide open to add that shoyu and/or tobasco and/or Togarashi and/or Salt ‘n Pepper condiments provided on the table to suite your personal taste.

Let’s slurp some saimin noodles…

As others on Yelp have mentioned, the noodles here are on the firmer side of al dente doneness, which I actually prefer over softer-cooked noodles, whether it be for saimin, ramen or pasta.  Come to find out, unlike many other noodle houses around the island who source their noodles from Sun Noodle Factory, The Old Saimin House sources theirs from Eagle Noodle Factory. The latter of which I’ve been told doesn’t use chemicals in their noodles. With that, they’re somewhat neutral in flavor, without any of that egg-like undertone from the potassium and sodium carbonate (Kansui) that Sun Noodle uses.

Only thing left to try here is the rather sparse sliced Charsiu pork and green onion garnish…

The Charsiu was spot-on in sweetness and overall authentic flavor profile, while being very moist and tender. Thumbs-up, except for all that saimin noodles in the large bowl, they need more charsiu to accompany it. I suppose at $5.25 for the large, an additional 50 cents is worth the additional garnish needed to fully complete the dish in and of itself. Or of course order the BBQ Stick to offset the carbo load.

But yeah, this broth is certainly on the low-key side, and it had room for some shoyu to kick it up…

Ah, perfect! The (Aloha) shoyu really enhanced and “umami-fied” the subtle shellfish base of the broth’s flavor profile.

I also tried dipping the noodles and charsiu in the included (Coleman’s) mustard (and shoyu) sauce, which totally makes it taste Chinese.

The large saimin by itself was the perfect portion to sate my lunchtime hunger, while the addition of just a drizzle of shoyu was all it needed to make The Old Saimin House a good choice at the right price. So much so, that I had no problem polishing my bowl…

This was a good refresher start to get a benchmark taste of what true “old school” saimin should taste like. Next stop, right across the street over at Palace Saimin!

The Old Saimin House
1311 North King Street
Honolulu, Hawaii  96817

Tel. (808) 842-7697
www.TheOldSaiminHouse.com

Business hours:
Lunch: 11:00 am – 2:00 pm
Tuesday to Saturday

Dinner: 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

Dinner: 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Friday, Saturday

Closed:
Sunday & Monday

The Tasty Island rating:

(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it. (Ono)

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Grindz of the Day: Tenkaippin's Kotteri Ramen, Goma Tei Ala Moana & Zsoli's Chimney Cakes


Tenkaippin Ramen – Kotteri Ramen: “Healthy chicken-based soup, so rich, it’s habit forming.” $8.75

There’s a Foodland Turkey-To-Go review waiting on the backburner, yet I’ve decided to keep that on hold for at least a few weeks (or maybe until next year right before Thanksgiving ’11), as at this point you A.) probably STILL have Thanksgiving Day leftovers you’re trying to get rid of in the refrigerator, therefore hence, B.) the LAST thing you want to read about or see right now is Thanksgiving Day Turkey and its related side dishes. ACK!

Anyhow, thankfully that winter “nip” is finally beginning to kick into the air here in the islands, which makes warm comfort foods such as Japanese Ramen that much more appealing (or Jook anyone?!), where I begin this “Grindz of the Day” with a bowl of Tenakaippin’s famous Kotteri Ramen.

The first time I visited Tenkaippin Ramen on Kapahulu Avenue, the server kindly offered me a small sample cup of the Kotteri broth to try, which turned out being quite tasty when sipped by itself without any ramen noodles soaking in it. Yet I still questioned whether that thick gravy-like viscosity of the broth, along with its rather concentrated poultry flavor would be “too much” once the starchy ramen noodles jumped into “the drink”.

Well, as it turns out at least for me personally, my skeptical instinct held true. Now, after trying an entire bowl of Tenkaippin’s Kotteri Ramen with all the standard fixinz’, it ultimately is how I thought it’d be.

In fact, after having turkey ‘n gravy still fresh on my palate and mind, this Kotteri Ramen wasn’t far from essentially being a “noodlefied” or “pastafied” version of that.

Tenkaippin claims the Kotteri broth achieves its thickness from the natural collagen that comes out after boiling chicken bones for over 14 hours. Their punchline for it goes like this, ““Our #1 best seller.  Healthy chicken base soup so rich and unique, it’s habit forming.”

However it’s made, doesn’t that LOOK like Turkey Gravy? I tell you, it practically tastes like it. Actually, more specifically a gravy made with roux and all the tasty drippings from a whole roasted bird.

If there’s anything I could say separates this ramen “broth” from American style turkey or poultry gravy, is that of course it’s not THAT thick (by most standards), and there’s an additional hint of oriental spices and elements rounding it out that I can’t quite pinpoint which moves it ever-so-slightly away from tasting 100% American.

Perhaps a dash of Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese seven-flavor chili pepper), along with a drizzle of shoyu, and an ever-ever-so-slight hint of sesame, yet those additional complexities are very subtle.

Speaking of spices, what many fans of Tenkaippin’s Kotteri Ramen swear by when eating this is adding the house garlic and chili paste to it for added kick, which we have here on the job and ready for action…


Tenkaippin’s complimentary house Garlic-Chili Pepper Paste table-side ramen condiment

Taking inventory of what’s buried under the surface of the thick broth, there’s two very thin slices of Charsu…

As well as a good handful of Menma and sliced green onions, plus of course a typical single serving portion of thin Japanese style Ramen Noodles. Like the majority of ramen shops in Hawaii, the noodles at Tenkaippin are sourced from Sun Noodle Factory, specified to Tenkaippin’s own recipe.

Someone on Yelp suggested the experience of eating Kotteri Ramen is reminiscent of Chicken a la King, where I suppose when you see how the thick broth heavily coats the noodles as you pick it up with your chopsticks you can understand where they’re coming from…

It almost appears as if the noodles had been overcooked to the point of becoming one gelatinous starchy glob, but that is absolutely NOT the case. The noodles are certainly cooked al dente and individually integrated, but just so heavily-coated with the broth, wherewith it’s actually the BROTH that makes it seem like this “one, gelatinous, starchy  glob”.

While eating the Kotteri-soaked ramen noodles, I had hoped it would taste more collagen-thickened than starch-thickened. Yet as it turned out, while the nature of the starchy ramen noodles play 50% of the role here, it pretty much dominates what your brain interprets being the “glue” so-to speak as it goes into and hits your mouth.

While I’m usually not a fan of garlic, chili pepper or any other “unusual” flavor enhancers/toppings in or on my ramen, , Tenkaippin’s complimentary house Garlic-Chili Paste certainly added plenty of “oomph” and extra dimension to the otherwise predominant and intense poultry-flavored Kotteri broth. If you’re not really sure, add some to just a spoonful of the broth first and try it before committing to it in your entire bowl. Surprisingly I really liked it, so I went and “choked” the Garlic-Chili Paste in my bowl, making sure to stir it in and incorporate it well.

The two included thin slices of Charsu, while appearing rather basic and certainly no comparison to Goma Tei in most regards, actually had quite a nice flavor, and was cooked wonderfully moist and tender, not being dry, lifeless or bland at all. Looking at the menu from the last time I visited this place, Tenkaippin used to offer Charsu versions of their Kotteri, Assari and Miso Ramen, although on this visit it appears they’ve since removed that off the menu, where now if you want more charsu, you must add it ala carte for $1.50 extra. Same goes for Menma, fresh garlic, bean sprouts and various other ramen toppings.

Summing it up, I give Tenkaippin’s famous Kotteri Ramen 2 SPAM Musubi, falling somewhere in the lines of me lamenting afterwards that it was “weird and kinda’ gross” just based on texture. Yet at the same time thinking, “Hey this is really, really tasty and something I could get used to!”  Had my appetite at the time been 20% higher, I probably would have LOVED it. Yet had my appetite been just 10% less than where it was, I probably would have DESPISED IT, if you know what I mean. Which is what lots of Yelp reviewers say about it as well. My girflfriend tried a sip of the Kotteri broth and didn’t care for it at all. Of course, as always, you gotta’ try it and judge for yourself on it.

Moving along, going with my recommendation, my girlfriend ordered Tenkaippin’s Assari Ramen on this visit…


Tenkaippin Ramen – Assari Ramen: “Healthy chicken base soup with soy sauce flavor”. $8.75

The verdict? She gives it a very satisfying 2 SPAM Musubi (Good, glad I tried it), noting her favorite is still Goma Tei.

Speaking of which, before we move on to Goma Tei Ala Moana, one last note on Tenkaippin is that they recently introduced a new Tan Tan “spicy” ramen flavor at their shop that they seem to be encouraging their patrons to try.

I’m actually more interested in trying their unlisted Kossari Ramen, which is a half-half blend of their Kotteri and Assari broth. Which brings to mind, while I’ve never asked, I wonder if any ramen shops around town let their patrons order “suicide” broths? You know, da’ kine where you can mix anykine different types of broths all concocted into one bowl, like you used to with with different flavors of soda at the soda fountain. Remember doing that? “Um yeah, I’d like one Misoshiopaitantantonkotsukossari-men (basically all of the above) kudasai, triple the Menma, onegaishimasu”. lol

Next, heading back west from Kapahulu, right past Waikiki, we find ourselves on another Winter evening indulging in yet another comforting hot bowl of Japanese Ramen, this time from Goma Tei in Ala Moana Center…


Goma Tei – Char Siu Shoyu Ramen. $8.75

We both order the same thing, which is our ichiban Goma Tei favorite, their Char Siu Shoyu Ramen, while this time we decided to try their Ban Ban Ji Chicken as a side dish…


Goma Tei – Ban Ban Ji Chicken: Slices of chicken breast cooked in a sake, scallion and ginger broth, then chilled in ice and served on a bed of thinly-sliced cucumber. Served chilled with a slightly spicy and tangy sesame sauce. $6.75

First let’s try the Ban Ban Ji Chicken…

The verdict? Very refreshing, being that it’s served cold. This kinda’ reminds me of the Japanese version of Chinese Cold Ginger Chicken, except not quite as zesty as that. I LOVED the texture and complimentary flavor the long, evenly-sliced cucumbers offered along when eaten with the tender, thin slices of chicken breast. You could kinda’ taste ginger in the chicken, but it was very subtle. Being served cold where whatever fat in the chicken meat would congeal, didn’t have it come across as being MOIST, yet it certainly wasn’t dry either. Finally, the sesame sauce was indeed a little spicy and tangy, while also being quite savory, which I think is because it’s miso-based. Overall, again a very, very refreshing app’ that goes quite well with the hot bowl of Ramen. I’d like to see a fish version of this dish.Portion-wise, you could easily order this as a healthy main course for yourself along with a side bowl of rice and call it a day.

Summing it up, 3 SPAM Musubi for Goma Tei’s Ban Ban Ji Chicken.If you LOVE chicken, I think you’ll probably give it 4 or 5.

Now for the Ala Moana location’s take on Goma Tei’s highly-regarded Shoyu Ramen…

Broth piping hot? Check. Noodles cooked perfectly al dente? Check.

Pork belly-rolled, thick-sliced Char Siu stellar as always? For the most part, check. Except the outside could have been browned and crisped more. In retrospect, if you look at the slices of rolled-up Char Siu from the bowl of Shoyu Ramen at Goma Tei’s Ward location, theirs was much more crisped and browned on the outer edge.

Now for the Shoyu broth here at the Ala Moana location, that’s where personally I think they fell short of the EXCELLENT offering at Goma Tei’s Ward location. This Shoyu Ramen broth just didn’t have that “Japanese-ness” and “it factor” about it like the one at Ward pretty much grasped. Here it was as if they skimped on either an important step, broth-making time, ingredient or all of the above.

Not that it was a bad shoyu ramen, because I finished pretty much all of it, but I was really hoping both Goma Tei locations had absolute consistency.

That said, summing it up, I give Ala Moana Goma Tei’s Char Siu Shoyu Ramen 2 SPAM Musubi, where it made up a point for the perfectly cooked noodles, piping hot (albeit less accurate) broth and pretty-much on-point Char Siu slices. Not to mention the quick and friendly service.

While we were at Ala Moana Shopping Center, just steps away from Goma Tei on the street level makai side of the mall, right near the entrance of the Food Court we came upon Zsoli’s Chimney Cakes Kiosk, which you CAN’T miss…

The fellah that runs this place is super friendly and very informative, happily offering free samples and taking the time to explain the entire history and process of making Chimney Cakes.

You mall folks know all too well the alluring smell of hot, fresh baked pastries wafting in the bustling mall air as you walk on by, and this kiosk is no exception to the rule. Even more intriguing though, is the odd and peculiar cylindrical shape of the Chimney Cakes once you set eyes upon them on display in their window, where it immediately draws you in for a closer inspection…

I don’t know whether to eat it, stuff and decorate it with a bouquet of flowers or launch aerial fireworks from it. All of the above!  lol

Seriously though, this is how Chimney Cakes are explained by their company:

“Kürtőskalács or Kürtős Kalács is a Hungarian pastry also known as chimney cake, stove cake or Hungarian wedding cake, is a pastry cooked on a tapered spit over an open fire. Originally from Transylvania, it’s famous for being Hungary’s oldest pastry. Kürtőskalács is sold in bakeries, pastry shops and even street vendors who sell them on street corners, carnivals and fairs.”

Zsoli’s Chimney Cakes are made fresh from scratch, hand rolled onto wooden cylinders and coated with sugar then baked in a special rotisserie oven and sprinkled with cinnamon, chocolate, pecans or caramelized just for you.”

Very interesting and certainly something new to us.

The Chimney Cakes are offered in Original (melted sugar coating), Cinnamon, Pecan, Chocolate Sprinkles and Rainbow Sprinkles, which all sell for $6 each.

Here in this photo you can see the wood cylinders the dough is wrapped around to give it its shape…

And here’s one all wrapped in dough and ready to hit the oven…

As you might expect, a Chimney Cakes Oven is going to be quite a unique “uni-tasker” contraption…

For the life of me, I can’t remember whether they rotated automatically in the oven, or whether they were hand-turned. You can see the heat elements though, going down the center, like a big, open rotisserie toaster.

And out comes these delicious-looking (and smelling!), very unique Hungarian Chimney Cake pastry treats…


Zsoli’s Chimney Cakes – Original (in back) and Cinnamon (foreground), $6 each


Zsoli’s Chimney Cakes – (left to right) Pecan, Chocolate Sprinkles and Original, $6 each

Here’s where you can see the hollow center…


Zsoli’s Chimney Cakes – (left to right) Strawberry Sprinkles, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Original and Pecan, $6 each

All I can say is, I see SO MANY POSSIBILITIES to expand the use and flavors of this unique old-world European pastry. Perhaps cut it in shorter rings and fill it in the center on a plate with custard, ice cream or a fruit salad. Or how about making an “Edible Arrangements” bouquet, using a Chimney Cake as a vase. Also, you could expand the toppings and “Hawaiianize” it by using crushed Macadamia Nuts instead of Pecans, or go tropical sweet ‘n sour with a Guava-Pineapple glaze. And those are just the obvious ones.

So how does it taste? AWESOME! Personally I think it tastes like a cylindrically-shaped Cinnabon roll, sans the decadent butter-sugar glaze, while also being a little more glutenous and “tight” if you will on the inside of the baked dough. Yet it has that wonderfully-delicate, golden-brown-n-sweet crust that the Cinnabon inherently possesses.

You take that, plus the simple coating of granulated sugar and cinnamon that we opted for and BAM! It’s like Cinnamon Toast “on crack” if you will, with a cool shape that’s a fun novelty to pick and eat at as you walk through the mall. In fact, people who notice kinda’ stare at it, which is amusing in itself. lol

$6 may seem like a handful of cash for a pastry, but each Chimney Cake is actually quite large, measuring I’ll guess about 8.5″ in length by 3.5″ in diameter by 3/4″ thick along the walls of it. Enough where the one we bought shared between us was way more than enough “dessert” to satisfy us both after a bowl of some Goma Tei Shoyu Ramen next door.

Summing it up, we give Zsoli’s Cinnamon Chimney Cake a super ono-Hungarian-licious 4 SPAM Musubi!

For more information, visit their website at:
www.ChimneyCakeHawaii.com

HCC Eats: Cheeseburger Hawaii Lunch Truck

Hot off the heels (or grill) of our recent visit to Honolulu Burger Co., this past Friday Diner E and yours truly came across yet another burger joint, this time in the form of a lunch truck operated by Cheeseburger, a chain with brick ‘n mortar Hawaii locations in Waikiki and Lahaina, Maui, as well as Nevada and Florida.

Their kitschy old Hawaii memorabilia-themed meals-on-wheels was found parked near the entrance of the campus cafeteria at Honolulu Community College, right up the street mauka of the Iwilei Costco.

We originally went there with the intention of sampling da’ grindz at HCC’s campus cafeteria, but the sign on the door said they were closed on Fridays. So being that Cheeseburger’s truck capitalizes on the opportunity and parks right in front there on this particular day, it was pretty much a no-brainer to give this mobile alternative a try.

Getting right to it, let’s check out their menu…

OK, so their regular all-American menu is why I’ve named it a “lunch truck”. Yet I suppose you can also call it a “lunch wagon”, as even here, local style plate lunches are thrown into the mix to cover all student body demographics…

Wow, a plate lunch that also includes a green bottle import beer? Now there’s a “moke” dream come true! lol Nah but, no alcohol is served here — they’re just using the brewer’s chalkboard.

What’s nice is everything here is priced as a complete meal, where the burgers and sandwiches all include fries and a drink, plus you can upgrade to Onion Rings or Sweet Potato Fries for just $1.25 more.

What also nice is, if you care to “dine in” while enjoying the wonderful ambiance of  bustling Dillingham Boulevard in the heart of Kalihi (a.k.a. “God’s Country”, a.k.a. “The Center of Hawaii’s Food Universe), there’s covered seating conveniently located right there in front of da’ truck…

With that,  while not “dining in” (out), otherwise like Honolulu Burger Co., Diner E ordered his usual “gauge” burger here, this time sampling Cheeseburger’s take on “The Teriyaki Standard” (because, you know, there are standards) in the form of their ‘Island Style Cheeseburger’…


Cheeseburger lunch truck – Island Style Cheeseburger : Teriyaki Cheese Burger with a slice of Grilled Pineapple, topped with sliced iceberg lettuce, tomato, red onion and “special sauce” on a toasted white bread bun. Served with (upgraded) Sweet Potato Fries and (included) Drink (not shown). $8.25

Here’s another “profile” angle of the plate…

My “gauge” burger of course is the Swiss ‘n Shroom, where here at Cheeseburger they prefer calling it the ‘Shroom and Swiss’…


Cheeseburger lunch truck – Shroom and Swiss Cheeseburger, topped with slice iceberg lettuce, tomato, red onion and “special sauce” on a toasted white bread bun. Served with (uprgraded) Sweet Potato Fries and (included) drink (not shown). $8.25

Lookin’ good there, with a generous helping of  sauteed white mushrooms covering the thoroughly melted swiss cheese, which in turn is completely covering the 90/10 lean-to-fat ratio Y. Hata-sourced all beef burger patty.

The “profile” angle of the same plate, with my drink of choice, Hawaiian Springs Young Natural Artesian Water…

Here now is my Shroom ‘n Swiss in fully-assembled form, where you see it’s quite a stacker!..

Open wide and say “ahhhhh”!…

As you see, this stacker of a swiss ‘n shroom burger is pretty much dwarfing my hand. After several eye-closing, savoring bites…

So how is it? Winnahs! Ono!

I was skeptical all the way until this point, from the moment the server told me A) they “grill” their burgers on a flat top griddle (GRIDDLE, NOT GRILL!), and B) that the patty was preformed (a.k.a. institutional) 90/10 beef, which most burger enthusiasts may argue is too lean (less flavor).  But wow, hey! This is one mighty fine example of the classic Swiss ‘n Shroom’r, with almost all the right things in place.

Which there’s several reasons I can immediately point out in why I’m so fond of it. First and foremost, while Cheeseburger’s “institutional” preformed 90/10 patty can’t touch the open range grass-fed Big Island beef, nor was it ideally char-grilled, for what it’s worth, it was cooked to a nicely-crusted finish, while retaining a decent amount of moisture  inside. While its beefy flavor really popped thanks to the patty itself being well seasoned with salt and pepper. I can certainly taste when or when not a patty has been seasoned while cooking on the grill/griddle, and these were, thank goodness.

The same well-seasoned flavor also applied to the very generous helping of tender ‘n mighty tasty sauteed white mushrooms, while gluing all that together was the als0-tasty and thoroughly melted Swiss Cheese. In fact, the swiss cheese had much better flavor on this burger than the one that topped my Mushroom Mushroom Burger from Honolulu Burger Co..

Not stopping there, the cook also performed the crucial (almost to the point of being “kosher”-crucial) step of TOASTING THE BUN, where it’s split in the center. Very,very important, and thankfully, check! Done!

Last but certainly not least, unlike Honolulu Burgr Co., who uses fresh-cut white sweet onions, Cheeseburger uses fresh-cut RED ONIONS for their burgers, and THIS is where I personally think is what separates the two, with huge points in favor of the red onion. There’s just something so simple yet complimentary about the red onion’s flavor profile that makes all the difference between an “eh, so-so? Burger” to being a “Yeah!” burger! Like, Seriously. Seriously!

As for Cheeseburger’s “special sauce”, it tasted pretty much like your usual thinned-down Thousand Islands Dressing (essentially ketchup and mayo’), where while I prefer simple ‘n plain ‘ole mayo, this worked…

Summing up Cheeseburger’s take on the classic Swiss ‘n Shroom (or vise-versa; however you wanna’ say it), I was pleasantly surprised, given the circumstances (griddled institutional burgers from a lunch truck) and give their take on this visit a very solid, absolutely incredibly tasty 3 SPAM Musubi!  Enough where I’d “Hana hou” it (go back for more)!

Back to Diner E’s ‘Island Style Cheeseburger’, let’s check it out in built form…

Witness the Teriyaki sauce “juicyness” on the top of the bun, where you know that’s just gotta’ be some “crazy-tasty” goodness (in the words of Diner A). Also witness the slightly “papa’a”  (a.k.a. “Koge”, a.k.a. “burnt edges) on the slice of pineapple topping the teriyaki burger patty with melted American cheese on it. Can I get anymore descriptive than that?

Continuing on,we need to check the requisite Tasty Island cross-cut view of this baddy (after a few tasty bites, of course!)…

The verdict from Diner E? “Eh,so-so”. First of all, he didn’t care for the addition of the ‘Island Style’ grilled pineapple slice, finding it non-complimentary to both the melted American Cheese, as well as the Teriyaki-coated beef patty.

The Shack also offers an almost entirely identical burger to this called the ‘Island Burger’, which I myself tried, and thought was just “OK”, but not something I’d order on a regular basis. What i think is, whoever thought of this ‘Island Burger’ concept of combining a pineapple with teriyaki, weren’t thinking about complimentary physical flavors, but marketing flavor by sound via combining two familiar food names often associated with Hawaii.

Anyhow, Diner E also complained that the bun had a stale texture, which was contrary to my thought on it, where I personally found my bun was nicely-toasted and quite supple.

Ultimately, yet not surprisingly, the key contrast for Diner E was his recent memory of the FAR-SUPERIOR Big Island free-range hand-formed 1/3 pound burger patty featured at Honolulu Burger Co., that ultimately made Cheeseburger’s burger — or perhaps ANY burger for that matter PAIL in comparison. Which of course is an unfair comparison (because, you know, anything made in Hawaii RULES!), yet must be noted.

Not much more commentary about his burger other than that, where he sums up Cheeseburger’s ‘Island Style Cheeseburger’ with 1 SPAM Musubi.

Speaking of which, in light of Honolulu Burger Company’s absolutely SUPERB Sweet Potato Fries, how does Cheeseburger’s take on it stack up?…

They’re Yam-based and quite flavorful in and of themselves and certainly have potential, yet they weren’t seasoned adequately with salt and lacked the delicately-crispy texture on the outside that HBC’s was so good about. I’m not even sure if they were deep-fried, as they were rather greaseless in a lifeless way, if I shall nitpick it.

Still, a good accompaniment that I’d say is worth the extra $1.25, where their suble sweetness was a wonderful contrast to the savyry burger. Some help in the form of their deep-frying method (if it’s even cooked that way) and a few taps more of the salt shaker, and Cheeseburger’s Sweet Potato Fries would really pull it off.

Summing it up, I’d DEFINITELY return repeatedly for Cheeseburger lunch truck’s onolicious, well-seasoned, RED ONION!-laced Mushroom and Swiss Burger, while I think their Sweet Potato Fries have star potential if/when executed properly. Plus, the price is certainly right at $8.25 for the complete combo, and the convenient location near the Iwilei Costco works for me.

Cheeseburger Hawaii “Aloha on Wheels” Lunch Truck
Honolulu Community College campus
Tel. (808) 852-7146 for more info’

www.Cheeseburgerland.com

The Tasty Island rating

(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it. (Ono)

P.S. Diner A’s Teriyaki Prime Burger combo plate from Zippy’s on the same day…


Zippy’s Teriyaki Prime Burger combo, including fries and medium drink. $6.25

Yum-yum potato bun!…

P.S.S. (can I say that? lol), I sampled my first Ono Pop at KCC Farmers’ Market this past weekend…

That’s quite a spread of exotic paletas popsicle flavors, so instead of driving myself nuts trying to decide which one to choose, I simply asked the owner which one is HIS favorite, which he quickly handed me the Butter Mochi…

Let’s have a bite…

The verdict?  Full-bodied in a frozen, somewhat gelatinous mochi kind of way. Definitely a butter accent going on, while not being TOO sweet, which I always appreciate. Overall, very tasty and accurate in flavor and texture to what it’s described as.

My only complaint is that it tasted a little freezer-burnt, being contrary to them being touted as being fresh-made.

While $3 seems a bit steep for a popsicle, one must take into consideration the ingredients this particular Butter Mochi Paletas Ono Pop lists: Island Milk, White Star Mochiko Flour, Naked Cow Dairy Butter, Organic Sweetened Condensed Milk, Local Eggs, Pure Hawaiian Vanilla and Island Sea Salt. Very nice!

Summing it up, I give Ono Pop’s Butter Mochi flavor 3 SPAM Musubi. Loose the “frost bite factor” and it could be a 5!

On my next visit, I’m all over that Ume Thai Basil Ono Pop.

Kalihi Kai Eats: Inferno's Wood Fire Pizza

Last Wednesday on my way to pick up lunch at Kahai Street Kitchen, I couldn’t help but notice the crowds gathered in front of the new Inferno’s Wood Fire Pizza tent right up the street. When I told the gang at work about it, everyone got excited, so the very next day we decided to give them a try and make a small pizza party out of it.

Inferno’s Wood Fire Pizza, is located on the corner of Kalihi Street and Nimitz Highway, across from Lex Brodies in the parking lot of the Hawaii Hale Design Center…

I suppose you can call them a “Pizza Wagon” or “Pizza Truck” due to their portable set-up on wheels, although they currently stick with this one location throughout the work week from 10am to 2pm.

According to co-owner Kyle Okumoto, they’ve been in business for just over 5 weeks now. Yet based on the crowds and raving online reviews, the word about them is indeed out and spreading, well, like wild fire!

There’s ample parking in the lot, yet it can get full fast when they’re busy, which most of the cars seemed to be arriving there for the pizza, not the design center.

On this Thursday pre-lunch hour visit, there was already a steady flow of customers…

As for “dining in”, there’s just one folding table and some chairs to sit at under a canopy set-up next to the oven trailer…

Condiments on the table include Red Pepper Flakes, Parmesan Cheese and Hot Sauce. While dining here, you can take hold of the lovely scenic view of this very industrial part of Kalihi. lol

Inferno’s used to accept phone orders, but lately aren’t due to the high volume of walk-in customers. That said, when we arrived, we were immediately told before making our order that it would be a 30 minute wait. Ouch. Regardless, determined to try the place and feeling da’ “onos” for some good pizza, we accepted the wait.

This the most current menu and telephone information…

One of my favorite toppings that’s missing here is Bell Peppers. Kalua Pig also wouldn’t be a bad idea to add onto the menu, along with more cheese options.

As for the ordering and pick-up system, they weren’t issuing numbers or taking down names, but going just by customer recognition.

The reason for the long wait is that they currently only have one oven which can only cook up to four pizzas at a time, and each pie takes approximately 5 minutes to bake. Doing the math, that means they can crank out approximately 48 pizzas per hour, which is probably a lot less than their ever-increasing demand.

Thankfully Jonathan Wong, co-owner of Inferno’s Wood Fire Pizza, told me that they’re in the works of building a bigger oven to add to the operation to keep up with demand. That’s good to hear, as at this point, they NEED IT!

Here’s what their roving wood-fired pizza oven looks like…

The fellah on the right in white with his back turned is Kyle Okumoto, one of the owners of Inferno’s. On this day he was the ‘Pizza Chef’ making all the pie orders.

When shaping the pie from pre-portioned balls, Kyle didn’t twirl and spin the dough in the air, but kept it down on the heavily-floured prep counter and flattened it, pulling into an approximately 11″ circle.

Then the usual next step goes in adding the Marinara sauce, slices of fresh Mozzarella Cheese and the various toppings for each order. What I also noticed for the last step is he would give a quick drizzle of (EV?) Olive Oil on each pizza before sending it off on the peel to the oven.

The flaming-hot wood fire is stoked on the left side of the 8000F oven, and the pizzas occupy the oven’s cooking surface towards the center and right side.

Here they remove a pizza that’s just finished baking with a long-handle metal peel…

Here’s a few uncooked pies ready to get blasted in the 8000F oven…


Inferno’s Pepperoni Pizza – uncooked (and I think not done garnishing yet)


Inferno’s Margherita Pizza – uncooked


Inferno’s BBQ Chicken Pizza – uncooked

And here’s a few pipin’ hot pies that just got done baking, where they’re placed on a service table on metal pans and sliced into eight pieces each…


Inferno’s Italian Sausage & Pepperoni Wood Fire Pizza (build your own). $10


Inferno’s Pepperoni, Italian Sausage & Mushrooms Wood Fire Pizza. $10


Inferno’s All Meat Wood Fire Pizza – Pepperoni, Sopressata (Italian dry-cured Salami) & Italian Sausage. $10


Inferno’s Margherita Wood Fire Pizza – Basil, Tomato and Mozzarella. $10


Inferno’s Veggie Fire Wood Pizza – Mushrooms, Red Onion, Olives & Tomatoes. $10


Inferno’s BBQ Chicken Wood Fire Pizza  – Spicy BBQ Sauce, Roasted Chicken, Red Onion, Green Onion. $10

After getting sliced, it’s straight to the box and to the waiting the customer…


Inferno’s Pepperoni Wood Fire Pizza. $8


Inferno’s Pepperoni, Italian Sausage & Mushrooms Wood FIre Pizza. $10

Each pizza purchase includes a soft drink, which is always appreciated….

Yes Diner A, a complimentary soft drink certainly deserves a big “shaka”. lol Note that, further adding to the value is that tax is included in the price. So if you buy 1 pizza it’s $10 even, as it would be $40 for 4 pizzas, no spare change necessary. It’s also CASH ONLY.

Upon request, they also gives you the usual Red Pepper Flakes and Grated Parmesan Cheese condiment packets…

So after the estimated 30 minute wait, which is pretty much how long it took, we quickly headed back to the office with our fresh-baked pies and set them up for our little 5-person Pizza Party…

As you see at the beginning of the spread, there’s a tray of Chicken Wings, which the girls picked up from Costco while we were out getting the pizza.

Pizza ‘n wings sounds like a plan. I must note before getting to the pizzas, these Costco wings were pretty darned ono! Really moist and tender and the sauce tasted great! All that was missing was Bleu Cheese and/or Ranch Dressing and some Celery Sticks. Was just $6 for that big tray.

Now let’s go down the line and check out the pizzas we ordered for our little party here…


Inferno’s Pepperoni, Italian Sausage & Mushrooms Wood Fire Pizza. $10


Inferno’s Spinach, Garlic & Tomatoes Wood Fire Pizza. $10


Inferno’s Margherita Wood Fire Pizza. $10


Inferno’s Veggie Wood Fire Pizza – Mushrooms, Red Onion, Olives & Tomatoes. $10

Included with those 4 pizzas were 4 drinks…

We also grabbed some Red Chili Flakes and Grated Parmesan Cheese condiment packets…

Well, everything looks and smells good. Time to eat some pie!

That was Diner E and Diner A’s plates, where they had the freedom to just “pig out” (because you know, that’s what eating pizza is all about lol). Since I’m the food blogger in the group, I had to carefully dissect and taste each pizza at a time so I could make a mental note of every nuance.

So let’s start with Diner A’s choice, a slice of Inferno’s Pepperoni, Italian Sausage & Mushrooms Wood Fire Pizza…

Let’s flip it over and check out the crust…

Looks toasty and fairly thin for all you thin crust lovers (I’m more a pan and deep-dish kinda’ guy).

Let’s have a bite (or two or three or four)…

How is it? First of all the crust has great flavor, being nicely salted, and of course those slightly burnt edges bring lots of toasty love to the party. I also like the sort of gritty texture underneath the crust that seems to be the flour the pizza dough was prepared on getting singed onto the bottom surface. On the down side, most of us felt the crust was a bit too much on the chewy side. Enough where both Diner AC and myself felt like our jaw muscles had just gone through a rigorous workout after we were done eating.

Sitting on that, the combination of Pepperoni, Italian Sausage & Mushrooms packed on lots of delicious, meaty flavor, while the on down side, the mozzarella cheese and especially the San Marzano brand marinara sauce underneath tasted fairly bland.

Now let’s try Diner E’s choice, the Spinach, Garlic and Tomatoes (ala Boston’s)…

Crust check…

Notice the olive oil coating the edges.

Sample some, cuz…

Normally I’m not one for garlic on pizza, but on this one I liked it, mainly because the minced garlic is just what the bland marinara sauce needed in order to get kicked up a notch. Bam! The tomatoes and spinach didn’t really do much, with the tomatoes lacking any sweetness or depth. The crust here still suffered the same chewyness, yet its good flavor shined through, making up some points for what fell behind in the toppings department.

Now let’s try Inferno’s take on my favorite pizza style, the Margherita…

I didn’t ask where they get their basil from, but the leaves they were using on this day were huge.

Crust check…

Margherita is one of the ultimate minimalist pizzas, where it’s crucial that every ingredient be their best, but in this case the marinara sauce and tomatoes just weren’t up to snuff. There also wasn’t enough melted mozzarella, where I felt like it was “cheeseless” in some spots. The toasted basil helped a little, and overall it wasn’t bad, but this example of Margherita Pizza certainly has room for improvement.

Finally, let’s try the Veggie…

One final crust check…

Knowing by now that the Marinara and (lack of) Mozzarella were its weakness, I was hoping the salty olives would liven things up, but it wasn’t the case. Again, not a bad pizza, but not great.

What must be noted is that I tried all four variety of pizzas here first WITHOUT adding any Red Pepper Flakes and/or Parmesan Cheese condiments so that I could taste the “essence” of their pizzas the way they intend them to taste. Now let’s try the same Veggie Pizza with the addition of those condiments on it…

Ah, now that’s MUCH better! The salt and fat in the Parmesan Cheese and heat from the red pepper flakes really brought the life out of the marinara and mozzarella (whatever there was of it), along with everything else on each pizza.

Still, like any other dish, a pizza should taste great in as is right out the kitchen and not need doctoring at the table to make it taste right.

Summing up Inferno’s Wood Fire Pizzas on this first time experience, I’d say stick with the meat varieties for the most flavor, as was the case here with the Pepperoni, Italian Sausage and Mushrooms choice we made. That was by far my favorite of the four in this spread, and it’s not because I’m a meat lover, because I’m not. I prefer balance in my meals and I LOVE all-veggie pizzas when they’ve got their groove on.

We all, with the exception Diner A (who gives them 3 SPAM Musubi!), pretty much unanimously thought the San Marzano Marinara Sauce was bland, there wasn’t enough cheese and the crust was too chewy. To illustrate that point, here’s Diner AC’s crust leftovers on her plate…

Diner AC pointed out that normally she eats all the pizza crust with no leftovers, but just couldn’t here because of the chewyness.

That besides, would we come back again for more? Sure. We all thought so, especially Diner A. On my next visit I’d probably do a “Build Your Own”, going for the Sopressata Italian Dry-cured Salami, along with Mushrooms and Olives. If they offer ” the works” for a couple bucks more, I’d also add Prociutto Di Parma, tomatoes and basil.

And while the overall opinion of the five of us didn’t turn out to be screaming “thumbs-up all the way”, the majority of Inferno’s reviews on Yelp are highly favorable 4 and 5 stars, so we’re certainly in the minority here. I gave them 3 Yelp stars, which is “A-ok” or “average”. Here with the Tasty Island’s SPAM Musubi rating system, since there’s a broader spectrum between “average” and “superb”, on this first time visit, Inferno’s Wood Fire gets a still-respectable 2 SPAM Musubi (good).

Inferno’s Wood Fire Pizza
306 Kalihi Street (on the corner of Nimitz highway, in the parking lot of the Hawaii Hale Design Center, across the street from Lex Brodies)
Honolulu, HI 96819

Tel. (808) 375-1200

Business hours:
Monday through Friday 10am to 2pm

The Tasty Island rating:

(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it.

Related links:
North Shore Farms Neapolitan Grilled Pizza (still has my vote for Oahu’s BEST Pizza!) – The Tasty Island
Inferno’s Wood Fire Pizza (Honolulu) – Yelp User Reviews

Grindz of the Day: Byron's, Pancakes & Waffles, L&L, Coco Ichibanya, Zippy's, Yummy's and Kahai St. Kitchen

First up for today’s edition of “Grindz of the Day”, we have a Strawberry Slush Float “Shake” from Byron’s Drive-In.  Another one of many signature items a coworker of mine absoluted RAVED about and insisted I try it.  Well, apparently they got my order wrong, as even though I specifically told the cashier at Byron’s I wanted a Slush Shake, it turns out I was given a Strawberry Slush Float.

Not knowing the difference or bothering to ponder it, and without anyone with  me to tell me otherwise, in retrospect, this is indeed a Slush Float and not a Slush Shake, as you see the Vanilla ice cream floating on top of the Strawberry Slush…

Hey, who am I to know? Looks close enough to be a shake to me. The ice cream was soft enough. Besides, what the heck does a Slush Shake look like? Well, after taking a minute or two to thoroughly stir it, THIS is what a Strawberry Slush Shake should look like…

This, as my coworker explained, the Strawberry Slush Float and Slush Shake are the same thing, save for the Shake being put under the mixer to combine it evenly.

So how is it? WAY TOO SWEET for me. The combination of the artificially-flavored strawberry syrup, even though diluted in the slush, when combined with the also-sweet Vanilla ice cream is like a one-two punch. My coworker confessed she has a major sweet-tooth, so that explains her deep affection for this concoction, yet for me, pass. I barely could finish half of it before tossing it. I gotta’ say though, the Strawberry Slush itself had a nice finely-crushed ice texture, kinda’ like a “Liquid Shave Ice”.

How’s that for a new concept, eh? “Liquid Shave Ice”! Take all of those exotic Shave Ice flavors like Li Hing Mui, Pistachio, Coconut, Bubble Gum, etc. and, instead of the “usual” Shave Ice (a solid state snow cone), offer Slush!

Speaking of Shave Ice, along with my sweeter-than-Willy Wonka Strawberry Float “Shake”, I ordered another Hawaii favorite, a Loco Moco…

Thankfully I went with the mini version, as I could barely even finish this.  Honestly, I haven’t had a Loco Moco for quite a while for the simple reason that’s it’s way too much indulgence that my dwindling metabolism and aging body can barely afford anymore, as really, lots of the foods I feature on this blog are. Yet for now we wont’ dwell on that, enjoy the moment, and live for today. Grindz of the Day that is.

But yeah, the classic “loosen the belt buckle” Loco Moco here from Byron’s, that begins with a bed of white rice, topped by a house-made beef burger patty, which is then topped with an egg (sunnyside-up always my choice) and then smothered with brown gravy, while being accompanied by a scoop of Mac’ Sal’.

As you can tell, the burger patty was griddled (fried), not char-grilled as I always prefer. Yet aside of that shortcoming, it was cooked to medium perfection, being very moist and nicely seasoned.

Of course the most crucial element of a Loco Moco is the gravy, and Byron’s pretty much nails it. Deep, rich, thick and beefy, although I must also note it did taste like it could be based on that packaged “just add water” McCormick’s stuff. Which I really don’t have a problem with, as I enjoy packaged gravies, even though one reader once said “you lose all credentials” when I once said that before. Whatevahz.You go spend 10 hours making stock to make gravy. I’ll be ready to eat in minutes.

One thing I really like as a finishing touch on my Loco Moco are sauteed onions, which obviously Bryon’s doesn’t do, but that would have been great.

One of the best  parts of eating any gravy-laden plate lunch is when the gravy “kisses” the mac salad…

You get that creamy, rich mayo’ combined with the beefy flavor of the thick gravy, put some of that on your fork and lick it like, oh never mind. Just, mmm-mmm-yum, so ono! I think this very notion is what inspired Zippy’s to add “Mac Salad Sauce” to their Chili Moco. Brilliant!

Summing it up, I give Byron’s Drive In Loco Moco a solid 3 SPAM Musubi, while their Slush Float “Shake” gets 1. Surely you sweet tooth’ers will think more highly of it.

Staying on topic with the theme of “indulgent and decadent”, moving on to our next “Grindz of the Day”, we have some plates Diner A and family enjoyed a few weeks ago at the new Pancakes & Waffles in City Square Shopping Center in Kapalama. First off we have a Fried Rice, Eggs and Breakfast Links plate…

Good to see they use round paper plates, and not them dreaded non-eco-friendly, sterile and unfashionable white styrofoam clamshell containers.

Next up, what? Hamburger patty, eggs and brown gravy over plain ‘old boring white rice not enough to excite that inner Loco Moco desire deep within you? Then you need to hook up with a Fried Rice Loco Moco…

Be still my beating heart! Insane.

Next up, the last time we visited Pancakes & Waffles, it seemed all the rage here wasn’t their Pancakes or their Waffles, but actually more people around us were eating their Fried Chicken. So Diner A satisfied all our curiosities by ordering that on this visit…

These are some substantially-sized clucker thighs, as you see compared in scale to Diner A’s hand here….

They be T-Rex thighs.

Instead of Honey Butter, he opted for Ranch dressing as a dipping sauce for the fried chicken…

I suppose one way to look at it is, well, at this point, no sense ordering a diet soda and tossed green salad to accompany this meal. lol

Look at how juicy and tender the meat is…

While the battered crust is super “crisp’ety-crunch’ety” and well-seasoned….

IIRC, Diner A commented that it reminded him of Woolworth’s famous fried chicken. Remember that? That was one of the best things about going to Woolworth’s. As soon as you walk in the store, the combined aroma of scented candles, new clothes, coffee, popcorn and fried chicken would almost literally smack you in the face. Loved that! RIP Woolworth’s.

Anyhow, like our experience at Pancakes & Waffles, Diner A’s weekend brunch there with the family also was a 3 SPAM Musubi affair. Oh, and not to fret. They went to the beach afterwards to swim it all off.

Moving on, we get some stuffs from L&L Drive In/Hawaiian BBQ/whatever they call it, starting with this bowl of Saimin…

That looks to me like Japanese style Ramen Chashu. Check it out..

Like seemingly 90% of Hawaii’s restaurant industry uses, I’m going to guess these noodles are sourced from Sun Noodle Factory…

I got a sip of the broth, which tasted like your standard Dashi and Shoyu broth, while not getting much added flavor from the Charsiu (roast pork).

Summing it up, Diner A gives L&L’s Saimin 2 SPAM Musubi. Cheap, decent and satisfying.

The classic accompaniment to Saimin is a Hamburger, which Diner A added to his L&L Drive In meal here…

Personally, I’d pay extra to make it a ‘Deluxe’, as my burger MUST have Lettuce, Tomato and Onion on it. Cheese too, of course! Plain like this just doesn’t work for me. Biting into it, not much excitement going on…

Pretty much a plain-old griddle-cooked hamburger that I’m putting way too much writing effort into. Sorry to waste your bandwidth and time having to download these last two pictures and read all this blabbering. lol

Nah, but at least he gave it 2 SPAM Musubi, as the burger patty was moist and well-seasoned,  and of course it went quite well with the decent Saimin from L&L.

Getting a little more “exotic”, Diner E tried L&L’s Fried Shrimp Sandwich…

I don’t know why, but of all the dishes featured so far on today’s edition of “Grindz of the Day”, this Shrimp Sandwich is the one I crave most right about now. I think because I haven’t had shrimp for a couple of weeks now and could really go for some at this moment. Besides, honestly I’ve never had a Shrimp in sandwich form before, which I’m sure some of you will blast me for that.

The bite shot doesn’t reveal much, as evidently the shrimp tails in here are very small…

What is this, an Opae Sandwich? lol  Still, Diner E actually really enjoyed it, giving it a very solid 2 SPAM Musubi, which is favorable by his super-critical standards.

Speaking of chain restaurants (L&L Drive In continues to expand all over the US and internationally), next we have a Tonkatsu Curry takeout plate from Coco Ichibanya Curry House

This generous portion of Tonkatsu and beef-based spicy curry and tsukemono comes in at a wallet-friendly $6.75.

Their curry tastes similar to the store-bought S&B brand, with a subtle sweetness to it that is typical of Japanese curries. If you go to Tokyo, you’ll find curry houses all over the place. Even their “spicy” curry isn’t hot at all. Notice it doesn’t have any kinds of vegetables in it, but acts more like a gravy for the tonkatsu and rice than as a stew.

The tonkatsu itself was right on point. The panko was evenly coated and deep-fried to “GBD” perfection, while the boneless pork was flavorful, moist and tender.

What’s nice is the specially-made takeout container is partitioned to isolate the curry “gravy” so it doesn’t make the crunchy tonkatsu soggy while in transit.

Summing it up, a very solid 3 SPAM Musubi for Coco Ichibanya Curry House’ Tonkatsu Curry takeout plate.

One last note on this place, I noticed lots of folks in there ordering the curry that had fresh grated cheddar cheese sprinkled on it and melted over, which looked GOOD! I’m so going to try that next time!

Still on restaurant chains, now we’re back at zippity-zip-zip Zippy’s for one of their Facebook coupon specials, the $5 Spaghetti Fried Chicken plate…

Zippy’s Spaghetti isn’t going to put Assagio’s out business anytime soon, but for what it’s worth, it works. You get that, plus fried chicken, plus mac salad, plus toasted french bread for just $5? Can’t go wrong!

One more chain restaurant, we’re back at Yummy’s Korean BBQ, this time with a Kalbi & Chicken Katsu mixed plate…

Yummy’s is getting a bit pricey as far as plate lunch joints go, as this mixed plate rang up to almost $11. Still, I must say their 4-choice banchan is, well, YUMMY! I especially love their Korean Potatoes and Korean style Potato salad, which are two of the choices on this plate. They also do really good job at making Chicken Katsu. My only complaint is Yummy’s Worcesterhire-based katsu sauce. Pass. Not to worry, as I have lots of my own Japanese Tonkatsu sauce to use on it. Kalbi is solid. Char-grilled and smokey-tasting with a deeply-marinaded sauce. Overall a very solid 4 SPAM here. The banchan makes it.

Finally, we’re back at Kahai Street Kitchen, one of our all-time favorite haute plate lunch haunts, where today we have this delicious-looking plate…

This is Kahai Street Kitchen’s special of the day, Baked Chicken in a Boursin Cheese Cream Sauce and topped with Tomato Provencal. It’s served with a Tossed Green Salad with Kahai Street Kitchen’s EXCELLENT house dressing and steamed “Hapa” (brown and white) rice.

Price of admission? $7. Just seven bucks! You’d easily pay at least four times that price for a dish prepared exactly the same way at a white table cloth restaurant. Actually, the folks from our accounting department ordered this in bulk for a party they were throwing. Needless to say, everyone told me they LOVED it, which I’m not surprised, as Kahai Street Kitchen always delivers. Nao and the gang there REALLY know how to cook!

That’s all I’ve got for now. After posting this, it’s made me hungry, so I’m off right now for yet another “Grindz of the Day”!

Gomaicihi's Char Siu Shoyu Ramen

Gomaichi or Goma Tei? That IS the Question. Why? Because rumor has it that the owner of Gomaichi was once a partner with Goma Tei, with the latter who started his or her own shop, spinning off the same recipes to boot. Or something to that effect, but don’t quote me on it.

So much for investigative reporting on this blog, but I do strive to get better at it, when time permits. Lately I’ve been constrained.

First let’s check the place out…

Gomaichi is located on Ke’eaumoku (Koreamoku) street, nextdoor to Green Papaya Vietnamese Restaurant (another place I need to visit). Parking is strictly on the street (where I parked), or like many Yelpers confess, they park across the street in Walmart’s parking lot. Just walk towards the store like you’re going to shop there, then hang a left and head to Gomaicihi. lol

This is one mighty strange looking “immortalized” bowl of ramen in their window….

Typical of most ramen shops, Gomaichi is furnished with a centrally-serviced bar height counter wrap, along with individual tables on the side…

Gomaichi’s menu…

One (of two) of my servers mentioned that a popular ramen style with the ladies is their Zasai Sunghonmen…

While also pointing out that the fellahz all go for the Tantanmen…

But nah, pass. I tried the Tan Tan Ramen at Goma Tei, and it wasn’t my style. Too “out there” (unconventional) in my opinion.

Again sticking by my guns, for this first-time visit at Gomaichi, I decided to try their Shoyu Ramen…


Gomaichi – Char Siu Shoyu Ramen. $8.36

Gomaichi was notably empty of customers on this pre-peak dinner time 5pm visit, so it gave the place a sense of solitude. Solitude I could use to further enhance my “religious experience” in attempting to absorb and envelop every sense of spirit from this bowl of ramen. Could this be that “Zen moment”? The awakening? The enlightenment? “The bowl”?

Let’s now find out. Hai, itadakimasu.

First, let’s taste the broth…

According to one of my servers, the broth is chicken-based, with no pork at all, yet she didn’t know (or wouldn’t divulge) much else about it beyond that. Had I not known it was chicken, like Menchanko-Tei’s Kokuzu Shoyu Ramen, I would say Gomaichi’s Shoyu Ramen broth simply tastes “meaty”, as if it could have been made a combination of chicken, pork and beef.

Yet what struck me most about the broth’s flavor profile is that it didn’t taste “Japanese”, but more Americanized. Like a really, really, really good example of Nissin® Cup Noodle®, for lack of a better way to put it. lol. Seriously, that’s how it came across to me! It had a good balance of saltiness, while thankfully not having any sweet undertones, which I always appreciate. The globules of fat slicking the surface added silkiness, yet overall, the depth and complexity factor wasn’t there. Don’t get me wrong, it tasted good, but not “Japanese good”. More just “soup good”. Ya’ know?

With that, their offpsring competitor, Goma Tei, still has the best Shoyu Ramen broth I’ve had yet in recent time here on Oahu, whereas I give Gomaichi’s take on it 2 SPAM Musubi.

Now let’s sample the noodles…

The noodles’ profile is slightly thinner than usual, while it also had a pronounced more “eggy” flavor it, which brought the dish back to being “Japanese” again, and I’d say somewhat of a redemption. Yet that was slightly negated by the fact that they were cooked a little beyond al dente in the Japanese sense of being on the firm side; these were a little soft.  It didn’t take on much of the broth’s flavor either, which is probably more attributable to the broth than the noodles itself. Overall flavor in and of itself? Great. Texture? Good. 3 SPAM Musubi for the noodles.

Now on to the Char Siu (notice the spelling)….

Notice how the center part of this Char Siu slice is missing, which simply explained, it fell out while I held it up. It’s THAT tender. In fact, right after I snapped this photo, the rest of it fell apart and back into the bowl. It’s rolled-up pork belly just like at Goma Tei, except Gomaichi’s Char Siu is considerably thinner-sliced. Like about 1/8″ to be exact, compared to Goma Tei’s which is sliced about 5/8″. Over half an inch!

I was somewhat disappointed with the quanity, slice-wise, where being so thin, they could have included more than just three! I mean, this IS Char Siu Ramen, isn’t it? If you ask me, this looked more like Shoyu Ramen, where I almost was going to confirm with my server whether this was indeed “Charsiu Shoyu Ramen”, but didn’t bother and just went with it.

Being rolled-up pork belly, the fat-to-meat factor is right on point. Yet seasoning wise, it was about middle-ground and needed more of the shoyu/mirin/sake/ginger penetration than it had. Overall though, I really enjoyed it. Rubbing it in again, while Goma Tei’s Char Siu gets 5 SPAM Musubi, Gomaichi’s Char Siu gets 2, where it would have been 3 based on flavor and succulent tenderness, but got deducted a point for portion. Only 3 thin slices? Pu-leeez.

What else is left? Nothing! No menma! Ack!!!!!! What the? According to my server, Menma is included in the Tantanmen and Sunghonmen, but not the Shoyu Ramen. What?!!!!!! Remember I mentioned that the broth didn’t taste “Japanese”? Well, that’s a big reason for that, as the menma is a key flavor component in that regard.

Which has me thinking, from now on, I’m going to make it a point to ASK before ordering whether my ramen will have menma in it. If it doesn’t, I’m ordering one that does. If they don’t have it, I’m walking out, because as far as I’m concerned, Japanese Ramen is NOT Japanese without MENMA IN IT!

OK, rant over.

Well all there really is left is the green onion, which I have to ask: why can’t ramen shops here in Hawaii embrace using thin slivers of only the white stalk of the larger Japanese green onion? That’s how it’s served in Japan, so what’s so hard about doing it here?! And don’t tell me cost, because you can buy Japanese Negi at KCC Farmer’s Market at a very reasonable price.

OK, rant round two over. lol

Other than that, we have the remaining broth and remnants of noodles and char siu…

One reader suggested that I include my hand in the photos to give scale of the foods’ service size. Well, I must also note, the bowl size at Gomaichi is on the small size, if this is any indication…

My hand spans 8-1/4″ from thumb-tip to pinky-tip, where you can see it dwarfing the bowl’s diameter. Still, regardless of bowl diameter, it was still more than enough, where I didn’t even need Gyoza on the side to fill me up, nor was I in the mood for Gyoza, which is why I didn’t order any on this visit. At $4.78 for five pieces, it’s not exactly a bargain either. I’d get it to share with someone, but since I was on another solo mission, no need.

Speaking of prices, like several other ramen shops I’ve reviewed recently, Gomaichi is CASH ONLY. No checks, debit or credit cards accepted.

Aside of it’s lack of “Japanese-nis”, I thoroughly enjoyed my Shoyu Ramen at Gomaichi “Japanese Noodle Restaurant”. Enough so that I “polished” it…

Cup Noodle® certainly ain’t got nothin’ on it.

Being super-slow (I was one of 3 other guests in the entire joint), service was of course very attentive and friendly, while my order came out within minutes of being ordered, only taking as long as it would to boil the noodles. I like that.

I’ll certainly return again to try that Zasai Sunghonmen. Spicy, sour and menma in it? Sound very interesting.

Gomaichi Japanese Noodle Restaurant
631 Keeoumoku Street (across Walmart, nextdoor to Green Papaya Cafe)
Honolulu, Hawaii  96815

Tel. (808) 951-6666
www.rikautsumi.com/demo/gomaichi

The Tasty Island rating:

(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it.

Related links:
Gomaichi: Sesame & Sour – Rameniac
Gomaichi – Yelp user reviews



Taiyo Ramen's Charsiu Ramen

Continuing my ramen binge, in search of the “ultimate bowl”, today we shall see if Taiyo Ramen is up to the task. Where here I stuck by my guns and ordered the Shoyu Ramen, where as always, I kick it up by choosing the Charsiu version, which is essentially Shoyu Ramen with more slices of Charsiu in it.

To note, the last time I’ve been to Taiyo Ramen was AGES ago when they were located near the corner of Kapiolani boulevard and Koreamoku street in a typical strip mall (no pun intended), where Nordstrom now calls home. Taiyo Ramen is now located tucked away in the corner of Piikoi and Kona street, nextdoor to Blockbuster and Payless Shoes. In total, according to the owner, Taiyo Ramen has been in business for 17 years, which is very impressive.

As always, first let’s case the joint…

And of course, the menu…

So, as said earlier, unlike my “think outside the box” mentality in ordering the highly touted Kakuni Paitan Ramen at Yotteko-Ya, here at Taiyo I chose the Charsiu Shoyu Ramen, my defining  authentic Japanese Ramen “gauge plate”. Here it is, where I also got the usual ramen accompaniment, Gyoza as side dish…


Taiyo Ramen – Charsiu Ramen & Gyoza

This is now the time to reflect Chef Maezumi’s philosopy, “A bowl of Ramen is a self-contained universe. With life from the sea, the mountains and the earth. All existing in perfect harmony. Harmony is essential. What holds it all together is the broth. The broth gives life to the ramen. Understand? So with that in mind, observe the ramen. Observe the ramen.”

Hai. Let’s first observe the ramen and embrace its elements. Its spirit. Its “tamashii”…

Boat-loads of Charsiu (Chashu), that’s for sure. My only complaint is the Kamaboko (the fish cake pink and white thing), which belongs in Saimin, not Japanese Ramen. At least, that’s my opinion.

OK, let’s taste the broth…

Eh. It’s OK. It actually reminds me of the Paitan broth from Yotteko-Ya, albeit not as “milky” tasting.

Now let’s try the Charsiu (Chashu)…

Very good. This does the ramen justice. It has a good balance of fat and meat, while being tender, with just the right amount of “bite” to it. It’s also seasoned well, screaming with “I’m Chashu!” flavor, and not bland at all like the Chashu I’ve had at another ramen shop I’ll review in a post coming soon.

Now the bean sprouts I had a slight problem with, as it seemed there were as much of that as there were ramen noodles…

Finally with a considerable effort fishing through the broth, I was able to unearth the noodles…

Sure enough, like many other ramen shops in town, Taiyo’s owner told me she sources their noodles from Sun. And with that, it was cooked perfectly al dentem with good firm to the bite.

Summing it up, the broth was just OK, while the Charsiu was excellent. For that, I give Taiyo Ramen’s Charsiu Ramen 2 SPAM Musubi.

Now let’s try the Gyoza…

These Gyoza are a bit larger than the norm, with pronounced folds on the side…

The taste and texture is excellent…

It’s filled with the usual ground pork, cabbage and green onion. The real standout is the thick wonton wrapper, which had a nice golden-brown seared bottom and perfectly al dente entireness, while also having a hint of seasoning to it.

Taiyo Ramen has a ready-to-pour Gyoza dipping sauce at every table in that bottle with the red lid, between the chopsticks and the shoyu…

With that, I find a great way to kick up Chashu even further is by dipping it in the Ponzu style Gyoza sauce…

While most Japanese ramen shops here in Honolulu are owned by Nihongin transplants, Taiyo Ramen is Korean-owned, as is very evident by the complimentary Kim Chee included with every order…

And I must say, this Kim Chee was mighty fine!

Have I found my “heavenly bowl” here with Taiyo Ramen’s Charsiu Ramen? Nope. But it’s not bad. The Gyoza’s a winner,.

Taiyo Ramen
451 Piikoi st.
Suite #105
Honolulu, Hawaii  96814

Tel. (808) 589-2123

Business hours:
Monday – Thursday 10am to 1am
Friday & Saturday 10am to 3am
Sunday 10am to ppm

The Tasty Island rating:

(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it.

Related links:
Taiyo Noodles – Yelp user reviews