Sampling Readers’ Choice Eateries

Susan Sunderland
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Wednesday - March 18, 2005

The really gratifying part of this assignment is not sampling food, as ono as that is. It’s getting comments from readers about their favorite eateries. Talking story about food is a form of friendliness in the Islands. It’s instant rapport.

I was at the dentist the other day. I was nervous, knowing a major procedure was about to take place. Dr. Darin Iha entered the room, and I quivered with fear. I grabbed the arm rests on the dental chair, braced myself and grimaced. Slowly I parted my lips to open my mouth. Dr. Iha adjusted a mask over his face, pulled on protective gloves, and leaned over to me.

“Read your article about Korean food,” he said.

A man after my own heart, I sighed. Life is good.

Well, the agony is over, and soon I’ll be chewing vigorously again. But it reminds me that I’m not alone in the quest for good places to eat. Readers discover new places to eat all the time. It’s time that we share your feedback.

(Feedback. Get it? Nevah mind.) Here are Readers Choice entries for your hole-in-the-wall dining directory. Keep those cards and letters coming.

Tapioca Express co-owner Mark Fujiawa displays
some customer favorites

Tapioca Express
1726 Kapiolani Blvd., across from
Convention Center
Ph: 944-1077

Tracy Morita wrote: “I relocated from Los Angeles and just found out that they opened Tapioca Express in Hawaii. This is the most famous boba (tapioca drink) shop on the Mainland. I found this spot very warm and comfortable to go eat and kinda just relax. They have a good variety of food and over 100 different drinks to choose from.”

Tapioca drinks combine tea, milk, juice or coffee with small marbles of tapioca. Known locally as bubble tea or pearl drinks, it originated in Tai-Chung city, Taiwan, around 1981 and spread across Asia. In the late ’90s, it traveled to North America and became a trendy beverage on the West and East coasts.

Tapioca Express is the ultimate creator of these drinks, offering every flavor imaginable and even a choice of tapioca pearls. There’s regular tapioca, white tapioca, coconut jelly, red bean, and egg pudding. Chewy, gelatinous pearls burst with delightful flavor to enhance cool drinks.

Try grapefruit green tea, honeydew milk, Brazilian coffee snow bubble, or starfruit tea. Or, how about Earl Grey milk tea, icy taro drink, or caramel macchiato coffee?

Food choices include local plates ($5.75) like crispy chicken and hamburger steak with onions, Philly cheesesteak sandwich ($4.99), and Nathan’s hot dog ($2.50).

Daniel Kwon cooks up a shrimp
stir-fry at Tommy’s Coffee Shop

Tommy’s Coffee Shop
1010 S. King St.
Ph: 597-8018

It might be a well-kept secret because of its hidden location. But local plate fans Albert and Meredith Ching told us where to find this gem. It’s across from Thomas Square, in the basement of the Medical Arts building. Yummy and inexpensive plate lunches are the daily fare, along with popular specials.

Mini ($3.50) or regular plates (from $4.25) include teri-beef and chicken combo, butterfish with grilled veggies, and barbecue squid. Specials include stews, corned beef and cabbage, pork adobo and roast turkey. Can’t decide between two entrees? Ask for a mixed plate ($5.50) of two choices. Natch, you’ll also get rice and mac or tossed salad.

Since Tommy’s is open early — 6 a.m. on weekdays, 6:30 a.m. on Saturday — there are breakfast items as well. Choice of breakfast meat, two eggs any style and rice or toast ($3.45) starts the morning off well. Loco moco ($2.50) is a bargain for a scoop of rice, a hamburger patty, an egg, and of course, brown gravy.

Sandwiches (from $1.50), ramen (from $4.25) and Korean delicacies such as bi bim bap ($4.50) and mandoo soup ($4.50) round out the take-out menu.

If you don’t make it to its King Street location, check out Tommy’s lunch wagon. It is parked on Mililani Street downtown (makai of Iolani Palace). It’s the one with the line of hungry diners during the lunch hour.

Jack Lin fires up some ‘hot’ kim chee ramen at
Sapporo Rai Rai Ramen

Sapporo Rai Rai Ramen
124 Oneawa St., Kailua
760 Kapahulu St.
Ph: 230-8208, 737-3877

“I love this place,” wrote Leandra Miyashiro about Sapporo Rai Rai Ramen in Kailua. “ All of their ramens are good … try the mabo tofu yakisoba and the seafood crispy fried noodles.” We can vouch for the mabo tofu yakisoba ($6.25). It is outstanding with its spicy sauce, chewy noodles, and delicate cubes of tofu. You won’t be able to put down the chopsticks once you get started.

But why hesitate when there are tempting menu choices like oxtail ramen ($7.25), wakame ramen ($6.25) and shrimp katsu shoyu ramen ($6.50)? Supposedly, the broth (dashi) takes eight hours to prepare.

The other attraction at Sapporo Rai Rai Ramen is fried rice. Miyashiro claims it’s the best in town. Variations (from $5.75) include kim chee, chicken katsu curry and seafood rice. Mabo tofu rice is a crowd-pleaser too. There are two locations of this noodle shop: one in Kailua, next to Taco Bell, and another in Kapahulu, next to Pizza Hut. The one in Kailua is closed Tuesday, but Kapahulu is open seven days a week.

Eun Sook and Kwae Jung Kim own Jong Ga Restaurant,
recommended by Christine Camp Friedman

Jong Ga Restaurant
512A Piikoi St.
Ph: 596-0008

Christine Camp Friedman told us about this hard-to-findbut- easy-to-love restaurant after reading our report about Korean restaurants. She claims many fast-food places localize their Korean recipes. For authentic Korean dining, Friedman says, one should go to Sorabol Restaurant on Keeaumoku Street, Shilla Won at the Pacific Grand Hotel, or pick up delicacies at Palama Market or Queen’s Market in Kalihi.

She also directed us to Jong Ga on Kona Street, ewa of Piikoi Street. If you can find it, you can eat there. It has fabulous — and authentic — Korean cuisine that is hot and spicy, just the way Koreans like it. You’ll find standard kalbi, jun and mandoo fare, but why stop there?

Try a real taste of Korea, with items such as big pot stew ($10.95), grilled mackerel pike (from $8.95) or stir fried octopus and noodles ($14.95). An extensive menu lists food items in Korean and English languages. A take-out menu scales down the choices to typical plate lunch meals (from $5.75), served with four vegetables and rice. Or ask for the Jong Ga special ($7.95), which is the variety pack.

Friedman, a development company principal and chair of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, particularly enjoys Jong Ga’s kong kuk soo. She describes it as “thin noodles served in ice cold Korean version of soy milk (soybeans freshly ground in a blender) with a pinch of rock salt, slivers of fresh cucumber, and sprinkles of pine nuts. The mild soup base counterbalances all of the spicy side dishes. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to make the soymilk so a bit of patience is needed.”

If the kitchen mama is not too busy, special order su je bi (think dumpling flakes) in hot broth with potatoes, green onions and squash.

Mr. Frypan
801 Alakea St.
Ph: 521-1831

Smells of the frypan lure lunch customers to this quaint eatery on Alakea Street at Queen’s Plaza. It’s a favorite stop for busy downtown execs like Stu Glaubermann of Aloha Airlines. The popular item at Mr. Frypan is croquettes.

Croquettes are made of mashed potatoes mixed with sautéed onion and ground meat. Oval patties are deep-fried and savored as a side dish or minimeal in itself. Variations on the theme at Mr. Frypan are hamburger katsu (89 cents) and salad croquette (79 cents). The latter is macaroni salad ingeniously molded into a crisp clump.

Japanese deli items, such as tempura, nishime and shoyu chicken, also are available. For bowl meals, there is oyako, shoyu beef, pork katsu, and chicken katsu heaped on steamed rice ($2.39-$4.99).

Can’t go very far in local plate lunches without curry. Mr. Frypan accommodates the curry-over-rice crowd with beef, croquette, hamburger, pork and chicken combos ($2.59-$$4.79).

Mr. Frypan takes orders for uncooked patties if you want to prepare croquettes at home. If you’re having a party, this is a perfect pupu. Invite Glaubermann, and thank him for the tip.

A word of warning: The folks at Mr. Frypan are so shy, they wouldn’t even allow a photo to be taken.

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