Friday, June 30, 2006

Review: India Cafe

India Cafe
South King Street across from Puck's Alley by University

Also not a downtown restaurant, but wanted to include this restaurant in the list. I don't eat a lot of Indian food, but there are a number of reasonably priced Indian restaurants that I grew accustomed to eating at in Shanghai. So last night Jane and I decided to go looking for some good Indian food in Honolulu.

First, we drove to Indian Bazaar (South King near Young St) but it was closed (sign in window said it's open Monday - Saturday, 11am - 5 pm). I wanted to try that one, because I saw a photo online. . .it looks like 'Indian Plate Lunch' where all of the food is already prepared, and you just pick 2 choices for your plate.

Then we drove over to University near Pucks Alley. My grandpa said that there are 2 Indian restaurants, one on either side of King St. He said 'only eat at the one on the Mauka side of the street,' but he had no idea what it was called. We walked all around, but didn't see any Indian food on the mauka said of the street, so we ended up at India Cafe on the makai side of King St.

We ordered the chicken vindaloo, eggplant bharta, and mango chutney. The manager/waiter gave us some free yogurt sauce as well, since I was rolling my eyes and complaining about how slow the food was ;) I could've done without both the yogurt and the chutney, they were both rather average. The vindaloo ($13.95) was excellent however, and the eggplant ($8.95) was just so-so. We ordered rice; I expected plain rice but it was sort of a pilaf with carrots and peas in it ($3.50).

Review: Kafe Europa (Armenian)

Kafe Europa
801 Alakea St., No. 101, at Queen Street

I was really looking forward to trying this Greek (well, I thought it was Greek, but it's actually Armenian) takeout place for lunch downtown. I was thinking all morning about the hummus, Greek salad or grapeleaves that I'd order for lunch.

*photo courtesy of

I got there at 12:30 and there was no line (unlike other days when I'd walked past around noon and the line was out the door). Sandwiches are around $4.50 and plates are around $6.50 (if you order the special of the day, you also get a free drink).

I ordered the grapeleaves plate; the plate comes with salad, hummus, and half a pita. I was a little alarmed when they put my grapeleaves in the microwave to heat up before putting in my Styrofoam takeout box, but I still had high hopes. . .

In a nutshell, I don't think I'd go back, unless I hear raves about some of their other dishes. The salad was just plain lettuce with a heavy ranch dressing. The hummus was alright (heavily covered in paprika), but the pita bread was tough (I could barely rip a piece off). The grapeleaves were smothered in a 'yogurt' sauce, which tasted more like mayonnaise. I was expecting Greek grapeleaves, so perhaps I had unfair expectations of nice cool, vinegary rice-stuffed delicacies. These, being Armenian, were quite different: warm, filled with a rather bland ground meat and rice filling. The leafy wrapping was alright but fragile, it tore easily unlike other chewier grapeleaves I've had previously.
(That's KE on the left)

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Kafe Europa website:

Review: Maple Garden

Maple Garden
909 Isenberg St near King St

I had high hopes for Maple Garden, because I'd heard it is the best place for Northern & Sichuanese Chinese food in Hawaii (the fact that they claim to specialize in both of those is a warning right off the bat, because no restaurant in China serves both of those cuisines).

Front: mongolian beef, spicy eggplant
Back: mapo tofu, crab soup

I called in and placed an order in Mandarin, hoping that if I spoke Chinese they would pay special attention to my order and make it more 'authentic.' We ordered yu xiang qie xi (fish sauce eggplant), mapo tofu, meng gu niu rou (mongolian beef), and xie fen dou fu gen (crab & tofu soup). (total for the 4 dishes: $35)

The mapo tofu was the best of the bunch, although it didn't have ANY ma jiao (sichuan peppercorns, the black ones that numb your tongue) which is the best part of the dish. The other dishes were just ok; if they were served in China, I don't think the restaurant would have any business, because they were just average.

Oh well, I don't think I'm going to find any satisfactory Chinese food in Hawaii after 5 years in China. Moral of the story is: I should've learned to cook when I lived in Shanghai!!

Review: Palomino

Harbor Court - Mezzanine
66 Queen Street

I've been to Palomino now both for lunch and Friday happy hour, and let me tell you that both times are packed! For lunch, we had to have a reservation, and for happy hour we arrived around 5:30 pm and had to sit in the back at one of the last available tables.

There were too many ono looking choices on the menu at lunch for me to pick, so I went with a combo plate (you can select two from their salad, sandwich or soup). I had a half spinach and blue cheese salad, and half of a hot dungeness crab sandwich. While both were tasty, the combination of the two was way too heavy (the salad came dressed, even though I asked for dressing on the side, and it was a creamy mayo type dressing, and the sandwich was covered in mayo and cheese) and I felt ill after lunch.

We went to happy hour cuz of the half price appetizers and $3 drinks. All of the draft beers are $3, including Hefeweizen, Newcastle, Sam Adams, and a couple of other very interesting looking European beers.

Again, I didn't do a very good job of ordering. We had the cheese fondue (3 types of cheese covered with crushed pistachios) served with crispy flatbread, pear and apple slices, and warm honey. Then we had a sausage pizza, which was basically the same flatbread, the same 3 cheeses, and some sausage on top. I think the appetizers are regularly around $10 (they were generous servings), so at happy hour they are $5.

Sausage pizza...look at all that sausage...

3-cheese fondue plate

Palomino website:

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Review: Royal Kitchen (dim sum)

Royal Kitchen
100 N Beretania St #175

We have 2 places in Chinatown we go to pick-up dim sum: Char Hung Sut and Royal Kitchen. Char Hung Sut is just the basics, but they're stood up over the test of time: steamed char siu bao, pork hash, ma tai soo, and chow fun. Royal Kitchen has more options: char siu bao (steamed or baked), lup cheong, coconut, azuki bean, or curry bao.

I had a baked char siu bao (eh, not very impressed, the bread was a little dry), this excellent sticky rice (with veggies in it and wrapped in a dumpling wrapper), and a white rice cake. Total $2.50.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Review: Honolulu Cafe

Honolulu Cafe
Corner of Queen and Bishop Streets

Honolulu Cafe is an upscale sandwich shop in a lovely location. It really is an escape from the busy downtown world. Sitting outside with the tropical breezes blowing, it's almost like you're on vacation.

HC offers a variety of quick lunches: salads, paninis, sandwiches, and a few hot entrees. The day we went, we ordered:
chicken and havarti panini (the harvarti was sliced too thick and not melted at all but the foccaccia bread with herbs was nice, comes with a green salad) $6.50 for half, $8.50 for whole
tuna on naan: nothing special, just plain tuna salad on a thin toasted naan. I was expecting something more unique in the tuna salad (curry, raisins, fruit, olives, etc)
special of the day: chicken pasta

special of the day: chicken wrap on wheat

They also have a coffee bar (more flavored syrups than I've ever seen), and some pastries and bagels.

Review: Bishop Street Cafe

Bishop Street Cafe
725 Bishop St near Queen St

Eh, this was my least favorite of the downtown lunch spots to date (June 26). Bishop Street Cafe serves a wide range of lunchtime dishes: salads, bento, teishuku sets, donburi and pasta. At first I thought prices were quite reasonable for downtown ($3.99 - $5.99 for most dishes) but then I found out what tiny portions they serve! Now, I don't even eat very large meals (I'm one of those grazers who eats all day) but even I was hungry after lunch, and the salads that my friends dining with me weren't very big either.

I ordered the grilled salmon bento ($4.99). It came with a tiny serving of salmon (I'd guess 3 oz), rice with furikake, a tiny scoop of potato salad, and exactly 3 soybeans. The salmon was pretty bland (it could've used some salt or anything), the rice was just average (not nice Japanese rice), the soybeans were undercooked. The highlight of the meal was the potato salad (had a faint hint of wasabi).

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Waiola's Shave Ice


This is a non-downtown post, but I have to mention it since I've been having daily Waiola's cravings. Shave ice is a sensitive subject in Hawaii. Everyone has their own preference and it can get _very personal_ when you're discussing your favorites.

My personal favorite is Waiola's. I've been devoted to them since high school cross country practices, where it was a tradition to run to Waiola's on Wednesdays (our recovery practice day), eat shave ice, and walk back to school.

Today Waiola's is owned and run by a Taiwanese family, so they incorporate local shave ice (with all of the traditional flavors plus lilikoi, guava, li hing mui, and others...) with Taiwanese shave ice (bing sha) treats: azuki bean, mochi balls, flan, on top of your shave ice, all topped with sweetened condensed milk.

The secret to Waiola's shave ice though, is the ice. It's shaved so finely that you can barely tell you're eating ice, it's more like you're eating a super soft sherbet...yum!

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Review: Great Harvest Bakery

Great Harvest
233 Merchant Street

I love, love, love Great Harvest! I'd actually never been in a store until I came to the downtown one, because my parents always brought the bread home from Kahala. This place smells like heaven. It's actually quite spacious and well-designed. They are a national chain, specializing in fresh baked breads, muffins, scones and cinnamon rolls. However I found out that they also have a Peets coffee bar and freshly made sandwiches as well. My favorite thing there is the cinnamon chip bread; I like it so much that I haven't actually tried anything else yet.

Great Harvest trio: cinnamon roll, blueberry cream cheese scone, and cinnamon chip bread


Welcome to my blog! I'm working downtown for the first time, and trying to discover all of the exciting lunch time places for the first time. I had no idea how many undiscovered gems are hiding down here, I'd never really walked around downtown before other than going to Char Hung Sut for manapua on the weekends with my parents. My goal is to leave a record of all these places and help other people discover new favorites. I lived in China for the past 5 years, so I'm pretty picky about Chinese food but love to eat everything else.