Sign up for news and special offers from Dining Out
Inside Feature

Chinese Cuisine Makes for a Nice Day

Story By Carol Chang Photos By Nathalie Walker
May 27 - June 2, 2012

See more articles from

Nice Day Chinese Seafood Restaurant has carved a home and a reputation as the go-to place for manapua and dim sum – eat in or takeout – without searching for parking in Chinatown just blocks away.

Sandwiched between Times Supermarket and a sushi shop, it’s been serving up breakfast, lunch, dinner and banquets since 2008 at Liliha Square Shopping Center. And the takeout window for China’s favorite dumplings is a busy gathering spot starting at 7:30 a.m. every day. There they are, the tasty morsels, lined up on the pastry racks waiting to make someone’s nice day: the baked manapua stuffed with char siu, chicken, custard, hot dogs; the delicate pouches of steamed pork, shrimp, scallops, turnips; the mochi balls, spinach, minced beef, seaweed. It seems that if you lined up the dozens of dim sum selections all in a row, it just might stretch around the parking lot! (That wouldn’t happen, though, because they sell out daily, according to shift manager Helen Liang.)

Prices for these little pockets of heaven range from $2.30 to $3.75 per serving (two or three items). And Liang is most proud of Nice Day’s newest creation, Winter Melon Dim Sum with coconut filling. The kitchen wizards incorporate the classic winter vegetable into the mochi rice dough, Liang explains, nestle the coconut inside, do a few more secret things and then out comes a chewy, tasty snack shaped like a green ball.

“This is exclusive,” she says. “We are the only restaurant to do this.” Liang is a cook herself, having come to Hawaii from Guangdong, China, about 20 years ago. Working at Nice Day for about a year now, she enjoys the Hong Kong-style menu and personally favors Chicken Curry Manapua.

There is age and wisdom at Nice Day Chinese Seafood Restaurant, too. It emanates from co-owner Yung Sang Chan, who laughingly describes himself as “80 but look 20.” Must be all that good Chinese food. Chan keeps an eye on things at Nice Day, and also at Happy Day Seafood Restaurant in Kaimuki, which he also co-owns with the ever-smiling Lisa Lum. The two are business partners who met at Chan’s earlier eatery, the now-closed Sea Fortune restaurant in Chinatown, where they worked for three decades.

Chan’s schedule goes something like this: Awaken at 3:30 a.m. at his Aina Haina home, go to Ala Moana Beach for a swim and a brisk walk (he illustrates this with pumping arms), go to Happy Day at 8 a.m., go to Nice Day at 10 a.m., back to Happy Day at 2 p.m., stay there until 10:30 p.m. Start over next day. Does he cook any more? “No, too much work.”

Meanwhile back in the kitchen, the staff continues to make its trademark Orange Chicken ($9.95), Lobster with Garlic Butter or other sauces ($12.95 when ordered with another entree) and more dim sum, including Chicken Feet ($2.30). Liang recommends you simply embrace a fried foot with your chopsticks and suck off the skin. Good stuff, never mind the bones.

Customers also can order a meat plate of Roast Duck, Char Siu Pork and Roast Pork for $36 to go with the dim sum, or ask for separate meat plates of $9.95 each. “Our roast duck is No. 1 in town,” she adds. Another new offering is Deep-Fried Taro ($2.50 for three).

Regular customer Brian Ing, who says he’s a picky eater, enjoys Nice Day’s cake noodle ($1 extra) with his Oyster Sauce Chicken. “The toasted flavor of the crisp noodles seems to add to it,” says Ing, who’s having an early lunch with his parents, George and June, both in their nineties. June knows her Chinese restaurants, too, as she worked at a waitress for more than 30 years at Tin Tin Chop Suey, a classic late-night spot in Chinatown’s past.

“We come before the lunch crowd around 10:30 a.m.,” Ing adds. “The dim sum rush is usually pau around 1:30 or 2 p.m.” Then he turns back to the piping hot entrees that have arrived at the table.

To add to your nice visit, study the colorful murals, lanterns and good luck symbols that surround the tables. There’s also a shrine to a Chinese god, plus three tanks of fish to amuse the children – all of them bringing more good luck along with the food, Liang says.

Nice Day Chinese Seafood Restaurant

  • Where
    • 1425 Liliha Street
    • Honolulu, HI 96817
  • Call
    • (808) 524-1628
  • Hours
    • Open daily
    • 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.