Uncovering a Local Hot Spot
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If you are breezing through Ward Avenue’s makai-bound lanes, it’s easy to miss Asahi Grill on your left as you approach Central Pacific Bank and Sports Authority. The charming hole in the wall gets lost among the mega stores and large buildings that surround it, but that’s exactly why it’s worth stopping into — quality grinds meet unbeatable service for the kind of mom-n-pop experience that’s hard to come by nowadays.
“The food that we have, we really put love into it,” says manager Victoria Sayno, who’s been with the eatery since it opened in February 2007. “It’s not just about running a business for us, it’s about providing the best we can for all of our customers.”
If you’re a first timer, just take a look at the servers’ T-shirts and you’ll know what to order. They feature an image of a license plate that reads one tell-tale word: OXTAIL.
Yes, what could easily be nicknamed our state soup is the restaurant’s signature dish. “It’s a Chinese-style recipe with a lot of fresh ingredients inside,” says Sayno. The grill’s Oxtail Soup ($13.95 regular, $11.95 small, $22.95, extra-large) is prepared fresh daily and presents oxtail that is boiled for two hours in a broth with Chinese herbs to slowly build up its pure and clean flavor. Parsley and green onion finish it off, and the soup is served with rice and grated ginger.
“Our customers really love this dish. They come back day after day for it,” says Sayno, who suggests adding some shoyu to the fresh ginger — and Tobasco if you like heat — to dip the tender, fall-off-the-bone meat into.
While Asahi’s cooks have always catered to local palates, they also know how to adapt to evolving food trends. “A lot of customers have been requesting healthier dishes lately,” says Sayno when describing the restaurant’s decision to make its popular special, Tofu Mushroom Stirfry ($8.50), part of the regular menu. “It has a really light sauce that’s very healthy, if you are looking for that,” she says. The virtuous dish presents tofu, mushrooms, onion, bell pepper, tomato, carrot and celery stir-fried in a lightly sweetened mix of oyster sauce and shoyu. “And our tofu is so fresh. That’s what makes it really good.”
As the delightful manager weaves through tables of patrons, saying hello to frequenters with a familiar shoulder squeeze and offering a warm smile to newcomers, it’s evident that there’s something special about Asahi Grill. It seems as though this local gem has its own ingredient for warmth that you won’t find in any other bowl of Oxtail Soup. “We really just want the customer to be happy and we always do our best to satisfy them.”
515 Ward Ave., Honolulu
Sunday-Thursday, 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m.