Home, Sweet Home at Nuuanu OkazuyaCover Story Features
September 2, 2012
Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Leah Friel
If you’re a longtime patron of Nuuanu Okazuya, you feel right at home once you step through the door. Owner Mark Kitagawa, chef/manager Johnathan Mosley and the rest of the staff know you on a first-name basis, are familiar with your favorite dishes and treat you like family. Now, if you have yet to experience the outstanding cuisine and premier customer service at this okazuya, what are you waiting for? Located on Nuuanu Avenue, Nuuanu Okazuya is a small “hole-in-the-wall” shop that offers all the okazu (side dishes) you’ve ever dreamed of.
“Okazuyas are very unique to Hawaii. Okazu means side dish and ya means shop,” Mosley explains. “Okazuyas specialize in side dishes that pair well with rice, so I’m always thinking of what goes well with rice or noodles.”
And believe us, Dining Out lives for okazu goodness! Nuuanu Okazuya never disappoints as there’s a multitude of items to choose from, all exuding abundant home-cooked flavors. We recently caught up with Kitagawa and Mosley before the lunch rush arrived to get a glimpse and taste of all that is Nuuanu Okazuya.
DO: Nuuanu Okazuya is thriving with business. Looking back in time, how did this favorite local eatery get its start?
Kitagawa: The opportunity came around when the original owners, the Nagamine family, were looking for someone to take over the establishment because they had already been in business for more than 30 years. I saw a decline in the number of okazuyas while growing up, so I wanted to keep the tradition alive.
DO: Obviously the okazu tradition is alive and well here. What is your business philosophy?
Kitagawa: We try to constantly add new items to the menu. I think we have the largest selection of okazu items in Honolulu. For a small shop like this, what comes out of the kitchen is unbelievable. Everything is made fresh in our kitchen, nothing is brought in.
DO: Known for its variety of traditional Japanese, Okinawan and local fare, there’s something for just about everyone at Nuuanu Okazuya. Correct?
Kitagawa: Yes, we offer 70 to 100 different items a day. Popular ones include Furikake Chicken Katsu, Nishime, Kinpira Gobo, Chow Fun, Fried Saimin and Shoyu Chicken. What makes our Furikake Chicken ($3.50 per piece) so special is the secret sauce that we use. Other best-selling items include Konbu Maki ($2.25 each), which features pork and gobo wrapped in konbu (seaweed) and tied together with kanpyo. Another popular dish is Stuffed Bittermelon ($2.25 each), stuffed with pork hash and boiled in a special flavored sauce. Squash with Chicken and Tofu ($1.80 per serving) is quite popular with our longtime customers. We use a long squash or Chinese squash, and stuff it with chicken and tofu cubes.
DO: You folks also specialize in an assortment of fishcakes. What is the No. 1 choice among customers?
Kitagawa: Our most popular fishcake is Boiled Egg Fishcake ($1.35 each). It features a boiled egg wrapped with fishcake, coated with panko and then deep-fried.
DO: Is there a particular item you offer here that not too many patrons are aware of?
Kitagawa: Yes, that would be our Daily Bento ($5.73). It’s one of those things that not everyone knows about, but for those who know we have it, it sells out rather quickly. You can’t go wrong with this bento. It consists of a bed of rice topped with Furikake Chicken, Spam, Egg Omelette, Big Island Portuguese Sausage, Fish (ahi or mahi, or salmon), Kabocha Pumpkin or Gobo.
DO: Johnathan Mosley serves as manager and chef at Nuuanu Okazuya. How did the partnership between you two come about?
Mosley: I got my start at Nuuanu Okazuya because Mark needed some help in the kitchen, so he asked me to help out, and the next thing you know I’m the chef. I have no formal culinary training, I just have a knack for cooking. I’ve been cooking since I was 5 years old. It’s a passion.
DO: Chef Johnathan, you’re always changing things up and offering something new for your customers. Where do you find your inspiration?
Mosley: I’ll constantly think of new ways of preparing items. For instance, we have a kabocha pancake that I created on a whim and we decided to incorporate it with a sweet potato pancake, so it looked like a yin-yang pancake. Whatever I’m cooking at the time, I’m always thinking of ways to make it different and add a twist to it — by making it more flavorful or presenting it in a different way. You never know what you will get here. I recently did seven different types of eggplant — we had spicy, extra spicy, marinated eggplant, grilled eggplant, etc.
DO: What is a new item on the menu that is doing well?
Kitagawa: One of our newest items is Grilled Spicy Tofu ($1.50 each). We grill it and sprinkle it with Cayenne pepper, then we season it with a habanero-based soy. It’s delicious! John also has a knack for making different types of andagi and has created more than 100 different types of flavors. We don’t have all the flavors available every day, but you can pre-order if you like. Our newest flavor is Caramel Pecan.
DO: The andagi assortment is really quite impressive! The possibilities are endless, wouldn’t you agree?
Kitagawa: Yes. Traditional andagi (35 cents each) is very popular as well as Andadogs (a hot dog wrapped in andagi, $1 each). John keeps on inventing new flavors and now does a terrific peach cobbler andagi (most flavored andagi is priced at 75 cents each).
1351 Nuuanu Ave., Honolulu
Monday-Friday, 5 a.m.-1 p.m.
Saturdays, 5:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sundays, 7 a.m.-1 p.m.
(Closed on Labor Day)
Note: Street parking available