A Revamped Buffet Awaits Diners at The Willows
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Generations of Hawaii diners have flocked to The Willows Restaurant since the Moiliili eatery opened in 1944, and have continually enjoyed the tranquil setting and robust buffet spreads offered at the iconic establishment.
While Hawaii’s original and favorite garden restaurant continues to serve up traditional Hawaiian food and other favorites at its lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch buffets, some recent changes at the eatery have led to the inclusion of local comfort food selections that have both customers and staff clamoring for second servings.
Executive chef Craig Yasaka took the helm at The Willows Sept. 21 when previous executive chef Miles Miyamoto was handed the reins of Karai Crab. Since adding his touches to The Willows menu, customers have enjoyed Yasaka’s influences that have led to new buffet offerings including Asian Braised Short Ribs with Kabocha, Poi Beef Stew and the ever-popular Garlic and Hawaiian Salt Herb Crusted Prime Rib with Horseradish and Au Jus.
“He brings a lot of experience to the table,” says The Willows administrative director Garret Kamei of Yasaka, who has served as executive chef at Ocean House and Gyotaku, and also taught at Kapiolani Community College’s culinary arts program. “For the past three weeks, we’ve already seen a vast improvement in the variety of our buffet, and that’s one of things we wanted to change.”
Kamei explains that customers continued to frequent the buffet for its Hawaiian food, curries, prime rib and seafood items, but the restaurant turned to Yasaka with the goal of rejuvenating the dining experience.
“For the lack of a better term, he offers a wide range of comfort food that old-time kamaaina and local customers will recognize,” says Kamei. “We actually had a longtime customer come in and comment about the beef stew. He said that even his grandma’s beef stew isn’t better than ours, and that’s a big compliment. When you say that somebody’s beef stew is better than grandma’s, that’s unheard of — especially in front of grandma!”
The Willows offers a host of buffet options, including the Lunch Buffet, available Monday through Friday (11 a.m.-2 p.m., $21.95), which features a selection of salads, prime rib carving station, traditional Hawaiian food and a host of dessert offerings. The Saturday Lunch Buffet (10 a.m.-2 p.m., $26.95) sweetens the deal with a seafood station that features chilled Snow Crab legs, while the Sunday Brunch Buffet (10 a.m.-2 p.m., $36.95) also includes breakfast favorites and an omelet station.
For dinner, The Willows offers its scrumptious buffet nightly (Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m., $37.95), and serves up local favorites including ahi poke, kalua pig, sushi of the day, crab legs and The Willows’ famous Fried Haupia. Keiki ages 4 to 10 receive discounted pricing at each buffet, while seniors ages 65 and over receive 10 percent off all buffet options.
“Nowadays, people don’t necessarily have the time to prepare these items at home, so you can come to The Willows and enjoy them,” says Kamei. “It’s a great time to come back to The Willows.”
The Willows also features its popular “Live at the Willows” series, featuring live Hawaiian music Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the restaurant’s cafe. In addition to enjoying pupu and drink specials, diners are treated to the sweet sounds of Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning artists including Herb Ohta Jr. and Jon Yamasato, Maunalua, Lehua Kalima and Shawn Pimental.
The Willows Restaurant
901 Hausten St., Honolulu
Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (lunch) and 5:30-9 p.m. (dinner)
Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (lunch/brunch), and 5-9 p.m. (dinner)