A Famous Kaimuki Eatery Features a Ramen Remix
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Fairwood Drive Inn & Pho 27, a hot spot among patrons who frequent Kaimuki Shopping Center on Waialae Avenue, has recently emerged with a brand new name. Say hello to Fairwood Drive Inn & Ramen Diner. According to owner Tiffany Ko, the change came about when she and her staff wanted to fill a void: providing customers with a healthy alternative to ramen. Simple as that, this idea alluded to the integration of locally made wheat ramen served in a sans oil soup base.
“We have regular patrons who come for something to eat after a workout, as well as students, educators and others from the neighborhood community,” says Ko. “Even though our customers loved pho (from Pho 27), we thought we’d try something new and specialize in ramen.”
This week, Dining Out paid a visit to Fairwood Drive Inn for some ol’ fashioned local favorites, while also eager for oodles of noodles at Ramen Diner. Destined to impress, Ko wasted no time and served up a sampling of sumptuous eats.
DO: With nearly two decades in the restaurant business — having previously operated Fairwood Drive Inn on Keeaumoku Street — you’ve seen the restaurant reinvent itself. Recently, the restaurant went through another transformation. What can fans of the restaurant expect from Ramen Diner?
TK: Patrons can appreciate a sit-down dining experience in a clean and modern space. Some customers don’t realize that Pho 27 is now Ramen Diner. The change came about because we noticed that ramen is very popular in Hawaii. However, what makes us stand out from the rest are our healthy noodle options and more.
DO: Who doesn’t love ramen, right? So, what exactly is your take on “healthy” ramen?
TK: For those trying to avoid refined carbs, noodle/ramen choices are minimal. But here, we use wheat ramen that’s made right here in Hawaii by Sun Noodle Factory. The menu has a lot of selections, so there’s always something new to try. Traditional ramen includes char siu, fishcake and vegetables, with a choice of miso, shio (salt) or shoyu soup base. Then, of course, our specialty ramen, such as Shrimp Tempura Ramen ($10.95), Pigs Feet Ramen ($12.95) and Gomoku Ramen ($11.50), draw in customers as well. Shrimp Tempura Ramen is normally made with shoyu soup base, yet miso and shio are available upon request. Three pieces of shrimp tempura are served on the side. Gomoku Ramen is a rather simple dish — char siu, corn, egg, menma (bamboo shoots) and fishcake complement the shio-based noodles.
DO: A big appetite calls for a sampling of Ramen Diner’s Combo Sets. What’s included in these sets?
TK: We have four combo sets to choose from. Each come with a mini bowl of ramen (miso, shoyu or shio base) and four piece gyoza. Combo D ($14.50) is a best-seller, as it includes Unagi Rice. Fried Rice, Honey Garlic Chicken and Deep-fried Oysters are featured in the other combo sets, respectively.
DO: Those sound amazing! We’ve also been hearing great things about Cold Wakana and Pork and Vegetable over Crispy Noodle. What do these specific dishes bring to the table?
TK: Priced at $8.50, Cold Wakana features spinach noodles, soba-style, topped with shredded nori and accompanied by soba sauce, green onion and a dollop of wasabi. The dish is refreshing and perfect on hot days. Patrons also can have it with udon.
Pork and Vegetable over Crispy Noodle ($11.50) isn’t the most healthiest option on the menu, but it’s so good, you have to try it. Or substitute the pork for seafood, in which shrimp, scallop, fishcake and squid are stir-fried together with a mix of vegetables.
DO: Ramen Diner officially opened its doors to the public May 1. Are you pleased with the initial response from customers?
TK: Yes, and since we recently opened, we hope that more and more people will check us out. I also want to point out that patrons can order from Fairwood Drive Inn and enjoy their food in the comfort of Ramen Diner. If diners are in a rush, but want ramen, they can place their order (take-out only) at Fairwood’s quick-service counter.
DO: Speaking of Fairwood Drive Inn, it holds a reputation for delicious and affordable local-style comfort food and a variety of Chinese favorites at affordable prices. If you had to recommend a couple dishes on the menu, what would they be?
TK: That’s a hard one, but if I had to pick two, I’d probably go with Spicy Chicken ($8.50) — steamed boneless chicken infused with a kick of chili sauce, peanuts and mixed vegetables over rice — and Mapo Tofu ($8.50).
DO: A passion for cooking runs in the family, correct? Do you remember when you were first exposed to the trade?
TK: In the 1960s, my father was a cook in Canton, China, but there were no actual restaurants around at the time, so he set up about 100 tables in the street. Roast goose and char siu were his specialties that he would cook over a natural fire. I learned a lot from my father, and in 1988, I made the move to Hawaii. Now, my brother-in-law How Son manages Fairwood’s kitchen as a cook, and my husband, Raymond Ko, serves as chef managing Fairwood’s barbecue.
DO: Are there any tempting specials our readers should know about?
TK: Yes! We currently offer Azuki Bean Shave Ice for $4.50. This off-the-menu item is a sweet treat of shave ice and condensed milk topped with azuki beans and one scoop of vanilla ice cream. Fruit and vegetable smoothies also are available for purchase, along with iced Coffee Latte with Whipped Cream.
Fairwood Drive-Inn & Ramen Diner
Kaimuki Shopping Center
3221 Waialae Ave., Ste. 21, Honolulu
Open daily 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.