Where Comfort Meets Gourmet
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On the makai side of Nimitz Highway, among warehouses and car dealerships, is a hole-in-the-wall takeout restaurant with distinctive local style and gourmet flair. Kahai Street Kitchen, at the corner of Kalihi and Kahai streets, started catering by 2006. Only three months later, however, the surrounding neighborhood persuaded the eatery to sell its food to the public.
“People kept coming up to the door and knocking, saying ‘Open up! Open up!'” recalls owner Nao Iwata. “They could smell our food and wanted to try it. So, we started selling plate-lunch style food that was different from our catering menu and continue to provide our customers with a variety of unique plate lunch options.”
Self-titled for years as “Pacific comfort food,” Iwata and his staff maintain inventive lunch options while still staying in tune with local appetites. Kahai Street Kitchen prides itself on keeping its prices low while cooking up a mix of flavors that local customers enjoy.
For a hearty, fork-tender lunch, try Kahai’s Sweet and Sour Pork Rack Ribs with a Twist ($9.95), which are braised for three hours then deep fried and tossed in the eatery’s sweet and sour sauce. If you’re looking for a lighter lunch, opt for Kahai’s flavor-packed Ahi Cobb Salad (market price), which is loaded with shichimi-seasoned seared fresh ahi from the local markets, crispy bacon, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, fresh roasted corn, pickled cucumbers, daikon and carrots, and placed on a bed of fresh island spring mixed greens with a citrusy ponzu vinaigrette.
“I have fun cooking — period,” says head chef David Yamamoto. “I take pride in what I cook, and I enjoy putting my personal twist on local-style comfort food. It’s different than most plate-lunch places because it’s a combination of flavors and recipes I learned from my 25 years of experience as a chef.”
While Kahai Street Kitchen’s daily specials are typically improvised, Iwata notes that the plates’ beautiful array of colors, flavors and cohesive recipes illustrates Yamamoto’s exceptional knack and talent for the art of cooking. Bite into its Original Crab and Shrimp Croquettes ($9.75), which showcase crab and fresh roasted corn croquettes filled with Japanese-style panko shrimp, deep fried and drizzled with a lemon aioli and katsu butter sauce. Or try Kahai’s twist on steamed fish: Steamed Jade Crusted Opakapaka En Papillote ($13.95). The fresh fish gets its “jade” color from the green onion and cilantro pesto, and is perfectly steamed in a jacket of parchment paper and topped with a ginger and garlic jus. Customers can enjoy these specialty dishes served plate-lunch style with a choice of white or brown rice and potato-mac or tossed salad.
“We have a great team here,” notes Iwata. “I love the way David cooks, and we work well together. It’s quiet in the kitchen because I know what he’s doing and I trust him. I just follow his lead. The local-style comfort food we make here at Kahai Street Kitchen is one of a kind.”
Kahai Street Kitchen
237 Kalihi St., Honolulu
Tuesday-Thursday, 10:30 A.M.-1:30 P.M.
Friday 10 A.M.-1:30 P.M.