Pagoda Brings Back The Good Old DaysCover Story Features
December 20, 2015
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: BODIE COLLINS
For 51 years now, Pagoda Floating Restaurant has remained a relaxing oasis within bustling Honolulu, where kamaaina can dine on their favorite local foods in a picturesque Japanese-inspired setting. Though the establishment has evolved over the last five decades, newly appointed executive chef Michael Arita is helping to unearth the roots of the iconic eatery so that island residents can reconnect with the special place they remember from the past.
With plans to gradually upgrade the menu quality and presentation, Arita aims to hearken back to the early days of Pagoda Floating Restaurant, when late founder and developer Herbert T. Hayashi first built it as part of a larger hotel complex. The chef is doing this by emphasizing the nostalgic touches of “old-style local” cuisine that the menu is known for, such as Steamed Fish “Molokai-style,” one of Hayashi’s personal favorites. The fresh basa fillets light up the restaurant’s buffet line with cilantro, ginger, shoyu and green onion.
“We want to look at some more Oriental type of foods, and go back to things people are familiar with,” says Arita, who began working for HTH Corporation, which previously owned Pagoda, in 1980.
Pagoda Floating Restaurant continues to be locally owned today and offers catering services, but it is perhaps best known for its kamaaina-friendly buffets with affordable pricing. Served up by one of the friendliest staffs in town, the eatery offers a breakfast buffet daily from 6:30 to 9 a.m. ($12.95 adults, $6.95 keiki), and a lunch buffet Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. ($16.95 adults, $8.95 keiki). There also is a dinner buffet, which during Monday to Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. is priced at $19.95 for adults and $9.95 for keiki.
These are the best times for patrons to supplement their buffet purchases with add ons such as succulent Roast Prime Rib with Au Jus ($17.95 for 16 ounces, $9.45 for 8 ounces), Select King Crab Legs ($18.95 per order), Snow Crab Clusters ($12) or Whole Maine Lobster ($12.95).
“A lot of people tell me all about their memories growing up here, or coming here when their kids were small. And they enjoy feeding the fish, of course,” says assistant manager Rayna Tacuban, when commenting on the regulars who frequent the buffet.
Pagoda’s offerings heat up during the weekend, when it presents a dinner buffet Friday through Sunday that’s priced at $38.95 for adults and $18.95 for children. In addition to the full buffet spread, the selection includes all-you-can-eat prime rib and snow crab. The top-notch meat and seafood also are available during the Sunday brunch buffet, which is served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ($35.95 adults, $17.95 keiki).
The buffet spreads cater to local palates with favorites like miso soup, teriyaki chicken, noodles and rice, and zenzai ice cream prepared with azuki beans and mochi. There is a poke bar with ahi, mussels, tako and more during lunch and dinner, and a sushi chef on weekends.
Additionally, there is a vegetarian-friendly salad bar and hot entrées with seafood, chicken, pork and beef sensations — Shoyu Pork is a must. And diners who save room for the dessert station may devour such goodies as cake, pie and bread pudding.
For those who prefer to order off the menu, a la carte specialties are available for breakfast (6:30-11 a.m.) and lunch (11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) daily. The breakfast menu highlights local favorites such as Kalua Pig Hash and Eggs, omelets and Japanese breakfasts a la Grilled Misoyaki Butterfish. Come lunchtime, guests may order sandwiches, burgers, plate lunches and local must-haves like Hamburger Steak and Oxtail Soup.
For many kamaaina, Pagoda Floating Restaurant is a place to reminisce, while also making new memories with family and friends. “People like it over here because they’re familiar with the property, they know the name and it’s kind of like the (sitcom) Cheers: You want to go somewhere where everybody knows your name,” adds Arita.
Pagoda Floating Restaurant
1525 Rycroft St., Honolulu
Breakfast: daily, 6:30-11 a.m.; Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; Dinner: daily, 5-9 p.m.; Sunday brunch: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Keiki prices are for ages 5-8 years old