For The Love Of AhiCover Story Features
October 23, 2016
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
If you’re a regular at Ahi & Vegetable in Kapalama Shopping Center, you’ve tasted the first-rate ahi and other delectable fish served up at the convenient take-out spot. And up until last month, you’ve also probably stood in line during the busy lunch rush with other folks who can’t believe how affordable the shop’s delicious, high-quality seafood is.
Owner and ahi wholesaler Sam Seo — who opened Ahi & Vegetable on Fort Street Mall 11 years ago before adding a second location in 2014 — didn’t like seeing his loyal customers pack into the formerly small eatery, so he decided to expand the dining space, which he debuted to patrons Sept. 1.
“Now there are more tables, so even if plenty of people come, there’s plenty of seating and people can take the time to relax and eat. That is what I really wanted,” shares Seo.
In addition to new booth seating, Ahi & Vegetable now boasts a TV screen for those who want to cheer on their favorite sports team, and the spacious dining area has proven to be a nice spot for professionals looking to host a casual business meeting over lunch.
Seo soon will have a liquor license for Ahi & Vegetable, so he plans to sell beer, wine and Korean soju. With an expanded kitchen, he also will unveil new pupus. Seo notes that after 3 p.m., the takeout shop now offers dine-in service as well, for the plethora of families who like to come in for a fresh, healthy dinner.
Just as he has done with his expanded dining space, Seo also strives to please patrons with top-notch ahi. Originally from Korea, he’s gained experience in the industry since his first job in Hawaii delivering fish to various Korean restaurants some 25 years ago.
When you see Seo smiling and chatting with patrons at Ahi & Vegetable, you’d never know that he’s been up since the crack of dawn at the Honolulu Fish Auction — where he goes daily to secure the freshest ahi available. In such a turbulent fish market, filled with constant fluctuations in prices and availability, as well as changing regulations and steep competition, Seo’s job is by no means easy. Yet the satisfaction he brings to customers by providing high-end tuna at take-out prices makes it all worth it.
“Whenever my customers come to my store, they expect something fresh, so even when prices go up, I cannot get cheap fish,” says Seo. “That’s why I’m so happy and proud to provide this good product. Sometimes it is very, very hard to get the good fish and the price is high and I have so much stress, but then customers will email me or send me a message to say thank you, and I am so appreciative. I really appreciate all my customers.”
Seo adds that he avoids raising his prices because he feels everyone should be able to enjoy the fresh ahi Hawaii has to offer. He refuses to sell imported or frozen ahi, and when it comes to sourcing other fish that he can’t get locally, he works with premier purveyors.
“I believe that in Hawaii, the ahi tuna is not only a fish, it’s a kind of culture,” he says. We can all be thankful that Ahi & Vegetable caters to that culture.
Read on to see menu faves:
Sashimi Special ($16) continues to be a best-seller, as it comes with an unadulterated mix of ahi, hamachi and salmon sashimi. No accouterments are needed when the fish is this fresh. Over the holidays, guests often order a larger party-platter version of the dish to bring to special gatherings.
Ahi & Vegetable is known for its fresh sashimi, poke and bentos, but it also has options for those who don’t eat raw fish. Bento No. 4 ($12, comes with miso soup), for instance, delights with shrimp tempura and seared salmon and ahi. “Even our cooked fish is the same sashimi-grade of fresh fish,” says Seo.
Spice things up with Spicy Ahi Bowl ($10), presenting a generous scoop of spicy tuna and choy sum atop a bed of rice. It’s perfect for lunch or dinner on the go!
Bento No. 9 ($12, comes with miso soup) offers more ways than one to enjoy the eatery’s high-quality seafood: nigiri-style ahi and salmon, refreshing poke and a California roll.
After hearing many requests for some ono Hawaiian food to pair with Ahi & Vegetable’s popular poke selection, Seo introduced Lau Lau & Poke Combo ($12), featuring fresh pork lau lau brought in locally from Keoki’s Lau Lau.
Ahi & Vegetable
Kapalama Shopping Center,
1210 Dillingham Blvd., Kalihi
Daily, 9 A.M.-10 P.M.