Can’t Beat The Classics
Oahu’s budding restaurant scene offers so many exciting flavors to try, but if it’s comfort you’re looking for, there’s nothing quite like sticking to what you know and love and dining on some old-school flavors that never go out of style.
I was reminded of this recently when I had a friend visiting from the mainland, and everything I wanted him to sample during his trip was rooted in the tried-and-true local foods you can’t get anywhere else — starting with, but not limited to, Spam musubi, poke and shave ice.
Unsurprisingly, we also ate a lot of plate lunch while he was in town, the perfect type of food to tell the story of Hawaii’s melting pot of cultures through the diverse flavors that live together in harmony on one plate. I’ve been on a kick for those local-style meats, rice and mac salad ever since, and with sweet and savory goodness emanating from its soy sauce and brown sugar marinade, I thought, what could be more ono than shoyu chicken?
At first, MAC 24/7 Restaurant & Bar may not seem like the place to go for shoyu chicken and other plate lunch favorites, seeing as it is a sit-down eatery rather than a takeout shop, but the Waikiki mainstay actually specializes in putting gourmet twists on a wide array of comfort foods, including local kine grindz.
With a name that stands for “Modern American Cuisine,” MAC 24/7 pays homage to the iconic mix plate in its M.A.C. Aloha dish, consisting of kalbi, blackened ahi, fried rice and, last, but not least, its own spin on shoyu chicken called grilled soy-ginger chicken.
One-part shoyu chicken, one-part teriyaki and another part huli-huli, this protein is something of a glorious combination of all three of Hawaii’s favorite poultry preparations.
“It has ginger and shoyu,” describes sous chef Edmond Kwok. “We make a teri sauce and we infuse it with ginger; then we add the soy sauce, sugar and make a reduction, almost like a glaze. We grill it and then we braise it in the sauce, so it takes on all the flavors and gets a barbecue coating. It’s a little bit crispy, so it goes well with rice.”
Diners can devour their own entrée-sized portion of Grilled Soy-Ginger Chicken for $16, along with steamed white rice and sautéed vegetables. And if you like what you taste, try the newest local pupu on the menu, Ahi Poke Stack. Then, come back Feb. 28 when MAC 24/7 will donate a portion of its pancakes sales from that day to HUGS nonprofit agency in celebration of National Pancake Day. The eatery also will unveil its seasonal short-stack — Menehune Mint with green chocolate mousse and mint chocolate chunks — and offer free pancake samples in the lobby (4-5:30 p.m.).
MAC 24/7 Restaurant & Bar
Hilton Waikiki Beach
2500 Kuhio Ave., Waikiki
KEEPING UP WITH KAHAI
During one of Hawaii’s influential waves of immigration toward the end of the nineteenth century — when workers came from China, Japan, Korea, the islands off Portugal and The Philippines, among other places, to work on sugarcane plantations — men and women shared lunch out in the fields, as well as opened mom-and-pop shops to help feed the diverse population. Out of this culture came the modern-day plate lunch, and if you want to know one of the best places to get it in today’s day and age, head to Kahai Street Kitchen.
Though this plate-lunch spot champions more elaborate recipes like Guava Barbecue Braised Brisket and Furikake Crusted fresh catch, Kahai is rooted in local faves, dishing out classics such as hamburger steak, chicken katsu and, of course, Shoyu Chicken ($9.50).
Head chef and co-owner David Yamamoto describes that the latter follows a traditional recipe using bone-in thigh meat for maximum flavor. “It’s braised in shoyu with ginger, garlic and a little bit of five-spice until it’s nice and tender,” he says. There’s still room to dress up this simple yet delicious recipe, and Yamamoto does so with slinky long-rice on top. “The glass noodles actually complement the flavor and add more color to it,” he says.
At Kahai, plate lunches are served with your choice of rice and potato mac salad or greens. The business got its start as a catering company in 2006 before expanding with its popular lunch service. Most recently, the eatery moved from its former Kalihi locale to its current spot on Coolidge Street in Moiliili, not far from Puck’s Alley.
Kahai Street Kitchen
946 Coolidge St., Moiliili