Plate Lunch Goes Gourmet
Rarely does the convenience and ease of procuring a plate lunch go hand-in-hand with partaking in gourmet-quality cuisine and innovative culinary craftsmanship.
However, at Kahai Street Kitchen, preparing gourmet-quality menu offerings served with the portability and quickness of a plate lunch is right up the restaurant’s alley. Owner Nao Iwata can often be found in the kitchen helping prepare meals at the restaurant — located conveniently in Moiliili on King Street — while also keeping track of the daily operations.
The restaurateur counts on the expertise of executive chef and co-owner David Yamamoto for help with everything from adding to and altering the menu to coordinating and tailoring catering orders. Iwata finds that his clientele represents a wide range of Oahu’s diverse population, and all patrons have one thing in common: They enjoy what Yamamoto calls Kahai Street Kitchen’s “Pacific comfort food” with an island flair.
“I have a great partner, and that’s the key because we work together and understand each other very well,” Iwata says. “I know what David is capable of doing, and he continues to amaze me.”
The business was originally launched in Kalihi (hence the ode to Kahai Street in its name) in 2006 as a catering-only kitchen and expanded steadily to serve takeout meals most of the week. The eatery now offers a larger dine-in area as well as ample street parking, and serves as a convenient spot to get great food at a reasonable price — no matter what one does for a living.
“What I try to do is offer items to fit their budgets, and cater to the customer — we make restaurant-quality food and offer it at plate lunch prices,” Iwata says. “David is the brains behind all the food. He’s the creative side, and his personal touch goes into every dish.”
Yamamoto is constantly tinkering with new culinary creations such as Porchetta ($12.75), a hearty portion of slow-roasted pork belly roll stuffed with ground pork, herbs and mushrooms and sliced to order with sautéed Hamakua mushrooms and a mushroom wine demi-glace. Braised Short Rib Shepherd’s Pie ($11.95) is another customer favorite and features tender morsels of braised short ribs accompanied by caramelized onions, peas and carrots in a rich demi-glace served within a mini individual loaf pan topped with a garlic mashed potato cap that’s torched until golden brown.
The restaurant’s regular menu also features an array of sandwiches like the visually appealing and tasty Roasted Crispy Pork Belly Banh Mi Sandwich ($9.95). The dish is constructed from roasted crispy pork belly seasoned, sliced and char-broiled with hoisin barbecue sauce and served with tomatoes, picked carrots, daikon, cucumbers and a Sriracha aioli with a choice of fries, tossed or potato macaroni salad. Portuguese Bean Stew ($9.75) is Kahai Street Kitchen’s hearty take on the local favorite with large chunks of Portuguese sausage, carrots and more in a thick stew accompanied by one’s choice of grilled sweet bread, white or brown rice.
“I have leeway to explore different avenues and try new things, and if we make something and it sells really well, then we’ll make that special again,” Yamamoto explains. “I take a traditional dish, put a twist on it and take it to a different level.”
Kahai Street Kitchen offers a wide array of unique daily specials and “old school favorites,” all of which feature Yamamoto’s signature mixture of flavor and texture; the specials are introduced and reintroduced on a revolving basis according to the fresh ingredients available that day.
Kahai Street Kitchen
946 Coolidge St., Moiliili
Tuesday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.