Dining Oasis Keeps It Tasty, FriendlyCover Story Features
June 11, 2017
Story By: Caroline Wright | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
On a recent weekday morning, a trio of box turtles basks in the sun as the staff of Pagoda Floating Restaurant scurries about, prepping for lunch.
A duo of ducks, perched atop one of the bamboo pavilions that flank the dining room, placidly observes the activity. In the pond surrounding the restaurant, hundreds of fish — mostly koi, but also barracuda, papio, moi, palani and manini — swim about in bright swirls of health and harmony, oblivious to the cheerful bustle above.
The pond is one of Tracy Yadao’s favorite things about his job. Yadao is the manager of Pagoda, the “floating” eatery beloved by locals and visitors for more than 50 years.
“The pond is a big part of our success,” he says, leaning over the railing. “There are almost a thousand fish here! Our two curators take amazing care of them.” Feeding the fish, he adds, is a highlight of any visit. “We keep fish food by the hostess podium for kids, but the adults like to feed them just as much.”
Soft-spoken and friendly, Yadao began working at Pagoda as a runner while still at Kaimuki High School, some 20 years ago. He has an insider’s awareness of the establishment’s place in Honolulu’s restaurant history. Over the years, most Oahu residents have dined there multiple times, celebrating various events and observing important milestones with family, friends and co-workers. For many, Pagoda rather does feel like home.
“Our regulars love coming back,” Yadao says. “Some come three or four times a week, even from the west side. We try to make everyone comfortable, and to keep prices affordable.”
Created with families in mind, Pagoda’s Weeknight Dinner Buffet is priced at $19.95 for adults and $9.95 for keiki ages 5-8. This allyou-can-eat feast, available Monday through Thursday, includes a poke bar, sushi station, dessert bar and executive chef Michael Arita’s selections for beef, pork, chicken, fish and seafood entrées du jour. Patrons also may add all-you-can-eat crab legs to their feast, making the buffet $32.95 with snow crab and $36.95 with southern king crab.
Pagoda serves up tasty selections all day, and those starting with the most important meal of the day appreciate the Sunshine Breakfast, featuring an entire grilled Hawaiian Portuguese sausage, a huge scoop of fried rice and a pair of eggs, any style (sunny-side up if you want your breakfast to smile back!). It’s regularly $10.95, but early birds can enjoy this plate for just $5.99 before 8:30 a.m.
Pagoda’s Themed Lunch Buffets ($17.95 for adults, $8.95 for keiki, Monday-Saturday) offer various Pacific Rim cuisines with a different theme each day. Friday’s delectable Hawaiian Buffet includes kalua pig, broiled Pulehu chicken, lomi-lomi salmon, ahi poke, haupia and other island treats. Crab legs can be added to the lunch buffet as well ($30.95 with snow crab, and $34.95 with king crab).
As the dining room begins to fill, a smiling server asks for Yadao’s assistance with a task. He doesn’t mind a bit. “I just love coming to work,” he says. “It’s a great atmosphere. The fishes get along, and that makes all of us get along.”
Raising the Bar
At the center of Pagoda’s round dining room is Ulua Bar, well-stocked and furnished with chairs for a dozen jovial patrons. Happy hour at the bar (5-6 p.m.) features domestic beers for $2.50, imports for $3.50 and some delicious snacks: fresh raw oysters ($1.50 each, $3 after 6 p.m.) served with house-made cocktail or ponzu sauce, and Pork Lechon ($7, regularly $9) deep-fried on demand and served with spicy soy.
Diners munching on happy-hour bites may notice a giant stuffed trevally hanging overhead. Ulua Bar is named for this huge fish, which swam peacefully in the pond outside for more than 30 years before succumbing to natural causes. Worth noting: One of its enormous cousins still lives there!
Don’t Forget to Treat Dad!
There’s still time to make reservations for Pagoda’s spectacular Father’s Day Buffet ($55.95 adults, $24.95 ages 5-8). The menu includes a salad bar with ahi sashimi, fresh oysters, shrimp cocktail and sushi rolls; entrees like snow and king crab, prime rib, shrimp and vegetable tempura, baked salmon, and braised pork with a red wine and mushroom demi-glace; and a chocolate fondue station for dessert. Brunch seatings are from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., while dinner will be from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Pagoda Floating Restaurant
1525 Rycroft St., Honolulu
Buffet Hours: Breakfast Daily, 7-10 A.M.; Lunch Monday-Saturday, 10:30 Am-2 P.M.; Dinner Nightly, 5-9 P.M. Sunday Brunch: 10 A.M.-2 P.M.
La Carte Hours: Breakfast Monday-Saturday, 7-10:30 A.M., Sunday, 7-9:30 A.M.; Lunch Monday-Saturday, 10:30 A.M.-1 P.M.; Dinner Monday-Saturday, 5-8:30 P.M.
Note: Keiki Prices Are For Ages 5-8