Come On, Get Happy!Features Inside Feature
January 18, 2015
Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
Ever since its grand opening back in August 2001, Happy Days Chinese Restaurant on Waialae Avenue knows exactly what it takes to put a smile on your face, doing its part to ensure that your day is, indeed, a happy day. The establishment is synonymous with Hong Kong-style cuisine, and Hawaii’s dining community takes notice. Happy Days has been a recipient of Star-Advertiser‘s annual Hawaii’s Best People’s Choice Awards for “Best Chinese Food” and “Best Dim Sum” for multiple years. Owner Lisa Lum smiles brightly as she recalls the restaurant’s achievements and milestones.
“Our success is in large part because of our customers. We want to genuinely thank them for always coming back. They’re like family to us,” she says.
Lum and co-owner Yung Sang Chan are well-equipped for the ins and outs of the restaurant business. The pair opened and operated Sea Fortune restaurant in Chinatown for 22 years, and they also spearhead business operations at Nice Day Chinese Seafood Restaurant in Liliha. All of this amounts to more than three decades of experience.
“Our customers bring us just as much happiness as we hope to bring them,” Lum says, pausing to greet a regular customer with a wide grin and a hug. “We get to know them really well. It’s great.”
On any given day, the restaurant is bustling with the comings and goings of patrons. The sounds of laughter, conversation and the clanking of utensils fill the spacious dining hall that’s accented by hanging red lanterns, sparkling chandeliers and fish tanks situated at the entrance.
Lum says business, for the most part, is consistent, especially picking up during lunch and dinner, as well as from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., when dim sum is offered.
Lum and her staff currently are taking a post-holiday breather, but not for long, as they’re anticipating another rush of diners come Chinese New Year, Feb. 19. “It’s the year of the ram, which according to the lunar calendar, is supposed to be a smooth year,” the owner says. “A good time to celebrate Chinese New Year with friends and family is Feb. 18 (New Year’s Eve) and Feb. 19 (New Year’s Day). We will have lion dance performances to usher in good luck at 6:30 p.m. on the eve and 6 p.m. New Year’s Day.”
Happy Days is a family-style eatery, so it’s common for guests to order a wide array of dishes to share among the entire table. The menu boasts more than 250 entrees, including String Beans with Minced Pork ($10.95) doused in a blend of shoyu, oyster sauce and chili sauce, and stir-fried with fresh chili pepper, shallots and a dollop of black bean sauce. The dish has earned its place as a best-seller.
Jai ($10.95), a signature Chinese New Year specialty, also is winning over customers with its tasty vegetarian appeal, which encompasses bean curd, black fungus, won bok, Chinese peas, carrot, mushroom and long rice in one dish. “In the past, Jai only was available during Chinese New Year, but now it’s available year-round because it’s grown in popularity.
“More and more people are taking steps to eat healthy, so we’ve added a few new dishes to the menu as well, which are perfect for those looking for healthier options.”
Eggplant with Sweet and Sour Cabbage ($10.95) is a vegetarian-friendly dish that’s stir-fried and tossed with shoyu and garlic. Bitter Melon Egg Fu Yung ($10.95) is your classic pan-fried scrambled egg paired with slices of bitter melon for bite, and mildly seasoned with salt and pepper.
“The taste of bitter melon is a little strong and sharp, but it helps to build a stronger immune system,” explains Lum, who then points to her personal favorite Soft Tofu. Priced at $13.95, pieces of sea bass delicately are placed atop a bed of tofu and steamed with ginger, shoyu and hot oil to create a savory, protein-filled masterpiece.
According to Lum, Eggplant with Sweet and Sour Cabbage, Bitter Melon Egg Fu Yung and Soft Tofu have yet to appear on the menu, but are available upon request.
Happy Days also features Gau ($6) for a limited time. A Chinese New Year must-have, Gau is made with brown sugar, mochi powder and sesame seeds topped off with a red date. In Chinese culture, it’s tradition for families to partake in this sweet Chinese-style mochi to ensure wealth, good fortune and togetherness.
Ring in Chinese New Year with a smile at Happy Days. Reservations are recommended, and a private dining room is available for large parties.
Happy Days Chinese Seafood Restaurant
3553 Waialae Ave., Honolulu
Daily, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.