Taking Plate Lunch to the Next Level

Cover Story Features

June 7, 2015

Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Anthony Consillio

Succulent slices of marinated pork tenderloin are brined for 12 hours and charbroiled until flawless. They’re presented to diners with a luscious orange demi glace and brilliant tomato chili jam. While this is the type of entree you’d expect to see in a fine dining restaurant, in actuality it’s one of many popular plate lunch specials served up regularly at Kahai Street Kitchen.

The charming hole-in-the-wall located on the corner of Kahai and Kalihi streets is proving that an elegant meal like Marinated Broiled Pork Tenderloin Medallions ($10.25) tastes just as good when plated in a Styrofoam container, and a diverse range of diners are flocking to the eatery to get their fill of its high-quality lunches offered at affordable price points.

Nao Iwata first opened Kahai Street Kitchen as a catering business in 2006, and it wasn’t long before nearby construction workers and passersby stopped to inquire about the mesmerizing aromas coming out of the modestly sized kitchen. They soon convinced the humble owner to begin offering lunch service, and the steady flow of customers hasn’t slowed down since.

From Braised Short Rib Loco Moco to Seared Fresh Island Ahi Wrap, Kahai Street’s unique brand of plate lunch features refined touches influenced by the catering side of the business. At its core, though, it maintains a generous serving of local comfort food thanks to head chef David Yamamoto’s contributions to the menu.

“I can bring something over to him and he’ll taste it and know what’s in it, and he’s able to recreate it,” says Nao, pointing to Yamamoto’s culinary prowess. “That’s the sign of a really good chef.”

With a hard-working team of talented kitchen staffers — who also assist with the company’s catering orders — Yamamoto is poised to cook up familiar island cravings with unique touches. Yet he also is adept at working a wide range of cooking styles into his offerings. To supplement the regular menu, Yamamoto unleashes his creativity with specials that are constantly rotating and evolving. “He has fun with the specials because he gets to try out all these different ideas,” shares Iwata.

South of the Border Local-Style Pork Belly Taco ($9.25) is one of the chef’s latest creations inspired by putting a new spin on the eatery’s crispy lechon-style pork belly. The fire-roasted, flour-tortilla tacos are drizzled with barbecue Sriracha aioli and served with cilantro, a pinch of diced jalapeno and a fresh carrot, cucumber and radish slaw. “We’re always trying to keep up with new items and give our customers unique products so that they have a reason to come back.”

The Wagyu Burger ($10.50) special also is quite a treat for those who stop into the shop when it is available, as oozing provolone and Havarti cheeses, crisp bacon, red onions and a rich mushroom demi glace dress up a half-pound patty of 100 percent Wagyu ground beef. Meanwhile, fork-tender Barbecue Braised Brisket ($9.95) smothered with barbecue sauce and jalapeno jicama slaw never disappoints.

Kahai Street Kitchen also takes care of diners who love to see greens and veggies on their plates — especially with standouts such at Black Forest New York Steak Salad ($10.50) and Da Monster Taco Salad ($9.25).

Numerous hand-written thank you cards taped to Kahai Street’s walls serve as testaments to the quality of its service over the years. Now, as Iwata looks to the future of his business, he says he’s ready to reinvigorate the daily menu. With changes set to take place in the coming weeks, best sellers will remain, while some highly sought-after eats also will make their way onto the list. “We do this Crispy Country Fried Boneless Chicken with country-style gravy. It’s really good, and a lot of people ask for it, so we might put it on the daily menu,” he reveals.

Kahai Street Kitchen

237 Kalihi St.
Tuesday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Friday, 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Honolulu, HI 96819

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