Keeping It Simple, Italian

A La Carte Columns

January 15, 2017

Story By: Christina O Connor | Photos by: L. Tabudlo

Lamb Ragu  ($22.95)

Lamb Ragu ($22.95)

When it comes to his philosophy on the food that he prepares at Zia’s Caffe in Kaneohe, executive chef Jesse Kila says this: “We try to keep it simple.”

You won’t find anything too fancy on the eatery’s menu, just quality, tasty Italian-American eats that can be enjoyed in a comfortable setting.

Kila has been with Zia’s since the beginning — he was among staffers when the restaurant first opened in 2001. He left for a few years for stints in various other restaurants, but ultimately returned and has been helming Zia’s for the last five years.

He came back, he explains, because of the home-like atmosphere that Zia’s cultivates.

“Everybody is like family here — we all work together, we all watch out for each other,” he says.

Right now, Zia’s is preparing to offer its monthly Prime Rib ($29.95) special, which is offered only the third weekend of each month. Its next appearance is set for this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 5 p.m.

Part of what keeps customers coming back for this special is what Zia’s has dubbed “the bodacious blend” — its house seasoning that combines Hawaiian salt, brown sugar, garlic, thyme, rosemary, coriander and paprika.

“I use that on the prime rib and then slow roast it for three and a half hours,” Kila explains.

It’s served with Parmesan mashed potatoes and chef’s veggies.


If you’re a newcomer to Zia’s Caffe, executive chef Jesse Kila recommends trying Lamb Ragu ($22.95), a newer offering that’s on the menu all the time. The dish features a slow-roasted lamb shoulder sautéed with shimeji mushrooms, onions and tomatoes.

“Then it’s glazed with a Chianti red wine and we put a little bit of our homemade red sauce and toss it with pappardelle pasta,” he says. “And then it’s topped with some ricotta cheese and fresh mint.”

Zia’s Caffe

45-620 Kamehameha Hwy., Kaneohe
Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

Kaneohe, HI 96744

Ilima Awards
Hawaii's Best