Kauai Restaurant of the Week with Anne Lee: Dani’s RestaurantInside Feature
April 3, 2022
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: Anne Lee
Anne Lee speaks with Dani’s owner Danny Morioka and Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami
Gather Federal Credit Union is supporting their Kauai restaurant community with offering a 3% cash back for Gather FCU Signature Visa card holders or double points for Platinum Visa cardholders either dining in or ordering takeout until April.
Danny Morioka has been a longtime member of Gather FCU and happens to be the owner of Dani’s, a popular mom-and-pop restaurant known for its Tripe Stew and the Bacon Cheeseburger Loco Moco, which happens to be Mayor Derek Kawakami’s favorite.
I remember first meeting Danny on Oahu when he helped open d.k Steak House in Waikiki. Now, he’s been back on Kauai cooking up a storm at the restaurant named after him — but spelled it Dani’s, as his parents Harriet and Tsutao Morioka didn’t want people to confuse it with Denny’s. We headed to the kitchen and I learned how to make the famous BCLM and learn more about the famous lemonade and tripe stew.
Q. Please tell me the history of Dani’s Restaurant and the concept.
A: The concept was to provide locals and off-island workers (construction workers) a place to eat and relax before they start their work day. We open at 5 a.m. and serve local favorites and comfort foods at a very affordable price. Dani’s Restaurant was started by my parents on Aug. 1, 1982. It was a small 25-seat restaurant that quickly grew into a 100-seat restaurant in a few years after opening. Growing up, my two sisters and I would work in the restaurant on weekends to help however we could. We did everything from washing dishes to cooking to learning how to wait on tables.
In 2012, my wife Julie and I took over the business. The concept has stayed the same but we felt we needed to rebrand to keep up with the modern trend. We’ve kept the concept the same but added some higher end options to keep people interested in dining here.
Q. What are the most popular items at Dani’s?
A: Beef, Tripe and Half & Half Stew ($11.50, $12.50, $14.50, respectively). It’s a recipe that has been with the family for over 60 years. Our stews are more on the liquid side that can be thickened by adding a scoop of rice, poi or potato salad inside. We also make our own chile pepper water that adds a kick.
BCLM ($14.50). This is our Bacon Cheeseburger Loco Moco — classic loco moco topped with homemade gravy, two eggs, cheddar and Jack cheese, crispy bacon bits and green onions. It’s been on our menu for about 10 years and one of the most popular items. When I created the BCLM, I was mainly looking for a way to use up the bacon scraps. The result was the BCLM. First, we use pan drippings from our pork belly to make our gravy. Next, we use Angus beef and incorporate bread crumbs and spices to create a homemade mixture. Finally, I always tell my guys to make a dish with love. Put effort and pride in what you do and the results will speak for itself.
Misoyaki Salmon ($14.50) was put on the menu to offer customers a different protein option. I remember having misoyaki butterfish for breakfast in Japan and figured this is something people would enjoy. We marinate the salmon for three days. After searing it, we finish it with a teri miso glaze and serve with eggs and rice.
Garlic Chicken or Chili Pepper Chicken ($14.50). We use the leg meat and cut it up into bite-size pieces. After seasoning the chicken we deep fry it until crispy.
Q. How did you come up with the menu, and does it change throughout the year?
A: We decided to create a menu that would incorporate the “old and new.”
Old meaning dishes we had since we opened in 1982 such as the stews, pipikaula, fried noodles, etc. New meaning dishes that gives us the ability to create such as the BCLM, Chili Pepper Chicken Kawali Style, Misoyaki Salmon, etc. We don’t change our menu often. New items are put on a special board that we usually run for a while and if it sells good, then we incorporate it into our menu.
Q. Where do you like to eat?
A: Hukilau Lanai (chef Ron Miller) has the best prime rib I have ever tasted. I’m trying to convince him to name a cut after me. They do a regular cut listed on the menu but you can ask for a Gary’s cut and it’s huge.
JO2 (chef Jean Marie) is a mentor of mine and that guy can cook. When we go there his flavors and creativity still blows my mind.
Pho Kapaa is one of those places where you can’t go wrong. Thomas and Kenny operate a family business and are very hard workers. On a cold day, their pho is a must. Seafood stir fry with egg noodles is another go-to item.