Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Aloha Table WaikikiRestaurant Insider
March 19, 2023
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO
ANNE LEE with Aloha Table Waikiki’s general manager MARIKO HIGA and restaurant manager MICHELLE FERGUSON
The Zetton Hawaii restaurant group is taking Seaside Avenue by storm. Its mission is to build restaurants in neighborhoods, adapt to the culture surrounding them and give back to the local community. It was founded by Ken Inamoto, who was a huge fan of Japanese cartoon series Ultraman, which featured an undefeatable monster named Zetton. Ironically, in kanji, zet is tongue and ton is drink, which translates to food and drink.
In 2009, the group opened its first Hawaii restaurant, Aloha Table Waikiki. I met with general manager Mariko Higa and restaurant manager Michelle Ferguson to learn more about this hidden gem tucked away right off Seaside on Lauula Street.
AL: It’s nice to see more females in leadership roles in the restaurant industry. How did you get your start?
MH:: I was a patron and a fan of the Zetton brand. I joined the team in February. I actually changed careers, as I was working in Japanese media. Although different, it is similar in many ways as it’s about customer service and bringing a different approach to operations. I really believed in the brand and wanted to be an advocate by joining the company.
MF: I’m half Latino and half Scottish. I grew up in Los Angeles and worked as a bartender, supporting my education to teach music. I was working as a high school music teacher, and my roommate wanted to move to Hawaii. I took that leap of faith and joined her. I didn’t change over my teaching credentials, and I realized that it’s more lucrative to work in the restaurant industry. I first joined Zetton in July and opened up Camado Ramen, and now joined Mariko at Aloha Table.
AL: Each restaurant has a concept. What is Aloha Table Waikiki’s?
MH: Our first general manager was a coffee distributor in Hawaii (he is now the general manager at our sister restaurant, Goofy Café & Dine), and wanted to increase the exposure to Japan. At the time, there wasn’t an online portal such as Amazon. He met with our founder to work on a strategy on how they can get this to that market. He felt not only should we sell the coffee, but we create a restaurant where customers can try the coffee and experience local dishes and give that experience of Hawaii. The OG of all Zetton Hawaii restaurants, Aloha Table Waikiki, was born. The location is in an old-school building, with old-school décor, serving old-school local favorite dishes. We use local ingredients and want to support local companies and the community. It’s great food and drink, and a fun atmosphere with the local aloha spirit — that’s Aloha Table.
AL: What old-school local favorites are you featuring?
MF: We are featuring the Supreme Loco Moco ($19, lunch; $23, dinner), which features two mouthwatering patties of Kobe-style beef with short grain rice, demi-glace sauce with mushroom and onion, topped with two local sunny-sideup eggs. This is our award-winning dish, and each patty is handmade fresh every morning. This is the perfect combination of the popular local plate lunch — traditional and the way it was originally made.
We also offer different styles of loco mocos as well as additional toppings you can order, but this is our traditional version. There is also a vegan option with a vegan egg on top ($19, lunch; $23, dinner).
The 12-ounce Hawaiian Sirloin Ginger Steak is $45. The sauce is what makes this dish. We serve the steak sizzling and we pour the homemade ginger sauce table side. The aroma and sizzle are amazing.
Meanwhile, the 12-ounce Big Island Loco Burger is $28. Before the pandemic, our guests were 80% Japanese. After the pandemic, the types of guests that were coming to our restaurant were the locals and from the mainland, so we created more options for their palate.
We use the same award-winning loco moco patties, but served on a Brioche bun with avocado, cheese, bacon, egg over medium, fried onion, barbecue sauce and gravy. This is one of the best dishes on the menu; we make sure you have a fork and knife to eat this.
The Aloha Garlic Shrimp Plate ($22) is also very popular. It comes with two scoops of rice and mixed greens, served with a side of spicy pickled pineapple.
A new addition to the menu is tacos. We are featuring the Cajun Mahi Mahi Aloha Tacos (three pieces for $19.50) — served with cabbage, cilantro and ranch. Add a bucket of Coronas for an additional $15. The Pineapple Piña Colada ($21, with alcohol; $18, virgin) is our bestseller. We sell so many of these and use the whole pineapple. When one person orders it, another guest will want to order it. We take the pineapple chunks from the fresh pineapple and blend it infused into the drink. Blue Hawaii ($12) is organic to Hawaii and features Blue Curacao, light rum and pineapple. We have a full bar and offer local beer from Kona Brewing and Honolulu Beerworks, and wines.
AL: Can you share what your kamaaina offer is?
MH: We have a daily kamaaina special Mondays through Fridays — just show your local ID. We can offer this dish at a discounted rate and it is also served with a nonalcoholic beverage. It’s a great deal for Waikiki. Some restrictions apply, so check our Instagram (@alohatable_waikiki) every Monday for weekly specials or you can call us at 808-922-2221 to see what the daily special is.