Mention all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet and the likes of Todai and Makino Chaya immediately come to mind. Yet another popular, though inconspicuous place for this type of dining is Hanaki Restaurant, tucked way behind Manoa Marketplace in Manoa Valley.
We’ve dined here several times over the years, taking advantage of their free birthday meal promotion, where the person who’s birthday falls on that day eats free (must show valid ID) with the purchase of 2 or more paid meals.
While the selection isn’t as large or diverse as Todai or Makino Chaya, most of what you’d expect at a Japanese buffet are there, with the emphasis Hanaki being the sushi, and the Pièce de résistance… the shrimp tempura! We’ll see.
“Chef’s Specials” at the hot food station on this visit included teriyaki chicken, potato hash, grilled saba, shu mai, nishime, somen, soba, miso soup, fried rice, white rice and fried saimin noodles.
The sushi station included quite a variety of nigiri, maki and other more eclectic creations, ranging in style from the traditional to the contemporary.
There’s also a salad station that had all the usual vegetables and condiments, along with a Kamaboko salad and Mac salad. Yes, even a Japanese restaurant must serve Mac salad when in Hawaii. lol
Let’s take a look at some of the dishes that landed on our table…
Soba noodles with kombu, tofu and negi in a simple dashi broth
Plate of (counterclockwise from top): Nishime (in bowl), potato hash, eggplant tempura, zucchini and carrot tempura, shrimp tempura, various tsukemono and hamachi sashimi
These last three plates shown here are mostly the same things in different order and quantities, but there surely are other things to try at Hanaki not shown that may be more to your liking. Indeed.
Along with the sushi, the star attraction here is the Shrimp tempura, and it’s always been fantastic on past visits. But this time they were over-battered. Most of us ended up pulling and scraping off some of the excess deep-fried bits, as the shrimp became lost in it. The excessive batter also made it a bit greasy. It still had that light, flaky, delicate, crispy golden texture that Hanaki is good at – just too much of it this time.
Thankfully the shrimp itself were a fairly decent size (can’t give you a “U” figure) and were flavorful and sweet. Another slight disappointment was the unavailability of grated daikon for the tempura dipping sauce. Gladly again, the sauce itself was good enough to still work on its own.
The buttery fresh Hamachi sashimi was by far my favorite. Easy to please, ain’t I? I could have just piled a gigantic mountain of sashimi on a plate along with a bowl of wasabi and shoyu and lived happily ever after for that day, but surely not without getting “stink eye” from other diners and scoldings from the owner. lol
The Nigiri sushi was decent. It tasted like they had been sitting on the serving trays for a while, but were still acceptable. Otherwise, if you prefer it being absolutely fresh and made-to-order, a sushi chef is on duty behind the counter to serve you. I’ll try that next time.
The “sleeper” was the miso soup, which had a surprising depth to it. Sometimes this side dish basic is overlooked and is just passable “big deal Miso soup, wow-whoopie”, but theirs had some TLC that went into it. Condiments were the usual cubed tofu and green onion. If only there were Asari clams!
I didn’t grab any Maki or other types of sushi, or much else of the “hot” items, but those who did enjoyed it, finishing whatever was on the plate.
For dessert, there’s various flavors of Jello, and a “snow bowl” station…
Rainbow-flavored “Snow Bowl”
Similar to shave ice, obviously not as finely shaved.
I’m not sure what the capacity is of the place is – it’s neither big nor small – but it does get packed. Here’s the main dining area…
Surprisingly on this Wednesday visit at noon it was quite empty.
Aside of that Shrimp Tempura batter “issue”, everyone enjoyed the meal. Nothing really stood out as being exceptional, yet nothing was really bad either. Again, the sashimi on this visit was my favorite. Overall, a good selection of Japanese favorites at a competitive All-you-can-eat buffet price of $15.99 for lunch. Plus the birthday girl ate free.
Manoa Marketplace (behind Safeway)
2756 Woodlawn Dr
Honolulu, HI 96822
The Tasty Island Rating:
(2) Very Good.
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