Mention Nu’uanu Okazuya to those “in the know” and chances are, they’ll mention fishcakes. They’re certainly one of the more well-known of the genre on Oahu, thanks in part to being included in the Okazuya guidebook, Okazuya: “Oh ‘Cause You Hungry” published back in 2000.
Nu’uanu fits the classic Okazuya business profile under several common denominators: 1) They’re located in an inconspicuous, hole-in-the-wall location; here being on a lesser beaten path back street, just a few blocks mauka of bustling downtown Honolulu. 2) The trays of food are placed in a shop-front window so passersby can see what’s available. 3) They’re owned and operated by a local Okinawan family. Therefore, many of the dishes offered are heavily influenced by Okinawan and Japanese cuisine. And 4) They open very early in the morning, and close within 1 or 2 hours after the lunch hour rush, or whenever food runs out – whichever comes first. Therefore, it’s a good idea to arrive as early as possible for best selection, especially if you want your claim of their most popular specialty items.
And I really agree with this statement in that Star bulletin article linked above: “In some ways I think it was the predecessor of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine,” Dela Cruz says of okazuya food. This really is fusion cuisine at its core, blending ingredients and cooking techniques from both east and western cultures.
Enough rambling. Let’s take a peek through the window to see what get!…
We arrived at 10:45am today (Friday), ahead of this 3-day Memorial Day weekend, therefore many folks (we assume) took off from work to extend the holiday, so most of the good stuff here was still available. Yay!
Still, inventory was already thinning, considering this to be a “slow” day. Look, all the shrimp tempura was wiped out, and only had this much vegetable tempura remaining…
Had Butterfish and Saba…
Hash patties, hamburger patties, Spam slices and Egg Omelets…
Nori Fishcakes, Gobo Fishcakes, Plain Fishcakes, Chive Fishcakes and Crab Fishcakes…
But shoots, they sold out of the Hot Dog Fishcake. Whaaahhhhh! Whaaaaahhh! That’s my favorite! Oh well, next time!
Whew, just in time. Only had three left! Had plenty of the diced Kabocha with shrimp, though…
OK, I’m drooling already, time to head in the door to order before people beat me to whatevah get left!…
As I said earlier, this was a Friday preceeding a 3-day weekend, so as you see, the dining room, which is usually at maximum capacity around this time, on this day was empty…
Earlier I showed you the the room-temperature items in the window. Then inside, there’s the hot station…
As you see on the bottom right, the tray of Nishime was all wiped out. But not to fret! As we were there, the cook just loaded up a fresh batch!
To the left of that is Squash (Togan) with Chicken and Tofu. Our nice server lady is shown putting together Diner E’s plate, grabbing a serving of Chicken Long Rice, Okinawan style. There’s also simmered Tofu, Chow Funn, and a few other items not clearly visible in the photo.
Well, we have our plates, so it’s back to the office where it’s time to grind!
Diner C ordered this…
Gobo (Kimpira), Simmered Tofu, Saba and Chow Funn. Total was about $6.
Here’s Diner E’s order….
Clockwise from top: Kobu Maki, Vegetable Tempura, Furikake Musubi, Cone Sushi, Garlic Chicken, Kabocha Pumpkin slice and Chicken Long Rice. Total for his was about $9.
Finally, here’s my order…
Clockwise from top: Vegetable Tempura, Teriyaki burger, Chow Funn, Nori Fishcake, Gobo Fishcake, Kabocha slice, Nori Musubi and Kobu Maki. Total was $9.55.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Kinda’ pricey. Yeah, we all agree on that. But.. but, most of what’s on these plates are worth it. Especially when you consider that many of these are specialty items that take long hours to prepare, or the ingredients involved simply cost more.
Let’s take a close look at that absolutely FANTASTIC! Kobu Maki…
This is made by wrapping strips of pork and gobo (Burdock root) in Kobu (a.k.a. Kombu, or sea kelp) and tying it up with Kanpyo (dried gord), then simmered in a shoyu/sugar/sake/katsuoboshi liquid until it’s flavorfully infused and tender. The Kobu Maki at Nu’uanu Okazuya should be a top priority on your must-have list when going here. Sugoi oishii desu yo!
Again I’ll say, I was really bummed they ran out of the Hot Dog Fishcake. But they still had a nice selection of other types. Here’s a closer look at the Gobo Fishcake…
And the Nori Fishcake..
Let’s also inspect that Chow Funn closer…
Diner C really enjoyed Nu’uanu’s take on this classic Okazuya dish, preferring its relative “complexity” in comparison to St. Louis Delicatessen’s back-to-basics approach. I didn’t care for it though. It had pieces of chicken in it, which to me didn’t match, IMHO. And the seasonings also was a bit off. Texture-wise, they were also a bit mushy and overcooked.
My favorites, at least on this particular day’s order, was the Gobo (Kimpira), which Diner C shared with us, the Kabocha (pumpkin), and the Kobu Maki. Order just those 3 items, and guaranz’ you got yourself a mighty tasty, and also quite healthy lunch.
Diner C gave her plate a solid 5 Spam Musubi rating based on taste alone, but scales back to 4, only because of the high price for “take-out food” such as this. $6 is a bit steep for that “mini plate” she had. Still, loved the Saba, saying how moist, tender and flavorful it was. That, along with that fantastic Gobo Kimpira gotta’ be a winner right there.
Diner E, our resident Uchinanchu, was also mostly favorable of his plate, except was disappointed with the long rice, which he said paled in comparison to that from Toshi’s and Masa & Joyce ; two of his favorite for that particular item. He also felt a little shortchanged on the Garlic Chicken, which as you can see, is a quite a scrawny small piece. Especially since the Okinawan lady knew he was Okinawan too. Wassup wit dat? lol
Like I was disappointed the Hot Dog fishcake ran out, he was also disappointed that they didn’t have Okara available on this visit. That’s his number one ichiban favorite item from Nu’uanu. Okara is a soy pulp byproduct which comes from the Tofu-making process.
With that, Diner E gave his plate on this day an overall 3 Spam Musubi rating. Not bad, all things considered.
Yours truly gives my plate a 4. But let me go beyond a simplified average and grade each item individually!
Kabocha (Pumpkin slice):
Nori and Gobo Fishcakes:
It would have scored one more Spam if it had Ume inside, but nevah get
So to average that breakdown,
the total score for my plate is:
and a half
I need to make a half-eaten SPAM Musubi icon to represent half points!
While techincally my plate is 3.5, I’m giving mines a solid
due to how delicous the Kimpira, Kabocha and Kobu Maki was. Winnahz.
And of course everyone has their favorites, no matter which Okazuya you go. Others might swear Nu’uanu’s Nishime is da’ best. Others might favor their shoyu pork. As always, to each their own.
Nuuanu Okazuya is located in a low-rise business building, with neighbors that include Hosoi Florist, another Okazuya (can’t remember the name), a saimin shop and I think a barber shop. Something like that. It’s on the Daimond Head side of Nuuanu Avenue, across Hosoi Mortuary, just behind Pali Long’s and Safeway. There’s usually a few metered parking stalls available on the street in front. Usually. Depending when you go and your timing. Funny enough, as soon as I drove up towards there, two cars moved in stalls I was gonna’ take! Ack! Luckily I scored one just a bit further down.
Nuuanu Okazuya. Whether you go for the fishcake specialties, their most excellent Kobu Maki, Kimpira, the Kabocha pumpkin, or the many other classics offered there, DO check them out. Buggah is oishii!
Here’s their info…
1351 Nu’uanu Ave.
Honolulu, HI 96817
Open Monday – Saturday
6am to 2pm
The Tasty Island rating:
• Okazuya: Cause You So Hungry! – Star Bulletin