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Kalihi Eats: Two Plates from Kahai Street Kitchen


Sautéed Opakapaka with Lemon Butter & Caper Sauce, $7.95

Last week, after doing business with a client in the lower industrial Kalihi district, we asked him where his favorite place in the area is for plate lunch. Three names immediately came to mind within a city block: Ethel’s, Pongo’s and Kahai Street Kitchen. Of the three, he quickly chose Kahai Street Kitchen as the “guaranz, no can go wrong” place. This didn’t surprise us, as we’re already familiar with how good KSK is (we’ll nickname them like this from here on), as experienced on several catered occasions in the past at our office by them.

So Diner A and myself stopped by KSK to grab some take-out. KSK is located on the Daimond Head-Makai corner of Kalihi Street and Kahai Street…


Kahai Street Kitchen @ 237 Kalihi Street. You enter in that door on the corner there.

Right across the street is Ethel’s Grill…

…the other recommended place, which we’ll surely try in the near future. After all, there’s a sign in front that touts “Oxtail Soup”. So there!

Parking is scarce, especially during their short lunch hour window, with just one designated customer parking stall behind the restaurant in the same apartment building it occupies. We were fortunate to scoop that stall, as someone just left as we arrived. Nice! Otherwise, you’ll have to find street parking, double park, or better yet, have someone drop you off to get your order as they wait in the car.

Like most hole-in-the-walls, the outside of KSK looks unpretentious and nondescript, except for the yellow sign high above on the building; but once you walk into KSK, you’ll find the small eatery packed with patrons lined up to order…


Nao Iwata, owner/operator of Kahai Street Kitchen, is seen here tending tending the service counter in the dark blue shirt (center)

What I must note is that many folks here weren’t just walking out with “one-zee, two-zees” (like us), but boxes full of plates! Obviously picking up orders for their entire work staff. You can see several of those boxes waiting on the counter in the photo above.

When I mentioned this blog to Nao, (since I had my camera out), he immediately jumped with excitement, mentioning being a regular reader, saying how much he really enjoys the write-ups here at “TI”. Right on. So, Nao, if you read this, “Howzit!”

OK, the line behind us is long, so we gotta’ make up our mind quick on what to order…

When we look undecided, the girl serving us quickly mentions the daily specials, which were printed on a letter-sized paper taped down on the counter. Here’s that list…

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Daily Specials – Friday, August 29th

Hong Kong Stuffed Chicken…………………….………………………………..……..…$7.25
Shiitake Mushroom, Lup Chong, Dried Ebi, Peanuts & Sticky Rice with a Light Natural Jus. Served with White or Brown Rice & Potato Mac or Tossed Salad

Shepherds Pie………………………………………..……..……………….……..………$6.95
European Old World Style Meat Loaf with Mashed Potatoes and Country Gravy. Served with White or Brown Rice & Potato Mac or Tossed Salad

Hickory Smoked Guava BBQ Pork Ribs…….……..……..….……..…..…….….………$7.75
Served with White or Brown Rice & Potato Mac or Tossed Salad

Deep Fried Ocean Scallops with Tartar Sauce..……….………..……………..…..……$7.50
Served with White or Brown Rice & Potato Mac or Tossed Salad

Baked Pork Chop…………………………..……………..……..……………….…………$7.25
Rosemary Red Wine Mushroom Sauce. Served with White or Brown Rice & Potato Mac or Tossed Salad.

Country Fried Steak………..…………………………………………….…………………$7.00
With Home Style Gravy. Served with Mashed Potato and Potato Mac or Tossed Salad

Shrimp Puttanesca..……..………………………………….….……..…..….……….……$7.25
Served on a bed Linguine with Capers, Black Olives in a Marinara Sauce & Garlic Bread

Chicken Parmesan…………………………………………………………………….……$6.95
Served on a bed of Linguine with Marinara Sauce & Garlic Bread

New England Seafood Chowder………………….…………………….…………………$4.95

Chili Burger with Fries………………………………………………………………………$5.50

Fish of the day:

Sautéed Opakapaka with Lemon Butter& Caper Sauce………………………$7.95
Served with White or Brown Rice & Potato Mac or Tossed Salad

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Oh my! Everything sounds so ono, I’m even more confused now! I like try everything!

Notice the fancier preparations here, which can be explained by Nao’s resume, which includes stints at Hau Tree Lanai, L’Uraku and the Waikiki Parc Hotel.

Since this was going to be an extended Labor Day weekend, and chances are I’d be indulging on some rich stuff over at the Okinawan Festival and other places, I decided to keep it “light” this Aloha Friday. So I went with the Sautéed Opakapaka with Lemon Butter & Caper sauce, also opting for tossed greens over the potato mac sal’.

Diner A chose the Boneless Teriyaki Shortribs from the regular menu.

If you’d rather dine-in, there are two small tables in the establishment…


Diner A looks very happy that he’s about to enjoy one supah-ono plate lunch! lol

Notice the Honolulu Cookie Company cookies sitting on our stuff. Nao offered them to us (mahalo for that!), saying that they come by and give him the rejects which he in turn gives to his customers. I assume the factory is somewhere nearby. Shoot, da’ buggahz still nice and crisp and ono; small-kine’ broken on da’ Pineapple crown tips, but minahz… she go, cuz!

Well, back to the office and time to grind. Itadakimasu!

Here’s my Sautéed Opakapaka…

Notice how nicely packed it is, with the dressing and lemon butter & caper sauce kept separately for optimum texture (not soggy).

Here it is all sauced and dressed-up…


Sautéed Opakapaka with Lemon Butter & Caper Sauce

Looks delicious! Now let’s dig in and give this a try…

This is where the “record needle scratched” just a bit for me. I immediately noticed the resistance as I cut through the Opakapaka with my plastic knife, telling me the fish was overcooked. It was also under-seasoned. The lemon butter caper sauce helped, but couldn’t quite make up for the rather dry, medium-well to well-done Snapper. Hey, I have to be honest and offer constructive criticism.

Some people might like it that way, but I prefer fish sauteed just to the point where it’s seared outside, while being super-moist and flaky, fall-apart medium-rare inside. I’ll even accept rare! It was also somewhat cold, so I’m assuming this item isn’t cooked to order, but is done in bulk and sits in steam warmers for quicker service. What also reinforces this assumption is how quickly my order came out. The flavor of the Opakapaka with the lemon butter & capers is dynamite, so this plate certainly has potential. It was just overcooked. That’s my only gripe. If this might be an issue for you as well, if you order this plate, tell them you want your fish cooked medium rare.

The salad dressing was delicious, reminding me of the Parisian White Wine Vinaigrette dressing in that salad kit you get at Costco. A perfect balance of zesty, bold, sweet and tangy, with a good semi-thick viscosity that sticks. I could eat a big bowl of just the greens! The rice was nice and hot and cooked to perfection.

Overall, although the fish being overcooked was a bummer, I still give the plate 2-SPAM Musubi for the sum of its parts, noting the generous portion of the Opakapaka fillet, nice marriage with the Lemon Butter & Caper sauce, hot, perfectly-cooked rice, freshness of the greens, fantastic salad dressing and exceptional value.

Now let’s look at Diner A’s plate…


Boneless Teriyaki Shortribs, $6.75

Ding-ding-ding! Winner in corner two by a knock-out! Diner A LOVED this plate!

The potato mac salad was excellent. Cool, creamy, fresh, with just the right amount of seasoning, and a nice texture helped out by the chunks of el dente pototoes in it. I tried some and agree. This is a contender for best plate lunch mac salad.

The boneless Teriyaki Shortribs didn’t last very long. That was probably the fastest I’ve ever seen Diner A put away a plate lunch. Whoah! In fact, when I asked him what he thought, he said, “Easy solid 4-SPAM Musubi, only not getting 5 because not enough shortribs”. Good quality beef, tender, killer Teri’ sauce and most importantly, they’re GRILLED! Not griddled, baked or roasted, but flame-GRILLED! Yes! See da’ papa’a marks? That’s when you know going be ono. And it was. So there you have it, Diner A gives the Boneless Teriyaki Shortribs plate a solid 4-SPAM Musubi rating, only short of 5 because he wanted more!

Next time I’d like to try the guava BBQ ribs and also the Shrimp Puttanesca. In fact, I could go for that right about now!

Kahai Street Kitchen
237 Kalihi St.
Honolulu, HI 96819
Tel: 845-0320
Fax: 842-4273
Website: www.kahaistreet-kitchen.com
Business hours: LUNCH Mon ~ Fri 10:30am to 1:30pm

The Tasty Island rating:

(3) Very Good. Considerable of another visit or purchase. (Supah’ Ono!)

Related links:
The Catered Bento Lunch Hunt
Catering Excellence from Kahai Street Kitchen
In Kalihi, Hi-End Eats at Plate Lunch Prices – Honolulu Advertiser


13 thoughts on “Kalihi Eats: Two Plates from Kahai Street Kitchen

  • August 31, 2008 at 10:27 pm
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    It many seem like a hole in the wall but food is excellence. Grill fish with lemon butter and capers sauce is something you find in a fine restaurant and that price you can’t go wrong. Make me want a glasse of white wine to go with it instead of coke.

    Boy cheesecake would have been good also with meal but still good deal. Just head somewhere else for dessert.

    Reply
  • September 1, 2008 at 1:59 am
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    Wow, that’s a lotta opakapaka for the price! It looks as if they were pretty generous with the capers, too, yeah?

    I’ve been curious, Pomai: Do you identify yourself before or after ordering your food? I only ask because I wonder if eateries give you bigger portions or a better presentation when they know you’re going to blog about them. I know that most restaurant critics stay anonymous so they can get the same treatment and food as everyone else. Hope you don’t mind my nosiness.

    Reply
  • September 1, 2008 at 6:51 am
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    howzit bruddah, and happy labor day wknd! another lovely write up. checked out the articles listed also, and man that’s some tasty stuff. winnahz!!!

    Reply
  • September 1, 2008 at 6:54 am
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    lol, I’ll bet the camera gives him away. Not too many people taking pictures of counters and menu-boards.

    Have you noticed, the center of the food-universe seems to be Kalihi?

    Reply
  • September 1, 2008 at 8:28 pm
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    Oh man ! looks good !!

    Ethel’s is my favorite spot. Gotta get the Tataki, the salad (dressing) and the Teri Chicken. The “sizzling” steak is good and my lunch partner always gets the Mahi. Never had the Oxtail before, but everything is good there. Go early !

    Reply
  • September 1, 2008 at 9:30 pm
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    Jason, good suggestion about the wine. In fact, I should be doing more postings that include wine pairings. On my next finer dining restaurant visit or gourmet recipe presentation, I’ll include that. Wine can certainly elevate a dish from delicious to spectacular!

    Jenny, that’s a good question. I didn’t introduce myself until after we ordered at about the halfway point of waiting for our food, which took just about 8 minutes from the time in and out the door. And Nao was in the front the whole time, so I don’t think our plates were given any special treatment.

    Howzit Raph’ and mahalo for that!

    Jodi, so true. Kalihi is home to so many classic local eateries. Choke Okazuyas, The Pastele Shop, Meg’s, Alicia’s Market, Richie’s, Kenny’s… the list goes on and on! Fortunately we have Diner E, our official “Kalihi Eats Tour Conductor” to direct us to where they all are!

    Howzit Scott, mahalo for the recommendations at Ethel’s! The guy who pointed us to KSK also mentioned the Tataki. I’m a huge Sashimi fan, so that will be the first thing on my list there. Sounds like a tough place to get a table though (very small). If cannot get, do they do take-out?

    Reply
  • September 2, 2008 at 5:39 pm
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    Pairing White Zinfandel and Chardonnay goes well with the fish. And for that beef dish I would pair with Cabernet Sauvigon or ever popular Merlot or Pinot Noir. If for salad Sauvigon Blanc will do me fine.

    Reply
  • September 2, 2008 at 5:45 pm
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    I would pick Merlot for that boneless short rib and my favorite White Zinfandel for the fish but since lemon butter caper sauce is tangy I would goes with just Chardonnay. Sauces make a different with what kind of wines too.

    Reply
  • September 2, 2008 at 8:18 pm
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    Baked pork chop with rosemary red wine sauce I would pair it Pinot Noir but some people see red wind sauce on pork would try Merlot but for me Cabernet Sauvigon which also pair well with beef too.

    Reply
  • September 2, 2008 at 9:37 pm
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    I think you can get Ethel’s food to go, but it’s definitely better there. As long as you don’t go with a big group at 12:30, you’ll be ok. It is worth the wait though!

    I love Alicia’s too !!!!!!

    Reply
  • September 2, 2008 at 11:22 pm
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    This site makes me ono for Hawaiian food! Honolulu plate lunch looks delicious. Try Cafe 100 on the big island if you’re ever there. I can’t wait to come back and visit my relatives in Hilo.

    -Aloha from Southern Cali!

    Reply
  • September 4, 2008 at 8:23 pm
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    Wonder if they ever going to have Coq au Vin? Boy that would be great with Pinot Blanc. Creme Bulee would finish off well for me which I ‘ll make at home.

    Reply

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