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Kalihi Eats: Pho Dillingham & Grill

Pho Dac Biet

Pho Dillingham & Grill Vietnamese & American Food Restaurant recently opened for business on December 10, 2008, replacing the former popular local grinds hot spot, Spot’s Inn, who closed their doors on August 23rd, 2008.

They’re located on the corner of Dillingham and Kokea street across Honolulu Community College. If that isn’t enough of a landmark to help you find it, the beautiful Hawaii Kai Marina-like Kapalama Canal is nearby. Or there’s also a radio tower towering behind it.

Let’s start with their name, PHO DILLINGHAM & GRILL, which sounds grammatically incorrect (not that my grammar on this blog is any better). Perhaps “DILLINGHAM PHO & GRILL” might sound better. Or, “PHO DILLINGHAM & KOKEA”. Or even “PHO & NEAR DILLINGHAM”. But to combine the location with “& GRILL” just doesn’t make sense. Kind of like saying “THE SHACK BAR & HAWAII KAI” in reverse. Ya’ know?

Anyway, just had to get that off my chest.

Pho Dillingham & Bar…. oops, I mean, Pho Bar & Grill.. oops, I mean, Pho Dillingham & Grill describes themselves as specializing in Vietnamese & American Food. Yet, considering the shoes they’re filling (Spot’s Inn), they really should include “local grinds” in there somewhere, as that does make up a noticeably-contrasting variance of their menu, which otherwise is predominantly Vietnamese.

Speaking of which, let’s get right to that by clicking here to download and view Pho Dillingham & Grill’s menu in PDF format. Did you get that? If you didn’t, see a Geek Squad expert at Best Buy Iwilei and they can help you get it. Or even better, drive up mauka on Alakawa street, make a left Ewa-bound on Dillingham, and just a block up the street you’ll be right there (actually on the left) at Pho Dillingham & Kokea… I mean Grill. lol


Notice the radio tower behind it, which you can see pretty much from anywhere around central Honolulu.

Like most other fast food & plate lunch joints around, as you walk in here, you’re greeted by a front ordering counter with a lit menu board above and behind. Here’s Ben, the owner (and very nice guy) taking an order from a customer…

Ben (da’ ownah) takes an order

If you’re wondering whether he’s Vietnamese (you know, ’cause he really looks French), yes he is, and speaks his native tongue quite prominently when calling (more like yelling) the orders to his cooks (one of which may be his dad or uncle) in back. Yet his English is very good, so no worries on that part.

While this place is relatively new, they seem to already have a following, as was evident by the steady stream of patrons arriving to order while I was there…

You can dine in or take out here. If you decide to eat there, there’s a substantial amount of seating in the air conditioned dining room…

This is actually just the right and back side of the dining room. The front side along the windows were filled with folks.

That bottle of Thai Chili Sauce to the far left with the cap off seemed to be a popular condiment with patrons dining in.

With PHO being the primary part of their name, you’d expect that dish to be their specialty, which is exactly what most folks were ordering during my visit. . As went out yet another Pho Combo bowl, along with a side of Summer Rolls…

Dine-in order of PHO (combo) and side-order of Summer Rolls

Looking back at the take-out menu PDF the Geek Squad Expert so kindly helped you download, notice it’s not separated by category. Well, the menu board in the restaurant is, so I’ll explain which is what, to help you make your decision what to order.

Obviously the first item listed is the breakfast…

Ben should extend the hours to 10:30am, just to stay in check with McDonalds. I’m a little disappointed the selection here doesn’t including anything uniquely Vietnamese. Isn’t there a Pho-flavored sausage of some kind? Or, perhaps use Quail eggs instead of chicken eggs. And Jasmine Rice instead of short grain white rice. Ya know?

What I admire about the rest of the menu is that every item is NUMBERED, along with alphabetized sub-selections. Very nice. EVERY restaurant should use the alphanumeric menu system to reduce screwing orders up.

• #1 ~ 3 = EGG/RICE NOODLE (Mi, Hu Tieu)

• #4 ~ 11 = NOODLE SOUP/PHO (One size large

• #12-18 = BEEF STEW

• #19 ~ 25 = VERMICELLI RICE NOODLE (Dried Bun)

• #26 ~ 32 = RICE PLATES – Co’m Dia

• #33 ~ 36 = FRIED RICE – Co’m Chien (Egg, Pea & Carrot)

• #37 A ~ D = PAD THAI (Pho Xao Sauce Thai)

#38 = SALAD (Goi)

• #39 ~ 41 = VIETNAMESE SANDWICH (Banh Mi)

• #42 ~ 44 = CURRY (with Rice or French Bread or Rice Vermicelli)

• #45 ~ 50 = VEGETARIAN FOOD

• #51 ~ 59 = LOCAL PLATES (Served with 2 Scoops of Rice & Toss Salad)

• #60 ~ 64 = BURGERS (Served with French Fries, Lettuce & Tomato)

finally, there’s DRINKS

Notice there’s a POST-IT® covering the Strawberry and Avocado flavor. Could those be the hit flavors that sold out quickly? Dunno. French Coffee with Condensed Milk sounds interesting. I’ll have try that next time there.

So what did we get? Diner A ordered the Pad Thai #37-A…

PHO DILLINGHAM & GRILL: Pad Thai – Fried Rice Noodles, Veggies of Special Thai Sauce & Ground Peanuts (Pho Xao Sauce Thai) with Chicken (or you can choose beef, shrimp or tofu), $8.75

Diner E went with the French Bread with BBQ Pork Vietnamese Sandwich…

PHO DILLINGHAM & GRILL: French Bread with BBQ Pork Vietnamese Sandwich, $5.00

Accompanying that, he also got some Summer Rolls…

PHO DILLINGHAM & GRILL: Summer Rolls (Goi Cuon), $4.95

And yours truly went for the signature dish, the Grilled Dillingham. Oops, I mean the PHO…

PHO DILLINGHAM & GRILL: Pho Combo (Pho Dac Biet), $7.75

Usually I’m apprehensive about ordering any kind of soup for take-out, mainly for fear of it spilling as I drive to my destination, but this time took a chance. Besides, I need to begin earning my stars as a seasoned PHO tasting expert, especially with so many new shops popping up all over Oahu to try out.

Speaking of which, there’s a little shop on King street named PHO MAI, which always makes me chuckle when I pass by there. lol

And I’ll come straight forward and say this is truly the very first bowl of PHO I’ve ever had for myself. The only time having tried it before was back at Bac Nam where Diner C shared some with me to taste. From that time on, I knew PHO, like Ramen, was something I coulld REALLY get into.

Thankfully the folks here pack PHO-TO-GO (hey, that would be another catchy name for yet another PHO restaurant!) very well, separating the precious hot broth in one sealed container, the noodles and meats in the main bowl which is also sealed, and the veggies in a plastic bag, which I transferred onto this tray…

PHO Combo take-out kit

According to the menu, the Pho Combo is made up of sliced beef, meat ball, brisket, tendon and tripe, served with bean sprouts, basil, lime and hot green peppers.

So when you get it in unassembled form like this, the thin slices of beef are served raw…

Deconstructed bowl of PHO (sans broth)

Here’s a better look…

Looks like a tongue, huh?

Check out this solid slab of FAT…

If not for anything else, all I can think this is in there for is MOAH FLAVAH.

Now with the hot broth added, you can see it immediately begins to cook the raw beef…

Pho with hot broth just added

I actually nuked the broth for about a minute-and-a-half in the microwave to get it scalding-hot again.

Here you can see underneath all that meat is a bed of vermicelli noodles…

But what the heck is that tentacle-lookin’ thing in there? Take a closer look…

Could this be a decendant of the elusive GIANT SQUID? Or how about the testicle of an alien? But alas, according to Diner E and C, they think it’s Tripe. I guess. It’s kinda’ rubbery and “meaty” in a fatty way, but otherwise not much flavor, yet it does add an interesting texture to the dish.

Another mystery was that meatball…

I COULD NOT make out what this meatball was made of. As long as come Monday I don’t start becoming attracted to female cats or dogs, I’ll be OK with this. Meow. Seriously, it wasn’t beefy, nor porky, nor chickeny nor shrimpy (are those valid words? lol), but kind of gamey in a nondescript way. Interestingly, this was the only solid items that was kept in the broth. Perhaps they’re some kind of magic PHO Balls that bring the dish good luck. Dunno.

So how did I like this Pho? Simply said, it was PHO OUT! Seriously, coming from my amateur Pho palate, I’d easily grade it a 5 SPAM Musubi rating. Just excellent. The broth had a rich beef and star anise flavor to it without being overpowering. It wasn’t too mild nor too salty. It did detect a hint of sweetness to it, which I imagine is why they give you the lime to counter that.

There was an abundant amount of beef in it, as well as other meaty goodies and also an abundant amount of vermicelli noodles. In other words if Campbell’s made a CHUNKY® version of Pho, this would be it. That, along with the fresh veggies to top it was as perfect as I could imagine Pho being. I didn’t make much use of the accompanying Hoisin sauce, as I don’t care for Hoisin. The broth had enough flavor as is anyway.

I have yet to try that Pho restaurant on or near River Street in Chinatown, who I hear is the benchmark Pho restaurant in Honolulu. So until I do get to try a bowl of what everyone proclaims as benchmark PHO, this one gets a solid 5 SPAM Musubi rating from me.

Diner A wasn’t as fond about his Chicken Pad Thai. I tried some and agree, it was soggy for one, and also a little dry. And the sauce it was mixed didn’t wow us. The problem seems to be that it tasted like something they have already made and sitting in a steam pan waiting for service. It certainly did not taste cooked-to-order. Diner A also said there was TOO MUCH peanuts. I’m nuts about nuts, so I don’t think I’d have a problem with that, but he didn’t care for it. With that, he gave his Chicken Pad Thai 1 SPAM Musubi.

Finally we have Diner E’s BBQ Pork Vietnamese Sandwich. If you scroll back up and look at the photo of it, notice the pickled Vietnamese style veggies are tucked way back into the inner crevice of the bun. Well, if you look at the sandwich before he cut it in half, you’d think it didn’t have ANY veggies, which he was initially dismayed by. Still, even after cutting it to reveal what veggies there were in there, he was still bummed there wasn’t any CILANTRO. Now go back and look at the photo of the sandwich on the menu board, where you’ll see it’s depicted as having CHOKE cilantro and veggies piled high on it. Well, that’s not what he got.

Fortunately the saving grace was the delicious, char-grilled teriyaki pork, which he really enjoyed. In fact, he wants to get the plate version of that next time. That along with those pickled veggies was a winner. The only other shortcoming he mentioned was that the french bread’s crust wasn’t as “crusty-crunchy” as he’d prefer, such as the one at Ba-Le Sandwich Shop. Still a decent French Bread, just not as good as Ba-Le’s in his opinion.

As for his Summer Rolls, he said they were good, but not great. Pretty much standard fare.

That said, for his BBQ Pork Vietnamese Sandwich and Summer Rolls, he gave them an overall 2 SPAM Musubi rating.

Still, this polished-off plate just might be an indication there are better things to be had than what Diner A and E tried…


That must have been really ono!

Again, my bowl of PHO, coming from the palate of an amateur, was STELLAR. If anything, try that. The BBQ Teriyaki Pork was also highly favorable. If you order the sandwich and like plenty of veggies, make sure to tell Ben that, and I’m sure he’d be more than happy to accommodate your request. He’s a really nice and friendly guy.

There’s ample parking in the strip mall its in, but I can see it easily being full during peak lunch hour. Fortunately someone had just pulled out when I arrived.

I’m certainly returning here, as I think the place has promise; and the blunder of not having Cilantro in the sandwich could have easily been fixed had we been eating there at the restaurant. Next I’d like to try their curry.

On the corner of Kokea and Dillingham (across HCC)
Tel. 843-2263
Menu (2-page PDF document; current as of 1/09. Prices and selection subject to change without notice.)

The Tasty Island Rating:
(Averaged from Pho being 5, BBQ Pork Vietnamese Sandwich & Summer Rolls being 2 and Chicken Pad Thai being 1)

(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it. (Ono)


35 thoughts on “Kalihi Eats: Pho Dillingham & Grill

  • January 26, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    All this talk about Chinese beef stew made me and my friend go out to lunch today in Gardena at this place called Tasty Kitchen nest to teh 99 Ranch Market. I got the lunch special for $5.25 which was a heaping platter of jasmine rice topped with a real generous helping of tendons and cubed brisket along with Chinese greens mixed in. Wish I could have took a picture of it because I could not finish it all. I thought of all the starving children in China as my mother used to tell me all the time…

  • January 26, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Eh Clinton, trying to take over The Tasty Island like you try on AlohaWorld? Let Pomai be and do his own thing, OK? Why not start your own blog.

  • January 26, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    Nate, whoah! Not sure what’s going on, but hopefully you can work it out with Clinton privately on this matter.

  • January 26, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Amy and Nate ’88, try buy a (mediocre) sandwich at Honolulu International Airport. Your eyeballs will pop out and your credit card company will call you saying they temporarily suspended your account. lol

    But seriously, yes, for $5, Diner E’s sandwich should have been spilling over and out with fresh veggies. As is, I would have sent it back had we had the opportunity to do so. I’ll have to start checking all our orders before leaving the establishments.

    Ken, thanks for the compliments from way up north. I could imagine exotic hot soup dishes like Pho would be very popular in such cold places like Minnesota. How’s the Japanese Ramen Shop scene up there?

    Nate, you got it. Eastern Food Center is where I’ll put on my #1 to-do list on my next trek into Honolulu Chinatown. I’ll order exactly what you prescribed.

    Jenny, I’d imagine there’s even more vietnamese restaurants in Seattle (west coast) then there are in Ken’s area of Minnesota. Here in Honolulu, they’ve easily overtaken ramen shops in presence. Which makes it even better for food bloggers like me to sample!

    Clinton, mahalo for the providing your brother’s Hawaiian Style Sweet Bread Pudding recipe! I’ll give it a shot and blog it here later.

    I’m thinkin’, what if you kicked that up one notch higher and served this Hawaiian Style Bread Pudding over a wedge of Haupia? Hah? Sound ono ah! Or perhaps along with a scoop of Roselani’s most excellent Haupia Ice Cream. Oh man! Money right there!

  • January 26, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    When I come back to Oki on trips I bring my own food to the airport. Usually stuff that I’ll also take on the plane and eat and if I can’t finish either give away or leave. Like manapua stuff. Yah, the airport prices are ridiculous!

  • January 26, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Thanks Pomai, hope you enjoy the recipe you asked for.

  • January 27, 2009 at 6:55 am

    I wonder if the grammar problem comes from Vietnamese grammar. I think Pho places are always Pho ____ not _____ Pho yeah? So maybe it didn’t make sense for them to say Dillingham Pho? Maybe should be… Pho and Grill Dillingham? haha… idk…

    I always thought those meatballs in pho had fishcake too. Idk, maybe the texture just reminds me of fishcake. I don’t like them that much.

    I was excited to have a new place for banh mi but I guess Bale still wins. I think their sandwiches are around $4 yeah? Can’t remember… I wonder if banh mi is the same size in Hawai’i as the mainland. You know, sometimes we get into supersizing…

    And Pad Thai, even just the price, I can tell Bangkok Chef would be better!

  • February 13, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    Aha. Well, my uncle (Ben) was shouting orders to me dad in the back. They’re brother in laws. And it’s not really Ben’s… because he doesn’t cook. He’s the waiter/cashier.

    Just wanted to point it out. I can’t believe someone wrote a review for my family’s restaurant. Makes me feel proud. :3

  • March 15, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    Hey man sorry to let you in on this but that “meatball” was beef testicles!! Hahah


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