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Kahala Eats: The Counter® Custom Built Burgers

The Counter “Old School” Signature Burger, $8.95

The Counter® Custom Built Burgers™ restaurant recently opened in Kahala Mall on February 16th, located on the mauka-side of the mall, on the corner adjacent to Whole Foods (formerly Star Market) and Chili’s across the parking lot roadway…

Surprisingly they were able to scoop this prime corner location (formerly Ginza Kimuraya Tokyo Bakery & Café) before Starbucks did.

Actually there’s major star power behind the folks who own the joint, with investors including D.K Kodama of Sansei and D.K Steak House fame (as well as a few other ventures) and Daniel Dae Kim of the hit TV series LOST, while its co-owners are Ed Robles and Pablo Buckingham. Like D.K’s restaurants, Chuck Furuya is also the wine consultant for The Counter.

Wait, wine consultant at a burger joint? Yesa. See this place is breaking the mold of the retro style joint like say, Teddy’s, and going with a more progressive, modern industrial concept, as they explain like this: Anti-Established in 2003, The Counter® is the 21st century’s bold answer to the classic burger joint. Ushering in a fresh era of industrial decor, today’s music, cold beer, unique wines, cocktails, and burger options that are only limited by your imagination.”

A full bar occupies the entire span of the right side wall of the dining room…

I swear, there is not one restaurant that can resist the temptation to install giant flat panel TVs in their establishment nowadays. Whatever happened to drinkin’ a beer, eatin’ a burger and boring the bartender and/or wait staff with your sad sob stories? lol

Those folks sitting at the bar aren’t necessarily drinkers either, but probably sat there as the only option, as the place was packed to full capacity, including a line of folks waiting outside to get a table….

Folks waiting outside wating to be seated at The Counter

As you might expect with any new and hip eatery, there was plenty of hype as was indicated by the people arriving in droves to eat here.

Getting back into the dining room, the back wall is adorned with truckless skateboards…

Urban Graffitti art is splashed on each board…

So as you’ve seen looking around the establishment, aside of a couple surf and beach photos on the bar side of the wall, for the most part the decor gives the impression of being a cookie-cutter model of their mainland locations, with hardly anything trying to be tropical, Hawaiian, island-themed or Tiki Bar kitchy.

Neither is the menu, except for a couple of unique only-in-Hawaii items. One would be the Loco Moco, listed as one of their Signature Burgers. Their Loco Moco is made up of an all-natural ground beef patty, fried egg, fried onion strings, & brown gravy on a bed of rice for just $8.95. In the sauces, you’ll also see the Kahala menu has Teriyaki sauce, while the mainland locations version is the form of a Ginger Soy Glaze. Also, in honor of Daniel Dae Kim’s Korean roots, you can also get that with Kim Chee on da’ side (for just $1 more). Ohw’right!

Let’s get right to the menu, which they have the set selections (non-customizable) printed on a plastic card kept at the tables, as well as the BUILD YOUR OWN BURGER™ ordering sheets printed on disposable paper that are brought to you on a clipboard by your server…

You’re given a pencil along with this, then left to answer the 312,120-choice question: how do you want your burger built?

• Step 1) Choose a Burger: Beef, Turkey, Veggie or Grilled Chicken meat/patty. Here you also choose size: 1/3, 2/3 or 1 lb. Or, skip step 5 (later) and Build your burger in a bowl
• Step 2) Choose a Choose a Cheese (1 included – extra cheese $1)
• Step 3) Choose up to 4 toppings
• Step 4) Choose a sauce
• Step 5) Choose a Bun

Somehow their accountants and/or marketing experts have figured out there’s exactly 312,120 different burger combinations possible with the available options they have listed on their Build Your Own Burger™ ordering sheet. Was I baffled by the choices that lay before me? You bet! It almost came to down to “eeny, meeny, miny, moe”. lol

They really should do this Vegas style! (you know Hawaii loves Vegas). Put each step on a slot machine wheel, with the set of options on them. To order, you simply walk up to the slot machine and pull the handle, where the slot machine lands on a random set of options for your burger. You can “lock” in certain criteria like the type and size of burger, as well as bun. Other than, purely random. What ya’ think? Could work, eh? lol

But seriously, I knew I didn’t want the beef patty too big, so went for the smallest option, which as you see is still HUGE at 1/3 pound. There was a teenager sitting next to us that must have ordered the 2/3 pound patty, as his burger was massive – way bigger than ours – and he struggled to get his mouth around it, which we didn’t think he could pull it off, but he did! Reminded me of my nephew when he polished off an 18 oz. Teddy’s Burger in just a couple bites.

For cheese, I chose Gruyere. For toppings went with dill pickle chips, mixed baby greens, grilled onions and tomato. For sauce went with Peppercorn Steak Sauce, then finally for bun chose the most unusual sounding option, the Honey Wheat Bun.

I tried to convince my girlfriend to order off the Build Your Own Burger™ option sheet, but I think the idea that there were over 300,000 possibilities on there was too daunting, and she instead decided to play it “safe” and ordered a burger from their set menu, going for The Counter’s Signature “Old School” Burger.

To go along with this, we odered the “Fifty-Fifty”, which is a half ‘n half order of fries and onion strings (not rings, STRINGS).

We then placed our order with our overworked server, then waited, and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited. Finally after about one full hour (not exaggerating, we eventually started clocking it), our Fifty-Fifty fries finally arrived. That’s it? Where’s the burgers? Obviously something was very wrong back in the kitchen on this visit. In fact, if you looked around the busy restaurant, there was an upset look on many folks’ faces. We obviously weren’t the only ones who waited a long time to get our order.

As we suspected, they were short staffed in the kitchen, as confirmed by our also-hustling server, with only ONE COOK back there turning out orders for the entire, packed house. Poor guy. We almost felt like asking the manager if we could go back there and help the poor chap out. He sure needed it.

Man, good thing they serve beer, so I ordered a couple Stella’s along the way just to help kill the time.

Fortunately we’re the understanding type (especially my girlfriend, who’s works in the industry) and just rode out the wait. I believe there were a couple people who walked out.

So finally our Fifty-Fifty fries and onion strings arrive…

THe Counter “Fifty-Fifty” Fries & Onion Strings, $5.50

This better be good. It is good. Perfectly cooked fries, golden crispy outside and moist ‘n tender inside.

The star though are the onion strings. Notice the batter is that crumbly-flaky type, similar to the Onion Loaf at Tony Roma’s. That, dipped into the zesty and smokey, tangy-sweet BBQ sauce is fantastic. The ranch dipping sauce had a great flavor, but it was thinned out beyond usability, to the viscosity of, oh, say, evaporated milk (cream). With the price of admission here, common’ guys, don’t be cutting corners thinning out dipping sauces like that.

But the strings and BBQ sauce is a winning combo’ right there…

We didn’t order these, but a neighboring table just got a tray of the “Fifty-Fifty” with the sweet potato fries…

A KGMB reviewer raved about the Sweet Potato Fries here.

Also next to us, these folks ordered the Chili Fries…

Notice how tall the burger stands on the plate on the right.

Finally after another half-hour wait (another 30 minutes!), our burgers finally arrived (that totals 1 hour and 30 minutes elapsed time to get our main course). Here’s mine…

The Counter’s Build Your Own Burger™ “Pomai” combo (a.k.a. combo #214,977), $8.95

Again, my choices on this visit was the 1/3 pound beef patty, Gruyere Cheese, Dill Pickles, Grilled Onions, Mixed Baby Greens and Tomatoes on a Honey Wheat Bun with Peppercorn Steaksauce on the side.

Just kidding about the “combo #214,977”, although what they should do is run all of the 312,120 combination possibilities through a data base program and number each one, or better yet, name each one. Kinda’ like Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. So I got dibs already on the one I ordered, which is now officially the “Pomai Combo”. lol

Here’s a better angle to see the Honey Wheat Bun…

The Counter’s Build Your Own Burger™ “Pomai” combo (a.k.a. combo #214,977), $8.95

Let’s cut it in half so we can get a look at the beef patty…

The Counter Build Your Own Burger™ combo: 1/3 pound Beef Patty, Gruyere Cheese, Dill Pickles, Grilled Onions, Mixed Baby Greens and Tomatoes on a Honey Wheat Bun with Peppercorn Steaksauce on the side.

According to their menu, their burgers are described as such: “Our 100% natural ground angus beef is raised on a vegetarian diet without hormones or antibiotics” and are “Certified humane raised and handled”.

Kudos to the cook bustin’ okole back there, gotta’ say, with all that pressure on him or her, my burger came out looking and tasting fantastic! The beef patty here is delicious. Char-grilled and cooked to medium perfection, while being perfectly seasoned. Just a great burger. And juicy! While I can’t remember how to describe each element such as the Sauteed Onions, Gruyere or the Honey Wheat Bun, I do remember the sum of its parts worked quite well, and one bite, even after that hour-and-a-half long wait, brought a “this a good burger” smile to my face.

Next let’s take a close look at my girlfriend’s “Old School” burger…

The Counter “Old School” Signature Burger, $8.95

The “Old School” Signature Burger is described as such: “All natural ground beef, Tillamook Cheddar Cheese, Lettuce, Tomato, Onion, Pickle and Red Relish.”

Look at that molten Tillamook Cheddar just oozing and drippin’ over the sides. That’s “money” right there. Also take notice how the bun is perfectly toasted on the insides, an oh-so-critical step that I stressed not long ago with Kiawe Grill’s Kobe Burger.

At this angle, you can see how nicely dome-shaped their “standard” hamburger bun is shaped on top…

The Counter “Old School” Signature Burger

That’s one pretty bun. Now let’s cut it in half…

Again, perfectly seared, just hovering medium doneness. She enjoyed this quite a bit as well. While she didn’t think it toppled the best burger she had to date, which was one from Jameson’s in Haleiwa, she did note it as being competitive with the best out there.

Portion-wise, even the 1/3-pounders are massive, and we only could finish half our burgers. Especially after filling up eating the fries and onion strings while waiting for them. We think our experience eating the burgers would have been so much better had they arrived the same time with the fries and strings, so you could eat them as a complete meal. Not as it turned out where the fries and strings ended up being our appetizer.

Growing pains aside, we most certainly will return here. I’ll just make sure before accepting a table to ask the server, “How’s the kitchen staff today? You folks got enough people back there?”. Make you sure you do that too. Confirming some sort of logistical issues, even the KGMB review of this place said they waited over 45 minutes for their order to arrive, so I’m not sure how often this happens.

Bottom line, the burgers, fries and onion strings were fantastic, so Amen to that. When given the Build Your Own Burger™ menu to make your selections, it becomes an unusually entertaining and refreshing dining experience, having you spin your mind into trying to think what would go good with what to, as advertised, “Build Your Own Burger™”. Plus there’s enough healthful options for those living it, including turkey or veggie patties.

Ambiance-wise, the moderate-sized, industrial designed dining room is very clean (it’s new, it better be!), while being crowded and hustled, with the noise that goes along with it, so don’t come here if you have important business to discuss, as you’ll be distracted. Still it’s a fun atmosphere, made even more fun as you get amused and awed seeing people (some very tiny) try to wolf down burgers half the side of their head.

With over 300,ooo options to consider, along with a loco moco thrown into the mix for those who gotta’ have rice, surely there’s a something for everyone to get their burger groove on at The Counter® Custom Built Burgers in Kahala Mall.

The Counter® Custom Built Burgers
Kahala Mall
4211 Waialae Avenue #E-1
Honolulu HI 96816

Tel. 739-5100
Fax. 739-5102

Open Daily
Monday-Thursday 11am-10pm
Friday-Saturday 11am-11pm
Sunday 11am-9pm

Official website: www.TheCounterBurger.com

The Tasty Island rating:

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

*Note: They would have got a higher rating had the gears in the kitchen been oiled properly, but it’s forgivable since they’re new, hence a 3, which is generous, considering.

Related Links:
Gourmet Burger Eatery Opens in Kahala Mall (including video) – KGMB9 News Hawaii
The Counter at Kahala Mall – Blog Review by KGMB9’s Terri Inefuku and gang
Actor Kim likes to get lost with a good burger – Honolulu Advertiser
Kim possible – Star Bulletin

13 thoughts on “Kahala Eats: The Counter® Custom Built Burgers

  • February 23, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    For one you are spot on regarding the TVs. I often comment how nice it would be to go to a restaurant that does NOT have TVs on the walls. It is getting more and more rare.

    Secondly I wanted to comment because a Counter Burger recently opened a few blocks from where I live. I have to admit I don’t allow myself to eat a lot of hamburgers but I am very much a sucker for a good burger. And The Counter has a damn fine burger. The fries are okay but the decadent onion strings are awesome!

    I could eat here everyday but as I said… I try to limit my hamburger indulgences.

  • February 23, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    ho look so good your pics. i like eat there right now, but i already brushed my teeth and i going sleep. i hope i dream of the counter tonight. how does the counter burger and fries compare to in-n-out? i wish they would find a way to bring in-n-out here.

  • February 23, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    I am writing this on my list of places to eat for the next time I’m home!

  • February 23, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    That’s where the Japanese bakery/restaurant was, huh? Forget the name already.

    But the burgers look pretty good. My neighborhood at home, so will give it a try. In about a month I’ll be visiting again!

  • February 24, 2009 at 6:26 am

    Pomai, I live just across the Westlake Mall in Calif. There about 5 eating places that serve hamburgers in the mall. There one called Slider which you build your own hamburger and the burgers are flame broiled. It self serve on the fillings a whole counter of it. The other are just grilled and serve whatever on menu you like.

    The hamburger bun should be nice firm to hold filling well. The regular bun fall apart on me and got so soggy.

  • February 24, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Wow, those burgers look really good! :) As a rule, I never go to places that just open because things are NEVER running smoothly until maybe a month in. I worked at a coffee shop when they just opened and as a worker, I can say that you don’t really get into the groove of how things run until you’ve been open for awhile. Hopefully The Counter will improve on their wait time (and hire more cooks!) :)

    Thanks for always writing awesome reviews! The Counter looks like a place I’ll put on my “to go” list. :D

  • February 24, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Good lookin’ burger, but we would have gotten our money back and walked out after half an hour. You guys are too kind. So dedicated to your readers, you wait an hour and a half for your burger!

  • February 24, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Blake, glad to hear there’s others out there who understand the sentiment I made about the TVs. Not that I think TVs are out of place at The Counter, as it certainly fits right into their stated theme. Just thought I’d bring that thought up when writing this piece to see what kind of feedback there might be. The strings indeed rock. Especially with the BBQ sauce. I gotta’ try the sweet potato fries next time. Hopefully the ranch dressing won’t be thinned out beyond usability on that occasion.

    ilikegrind, I did a “micro-blog” on In-N-Out Burger when I was in Vegas last June. You can read (and see pictures of) what I said about them here:

    Kat, I think you’ll enjoy it. By that time they should have the kinks worked out. Ditto to Nate on that sentiment.

    Nate, that would be Ginza Kimuraya Tokyo Bakery & Café, which I believe only took the outer corner portion of what The Counter occupies, not that entire space.

    Betty, The Counter’s buns are quite sturdy, with a firm, “tight” texture on the crust, and just the right suppleness inside without being weak, yet still feeling like a hamburger bun, not a more tough type of roll. I Think toasting it really helps its sturdiness out, but the biggest factor is that they put the sauce on the SIDE, not slathered in the bun. That’s the key here. Even after eating the microwaved leftover halves a few days later, the buns were still in great condition and close to as good when they were served at the restaurant.

    Kasey, yeah, we knew that going in, which is why we were more patient than we otherwise might have (not) been. Do put them on your list, but try and hit it at a non-peak time (if there is such a thing there).

    Nate ‘88, actually my girlfriend was more patient than I was as she REALLY wanted to try their burger. Yet in the end it was worth the wait. Besides, we weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere anyway, so it gave us a good time to just people watch in the restaurant and talk story.

  • February 25, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    These burgers look really good. I’m counting down the days till I board the plane for our Oahu trip! In 6 weeks maybe they’ll have the staffing and kinks worked out? Anyhoo, I figure it’s been 25 years since we made our last visit to Oahu. One of my dreams is to find the drive-in we ate at in Kailua way back then. This place had the most amazing teri-burgers. The patties were made from a mix of like 1/2 ground beef + 1/2 chopped BBQ pork (maybe char sui pork?). The little bits of toothy pork mixed with the burger made the most awesome texture. They were a bit on the fatty side, basted in the teri sauce, OMG yum. I have been watching your blog to see if something comes up that sounds like my dream burger but nothing matching so far. Do you or anyone know if there is such a burger around? The drive-in had a red roof and might have been on the main road that comes into Kailua from the Pali Hwy. Otherwise thanks for all the great blogging, our trip is going to rock with all the great grindz!

  • February 25, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Dana, you must be referring to Andy’s Drive-In, formerly located on Oneawa street in Kailua, who closed their doors in 1999. Here’s a story about them…


    Bob Sigall’s THE COMPANIES WE KEEP book also covered Andy’s Drive-In here…

    Never heard of any current burger joints here on Oahu that make their patties using half ground beef and half charsiu pork, but what a great-sounding concept!

    As for currently-available old school teri-burgers here on Oahu, the ones I’ve blogged about that seem to garner the most respect are W&M Bar-B-Q Burgers in Kaimuki, and Forty Niner Restaurant in Aiea; both of which date as far back when as Andy’s. With these places, it’s as much about the history as about the burger itself; and bragging rights for you to have tried it!

    For “new school” teri-burgers, if you’re going to be staying in Waikiki, definitely check-out Teddy’s Bigger Burgers Teri burger first (great value, and great fries!), followed by Rainbow Drive-In (actually another relative old-timer!), which is just up the street, then work your way out (or within Waikiki) from there.

  • March 13, 2009 at 11:33 am

    If you are into…. high priced burgers, long waits, and love sitting elbow to elbow in a room stuffed with as many tables and chairs that could get through the door, then this “place” is for you…. Save the headaches and walk 20 feet over to Chilis!

  • June 21, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    Did it yesterday. Of course went custom. Red relish, coleslaw, mixed lettuce, Tilamook cheese. Best burger in the State. I visit whenever I can. They have bBison now, btw.

    • June 21, 2015 at 3:45 pm

      Pat, mahalos for the update! I’ll have to try the Bison burger!


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