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Kalihi Eats: Mix Plate Cafe

A little over a year ago we were here on Dillingham Boulevard sampling the eats from what was then a new restaurant called Pho Dillingham & Grill, which had taken the place of the popular Spot’s Inn. Well, here we are today again where the name has already changed to ‘Mix Plate Cafe’. That was quick!

It turns out Pho Dillingham & Grill was owned and operated by Ben and his SISTER, but the sister has since left to the mainland. So now Ben owns and operates the slightly revamped Mix Plate Cafe, this time in partnership with his father-in-law.

That said, not surprisingly Mix Plate Cafe’s menu is very much similar to what was offered under the former ‘Pho Dillingham & Grill’…

Here’s the specials of the day…

In retrospect, I REALLY wish I had ordered this Pho Sashimi…

I’m just wondering whether you’re supposed to dip the raw ahi sashimi in the hot Pho broth? Seems to be “poho” (waste), but I won’t knock it ’til I try it.

This place also has a wide assortment of gelatinous Vietnamese desserts, starting with these Sticky Rice & Blackeye Bean with Sweetened Coconut Milk cups…

Rainbow Cocktail…

And Coconut Gelatin (disregard the labels in front, as they’re all the same)…

As for the place, they’ve certainly done some upgrading, including the addition of elegantly styled dining tables and chairs…

Overall, the place has a really clean, fresh and new feel to it, which can be welcoming in otherwise aging towns such as Kalihi. Old School “weathered” places have their charm, but a face lift is always appreciated, as they’ve done so well here.

Getting right to our takeout (stress TAKEOUT) order, Diner E chose the Vietnamese-French side of the fence, going hanahou (one more time) with their Bánh Mì sandwich…

Bánh Mì Vietnamese sandwich with BBQ Pork. $6.00

Speaking of French (the bread roll bun part), along with this sandwich he got fries…

French Fries. $1.95

Like Diner E, I  chose the same thing as before when they were Pho Dillingham & Grill, this time around once again ordering the Pho Combination (Phở Dặc Biệt)…

Pho Combination (Phở Dặc Biệt). $8.25

On that Pho veggie’ plate shown above is Thai Basil, Culantro (that long leafy green with the thorny edges), Bean Sprouts and (very HOT!) Asian Chili, plus a wedge of lime underneath.

Here’s the broth…

Looks “beefy”, amongst the other complex flavors that go into a typical Pho broth.

Of course if you order the Pho when dining in, the broth, noodles and meats are served together in one (porcelain) bowl, with just the veggies on the side.

Now that we’ve covered the Vietnamese side, let’s move on to the American — or more specifically — the “local” side of their menu, where Diner A decided to try Mix Plate Cafe’s Hamburger Steak…

Hamburger Steak plate. $8.50

Beautiful cross-hatched grill markings on that Hamburger Steak Patty!  Although it must be further noted that gravy’s thickness, color, depth and quantity is quite lacking. Same sentiment for the state of “sauteedness” (famous modified words) of the onions on top.

Starting off the tasting part of this review, Diner A proclaimed he was very happy with every aspect of the char-grilled, house-made hamburger steak patty, , while also giving a thumbs up for the brown gravy’s flavor. His complaint on that part was that there wasn’t enough gravy, while for $8.50, thought it should have had two patties, not just one.

Now for the Mac’ Sal’…

When it comes to local style plate lunches, no matter how good the entree is, if the Mac Sal’ isn’t up to par, it pretty much negates the entire dish. And Mix Plate Cafe’s Mac’ Sal’ got a big THUMBS DOWN from Diner A, noting it had this “weird, tangy taste”. Not spoiled (been there, done that), but just not good. So “not good” that he ended up tossing most of it in the trash.

That said, Diner A gives  Mix Plate Cafe’s Hamburger Steak Plate 1 SPam Musubi. Fix the Mac’ Sal’ recipe, add more of a thickened gravy, and there could be great potential in their hamburger steak.

Then we have Diner E’s Bahn Mi, where here he shows off the grilled pork and various veggies tucked inside…

His gripe on the last visit with the Bahn Mi Sandwich was the absence of Cilantro. Well this time around they added Cilantro, yet there were hardly any Cilantro leaves, but mostly STEMS! Ack! Also the Vietnamese pickled vegetables was almost all carrot, and hardly any daikon, which is one of his favorite ingredients that “makes’ this sandwich. Yikes. That Green Chili Pepper was also WAY TOO HOT for his palate. He quickly took it out.

The Banh Mi Roll also suffered the same chewy texture and lacky of crunch on the outer crust like it was on his last visit here.

Overall, it wasn’t a BAD Banh Mi sandwich, but just not as great as he’s so accustomed to getting at the particular Bale location he frequents. Summing it up, he gives Mix Plate Cafe’s Banh Mi 1 SPAM Musubi. Oh, the fries were cooked and salted perfectly. 3 SPAM Musubi for that.

Now let’s take “inventory” of the “hardware” in this bowl of Pho…

Thin slices of raw beef that will quickly cook in the hot broth? Check. Slices of cooked flank steak? Check. Slices of beef tendon? Check. Cooked Vermicelli noodles? Check. Sliced white and green onion? Check.

Now to add the “software”, the Pho stock…

Finally to complete the dish, we add the “peripherals”, the veggies and the included hoisin sauce

First of all, I must REITERATE, them green (deceptively) Jalapeno-looking Asian green Chili slices are PHO ‘KIN HOT! lol  Seriously, unless you’re a “Scoville Junkie”, don’t add them to the bowl! Just those two slices I added made the entire broth tip toward the mid-level spicy side.

Let’s sample it…

The sticky Vermicelli noodles were all clumped together at the bottom, so it took some wiggling with my chopsticks to loosen them. Thankfully they were perfectly al dente. Of course I LOVE all the fresh veggies. The combination of the Thai Basil, Culantro and Bean Sprouts along with that mildly beefy broth is great.

The thin slices of raw beef cooked quickly once the hot broth was added in. That’s always nice to have in combination with the greens.

Then there’s them stiff, “doggy treat” like pieces of beef tendon to bite into…

I like that tendon stuff. Chewing on it kinda’ does make me feel like a dog. lol

Overall, while I’m still not qualified to judge was makes a great, good or bad bowl of Pho, I enjoyed this one. I’m pretty sure their broth isn’t going to win any “best of the best” awards by Pho enthusiasts, yet it was never-the-less tasty enough that I finished every last drop. There were generous portions of noodles and sliced meats, and VERY generous portions of fresh veggies, which is what I love the most about eating Pho.

Summing it up, I give Mix Plate Cafe’s Pho Dac Biet 2 SPAM Musubi.

While I enjoy it on occasion, you know I’m not usually a dessert person (there’s many food blogs out there that LOVE the stuff), but couldn’t resist sampling that “Sticky Ricey thingy”…

Sticky Rice & Blackeye Bean with Sweetened Coconut. $2.25

As advertised, the rice is very sticky like mochi, with a slightly sweetened flavor to it, while the blackeye beans tastes sort of like a cross between Azuki and Kidney beans. The thickened and sweetened coconut milk topping is no question the “icing on the cake” that makes this work and would be sorely missed without it. Think of this as a “soup” version of coconut-flavored sweet mochi with beans in it, and that’s what this tastes like. Pretty good. 2 SPAM Musubi.

Mix Plate Cafe
(formerly Pho Dillingham & Grill > formerly Spot’s Inn)
1111 Dillingham Blvd. #E9
Honolulu, Hawaii  96817
Tel. 841-4664

Takeout Menu (<click to download PDF; 2 pages)

Business hours:
Monday – Friday 8am to 11pm
Saturday 9am to 11pm
Sunday 10am to 5pm

The Tasty Island rating:

(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it.

Related links:
Kalihi Eats: Pho Dillingham & Grill – The Tasty Island
Mix Plate Cafe – Yelp user reviews


10 thoughts on “Kalihi Eats: Mix Plate Cafe

  • February 26, 2010 at 9:10 am

    I totally agree with you about plate lunch mac salad. If it sucks, it ruins the rest of the plate.

  • February 26, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    I got kind of grossed out looking at the mac salad photo. Way too much mayo. As for the weird tangy taste, maybe they used Miracle Whip (which I don’t eat), or the Best Foods with olive oil (which I have tried; it tasted NASTY).

  • February 26, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Pomai, got to agree with you and Marvo on plate lunch mac salad. It’s one part of the the plate lunch equation that has to be in “balance” with the rest of the entire plate. Tangy? Heaven forbid!

  • February 26, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Pho ‘kin hot! haha. That was really clever.
    I love beef tendons! I don’t think people in CA eat it though… le sigh.
    And cilantro stems?! Ack! You would think that a restaurant would be careful enough to remove it!

  • February 26, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    I still get PTSD flashbacks at any Vietnamese restaurant after the Mom & Mrs washed their oily fingers (after sampling spring rolls) in warm water provided by the wait staff… only to discover that it was water meant to soften my banh trang sheets for my summer rolls… guess I didn’t have to pay extra for the added “aji”…

  • February 26, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    One of my pet peeves is a bahn mi sandwich served on anything other than a very crusty french roll. From your photo, it also appears that the carrots are cut too thick — usually you get that nice, delicate crunch and flavor from julienned carrots and daikon! Pass on that.

    The desserts, however, look really ono!

  • February 26, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    Jenny, exactly. This one fits your peeve profile.

    Ryan, but doesn’t that add more flavor and “character” to the spring rolls? lol

    Julia, Pardon my Vietnamese-French. lol

    Paki, Spotty and Marvo, agreed. You just can’t mess up the mac’ sal’. Just can’t! We’ve also come across plate lunch joints that messed up on the two scoops rice. The RICE!


  • February 27, 2010 at 9:04 am

    Major, major props for packing the pho, bun, and veggies separately! That is my sticking point – no matter how good the broth, soggy noodles will RUIN it. They included hoisin, but was there any sriracha? There’s gotta be both to be pho!

    Also – I know Hilo is nowhere near Honolulu, but safe wishes for you and all anyway.

  • March 2, 2010 at 10:30 am

    That’s not macaroni salad, that’s mayonaise salad! You would have to eat that with a spoon!


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