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Mo’ili’ili Eats: The Willows

Our ohana recently celebrated Diner M (my mother’s) birthday with lunch at The Willows Restaurant, a hidden oasis in the heart of Moi’ili’oli. Following is a pictorial* walkthrough of the dishes served at the buffet on our visit. Enjoy.

Ahi Poke – Chilled tuna cubes seasoned with sesame oil, chili pepper, and alae sea salt

Spicy Ahi Poke

Tako Poke – octopus served with chili pepper water, Maui onions, and cucumbers

Lomi Salmon


Kalua Pig

Chicken Long Rice

Fresh Poi

Tossed Greens

Caesar Salad

Salad dressings

Potato Salad

Mediterranean Pasta Salad


Bean Sprout Namul

Fruit Bowl

Salmon, Ahi and Hamachi Nigiri Sushi

Sushi condiments: Shoyu, Wasabi and Sushi Shoga

Somen Salad Station

Steamed Veggies

Fried Rice (there was also steamed white rice)

Teriyaki Chicken Karaage

Chicken and Thai Shrimp Curry

Rosemary, Garlic and Hawaiian Salt Crusted Prime Rib ( actually a ‘choice’ cut), with Horseradish and Au Jus accoutrements

Macadamia Nut Haupia Pie

Coconut Chiffon Cake

New York Style Cheesecake


Pina Colada Bread Pudding


Vanilla and Chocolate Soft Serve Ice Cream toppings

Strawberry Panna Cotta


That wraps it up. The Willows lunch buffet, including everything you’ve just seen, currently runs Monday thru Friday from 11am to 2pm @ $19.95 per person, $9.95 for keiki 10 and under and 10% off for seniors 65+.

Let’s check out a few plates now, starting with my Hawaiian spread…

Clockwise from top left (10 o’clock): Chicken Long Rice, Lomi Salmon, Tako Poke, Poi, Laulau, Ahi Poke, Spicy Ahi Poke (center)

Even at “all you can eat” buffets, some folks still “eat like birds”…

Prime Rib, Shrimp Curry and Nigiri Sushi (bit in half)

Da’ Willows “Ultimate Mix Plate” lol….

My dessert plate…

The verdict? Everything LOOKS great. However, the Chicken Long Rice was HORRIBLE. Whoever cooked that needs a lesson on CLR 101. I think the problem was they put chicken stock in it, as it almost had this Campbells canned soup flavor going on, while there wasn’t any essence of ginger whatsoever. The Laulau was tough (undercooked) and flavorless, as was the Kalua Pig bland, with hardly any smoke flavor, where it seems they’ve all but entirely omitted salt by default in any of the above said dishes. Thankfully they provided a bowl of Hawaiian Salt at the Hawaiian Foods station to compensate what wasn’t added in the kitchen. And this is coming from someone who’s highly sensitive to salty foods.

The Nigiri Sushi was just OK, but you could tell the rice they used wasn’t premium grade, which I suppose for the price of admission is too much to expect. The poke flavor was good, however it was a tad stiff and certainly not at its freshest best.The poi was super fresh, which thankfully helped compensate for any of the aforementioned shortcomings (all hail fresh Poi!).

The Thai Shrimp Curry was quite nice, especially with the crushed nuts and raisin accoutrements.  Thankfully, the highlight dish nailed it, as the Rosemary, Garlic and Hawaiian Salt crusted Prime Rib was EXCELLENT. Tender, juicy and cooked perfectly medium rare (my cut), with the crusted edge punching plenty of beefy flavor throughout the cut.

The Tiramisu, Strawberry Panna Cotta and Flan desserts I selected were all scrumptious as far as buffet desserts go, where I have no complaints.

Summing it up, I give The Willows lunch buffet 2 SPAM Musubi, where the less-than-stellar dishes took away some of the enthusiasm from the good ones. They need someone who REALLY KNOWS how to prepare good Hawaiian food in that kitchen, considering that’s a major component on their buffet menu. For $20 per person with all they have to offer, I suppose you can’t expect the very freshest ingredients, but if they can’t do it right, then just don’t put it out. This, I’m referring to the poke. Don’t put out 3 different varieties, if all of them aren’t fresh. Just put out 1 good fresh one instead. I give them “props” for selection, but don’t compromise the quality of the dishes for the sake of that. I’d rather eat at a buffet with 10 STELLAR choices than one with 50 average choices.

Service was certainly friendly and courteous, and of course there’s the “oasis” ambience that is The Willows property, neatly hidden in the middle of Honolulu’s concrete jungle. Here’s a look around….

The Willows “Bellagio show”….

All said, while there were shortcomings here and there with the food, overall we had a wonderful time celebrating mom’s birthday for lunch at The Willows. Huge mahalo to Aunty Nalani and Uncle Jesse for hosting the party. Muah!

The Willows
901 Hausten Street (near the old Moi’ili’ili Star Market off S. King Street)
Honolulu, Hawaii  96826

Tel. (808) 952-9200

The Tasty Island rating (for the weekly lunch buffet):

(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it. (Ono)

*Photos shot with an entry level Canon Powershot A470.

Related Tasty Island links:
• Makino Chaya – 1/27/07
• Prince Court – 3/09/09, 11/27/09, 12/17/09
• Todai Seafood Buffet Restaurant – 10/21/06

External links:
The Willows – Yelp reviews


6 thoughts on “Mo’ili’ili Eats: The Willows

  • August 13, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Pomai, I have not been to the Willows in years and they almost some time ago shut it down sure glad they did not. They remodel it instead. I see it not bad for buffet but there still hit miss on certain dishes. Price not bad to me reasonable for that much at the Willows. The desserts seem great you did not need to bring a cake since they have it there .

  • August 13, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    I love the setting of The Willows. It’s so pleasant, you’d never guess you were in the middle of a street full of apartment buildings if you hadn’t just walked through it. I thought the food was okay — not spectacular, but quite serviceable. I’ve only been for dinner (and it’s been a few years, at that), though; maybe lunch is the poor relation? However …

    My cousin’s husband and I had a very bad experience with some oysters there. We figured that’s what it must have been, because my cousin was fine, and that’s the only thing we had that she didn’t. I would still go back, through … I’d just avoid the raw seafood! Funny you should mention the chicken long rice, though. When I was going back for more oysters, I walked by the CLR and thought about having that instead, but decided I could get that somewhere else. Afterwards, I thought “should have had that chicken long rice …” Sounds like I didn’t miss much, though — except a day and half of vacation! : )

    Have you ever gone to the Hakone Restaurant in the Hawaii Prince Hotel? They have a sushi buffet that I’ve read very good things about. I’m thinking about going on my visit next month. It’s kind of pricey, though, at $48, but I figure I’ll get my money’s worth if I stick to uni! Also, my friend’s Mom is taking me to the Friday buffet at the Oceanarium, so I might be buffet’d out …

    Oh, one more thing — last week I went to the obon dance at the Palo Alto, CA temple. At the silent auction there, they had a bright blue Foodland t-shirt with the musubi bag design! I wonder if these were once available to the public, or only employees? I would have bid on it, but it was an XL. It was really nice.

  • August 13, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    wow happy birthday to mum! pics look amazing as usual….but reading your review….looks like the food was lacking in flavor. perhaps the folks at the willows read this and take up your suggestion! at least the rib roast was delish :D

  • August 14, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Mahalo Raph’.

    Debbie-chan, thankfully I haven’t gotten sick from eating raw seafood anywhere… yet. I’m not sure if raw oysters are more prone to parasites than fish, which may be possible, as you’re eating what’s essentially exposed to the open ocean vs. fish where the meat is internal. I’ll have to look that up. A day and half of vacation in Hawaii is a high price to pay. Willows should at the very least comp’ you folks a meal for two or that.

    Never been to Hakone, although I was intrigued upon looking over the menu when passing by on my way to Prince Court (probably my favorite buffet restaurant on the island) nextdoor.

    As for the Foodland Musubi bag design T-shirt, I’ve never seen one here in the stores or anyone wearing it. Could they have scanned the bag artwork and made their own? Possible. Foodland is still selling that bag due to popular demand.

    Richard, the price is definitely reasonable. I just wish the food was more memorable.

  • August 14, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Had a really good rehearsal dinner there.And you are right about Hawaiian. It is not hard to get right. Just requires an old grandma in kitchen to explain techniques. Maybe go back a bit in time when laulaus had both beef and pork. Some of the more old fashioned dishes.Hawaiian sweet potato instead of Okinawian. Real chicken hekka instead of chix long rice etc.

  • August 15, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Pomai, at first I also thought the t-shirt might be a homemade scan job, but after looking closely at it, it really looked authentic — proper Foodland branding, etc. Turns out … it is! I did a search for “Foodland musubi t-shirt,” and it took me right over to the Foodland website, where they have several rather fetching designs. And a new poke shopping bag design! The shirt I saw was the teal musubi.

    Now I just need to know if the t-shirts can be bought in their stores. If that’s the case, I’d rather wait until I get there so I can take a look at them in person to see which I like. Too cool!


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