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First Byte: Pioneer Saloon

As a seasoned food blogger, I really should be a more adventurous diner. Case-in-point here at Pioneer Saloon — a now well-established eatery with a 4-star rating by 264 Yelpers — where I’ve been driving past it just about every weekend all these years, yet never stepped a foot inside.

Well, after reader and former Kapahulu native KeithF recently suggested I check it out, that’s exactly what I finally did this past Sunday. Granted, it is an easy place to miss, as there aren’t any flashy signs to catch your attention as you drive past here and the other handful of eateries that line this portion of Monsarrat Avenue at the foot of Diamond Head.

Monsarrat Avenue at the foot of Diamond Head, in front of Pioneer Saloon (facing east)

As the name Pioneer Saloon suggests, the decor inside has a rustic old western theme, and the day of our visit, it was PACKED. Partially I think because of the south swell that was rolling in on the south shore that day, so all the surfers and friends were out on this side of island. In fact, several large groups of beach going folks had just got up and left at the time I took the following shots in the dining area.

Let’s check out the menu…

As you can see, the menu is mostly Japanese-inspired local plate fare. Which is A-OK with me, as you know how much I love Japanese grindz.

Like the SUGOI! Your Kitchen in Palolo Valley, Pioneer Saloon also features Shave Ice made with all natural ingredients.

Pioneer Saloon has comfy open air dining room seating, however no waitstaff. You place your order at the front counter, then wait for your receipt number to be called, which took only about 10 minutes for our order of 2 plates.

Diner K decided to try Pioneer Saloon’s Tonkatsu, which includes a massive, perfectly panko-crusted pork cutlet that’s cut into bite-size strips, served with a heapin’ scoop of white rice, this funky pasta salad and your choice of Tonkatsu, Miso Katsu or Ponzu sauce. Which Diner K requested both the Tonkatsu and Ponzu Sauce with her order. Not bad for $9!

I went with what lots of Yelpers rave about and ordered Pioneer Saloon’s Pork Hamburger Katsu, also served with the same sides. Again, not bad for $9!

Zoomed in on the Pork Hamburger Katsu, evidently there’s “stuff” mixed in with the ground pork. Let’s try it…

And? There’s definitely onion in there, and maybe panko, as it had this sort of “mushiness” to it, in a good way. The panko crust was deep-fried perfectly “GBD”. Only thing, it was more like a Japanese Croquette than what they’ve named it as “Pork Hamburger Katsu”.

It’s definitely “different”, but I wouldn’t order it again. I mean don’t get me wrong, it was delicious in and of itself, especially with the excellent Tonkatsu sauce they serve it with. However it paled in comparison to the real deal, which I’m getting to next.

OK, now Pioneer Saloon’s Tonkatsu (Pork Cutlet) kicks serious okole. Don’t let the white foam takeout container fool you, this is some seriously slammin’ Tonkatsu that’s easily comparable to Tokyo Ginza Bairin at a fraction of the price. The only thing they’re doing wrong is serving it on lettuce, when Tonkatsu should ALWAYS be served on a bed of finely sliced cabbage.

The Tonkatsu sauce they serve it with is Kikkoman brand, which either they really improved the recipe, or the Tonkatsu was so good, it made the sauce even better, because those two together were rockin’ it!

Their funky pasta salad was actually really good! Better than how it appears, that’s for sure. And the pasta was cooked perfectly al dente. It’s dressed with flavored mayonnaise, however I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly was in it. Miso perhaps? All I know is I made quick work of it!

Summing it up, we really enjoyed our first time sampling of Pioneer Saloon, and WILL return again for more of what’s on that fantastic lookin’ menu!

Pioneer Saloon
3046 Monsarrat Avenue
Honolulu, Hawaii  96815

Tel. (808) 732-4001

The Tasty Island rating:

(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)

P.S. Last Sunday, the day I visited Pioneer Saloon, Oahu’s south shore summer swells were rollin’ in at nearby Waikiki Beach. Here’s some shots I took…


9 thoughts on “First Byte: Pioneer Saloon

  • June 6, 2015 at 7:04 am

    MAN!  Braddah KeithF, I WISH I had known about Pioneer Saloon while we were in Honolulu.  Our apartment wasn’t far from there.  I think that I would definitely have to try those Braised Beef Short Ribs! ONO!

    • June 6, 2015 at 1:59 pm

      Auntie Doni,

      Funny that you also noticed the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Gravy on the menu, as I that caught my attention as well, and am seriously considering it on my next visit. Either that, or the Miso Butterfish.

      How was  your in-flight meal on the way home? And/or, what did you bring from Honolulu on the flight to eat?

      Also, if you have time, list all the Hawaii grindz you packed with you to bring back to Arizona. I’d love to hear about it!


      • June 9, 2015 at 3:57 pm

        Pomai, I plan on blogging what I brought back in my extra checked bag, yes, I had an entire suitcase CHOKE with all kine ONO local goodies to bring back to the middle of the desert.

        As for our in flight meal, meh, what can you say but, nothing special.  I gave mine (some sort of chicken with rice, some veg and a cookie) to DH since they were so minuscule and I ate some other goodies from my Foodland reusable grocery bag (I have the Musubi bag) of munchies.  It’s a little less than a 6 hour flight from HNL-PHX.

        • June 10, 2015 at 8:26 am

          Auntie Doni,

          Nice place you had in Waikiki. I see you checked out Choi’s, Gyotaku, Ft. Ruger Market, Moana Surfrider Hotel and Iyasume.

          I’ll be looking forward to your blog on what you brought back.

          Speaking of Foodland Reusable Bag, that will probably be a hot item come July 1st, as Oahu will begin the plastic bag ban.

          • June 10, 2015 at 9:52 am

            Wait, those weren’t the only places we went to eat :D

            I actually bought three Foodland bags, one for me, one for Mom and one for my sister in Los Angeles (and used them while we were there, SHHH, no tell yeah ;) ).  You Know You Local, for Mom and another Musubi for Sis.

            Here on the “mainland”, I only use reusable grocery bags.  This is my new souvenir from where ever we go.  I have one from each of the National Parks that we’ve been to; they make for great conversation in the market, “WOW, you went to ___, that’s cool!”  My favorite one is from Winslow Arizona, y’know, The Eagles song Take It Easy… “I was standin’ on the corner in Winslow Arizona …”

  • June 6, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    Strange. My work out takes by there every weekend when I am on Oahu and I have never seen the place.,

  • June 8, 2015 at 3:05 am

    Pomai: Thanks for the props! I have to give “credit” to my son, Adam, who is quite the “foodie”. We stayed at my mom’s place on Wauke in April, and Adam went “walkablout” to see what was in the neighborhood and came back raving about Pioneer Saloon, so we HAD to try’um. So we went down one afternoon and it was awesome! I had the special that day, kal-bi (awesome), Adam had the chicken curry katsu and my wife had the fried oysters (she’s haole, so she was sorta overdosed on local dishes by that time).  The food was great, resulting in my recommendation to you. I wish I had noticed the pork hamburger katsu that you had, or I’d have tried it! The menu is pretty big for a small place like that, so that only means that I’ll have to hit it a couple more times when I get back next time! Geez, between Pioneer Saloon on one end of Kanaina and Rainbow Drive In on the other, Zippy’s and Diamond Head Grill at each end of Campbell Ave, I might never get out of the neighborhood!

    • June 8, 2015 at 8:45 pm


      I totally agree. You could spend a whole MONTH exploring just Kapahulu Avenue eateries alone, let alone nearby Monsarrat. Waialae Ave. and Kaimuki in general? That could be an entire blog in itself!

  • June 8, 2015 at 3:08 am

    Eh, by the way, did you model for the menehune statue?


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