Not surprisingly based on the name, a couple Yelpers reviewing this restaurant referenced and modified the chorus lyrics of the Biggie Smalls hit song “Hypnotize” to “Piggy, Piggy, Piggy, can’t you see? Your food at Ward just hypnotized me”. Pretty funny, yet you know what? It’s true! The Vietnamese Fusion grindz here are hypnotizing… as in hypnotizing “awesome sauceness”!
Along with the reference to the late, yet still great rap star, The Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, Piggy Smalls is an apt name for this restaurant, being it’s the offspring of The Pig & the Lady, a very popular, well-received eatery in Chinatown Honolulu, also featuring incredibly creative Vietnamese Fusion cuisine.
First opened in October of 2016, Piggy Smalls is located street level in front of Ward Center, in the space that was formerly Kua Aina Burger, right along Auahi Street.
The inside dining room isn’t that big, nor that small either, with a capacity of around 50 to 60 people, while there’s also covered seating outside that can accommodate about 30 people on one long communal table. These numbers according to the host.
It looked like it was 100% capacity, with people waiting outside to get in when we drove past there to park in the structure around 1pm. Fortunately by the time we got there around 1:30pm (after strolling around the mall), the place cleared out a a bit and we were immediately seated.
I hear on weekends this place is packed open to close, so reservations are recommended if you have a large party (6 people minimum for reservations).
Seating accommodations inside include individual tables, as well as one long solid wood communal table with bench seating, as the one were seated on at the end nearest the very busy open kitchen. Turned out being a great spot, as we received our order FAST! As you see, iced water are served in mason jars, same as how they do it at the “mothership” over at The Pig & the Lady.
Without further ado, we have Piggy Smalls lunch menu, which according to our server was recently revised with new items, while getting rid of previous favorites that Yelpers have already reviewed.
The dinner menu is slightly different than the lunch menu, where particularly, notice instead of the Pho-Strami sandwich, it’s a Pho-Strami Burger instead.
Getting right to it, we decided to start this weekday lunch with the Raspberry Salt-Cured Ahi Long Toast. It’s described as having charred jalapeño, avocado yogurt, fennel turmeric pickles and shiso. This, for $12. And this buggah is LONG! While I didn’t measure, I’d estimate almost 2 feet long.
What we didn’t notice at the time, was that they forgot to put the charred Jalapeno peppers on it. Which doesn’t bother me, actually, as I don’t really care for spicy hot food. However I am curious how that extra element may have added (or subtracted) to the overall flavor of the dish.
And? AWESOME!!!!! It’s like a Bagel Lox on major steroids, going in all kinds of new and different directions.
You can really taste the Avocado in that Avocado Yogurt spread it’s all based on. While the toasted baguette is super crispy crunchy. Then you get that super fresh-tasting Ahi that’s been salt-cured, which is very similar in texture to cured salmon, sans that strong Salmon taste. The salt-cured Ahi almost tastes like fresh raw Ahi, however you can tell it has less moisture from the curing. It’s subtle, yet descript, if you know what I mean (for you Rap fans!).
Then you get that “bite” and earthy element from the Fennel Turmeric Pickles, along with the fruity, acidic element from the raspberry, finished off by the herbal zip, freshness and “green element” from the Shiso leaf, and BAM! This Salt-Cured Ahi Long Toast is MAJOR WIN! MAJOR! We both LOVE, LOVE, LOVED IT!
Going from the rustic-meets-ocean to the farm-meets-far East, next up we have Piggy Small’s LFC, an acronym name for Laotian Fried Chicken, described as twice cooked chicken wings, money sauce, kaffir, rau ram and mint. This for $10.
Did they call it “Money Sauce”? Well yes they did. And it is MONEY!!!! As you’d expect of a Vietnamese-fusion restaurant, this sauce tastes complex, yet simple all the same. While I didn’t ask what’s in it, if I had to guess, I’d say there’s Calamansi juice, fish sauce, and lemon grass, or something to that effect. Whatever’s in it, it’s total “Money Sauce” indeed!
Then you have that twice-cooked fried whole chicken wing x 3 on the plate, that are so, so, so juicy ‘n tender inside, where it almost literally melts in your mouth off the bone with every bite. That, as you bite through and taste that ever-so-delicate non-battered fried ‘n crispy, lightly salted chicken wing skin. Combine that with the “Money Sauce”, the contrast of the fresh kaffir, rau ram and mint, along with the crunchy peanuts, and BOOM!
I am seriously nominating Piggy Small’s LFC for “Best Fried Chicken” in Hawaii. It is THAT AWESOME SAUCE! And I don’t even like chicken all that much, however I’m so impressed with this dish!
For the main course, we both split an order of their much-heralded Pho-Strami, described as smoked pho spiced beef pastrami, sriracha onions, pickled mustard seeds and wesome sauce (lunch only). This for $16.
As you can see, it’s like a combination of Pastrami sandwich and a French Dip, along with influences of Vietnam’s classic Banh Mi. The latter of which in the use of a French roll for the bread, along with the Vietnamese style pickled vegetables (Do Chua) served on the side with it. Completing the dish is a bowl of their “Awesome Sauce”, which is essentially a slightly more concentrated Pho broth.
Topping the Pho-Strami “sammy” are an abundance of pickled mustard seeds and Sriracha Onions…. totally GENIUS!
Now did they say “Pho-spiced smoked Pastrami”? Well yes they did, and it truly does taste exactly like that! The generous helping of charred edge smoked pho-spiced beef brisket is super tender, juicy and flaking apart within the sandwich. And that’s before it hits the drink in the “Awesome Sauce” Pho dipping sauce!
Notice above in the Pho “Awesome Sauce” are bits and pieces of Pho-Strami brisket meat and onions that fell in there while dippin’ away. That my friends adds even more “Money” flavor to this “Awesome Sauce”!
As for the specific flavor of the Pho dipping broth (before the brisket and onions fell in), it tastes beefy, having a good balance in concentration and saltiness, while having a subtle hint of star anise and some other exotic Vietnamese flavorings I can’t really pinpoint. I do know the Pho-Strami sandwich NEEDS this Pho dipping sauce, as I tried it without it, and it’s still excellent. But once you dunk your Pho-Strami in the Pho dipping broth, it’s like, ” Yeah baby! Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!”
Oh, and you MUST eat it with the Vietnamese style pickles it’s served with. That even further contrast takes this outstanding exotic fusion sandwich experience from 3-D to 4-D!
All I can say is, if you’re a French Dip fan, Pastrami Reuben fan, Vietnamese Banh Mi and Pho fan, and ever dreamed how incredible it would be to have all of that in one sandwich (come on, admit you’ve fantasized about that lol), THIS IS IT!!! This sandwich is 100% GENIUS! Like I just nominated their Laotian Fried Chicken “LFC” as best fried chicken in Hawaii, I’m hereby nominating Piggy Smalls’ Pho-Strami for “Best Sandwich in Hawaii”! It is that onoliciously AWESOME SAUCENESS!!!!!!!!! “Piggy, Piggy, Piggy, can’t you see? Yo’ Pho-Strami just hypnotized me. And I just love your ‘Nam-fusion way. Broke da’ mout’ winnah is what I say”
Not stopping there, just to get a little sweet at the end of an otherwise all-over-the-map flavortown joy ride (Guy’s words), Diner K ordered their Salted Chocolate Cookie for dessert. It’s described as valrhona dark chocolate chipped cookie baked with sea salt for a rich, crunchy on the outside, and chewy on the inside. This for just $3.
And? Gotta’ say, I’m not really a fan of chocolate chip cookies or dark chocolate, however once again Piggy Smalls proved even the simplest novelty treat can be elevated to the next level! I LOVED that salty contrast from the rock salt, while the very large chocolate chip cookie was soft, warm ‘n gooey, with an ever so slight crunchy baked finish. Pretty much as great as a chocolate chip cookie could ever be, in the hands of experts in Piggy Smalls kitchen.
Adding cool factor on top of awesome sauceness (<–my new word) in the food, was how they bring the tab, clipped to laminated Vietnamese currency. Very cool!
Speaking of that, the service was excellent. We were seated promptly (a timing thing, admittedly), our server quickly came to our table and greeted us with a friendly smile, and our order arrived — I kid you not — within 10 minutes. This, all in a VERY BUSY restaurant. Ambiance is noisy and hectic, yet clean, modern and hip. If you like cool ‘n hipster, this place has that.
Summing it up, if you’re looking for a new place to eat that’s exotic and different, within budget, conveniently located with lots of parking in Ward Village (Kaka’ako), and/or you haven’t been to The Pig & the Lady yet, check out its newborn offspring, Piggy Smalls. Highest recommendation! AWESOME SAUCE!!!!!
Ward Center, street level (off Auahi St.)
1200 Ala Moana Blvd. Ste 665
Honolulu, Hawaii 96814
Tel. (808) 777-3589
The Tasty Island rating:
(5) Superb. Worthy of repeat visits or purchases. (Broke Da’ Mout’ Winnahz!)