From a matcha soda to a sushi burrito, eateries in Hawaii are becoming more creative with their offerings, serving a variety of innovative Asian-inspired foods.
I went to check out six different places on the island. Each spot added their own unique twists on Asian cuisine, while still keeping the food’s traditional and authentic aspects.
Kalbi Korean Cobb Salad, Kahai Street Kitchen
Kahai Street Kitchen, located surprisingly not on Kahai Street but Coolidge Street in Mōʻiliʻili, offers one of my favorite salads on the island: the Kalbi Korean Cobb Salad. Kahai Street Kitchen successfully combines the flavorful Korean meat with the popular American salad. The salad is topped with chopped kalbi, kimchee, avocado, corn, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, olives, bacon, and their tasty house vinaigrette. The kalbi is very tasty, and though the meat is not traditionally served chopped, the different texture added to the salad’s deliciousness. The salad is a little more on the pricier side ($17.95), however, you are given a considerable portion of food. But if price is the issue, Kahai Street Kitchen also serves a Bulgogi Beef Cobb Salad for four dollars less than the kalbi one.
The menu at Kahai Street Kitchen goes a lot deeper than its selection of salads, offering a variety of steak plates, burgers, chicken katsu, tacos, seafood, and their famous loco mocos. The takeout spot is definitely a great place to checkout for its diverse options. As for me, I’ll be back to eat my favorite salad.
Spicy Ahi Cup Sushi, Higoto Japanese Eatery
Higoto Japanese Eatery was one of the most impressive food places I’ve been to recently, and I wasn’t the only one that thought so too. Before the store opened at 11 a.m., a line of about at least fifteen people formed outside its entrance. Luckily for my mom and me, we came thirty minutes prior to opening and were second in line. Inside, the small takeout place holds counters of Japanese bentos, salads, and musubis, all of which are made that morning. However, like most customers I came to try their popular spicy ahi cup sushi. With layers of purple cabbage, white rice, shredded carrots, egg, and scoops of avocado and bright red ahi, the presentation is colorful and definitely instagram-worthy. But my favorite part of the cup sushi had to be the spicy ahi. When I first took a bite, there was a citrus flavor to the ahi that I couldn’t place. But after moments of deliberation, I realized that the taste was of the Japanese citrus fruit, yuzu. The yuzu was chopped up and mixed with the ahi, elevating the meal to a new, higher standard of flavor. At $9 each, the spicy ahi cup is not necessarily a cheap meal, but it certainly is a deal in my opinion because of the quality ingredients and presentation.
Houjicha Latte, Coco Bloom Kitchen
After you grab your cup sushi, I recommend going right next door to try the houjicha latte ($6) from Coco Bloom Kitchen. Houjicha is a type of Japanese green tea that is often described as having a naturally sweet, nutty roasted taste. Coco Bloom Kitchen offers customers the choice of having whole or oat milk with their lattes. I decided to try the oat milk with mine, and I found that the plant-based milk adds a chalky texture to the drink, which I did not mind. The houjicha latte was very creamy and had just the right amount of sweetness for my liking (not overpowering). I would definitely recommend this drink to anyone, especially those who are not avid fans of coffee but want a caffeinated pick-me-up. Coco Bloom Kitchen also offers other innovative Asian items on their menu, such as their Tonkatsu Burger ($13) and Kurogoma (Black Sesame) Latte ($6). I will certainly try these items the next time I go to Coco Bloom Kitchen.
Kimchee Bulgogi Lover, Teasket Toasket
Teasket Toasket is not just a fun name to say but also a sandwich and boba tea counter in the H Mart food court in Kakaʻako. The shop is mostly known for its Aloha Aina sweet bread sandwiches that are served in convenient grab-and-go sleeves. I went to check out the Kimchee Bulgogi Lover ($9.50) with my friends, junior Joey Lin and senior Emi Wada. You can also get it in a combo ($13.50) that includes your choice of sandwich and milk tea.
The sandwich was served nice and steaming when we got it. But, taking the first bite, Lin was not very enthusiastic about the sandwich, saying “it tastes exactly as it sounds.” Lin expected a crunchier bread – much like a slice of toast. Wada and I, on the other hand, did not mind the lack of crunch. As for the bulgogi, we all felt that the meat was marinated well, but for Wada the sweet marinade with the sweet bread was a little over the top. Wada wanted more vegetables or other ingredients to lessen the overwhelming meat taste and possibly provide that crunchy aspect Lin was looking for. Given that it was called the Kimchee Bulgogi Lover, we were all collectively disappointed at the lack of kimchee or even kimchee flavor in the sandwich.
Overall, despite the shortcomings of their kimchee burger, Teasket Toasket does accomplish what it wants to when making its toasted sandwiches. In agreement, Lin adds that it’s certainly a cool place to try out. With its other sandwich flavors and variety of boba drinks, coffee, and bingsu desserts, I’d still return to try something new at Teasket Toasket.
Vegan Inari, Up Roll Cafe
While skimming food places on Yelp, I came across Up Roll Cafe and immediately bookmarked it to my saved collections. My mom and I were very excited and intrigued by pictures of its sushi burritos. And let me tell you, we were not disappointed. The workers were very friendly and guided us first-timers through their four step ordering process: picking your main ingredient (e.g. Guy Hagi Shrimp, Teriyaki Chicken), whether you want a roll or bowl, then your base (e.g. white rice, brown rice, salad, quinoa), and finally one of the house made dressings (e.g. Green Sriracha, Umami Shoyu, Aioli Mayo). After deliberating between their customer favorite the Ahi Lover Avocado and their Vegan Inari Roll, I decided to go with the veggie option with white rice and onion dressing ($10.00). My mom ordered the California Crab bowl with white rice and spicy mayo ($14.25). After taking the first bite of my sushi burrito, I was instantly hooked. The vegetables were fresh and crunchy, which was a nice contrast to the inari tofu. The onion dressing complimented the daikon and carrots and made the wrap moist and enjoyable to eat. Up Roll Cafe makes all of their nine different dressings and also sells them separately in bottles for customers to take home. I really could not find anything that I didn’t like about Up Roll Cafe. It was simply delicious.
Matcha Lilikoi Soda, Daily Whisk Matcha
If you’re driving, it’s easy to miss Daily Whisk Matcha if you are not looking for it. Located within reach of the popular restaurants and coffee shops on Waialae Avenue, Daily Whisk Matcha sits hidden amongst residential houses, an office building, and the Kaimuki Community Park. This local business serves an assortment of matcha beverages from trendy iced matcha tea lattes to more unique drinks like a matcha lemonade. I tried their signature drink, the matcha lilikoi soda. Although the combination seems questionable in theory, the drink is very refreshing and strikes the perfect balance between sweet and tart. The matcha taste is not overpowering like I expected it to be. Instead, the fizziness and flavor of the lilikoi sparkling soda consumes most of the taste and makes the beverage easy to drink. Still, I would not buy this drink regularly as it’s sold at a pricey cost of $9. Daily Whisk Matcha uses the Uji matcha from Japan, and its baristas hand-whisk all of its drinks using traditional chasens. The matcha lilikoi soda is still one of my favorites that I’ve tried for this assignment. The beverage’s contrasting flavors are not something you would think would work well together and yet they do.