Honolulu’s Best-Kept Secret is Out: The 808 Center
The 808 Center may be hidden behind Wal-Mart, but its reputation as a food hub is picking up.
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Hawai‘i Hot Shabushabu House
Photos: Steve Czerniak
Who doesn’t love a conveyor belt in a restaurant?
In fact, I wish all restaurants had one, so you could just grab whatever tasty appetizer or entrée passed your table.
This has been the genius behind the kaiten (revolving) sushi chain Genki Sushi, which has, since 1968, been serving up instant-gratification nigiri and hand rolls, combining the traditional with conveyor-belt convenience.
And this is the concept behind Hawai‘i Hot Shabushabu House, the company’s second location and the only hot-pot restaurant in Hawai‘i that utilizes a conveyor. (Even its Kapolei location doesn’t have this.)
The restaurant is spacious compared to the others at the 808 Center, with both counter and table seating next to a conveyor belt that snakes through the dining area. Each seat is outfitted with an individual induction burner for your own pot of broth; tables have personal burners and a shared one in the middle.
As with other hot-pot restaurants, you start by choosing your broth. Here, there are several choices, from seafood to kim chee to a healthy vegetarian version, with the option to split the pot with two. The classic broth is clean and fresh, the best if you’re using a lot of dipping sauces. The fragrant Thai tom yum broth, which is most often prepared with shrimp, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and crushed chili peppers, is robust. Using this broth, there isn’t much need for dipping sauces, though the restaurant provides more than a dozen options.
Trundling through the restaurant on a conveyor belt are colored plastic plates filled with a variety of vegetables and other hot-pot staples: snow peas, ung choy (water spinach), lotus root, zucchini, shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, bamboo shoots, tofu, fishcake paste, clams. If you don’t see what you want, you can order it. Just like Genki.
The meat, though, has to be ordered. (It couldn’t be food-safe to have plates of raw beef and chicken parts circulating through the restaurant.) You can opt for premium beef, rib eye, pork belly, chicken, lamb or beef tongue in either four-ounce or 12-ounce portions. The smaller plates are just enough to eat on your own; the larger plate can feed a party of at least two.
Like Genki, the food is convenient and familiar, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, all you want is familiar. And this restaurant gives you just that.