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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Pho Ca Dao
I walked into Pho Ca Dao on the Rycroft Street side of the 808 Center wrapped in a scarf and coughing.
Without prompting, the server went over to the control pad for the air conditioner at this Vietnamese restaurant and raised the temperature a little. She instructed me to sit at a certain table that wasn’t in direct line of the cold air. Then she brought over a mug of hot water.
“You poor thing,” she said.
As for the food, while the pho is popular and uncomplicated—there are 10 different variations, with options to add more meat, vegetables or soup—Pho Ca Dao offers a few unique dishes, many of which are adapted from the owner’s family recipes.
We ordered the Ca Dao Special, a variation of com tam (broken rice), a traditional Vietnamese dish with fractured rice grains—hence the name—with grilled and shredded pork and cha trung hap, a meatloaf with shrimp, ground pork and mushrooms, topped with egg yolk. This version comes with an over-easy egg on the rice, making it a Vietnamese loco moco.
Another popular dish is the spicy bun bo hue, a Vietnamese pork-and-beef-bone-based soup with steamed pork, shin meat (chewier than brisket), pig feet, chunks of pig-blood curd and thick vermicelli rice noodles. This dish offers a unique combination of spicy, sour, salty and sweet flavors that contrast pho, which I love for its simplicity.
On this particular weekday evening, the 950-square-foot restaurant was empty, so I had the total attention of the thoughtful server, who turned out to be Tara Quach, one of the owners. She works as a registered nurse at Kaiser Permanente to run this restaurant—her first—joking that she really doesn’t see her kids anymore.
Lunchtime is much busier here, Quach says, with nearby office workers coming in for a quick bowl of pho, a bahn mi sandwich or the guilty-pleasure Vietnamese ice coffee with condensed milk.
Suite 107, 888-4156
Photos: Steve Czerniak
Fans of the now-defunct Ailana Shave Ice, known for its house-made syrups and powder-fine ice, can get their gourmet shave ice fix at Café Plumeria, a new breakfast spot on the ground floor of the 808 Center.
The owner, Tom Tsurutani, has a license to serve Ailana’s signature shave ice here, though under a new company name. The menu features both Ailana’s more traditional flavors—mango, coffee, strawberry, haupia—and its specials, such as the popular Uji Kintoki (ice cream, green tea, azuki beans, mochi balls and condensed milk), Strawberry Paradise (ice cream, strawberry milk and condensed milk) and Polar Bear (ice cream, salty caramel, Calpico and condensed milk).
While shave ice is the main draw, Café Plumeria has the distinction of being the only restaurant at 808 serving breakfast right now. There are fluffy pancakes, ice cream-topped green-tea waffles, sweet French toast, savory omelets and a strangely popular beef stroganoff—a dish usually reserved for dinner—on its morning menu.
The Japanese-style café also offers breakfast to go, including acai bowls, papaya-yogurt cups, egg-and-avocado sandwiches and a pitaya bowl loaded with strawberries, blueberries, bananas, almonds, avocado, kiwi, mint, coconut, granola and dragon fruit.
The chicken rice omelet is a personal favorite that harkens back to my first visit to Japan more than a decade ago when I discovered a dish called omurice. Simply put, it’s a thin, delicate omelet stuffed with fried rice and usually topped with a tomato-based or demi-glace sauce. The ingredients in the rice vary, from chicken to vegetables to Spam. Café Plumeria’s omelet comes stuffed with a flavorful rice with rosemary-infused chicken and veggies and topped with a demi-glace sauce, chopped bell peppers and tomatoes. I thought I was going to save half for later, but wound up eating the entire omelet.
Since every item here is made to order, the wait can be long. Best to call in an order if you’re short on time.
Suite 108, 955-8881