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Eat Here Now: Six New Restaurants in Honolulu

Hawaii is a great place to eat, and it seems to get better all the time. Here are six of our favorite new eateries that have opened in the past year.


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Omakase at Kona Kai might include tai with rainbow trout caviar and lightly torched bluefin tuna.

photo: martha cheng

Kona Kai

2535 Coyne St., 594-7687.

Toward the end of the night at Kona Kai, the server sits down at the sushi bar and the chef asks what she wants to eat. “Fish,” she says. The chef makes her a special chirashi. “They pay me in fish,” she says. “The money is just bonus.”

She could hardly have picked a better place to work—not many have as wide a variety of fish as Kona Kai. James Matsukawa, the sushi chef, carries four types of tuna (Spanish bluefin, yellowfin, big eye and albacore), two types of ika, or squid (broad fin and spear), two different live shrimp (Santa Barbara spot prawn and New Caledonia blue shrimp), and many more, including fresh Hokkaido tako. When Matsukawa first brought in the tako, he hoped to serve it live, squirming tentacles and all, as is done in Japan, but his shipment came with a letter from the FDA warning against the practice. So now he cooks it and massages it for 45 minutes with daikon. (One suspects the tako of having forged this FDA letter.)

Kona Kai is for “people who want serious sushi,” Matsukawa says. But he named his restaurant Kona Kai instead of something like Matsukawa-Tei to appeal to locals instead of Japanese. “There are lots of Japanese sushi bars with Japanese sushi chefs,” he says. “They mostly tend to cater to the Japanese customers because they’re more educated about sushi. This is a place for local people who have more of an advanced sushi palate.”

The details: Matsukawa washes the ikura several times to take out some of the saltiness, then marinates it in dashi—when presented, instead of clumping together as a sticky mass, each orb glistens like a jewel. Translucent slices of tai (snapper) are topped with rainbow trout caviar, yellowfin ahi is brushed with a reduced mix of temari shoyu (the shoyu equivalent of extra virgin olive oil) and mirin. The shoyu at the table isn’t just shoyu—it’s cut with dashi so it doesn’t overwhelm delicate fish. The wasabi is fresh, of course.

Matsukawa is 30 and has worked at Japanese restaurants all over town—Tokkuri Tei, Sasabune, Jimbo’s. His menu reflects this: It has the esoteric sushi of Sasabune, but also Americanized sushi, such as the Kona Roll, a California roll topped with spicy ahi, tempura flakes and a pineapple chili sauce. It can seem incongruous, but so is the space—tucked above and behind Rock Bottom Sports Bar, Kona Kai is a place where you can enjoy exquisite sushi as people below play beer pong.

At Prima, Kevin Lee pulls a pizza out of the kiawe-fired oven, which the Prima owners tiled themselves.



108 Hekili St., #107, Kailua, 888-8933, primahawaii.com.

It's hard to classify Prima’s cuisine, and you get the sense that the young chefs here don't want you to. They're saying to hell with boundaries, and so the menu jumps from Italian-styled dishes to Indian spices to panang curry, all of it reconstructed in unexpected ways. Take the pappardelle Bolognese, which seems straightforward enough. At Prima, however, there’s a wink of curry in the meat sauce and it’s topped with crispy, fried curry leaves.

Click here to watch our web exclusive video featuring Prima and The Whole Ox Deli.


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Honolulu Magazine July 2020
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