Honolulu Cheap Eats!
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Skip the line at Pho to Chau next door and ignore Golden River’s unfortunate name (lost in translation perhaps?). Have fun assembling your own rice-paper spring rolls with the banh hoi ($13.50), a big-enough-for-two plate of sugar-cane shrimp, pork meatballs, grilled pork and pressed, thin vermicelli. Take a round of rice paper and stuff it with meat, some vermicelli, mint and Thai basil, roll it up, and dunk it into a fish sauce and lime dip. It’s also easy to gorge on banh xeo ($9.75), a crispy, chewy rice-flour crepe overflowing with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts. 198 N. King St., 531-1185.
Nabe and hot pot are everywhere these days, but one of the original and best places to go is Ichiriki, where all of the soup bases are tasty (in particular, though, we like the pirikara, a spicy shoyu base). The lunchtime nabe ($11.95) comes with your choice of thinly sliced chicken, pork or beef, and a heaping plate of enoki and shiitake mushrooms, abura age (deep-fried tofu that soaks up all the broth like a sponge) and meatballs made with ground pork and chicken. After all that good stuff has helped enrich the soup, order ramen ($1.50) to throw in the pot and absorb what’s left. (Prices for late-night nabe, from 9:30 p.m. to closing, are also under $15.) 510 Piikoi St., 589-2299, ichirikinabe.com.
In the spicy kimchi sujebi ($9.95), the homemade sesame noodles arrive as wide, chewy shards, green and herby from sesame leaves, in a kimchi broth with plenty of vegetables. Make sure to finish with pat bing soo ($4.95), Korean-style shave-ice loaded with azuki beans, fresh fruit and mochi, with a bit of roasted sesame powder hidden in the powdery-soft ice. 911 Keeaumoku St., 943-6000.
Chef Cassie’s restaurant in Kaimuki resembles his old lunch truck with vibrant colors, reggae music and a relaxed vibe. His delicious Jamaican food hasn’t changed much either: Jamaican Jerk Chicken ($13.95) is fall-off-the-bone tender, infused with Cassie’s overnight jerk marinade. For vegetarians, the Jamaican ital stew ($10.95), a Rastafarian dish, has a variety of root veggies in curry coconut sauce. 1137 11th Ave., 388-2917, jawaiianiriejerk.com.
From the darlin’ blue interior to the welcoming “Y’all take a seat” sign, this small dining room fully embraces its local niche as a Southern-style restaurant. Dive right into crunchy, crusty goodness with the two-piece fried chicken plate ($8.95), which comes with hush puppies, coleslaw and a deviled egg. Pair your entrée with a buttery, moist cat head biscuit ($2.95) and slather on the homemade apple butter or jam. Down your morsels with sweetened ice tea ($2.50), served in a Mason jar. The Cape Fear crab-cake plate ($15.95) is also stellar—two large, deep-fried patties that go down as easy as pie . . . or, in this case, chunky bread pudding ($4.50) with bourbon sauce. 1035 University Ave., 348-0626, kissmygritsyall.com.
In this new little eatery, there are many hearty pasta dishes $15 and under. One of our favorites is the trenette Bolognese ($15), in which the slow-cooked ground veal, pork and beef sauce works its way into all the crevices of the long, wide, slightly kinky noodles. Imperial Plaza, 725 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite C112, 593-2626.
You could call this fast-food udon—bowls are cheap (from $3.75 to $6.25), assembled via assembly line and come out fast. But there’s no denying each bowl’s long-lasting comfort. Noodles are made from scratch daily, topped with plenty of crunchy tempura bits and green onion, and dipping sauces come with fresh grated ginger. You won’t find a better bowl of udon at this price on the island. 2310 Kuhii Ave., 931-6000.
People come here just for the xiao long bao ($6.95), dumplings filled with ground pork and all their juices, one of the most perfect bites of food ever invented. You won’t go wrong with those, but sheng jian bao ($6.95) are also good, like mini, pan-fried manapua. Carbo-load further on the mantou ($6.95), slightly sweet, fluffy buns. There are 12 to an order, half are steamed, the others fried. Dip them in the sweetened, condensed milk they come with, and you’ve got dessert. 1414 Dillingham Blvd., Suite 101, 841-8889.