Try to Grab One of the Six Seats at This Sushi Speakeasy in Kailua
22, a secret sushi bar, by the owner of shuttered Kohnotori, comes to Kailua disguised as a coffee shop.
Braised daikon with pork belly
Photos: Sarah Burchard
You will not find a website or a phone number for the mysterious 22 in Kailua. If you head to 22 Oneawa St., you’ll find a cute café and boutique. It is fairly easy to figure out how to get a cup of coffee here, but you’d never know that there’s also a secret sushi omakase.
So, here’s what you do:
First, go in for coffee. The café opens around 8 a.m. behind the little storefront on Oneawa Street wedged in between Moxy Boutique and the antique shop with the 1962 Vespa parked out front.
You will not be ordering a latte or a cortado. You will get a cup of black coffee. No worries, 22 carries good local stuff, and owner Taka Kijima is meticulous about the pour-over method that he uses.
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Kijima, who owned the former Kohnotori, which was one of Honolulu’s best yakitori restaurants, is also the sushi chef who will be preparing an unforgettable dinner for you later—if you successfully navigate the next part of your mission.
Taka Kajima, owner of 22
Strike up a conversation with him. Relax. Hang out for a while. Browse through his collection of vintage goods, chic apparel and unique curios. Sprawl out on a couch with Pualani, his golden retriever, or hop in the massage chair, if one of his employees is not already occupying it.
By the time your coffee is ready, you will go in for the big ask:
“So, Taka, I’ve heard around town that you host amazing omakase dinners. Is that true?”
“You’ve heard that?!” Kijima will say to you with a look in his eyes like you just bought him a puppy.
“Yes! How can I make a reservation?”
“When do you want to come in?” he will ask.
smoked mackerel with dashi gelee
He will scroll through his phone for a minute, and, if you are lucky, look back up at you with wide eyes and a warm smile and excitedly instruct, “Take down my phone number!”
From here, the most unusually wonderful thing happens. Instead of putting your reservation in the books, Kijima will become a new texting buddy.
He will text you a photo of the menu. You will let him know about any allergies or food restrictions. He will remind you that it is BYOB, give you his cancellation policy and confirm your reservation. He also will text you after dinner to thank you and to ask you how everything was.
For me, it was delightful. A thrilling, charming, delicious and unique combination of adventure, hospitality, quality and character. Step by step, Kijima is fulfilling his mission for 22: to cultivate a timeless spot for visitors and staff alike to enjoy life together.
Thursday night came around, and I showed up with two friends for our 7 p.m. reservation. The door was locked, as usual, but I could see Kijima through a crack in the curtain hanging in the back of the shop, busily prepping behind the bite-sized sushi counter.
We soon realized that we made up the entire cover count for the evening. Kijima would be cooking exclusively for us.
Around 7:10 p.m., I texted Kijima: “We are here!”
I saw him bolt around the counter and run toward the front door, laughing. He apologized for forgetting to open the perpetually locked entrance and ushered us inside.
We sat down for a two-hour, private omakase dinner, which Kijima calls “Hana-Lei” ($75/person). Fourteen courses, a progression of bites ranging from pickled to simmered to grilled, were prepared with the skill of a fine sushi chef and the hospitality of an Italian grandmother. One dish married smoked mackerel and diced tofu, sprinkled with a gelée made of mirin, vinegar and dashi. Other highlights included a chawanmushi served with bamboo shoots and peas in a luxurious salmon roe sauce and a hamachi nigiri.
For the ni mono (simmered dish), I leaned my face over the braised daikon with pork belly and inhaled deeply. The light broth garnished with bonito and micro daikon smelled of baked ham on Christmas Day.
Just as we were about to tap out, a bowl of somen noodles, mushrooms and scallion in a warm dashi broth arrived. All of us tipped our bowls up like kids sucking back cereal milk at the breakfast table.
After dinner, Kijima asked me how I had heard about 22.
“You’re all the buzz on Facebook,” I told him.
He confessed that he is not a huge fan of social media—if it weren’t for his staff, he wouldn’t have an online presence. He is not in a rush to have lines out the door. Instead, he has made small, intentional steps to keep adding value to his shop so that interest continues to increase steadily.
A phrase I hear Kijima say often is “little by little.” He opened the café in March with coffee, eventually started hosting intimate, secret dinners in the back, and just added a small breakfast menu to his offerings mid-July.
The key to life is having fun, Kijima said. The café offers a “fun-key” style so that staff and guests from around the globe can connect and enjoy life together.
Make your reservation today. Little by little, this spot is sure to blow up soon.
22, 22 Oneawa St., Kailua, open daily 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for breakfast and lunch, dinner by reservation only. To make a reservation, stop in or message on Instagram or Facebook @22kailua or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.