First Look: Kam Bowl Restaurant in Kalihi
Now you can get your Kam Bowl and Kenny’s Restaurant favorites all in one spot.
The oxtail soup made famous by the old Kam Bowl is now back in Kalihi, on the menu at the new Kam Bowl Restaurant.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
Growing up in Kalihi Valley, I spent many weekends at Kam Bowl, the now-defunct bowling alley that was recently turned into a Walgreens.
It was heartbreaking to see bulldozers demolish a place that had long been part of my childhood, from the cheap bowling rates to the famous oxtail soup served at Kapi‘olani Coffee Shop inside.
Then, in 2015, eight years after Kam Bowl closed, the beloved Kenny’s Restaurant across the street at Kamehameha Shopping Center, where my family had dined on hamburger steak and the Manager’s Special of waffles topped with ice cream, shut down, too. It was like my whole pre-college world was imploding.
So you could imagine my excitement when I saw the banner outside of the old Kenny’s announcing the yet-to-be-opened Kam Bowl Restaurant. Kam Bowl is back? In the old Kenny’s? This was better than I could have imagined!
Kam Bowl was owned by Gary and Liko Mijo, who continue to operate Kapi‘olani Coffee Shop in Waimalu Shopping Center and Asahi Grill on Ke‘eaumoku Street. (The Mijos founded, then sold, the Asahi Grill location on Ward Avenue.) At these locations, the couple continued to serve the oxtail soup made famous at the bowling alley.
John Fujieki, the second-generation owner of Kenny’s Restaurant, sold the business and its recipes to the Mijos.
That means you can get all of your favorites—Kenny’s Chinese chicken salad and eggs Benedict and Kam Bowl’s fried rice and legendary oxtail soup—all in one place.
Inside Kam Bowl Restaurant, which occupies the 6,000-square-foot space vacated by Kenny’s Restaurant in the Kamehameha Shopping Center.
Last week, I met my parents for dinner at the new restaurant, hoping to wax nostalgic over gravy-draped hamburger steak and a comforting bowl of oxtail soup. And while the food was satisfactory and priced right, we couldn’t help but wonder if ambiance makes a difference.
Not much had changed from the old Kenny’s Restaurant—the spacious booths, the counter seating, the large glass windows that opened up to Likelike Highway and the setting sun. It was that comfortable family restaurant I hoped it would be.
The breakfast menu looked similar, too, with Kenny’s popular eggs Benedict ($10.95), French toast ($5.95) and a Japanese breakfast with rice, miso soup and your choice of saba, mahi mahi or salmon ($10.95). (Breakfast is served from 6:30 to 10 a.m. daily.)
We decided to try a variety of plates, from new menu additions to old favorites.
The local-style teriyaki beef plate from Kam Bowl Restaurant passed the taste test.
The tonkatsu curry plate was standard fare—tasty but nothing special.
I tend to judge local-style eateries by their teriyaki beef, so we ordered the plate ($10.95), which comes with two scoops of rice and macaroni salad. I appreciated the bits of fat still clinging to the thinly sliced beef and the mac salad, which wasn’t too eggy or drowning in mayonnaise. The meat itself was tender enough, with a thick, sweet teriyaki glaze. Bonus points for the shredded cabbage under the meat to catch the sauce.
The tonkatsu curry ($11.95) plate was exactly what you’d expect: pork loin, breaded in panko and deep-fried, then served over white rice and mac salad and topped with Japanese-style curry. If you’re looking for a basic tonkatsu curry dish, this is it. There was nothing wrong with it—but there wasn’t anything unique about it, either.
The kalbi ($16.95) harkened to really good Korean takeout, with thick short ribs marinated in shoyu, sugar, garlic and sesame oil, then grilled until slightly charred.
The few times I’ve been to Asahi Grill on both Ward Avenue and Ke‘eaumoku Street, I’ve only really raved about the fried rice, a dish served at Kapi‘olani Coffee Shop but popularized here. So I was happy to see this dish on the menu. (Better parking than the other Asahi Grill locations and closer—for me—to home.) The large portion ($9.50) comes with two eggs, the smaller portion ($7.50) with one. Asahi Grill’s fried rice—which can be ordered plain, with lup cheong or kim chee—doesn’t have much in the way of vegetables. It’s got bits of ground meat, Portuguese sausage, green onions and shoyu—that’s about it. Adding the slightly sweet Chinese sausage or even the house-made kim chee really adds much-needed flavor and texture.
The kalbi was well flavored and grilled to a nice char.
The fried rice comes in two sizes—this is the small portion—and served with eggs. You can get it flavored with lup cheong, like this one, or house-made kim chee.
And finally, the oxtail soup.
I don’t remember the soup being so thin and clear, but that familiar beefy flavor with a slight hint of star anise was there. There are two sizes: regular ($14.95) and small ($12.95). We opted for the small, which came with a few oxtails in a broth overwhelmed with cilantro, two scoops of rice and a dish of minced ginger. (You add shoyu and hot sauce, if you like the spice, to the ginger for dipping your oxtails.) It’s hard to be objective about a dish that’s so connected to me. It tasted the same, but it felt different, if that makes any sense. Maybe it was missing the smell of oiled lanes and the crash of pins in the distance.
Kamehameha Shopping Center, 1620 N. School St. Open 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. 841-0931