First Look: Broken Rice

This Vietnamese bistro in Kaimukī serves unexpected rice dishes.


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Beef spicy noodle soup

Beef Spicy Noodle Soup.
Photos: Michele Aucello

 

Opening a Vietnamese restaurant in a neighborhood which already has three within a two-block radius is a gutsy move. It also helps explain how Broken Rice came to specialize in serving fractured jasmine rice for a fluffier, couscouslike texture, says Ron Tran, eldest son of owner/cook Minh Tran.

 

The family came to Hawai‘i from Vietnam in the ’80s and tended to eat at home—because the parents’ cooking was so good, focusing on clean, fresh flavors. Family and friends who loved their cooking urged them to open a restaurant. They were searching for the right space when they learned that restaurant Verde on Wai‘alae Avenue. was looking to sell the lease. Tran Sr. had been working on his pho recipe, but realized the location would be near three established Vietnamese restaurants serving pho, so they shifted their focus.

 

There are vermicelli dishes, which come with a choice of spring roll, lemongrass chicken, grilled pork or grilled shrimp. But try the broken rice. The Shaking Beef with Broken Rice dish we ordered was not on the menu we viewed online, but there it was. It had been removed for a while after some customers found it too garlicky. It was our favorite dish. The marinade is simple shoyu and garlic with a little sake. The cubed rib eye was seared crispy outside, tender inside.

 

Shaking Beef with Broken Rice

Shaking Beef with Broken Rice.

 

Tran recommends the Beef Spicy Noodle Soup. Make sure you add the lemon and mint. The 10-year-old in our party declared the broth too spicy, but ate three helpings. The adults found it just spicy enough. We also liked the vegetarian salad (tofu, shredded carrots, mushrooms, jicama with fresh basil and mint, and a hoisin peanut sauce) with large lettuce leaves as wraps.

 

Vegetarian salad

Vegetarian salad.

 

The Crab Fried Rice with king crab, egg and vegetables included hefty nuggets of crab. Broken rice can also be ordered with grilled chicken, pork or shrimp or the Special Broken Rice with grilled pork chop, chicken shredded pork, clear noodle and meat loaf (!).

 

Crab fried rice

Crab Fried Rice.

 

Tran admits the family didn’t realize how much work it would take to open a restaurant, and says the learning curve has been steep. However, you can’t tell by the new space: fresh, clean and simple, redone in white, gray and yellow. As they were working through their soft-opening stage, the restaurant looked a bit stark, but more artwork is being added.

 

The menu mirrors the interior—clean, fresh, simple. They decided to keep the menu short and simple so as not to overwhelm the customers (or the kitchen), and to focus on the dishes that they do well.

 

Broken Rice wants to shake up the notion of what a Vietnamese restaurant is with the menu, price point and even the type of meat used. The family tinkered with different cuts of beef and ultimately went back to the rib eye that works best for them. Yet sauces are simple, condiments fresh and the menu is straightforward.

 

Broken Rice interior

 

Broken Rice does not charge a corkage fee, but bring your own wine glasses or be prepared to sip your vino out of red Solo cups. When we asked why only one bottle opener and no glasses, we learned the owners do not drink and were thus unsure how to proceed. They are open to suggestions, though, so consider letting them know if you’d prefer paying a fee in order to drink from glasses.

 

Tran says his parents hope to grow this restaurant to the point where they can step back and manage, maybe make the sauces. For now, family members come help out after their day jobs, which might explain the calm vibe here. Smiles on faces, eager to help—it really is a family affair. Our family of three ate well for under $60, not including tip.

 

You can also pop in at lunchtime for take-out bentos with lemongrass chicken or pork and beef patty. Check it out on Instagram (@brokenricehi) for future specials and more photos of the food.

 

3607 Wai‘alae Ave., brokenricehi.com, 739-0230, weekdays, 5–9 p.m., weekends, 11 a.m.–2 p.m., 5–9 p.m.

 

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