5 Local Food Vendors to Try at ‘Ohana Hale Marketplace in Kaka‘ako
From beef-tongue tacos and fermented rice crepes to a soul-soothing bowl of white pepper pork broth, one thing’s for sure: you won’t leave hungry.
Photos: Terri Inefuku
Take one step inside ʻOhana Hale Marketplace and you might feel a little overwhelmed.
The large facility on Ward Avenue, where the old Sports Authority used to be, is split into more than 200 stalls for small, local businesses. While not all of the stalls are currently occupied, the marketplace’s eclectic array of vendors can result in visual overload. A wall of ‘ukulele. Jewelry displays. Tiki lamps. Boba.
You could consult the numbered map near the entrance, but navigation is much easier if you’re hungry: just take a walk along the perimeter. Vendors that require food preparation need access to washbasins, which are connected to the building’s water source via pipes along the walls. No open-flame devices are allowed in the building. Instead, many vendors use griddles, pressure cookers and air fryers to create their dishes.
Here are my top picks:
1. Tacoholics HI
Turn right at the entrance, head down to the far end and you’ll find Tacoholics in a roomy booth along the corner with stools and a flat-screen television. Owners Kim Lee and Leon Park serve, of course, tacos, but also offer burritos, tortas, quesadillas, salads and burrito bowls.
The tacos come on 5-inch white corn Sinaloa tortillas, topped with onion, cilantro and salsa, and are served with pickled vegetables, which make the tacos sensational.
The chicken taco ($3) was marinated with freshly squeezed lime and orange juice, cilantro and jalapeño, which added a refreshing brightness to the meat. But the surprising winner of the bunch was the lengua, or beef tongue ($3.50), which I admit, I made a face at first. Lee insisted, “No, really, it’s one of our most popular items.” The tongue is cooked overnight and emerges soft and tender, while a splash of vinegar cuts the fattiness. I quickly devoured both tacos, washed them down with pineapple Jarritos (they carry all 12 flavors) and apologized for the initial snubbing of my now-favorite taco choice.
Pork ribs rice soup from Sabaii
Photo: Martha Cheng
If you crave Thai street food, head to the front, left corner of the marketplace for Sabaii, which means “all good.” Owner Tash Thanaraf was born and raised in Bangkok, and has worked in the food and beverage industry for 14 years. His dream is to open a small bar, but while he waits for his liquor license (his vision includes craft beer, cocktails and wine), he’s focusing on the plates.
The Moo Krob ($11), or pork belly marinated in salt, pepper and vinegar, gets its crispy skin via an air fryer. It’s then sliced and topped with fried shallots and served with a scoop of rice and cucumber slices. The pork is good on its own, but I preferred dipping the meat in the accompanying sauce, rich and sweet with mushrooms, soy, vinegar and pickled jalapeño.
The Moo Krob: Pork belly marinated in salt, pepper and vinegar served with cucumber slices and rice.
The dish that stayed with me was one from the specials board: pork ribs rice soup ($10). The ribs are cooked in broth, then flavored with salt, shoyu and white pepper which adds a pleasant kick. Thanaraf skims off the fat, then tops the soup with cilantro, fried garlic, scallions, and more white pepper. The result is a rich bowl of soul-soothing soup that somehow reminds me of my mother’s own cooking.
3. Ganesh Dosa
Further down along the left wall, Ganesh Dosa proves that vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes don’t have to be boring or tasteless. Owner Pablo Muller hails from Argentina but honed his dosa-making skills while living in an ashram in upstate New York. For the dosa, a crepe-like Indian dish, he spreads a thin layer of fermented rice and lentil batter onto a round griddle, creating an almost paper thin, crisp shell, then adds savory or sweet toppings to create fusion-inspired combinations.
The Chef’s Recommendation ($15) is a dosa stuffed with potato masala, tomato, avocado, Jarlsberg cheese, and olives, crispy on the outside and deliciously chewy on the inside with the fermented batter adding a slightly sour note. I found the potato masala hearty and bursting with spices: mustard, cumin seeds, ginger, coriander, turmeric and lemon. The avocado and cheese contrasted nicely while the olives added a salty bite. The dosa comes with a side of coconut chutney, though Muller recommends opening the crepe and pouring it over the filling—a combination that works well.
4. All-In Beef Jerky Chips
Photo: Courtesy of All-in Beef Jerky Chips
I’m normally not a fan of beef jerky (too tough and chewy for my taste), but I found myself constantly reaching for more of this paper-thin, super-crispy snack. The ingredients are simple: prime beef cuts, shoyu, garlic and salt with a hint of sweetness. We enjoyed the original, though All-In also offers Spicy Beef, Smokey Pork and Spicy Pork Chips. You’ll find them to the right of Tacoholics.
$7 small (1.2 oz.), $12 large (2 oz.), allinbeefjerky.com.
5. Sticky Sweets
Fruity Pebbles cupcake from Sticky Sweets.
Photo: Katie Kenny
I could not leave without dessert, and Sticky Sweets’ colorful display, between Sabaii and Ganesh Dosa, caught my eye.
Owner Leanne Badua, who honed her skills at Alan Wong’s, Four Seasons Resort Oʻahu, Sheraton Waikīkī and Hokulani Bake Shop, does most of her baking at night and is constantly dreaming up new cupcake flavors ($3 each). I spotted mocha cookie butter and chocolate banana chantilly among the six cupcake offerings, though I’m sure she’s changed them by now. The display also showcased chocolate chip brownies, banana bread and four different types of cookies. If that wasn’t enough, cheesecakes are kept in the fridge behind the counter; photos perched atop the display case allow you to choose your flavor.
The Oreo cheesecake cookie from Sticky Sweets.
The chocolate peanut butter cheesecake ($3.50) leaned more soft and creamy than traditionally dense while still bold in flavor, almost too much so—the chocolate, peanut butter and cream cheese came just shy of competing with each other. The Oreo cheesecake cookie ($2) was crisp with a chewy center and, while I could not detect any cheesecake flavor, it paired wonderfully with milk.
ʻOhana Hale Marketplace is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Individual vendor hours may vary. 333 Ward Ave. ohmhawaii.com.
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