First Look: Street Food Stadium
This Kalākaua Avenue food truck court has got game but needs customers.
Street Food Stadium offers a variety of food from a variety of food trucks, like this combination ‘ahi/shrimp roll from Poke Roll.
Photos: Don Wallace
Once you figure out the parking, Street Food Stadium is a home run. Yes, the sum of these nine food trucks arrayed around an Astroturf picnic area, complete with tables and umbrellas, feels more mini-golf than Levi Stadium. But the outdoor oasis on Kalākaua Avenue next door to Home Bar & Grill has the potential to be the go-to grindhouse for the discriminating drive-by eater saddled with a car full of friends, each of whom has his or her idea of what to eat.
Here’s what you can get at Street Food Stadium: poke rolls and kalbi udon; garlic shrimp and gyoza; thinly sliced lamb gyro in a soft warm pita with black olives and feta chunks; savory rice tacos that taste like deconstructed okonomiyaki; takoyaki and bibimbap ramen; acai bowls and poi mochi. All this and more … once you figure out the parking.
The parking here is tricky: There are some stalls in the front here, a fenced lot across the street and more out back.
About the parking: As a service to foodkind, I will admit to circling SFS three times (thank you, Siri) before giving up and pulling onto the sidewalk long enough for my son (it was his Siri) to leap out and ask. And then naturally it was obvious, as the smiling coordinator pointed to the handful of spaces in front, the fenced lot across the avenue on Fern Street (which I’d avoided since it was full of white tourist vans) and even more out back, on Kalauokalani Way. The problem is, once you get up a head of steam on Kalākaua, it’s hard to suss out the subtle signs of what is and what isn’t legal parking—you just know that one lot at the corner of Kapi‘olani and Kalākaua will tow you.
Now you know, so you can go. Upon alighting from my carriage, my eyes placed me on Route 66 somewhere near Winslow, Arizona—there are funky roadside art touches, like the jumble of signposts tossed together in a pyramid, the bicycles mounted on one wall and the 1949 Ford International pickup in the back with a live tree growing in its bed. There’s a lot of calculated whimsy in this town, and I’m jaded, but this is one neighborhood that could use it.
The seating area is circled by food trucks, which will rotate every six months to a year.
There wasn’t much of a crowd at 1:45 p.m. and some of the trucks were closed. Not Poke Roll, where bowls and wraps can be filled with ‘ahi, shrimp, salmon, octopus or beef.
The lineup, which the management promises will rotate every six months to a year, brings together most of our current Japanese-Hawaiian bar and street food faves, many festively squiggled in the usual salty-savory sauces. The trucks: Rice Tacos Tokyo (chicken or beef, $5.73; combo $9.95), Korean-accented Ebisuya Udon ($8.50 for kalbi udon, $12.50 for kalbi/bibimbap combo); Poke Roll (bowls and wraps ranging from $5.80 to $9.80, topped/filled with ‘ahi, shrimp, salmon, octopus and beef); Samurai Grill (“local favorites with a Japanese twist,” i.e., an $11.98 garlic shrimp plate, a $9.25 katana bowl); Edomae Gyoza ($6.99 for 5 pieces, $15.99 for a three-entrée combo plate, $6.99 for fried chicken); Ebizo (“famous garlic shrimp ramen” for $9.80, vegetable miso with char siu pork for $8.80, Mega Meat Miso for $10.80); and Gindaco, a Japanese chain ($8 for takoyaki, $8 for oyster yaki, $8.50 for yakisoba, a fried noodle omelet or modanyaki style of okonomiyaki for $9.50/$11.50 seafood).
The two exceptions: Sahara Grill, a branch of Moroccan/Lebanese restaurant Kan Zaman, serves lamb gyro ($11) and beef shawarma ($12) as well as baba ganoush ($7), hummus ($7) and stuffed grape leaves ($7). The organic greens salad that comes with the gyro and shawarma is ample and excellent—and pretty much the go-to salad for the entire stadium.
For dessert, say hello to HI Cravings, a munchie emporium that offers acai bowls from $8.50 to $11.50, plus tons of add-ons; teas and lemonades, mochi and sweet creations like the Stuffed Choco Pretzo by “Jess Da Bess.”
Starting with the beef rice taco, a mound of barbecued Koreanesque meat cupped in the rice shell and topped with a perfect sunny-side-up egg, our eating experience was highly positive, despite a midday drizzle that had us standing under an umbrella (the benches were wet). Standing around is a street food tradition anyway. “At last,” I said, “portable bibimbap”—though one-handing this taco would’ve been a stretch.
“Reminds me of the okonomiyaki we’d grab in Tokyo,” added my companion. “Really rich.”
The beef rice taco from Rice Taco Tokyo, topped with a perfectly cooked egg.
Next to arrive was Poke Roll’s combo ‘ahi/shrimp roll, a cylinder of white sushi rice contained in rice paper and packed with layers of glistening, sweetish ‘ahi, sautéed shrimp and avocado. It’s a lovely sight, and a blissful mouthful, especially when a succulent shrimp pops unexpectedly in the midst of a big bite.
The excellent lamb gyro followed and came covered in black olives and feta and nestled in a fat warm pita heaping with savory meat. “Boy, this reminds me of the ones you’d get in New York from those carts outside clubs,” I said. My son said: “You went to clubs?”
Poke Roll serves various bowls and wraps, including this combination ‘ahi/shrimp roll with avocado and tobiko.
Sahara Grill, a branch of the Moroccan/Lebanese restaurant Kan Zaman in Downtown, is a departure from the Asian-influenced street fare. This is the lamb gyro, which came covered in black olives and feta in a warm pita.
Not every truck was open—we arrived around 1:45 p.m.—and the uniform richness of the offerings made a full-spectrum tasting impractical, as in, we might lose an artery to cholesterol gridlock. I look forward to returning and working my way down the line. Also, it’s ideally located for a group rendezvous for pau hana or apres-le-surf or other sporting event.
Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Street Food Stadium is a concept developed by HL Honolulu LLC’s CEO Tomoyo Tsuruhara, who opened a food truck court in Waikīkī in 2014. Here, his vision seems to be of a food truck farm team. The company handles the licensing and provides the trucks—at $1,400 a month and 20 percent of the take—with short-term leases so that neither side is tied up if an idea doesn’t pan out. Given Hawai‘i’s regulatory maze and recent tightening of inspections, the site could be a boon to those who have a flair for food but not for managing the house, or truck.
Besides a liquor license and a coffee bar, all SFS really lacks at this point is customers. You can imagine it packed during conventions (including HONOLULU Fashion Week in November), and it’s the backdoor of Hawaiian Brian’s. But whether the neighborhood has the office-worker base to generate steady daytime traffic remains a question. Then again, Kalākaua gets plenty of car traffic; once drivers remember to “turn at Fern” and find the parking lot, impulse eaters can make Street Food Stadium a default choice.
Street Food Stadium, 1687 Kalākaua Ave., streetfoodstadium.com