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First Look: Café Mana Mona

Authentic Japanese food, hidden away in a little place in Waikīkī.


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Crab Fried Rice Bento, $11. 
Photos: Lennie Omalza 

 

The strong Asian influence in Hawaiʻi makes it easy to find Japanese food on nearly every corner. Finding really good Japanese food, however, can sometimes be a little tricky. Lucky for us, a nondescript eatery called Café Mana Mona is a small place that’s big on taste.

 

Tucked away in the Hokulani hotel in Waikīkī, the café’s all-outdoor seating is cool, casual and remarkably un-touristy. During our visit, there were two staff members working, and both were the friendliest, most helpful restaurant employees we’ve encountered in a while. They went over the various menu items with us and patiently answered numerous questions about ingredients. That’s how we discovered a handful of Café Mana Mona’s dishes actually come from Tsukuneya Robata Grill on University Avenue. At $10 per bento, though, we’re assuming the prices drop when the food is being served at the café. (And what a nice surprise for being in Waikīkī!)

 

Brie cheese and prosciutto sandwich, $9.75. 

 

The Brie cheese and prosciutto sandwich ($9.75)  was tasty and filling, but not stellar—and came with a bag of Fritos, which was a tad strange. What really stood out was the crab fried rice bento ($11). Everything about it was perfection. The tofu was just the right texture—not too soft or too hard—with a very light shoyu taste spread through each bite, along with pieces of fishcake.

 

The vegetable mixture, which we initially mistook for nishime, was made of konnyaku, gobo, carrots and mushrooms, with a blend of sugar, shoyu and dashi. Every piece was light, fresh and delicious, and reminiscent of nishime we’ve had in Japan. The rice was also so uncannily light that we thought it might be quinoa. But, we learned it was indeed rice, cooked in a pot, the old-school way.

 

After devouring our bento, we craved more but felt full and satisfied. Needless to say, we’ll be back to taste the myriad other bento offerings at Café Mana Mona. What should we try next time? The ‘ahi poke bento, the Japanese egg sandwich, or the curry rice bento? Eh, what the heck—we’ll have them all.

 

Café Mana Mona, 2181 Kalakāua Ave., open Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Tuesday and Sunday, 282-0899

 

Join us for Cirque du Cuisine! Dine on circus-inspired dishes from 13 award-winning restaurants under the stars in Waikīkī at the 2016 Hale ‘Aina Awards Celebration. Get your tickets to the event now.

 

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