Late Night Dining in Hawaii
Eating at midnight or later isn’t just for party animals. A guide to late-night food that’s a step up from the same old ZipPacs.
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Sikdorak “Positive: all-you-can-eat meat fest for $20. Negative: You can’t do it alone! I’ve been denied!”
Pho 777 “Hot fast pho ‘til 1 a.m. and under $10.”
Cho Dang “They have a $5 menu with all different types of soondubu and some juns.”
Aki No No “It’s really authentic to me, but what do I know, I’m Chinese. But all my Japanese friends from the land of the rising sun enjoy it, so I like to keep it real as well. I like the quiet, subdued ambiance, which is ironic, since I’m so in your face. Plus, I think it’s hysterical they have their daughter plastered everywhere!” (Aki No No’s owners are the parents of J-pop star Yuna Ito.)
Kohnotori “They do chicken 100 different ways and it’s all amazing. Torikawa kimchi and grilled chicken oysters stick out to me—I believe it’s called chicken back on the menu. And their bacon-wrapped quail egg, oh, and their fried oysters … it goes on and on.”
Jack in the Box “Because drunk chefs need grease, too.”
Tokkuri Tei “If I don’t get out too late, I sit at the bar and the chef, Ryuji Maruyama, just brings out all kinds of fun and creative dishes. I’ve had the best natto and ice cream and I don’t even like natto! The portobello mushroom appetizer is good as well.”
Who doesn’t love breakfast all day and all night? Somehow, the very things we want to start our days with—eggs and pancakes and waffles and maple syrup—are exactly what we want to end our nights with. (And for the people-watchers, there’s something endlessly amusing to seeing the uber late-night crowd collide with the early risers, the drunk girls that need to lie down in each other’s lap sitting alongside cops focused on their coffee.)
Every night owl knows Liliha Bakery as the place to sober up over pancakes, waffles, loco moco and the signature butter roll, split and griddled and served with radioactive red jelly, bright as a homing beacon by which you can instantly spot any friend that’s Instagramming at Liliha. But I don’t have to be drunk to declare these the best pancakes and waffles in the city, anytime, any day.
If you’re in Waikiki, Wailana Coffee House is a reliable last resort, and MAC 24/7, inside the Hilton, is its modern counterpart. MAC 24/7 (an acronym for Modern American Cuisine) is most famous for its ridiculous-sized Mac Daddy pancakes, a stack is as tall as a birthday cake, with the diameter of a hubcap. In the past, it wasn’t a case of too much of a good thing, but too much of a bad thing—the pancakes were tough and rubbery. Now, though, with Hilton’s new chef, James Aptakin, the pancakes are something you and your seven pancake-crazed friends would actually want to eat. For those without a pancake team, you can also get a short stack of pancakes, which still seem to require at least a couple of friends to finish. And if 2 a.m. (when most bars close) is too early to call it quits on drinking, MAC 24/7 serves alcohol until 3:30 a.m.
Sure, you could go to Pho 777 for a decent, nourishing bowl of pho, but if the cover of night has you feeling adventurous, wander into QQ, the unsigned Vietnamese karaoke bar two doors down from the original Side Street Inn. Unless you are Vietnamese, a smoker and a regular, you will probably get stared down, just as we were, when we walked through a long, dark hallway into an empty shell of a club. We found a booth farthest from the speakers blasting Vietnamese music and asked what beers were offered. “All beers. Everything,” was the reply.
“Everything” turned out to be Coors, Bud and Bud Light, Heineken and Corona. Friends (with whom the last beer I shared was a Westvleteren 12, one of the rarest beers in the world) wanted to leave … until the banh mi arrived, one of the best on island, with the perfect balance of pate, pork and pickles. A dish called shaking beef, a vibrantly seasoned beef stir-fry with shoyu, fish sauce and lime juice, (though a tad too chewy) also made the experience worth it. Almost. Next time, to avoid the obnoxiously loud karaoke, I’ll order takeout at the bar, beneath the large sign proclaiming, “God’s love never fails.”
Food you can karaoke to
Left to right: Gearing up for karaoke at 8 Fat Fat 8. The spread at 8 Fat Fat 8, including the Fat Fat Chicken.
With free karaoke and half-off menu items, late-night happy hour at Sansei gets loud and crowded fast. In the mayhem, settle down with crab truffle ramen, rich with truffle butter and brightened with cilantro and Thai basil, and the Hawaiian moi roll, in which the firm, white fish is wrapped around pickled gobo and Maui onions.
Fried chicken, karaoke and funny-sounding bars equal late-night magic, particularly at Café Duck Butt (Korean slang for “nice ass”) and 8 Fat Fat 8 (“eight” sounds like “fortune,” or fat, in Chinese). (Call it humor in translation.) At both places, non-battered chicken is fried crisp with hardly a trace of grease.
On the menu with the Fat Fat Chicken, as it’s called at 8 Fat Fat 8, is fried lettuce, which sounds about as promising as dive-bar 8 Fat Fat 8 looks, but lettuce stir-fried in butter and garlic proves to be a surprise hit, just like the man singing Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” in an otherwise empty booth.Where y go after wor