Dining: Best Local Food
The tasty portion of our Best of Honolulu 2004 issue.
(page 3 of 3)
Best Local-Style Sushi
Local-style sushi is a genre unto itself. It’s a large maki sushi with moist, vinegary rice, tuna, crunchy vegetable, a hint of shrimp powder, soy-laced kampyo, maybe some egg or kamaboko, all wrapped up in nori. There are countless variations, but the best come from okazu-ya, those Japanese delis where the sushi, teriyaki, mac salad and tempura are sooo good. One of the best is Gulick Delicatessen in Kalihi, now all gussied up in stainless steel and glass, but still making some of the best okazu around. And, yes, Gulick’s sushi is really good, in fact, the best we tasted. A strip of cucumber and carrot add crunch, the soy-sugar seasoned tuna is seasoned with shoyu and sugar and, best of all, the rice is moist, with just the right touch of sushi vinegar. Gulick Delicatessen, 1512 Gulick Ave., 847-1461.
At crowded Pho To Chau, we ended up sharing a table with two ladies who’d driven from Aiea to sample To Chau’s renowned version of pho (pronounced feu as in pot au feu). "I think pho is replacing saimin," said one of the ladies. She had a point. The North Vietnamese beef noodle soup does indeed seem to be the new saimin, judging by the number of places that serve it and the varied ethnic backgrounds of those eating it.
The To family (two brothers and a sister) has been serving up a couple hundred delicious bowls of pho every day since 1987. As the steaming bowl is placed in front of you, pause a moment. Inhale. It’s all about the lovely aromas of star anise, cinnamon, cloves and ginger that immediately stimulate the senses. A sip of the clear beef broth is telling: not too salty, a hint of sweetness and savory flavor. Fresh crisp bean sprouts, ngo gai (saw leaf herb), Thai basil, chili pepper slices and fresh lemon wedges are plentiful for adding to the bowl of perfectly cooked, slithery rice noodles. Thin slices of beef are served alongside to cook in the broth. At Pho To Chau it’s about pho and only pho. You have to stand in line on the sidewalk and endure brusque service. But the pho is delicious, it’s satisfying, it’s addictive and, dare we say it, it’s better than saimin. It’s got a wider range of textures, a great depth of flavor and, as the ladies from Aiea reminded us, "It really fills you up." Pho To Chau, 1007 River St., 533-4549, 8 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. daily.
Best Next Step After Pho
The Vietnamese can really do soups. Now that pho’s part of your everyday diet and you find yourself longing for something even more adventurous, try the spicy Bun Bo Hue at Pho Mai, where this soup substitutes a bit of pork shank for the beef. The bowl’s filled with noodles and the spiciest pho broth you’ve ever encountered, lively with lemon grass, red with enough red pepper to clear your sinuses. This is hot and spicy soup to erase the memories of all others. In fact, we dare you to drink off all the broth at the end. Pho Mai has two locations, we prefer the one at 1427 S. King St., 955-6583.
Best Seafood Store
Fifty years ago the Tamashiro family began to specialize in seafood at their corner store in Kalihi. Today the third generation continues to supply Honoluluans with the widest array of fish, shellfish and all other critters from the ocean. Live Maine lobsters and Dungeness crab are flown in along with Manila and littleneck clams, geoducks, oysters and blue crab. If it’s not fresh, it may be frozen: shrimp, soft shell crab, scallops, mussels, squid and more.
Best of all is Tamashiro’s selection of locally caught fish from the small and colorful reef fish to the deep ocean varieties. "Ahi is our biggest seller," says Cyrus Tamashiro, one of the three brothers who run the show. "We have various grades of ahi fillet: high fat, high price to lower fat, lower price. We have something for everyone’s pocketbook and palate."
With 30 to 35 different pokes each day, tobiko, live tako (octopus) and, occasionally, namako (sea cucumber), fresh butterfish and wild salmon in season and much more, this small, homey market is a gem. Quail eggs can be found here, too, and some of the best Chinese and Hayden mangoes in season, along with fresh produce and a limited array of grocery items.
Tamashiro’s may look like a parking nightmare, but there’s parking at Kaumakapili Church next door. Even on Tamashiro’s busiest day (New Year’s Eve Day), you can get into a parking space in just a few minutes. That says that the folks at Tamashiro’s are efficient at getting you in an out, even if they’re cleaning and filleting that opakapaka for you. When you’re going to splurge on a bouillabaisse, crab boil, clambake, paella or the best sashimi money can buy, head to Tamashiro’s. 802 N. King St., 841-8047
Best Wine Store
We polled dozens of the winey-est people we knew—serious collectors and wine geeks included. Serious wine people tend to shop at all the various wine outlets, but their clear favorite was Fujioka’s. Proprietor Lyle Fujioka and his staff have developed a loyal following. "Lyle has great selection, great prices, and for his best customers, he can get his hands on some rare bottles." Less serious collectors also liked the store because Fujioka’s "leads you to good wine" at pretty much any budget point. Fujioka’s, Market City, 2919 Kapiolani Blvd., 739-9463
Editor’s Note: Although it was hardly a blip on our informal survey, there is a new wine shop in town. Liane Fu and Kim Karalovich have transformed one of the last remaining Lewers & Cooke bungalows on King Street into The Wine Stop. Don’t let the aqua-and-orange exterior scare you off. Inside is a tidy assemblage of wooden wine racks and a pleasant selection of mainly moderate priced, mainly New World wines. Plus, this is the only place on Oahu where you can buy cheese from Maui’s Surfing Goat Dairy. The Wine Stop, 1809 S. King St., 946-3707 (WINES07).