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>>Best Takoyaki

2427 Kuhio Ave. | 926-8955

Jinroku head chef Ken Maeda knows takoyaki.

Photo: David Croxford

At JINROKU, the takoyaki—doughy pancake balls studded with chopped octopus—are studies in creamy crispness. Grab a seat at the edge of the teppan grill and watch the takoyaki maker deftly flip the octopus balls one by one in a cast-iron pan with half-sphere indentations.

The takoyaki are served simply here, with dipping sauces of mayonnaise and a tonkatsu-like sauce that’s tart and sweet. While other places may adorn their takoyaki with drizzles of sauce and a flurry of bonito flakes, Jinroku’s takoyaki are comfortable in their crisp and gooey nakedness.

Also not to be missed at Jinroku: the okonomiyaki, another Japanese street food, this one a cross between an omelet and a savory pancake.




>>Best Hotpot

2334 S. King St. | 947-3707

Photo: Olivier Koning

Hotpot, shabu shabu, nabe: The field of “cook-your-own in simmering soup” has expanded faster than dried noodles in broth. But one of the first hotpot restaurants in Honolulu—SWEET HOME CAFE—is still the best. Many factors make it so: more than a dozen soup options (Healthy Herb and Spicy with Sour Cabbage are favorites) and a seemingly endless array of food to drop in the bubbling broth, including vivid, frozen curls of beef, pork and lamb; tofu varieties that soak up the soup like a sponge; dark, peppery, herby Chinese greens; and more in the shape of seafood balls, mushrooms and noodles. Add to that 15 different dipping sauces, and you’ve got enough possible permutations to come every day for a year (we’ve thought about it) and never taste the same soup twice. But perhaps the grandest spectacle of all? The everything-but-the-kitchen-sink shave ice that caps every meal, a gloriously messy bowl of shave ice that might include various fruit-flavored jellies, tapioca, custard, coffee flan and red beans. It arrives right around the 90-minute mark of your meal, plunked down unbidden, signaling the end of a dinner that we wish could last forever.



>>Best Pop-Up


Photo: courtesy the pig and the lady

Spotted recently at THE PIG AND THE LADY's pop-up noodle bar: Alan Wong, digging into a pork belly and rice noodle soup, and in a separate party, a wine importer celebrating her birthday with crab noodles and an extensive array of wines. They and other diners endure a makeshift setup—folding tables in the alley and in the middle of the sidewalk—to slurp noodles that go far beyond pho (though The Pig and the Lady makes a mean pho). Find The Pig and the Lady at farmers’ markets and Taste, a pop-up venue, where they draw more crowds than any other vendor. Saturday nights at Taste will see the tables packed with people slurping bowls such as Hu Tieu My Tho, noodles with crab sauce and pork cracklings; and Bun Rieu Chay, a complex noodle soup with banana blossoms and mushrooms in a soy-milk tomato broth.