4 Places to Get Your Hot Pot Fix in Honolulu
The hot-pot trend won’t quit; we take a look at four Honolulu spots for cooking up you own tasty dinner.
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Grab your own ingredients—and get a lesson in shabu shabu—at Nabeya Maido in Market City.
Photo: Steve Czerniak
Whatever you want to call it—huō guō (China), shabu shabu or nabe (Japan), lāu (Vietnam), Thai suki (Thailand)—one thing is true: Hot pot, a 1,000-year-old dish with meat and veggies cooked in a simmering broth, is the ultimate communal dining experience.
And you had better like the people you are sharing the meal with.
“You’re gonna dip your chopsticks in the same broth as someone else,” says Kevin Suehiro, general manager of Nabeya Maido in Market City Shopping Center, just off Kapahulu Avenue. “So you gotta be OK with that.”
Hot-pot restaurants in Hawai‘i are hotter than ever. The long line of patient customers outside the recently expanded Sweet Home Café in Mō‘ili‘ili hasn’t gotten any shorter. While some have closed, including Hanaki Shabu Shabu in Mānoa and Dipping Pot on Ke‘eaumoku Street, others have sprung up in their places, each serving a special broth or unique ingredient to set itself apart from the growing competition.
But, no matter what’s on the menu, from a kim chee broth to a plate of goose intestines, the concept is the same.
A boiling broth. A few raw ingredients. Dip, swish, eat.
We visited some new restaurants and old haunts to see what sets these hot-pot spots apart and find out why this form of dining has staying power here.
Kevin Suehiro is more than just the general manager, he’s the unofficial hot-pot sensei, offering tips on everything from the best time to throw in udon—
“Save it till the end; the broth will boil off and get thicker and more flavorful, and the noodles will soak that up”—to how best to shape the tsukune (minced chicken)—“Make it into a small, oblong ball, not a circle; it will cook faster because there’s more surface area.”
It’s obvious Suehiro is passionate about shabu shabu. He opened this 1,000-square-foot restaurant in December 2013 with chef Yusuke “Sam” Sonobe, who most recently worked in the kitchen at Yakitori Glad on Kapahulu, which is where the two met.
“Not to sound too romantic or anything,” Suehiro says, “but I think hot pot actually brings people together.”
The dining area resembles an onsen: light wood paneling unevenly set against black walls that make you feel you’re sitting in a hot-spring bath, or, appropriately, a hot pot. There’s not a lot of seating, just 11 tables, and, on this weekday night, right after sunset, it was mostly filled.
“It’s weird,” our server told us, “but people always come after 5:30, when our happy hour ends. And it’s 20 percent off the entire menu! I don’t get it.”
We, too, were here after happy hour. I made a mental note.
The menu was simple enough: six broths, all made daily from scratch; a few pūpū dishes such as a pipikaula poke; and a slew of wine, sake, shochu and beer choices. All of the pre-prepped ingredients are stacked on colored plates—“like at Genki Sushi,” our server said—in supermarket-style refrigerators in an area called the Food Cave: Green plates are $2.90, yellow $3.90, red $4.90 and blue $5.90. Popular items are the tsukune with nankotsu (minced chicken mixed with cartilage), pumpkin, Kurobuta pork belly, Hokkaido scallops, shimeji mushrooms and Tokyo negi. (The watercress is locally grown and delivered by the farmer himself.)
The most popular broth is the shoyu-based Maido Nabe ($7.90), flavored with kombu (seaweed), garlic and chili pepper. It’s simple and clean, a contrast to the Akakara Nabe ($8.90), a vibrantly red broth spiced with kochujang (Korean red-hot-pepper paste) that paired perfectly with our plate of won bok (Chinese cabbage). It was like eating kim chee directly from the pot.
The star of the menu, and a point of contention with some customers, is the selection of sauces. Sonobe crafted four unique dipping sauces: gomadare (sesame miso); ponzu with yuzu; Sam’s Sauce, a shoyu-garlic sauce made with hand-grated fruits and vegetables; and the hot-and-spicy Lily’s Sauce, named after Sonobe’s daughter. While most hot-pot restaurants offer sauces for free, Nabeya Maido charges $3.90 for the set of four.
“That’s the one thing I hear from customers,” Suehiro says. “They want free sauces. But if you look at the amount of time and effort put into each one, they’d understand why we charge.”
Ask hot-pot aficianados and each one’s got an opinion about what makes them great. Some say it’s in the broth, others point to the ingredients you add. But some are big into the sauces, including our dining companion, who literally drank a concoction he came up with at Sweet Home Café once. And, here, the sauces are definitely good enough to pay for.
Lunch and dinner daily, free parking in a crowded lot, major credit cards, Market City Shopping Center, 2919 Kapi‘olani Blvd., 739-7739