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Side Street Inn’s Colin Nishida: All I Ever Wanted Was a Bar

How Colin Nishida, against his will, became the hottest restaurateur in town.


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Colin Nishida of Side Street Inn photo by Olivier Koning for HONOLULU Magazine.
COLIN NISHIDA LEANS OVER THE FRIED RICE STATION IN HIS NEW, 15,000-SQUARE-FOOT KITCHEN AT SIDE STREET INN ON DA STRIP.
PHOTO: OLIVIER KONING

 

Wednesday, 3:30 p.m. The new Side Street Inn on Da Strip is already open, the wood interior glowing in the late afternoon sunlight. A few tables are filled with golfers from the Ala Wai Course next door. At the bar, a covey of businessmen are huddled in a meeting that will soon turn to drinks and pūpū.

 

It’s the quiet  before the storm. The restaurant is sold out for the night. In fact, it’s booked solid for the next five nights, through Sunday. Walk-ins will be told they can stand at the bar, have a table in half an hour, maybe.

 

Owner Colin Nishida is back in the gleaming, new, 1,500-square-foot kitchen, watching over a 60-quart aluminum stockpot. It’s full of pork ribs simmering in broth, garlic, ginger, vinegar, peppercorns. There are more ribs piled in pans on the counter, 150 pounds’ worth in all. Sauced and grilled to order, artfully piled and garnished with watercress, the 150 pounds may last till the weekend. Maybe.

 

Next to him, a cook is notching the edges of Side Street’s fabled pork chops, so they won’t curl up on the grill. “All he does is pork chops,” says Nishida. “This whole grill is just for chops, at least 300 pounds a week.”

 

At another station, a young goateed chef, who’s worked under Thomas Keller in Vegas, cuts a 20-pound ‘ahi fillet, in from the fish auction this morning, into sashimi blocks and poke. Then he goes and gets another fillet. He’ll be slicing sashimi and seasoning fresh batches of poke all night.

 

The kitchen is larger than that of many hotels. There are three stoves, two grills, several wok stations, rice cookers, ovens, convection ovens, steamers. By 6 p.m., there will be 15 people working back here. Gallons of chopped bacon, lup cheong, Portuguese sausage, fish cake, kim chee and vegetables are arrayed at the fried-rice station. Someone else is prepping near- industrial quantities of chicken, which should last the night. Maybe.

 

Side Street Inn fried rice and pork chops photo by Olivier Koning for HONOLULU Magazine.

SIDE STREET INN LEGENDS: THE FRIED RICE AND THE PORK CHOPS.
PHOTO: OLIVIER KONING

 

“Yeah, it looks like a lot of food,” says Nishida. “But people bring their whole families to eat here. It’s not like the old Side Street. People come to eat dinner.”

 

“You never wanted a dinner house,” I say.

 

He shakes his head, a little sadly. “All I ever wanted was a bar. You know, a place I could drink with my friends, without getting a tab.”

 

He got a bar—it just turned out to be more successful than he or anyone else imagined. He was strictly a bartender once, in the ’80s, at the Ala Moana Hotel.

 

“I thought he was a big success then,” recalls TV producer/personality Emme Tomimbang. “I used to meet my friends at Mahina Lounge. There he was, a Kalihi boy, wen’ Farrington, wearing a tux to work.”

 

Nishida was a Kalihi boy only during school hours. He grew up in Moanalua before it had a high school. He went to Damien, departing because he and the Catholic school had different opinions about regimentation, finishing at Farrington. After school and on weekends, he worked at a lunch counter called C’s.

 

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Honolulu Magazine September 2018
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