ChiChop Brings Taiwanese Street Food to Ala Moana Center
The hits, misses and surprises we found at this new Taiwanese eatery in the food court.
Updated on September 25, 2019: Chi Chop at Ala Moana has closed.
The instagram-ready Samurai Crispy Chicken XXL is massive and fun, but it was too salty for our taste.
Photos: Terri Inefuku
My mother, who was born and raised in Taiwan, introduced me to Taiwanese food many years ago in the form of a tiny hole-in-the-wall tucked away along the back of Chinatown Cultural Plaza. There, I learned of a delicious concoction called lu rou fan—minced braised pork swimming in a rich, slightly sweet sauce, served over a bed of hot rice.
It was love at first bite.
Sadly, the restaurant closed long ago, and my last true experience with the dish was during my last visit to Taiwan more than a decade ago. So, when I learned that a Taiwanese restaurant had opened at Ala Moana Center’s Makai Market Food Court, I had to pay a visit and bring along my trusted expert.
Chichop is located next to Jamba Juice in the Makai Food Court.
ChiChop originated in Taiwan in 2006 and quickly gained popularity for its deep-fried dishes. The menu, I’m told, is inspired by traditional street food found in Taiwan’s famous night markets. Picture rows upon rows of vendors enticing passersby with pungent aromas of sizzling meats, decadent sweets and drinks interspersed with vibrant displays of crafts, clothes, accessories, even electronics.
While standing in line at the food court doesn’t quite evoke the same ambience as a bustling night market, it does give you time to study ChiChop’s menu, and there’s no shortage of fried offerings.
The signature Samurai Crispy Chicken XXL ($10.99) is a massive 12-ounce slab of meat, thinly cut, battered, fried and served in a cardboard wrapper for on-the-go munching. There’s no denying its Instagram potential; however this was one of the more disappointing choices at our table. We found the chicken too salty and it went largely untouched after a few bites.
House Combo à la carte.
Other entrées were more appealing. The House Combo ($10.99 à la carte, $13.49 bento box) of chicken, beef and squid was a nice way to sample a variety of meat; bite-size pieces coated in the restaurant’s signature batter, a secret mix of six ingredients—one I managed to extract from the owner: sweet potato powder—for a crispy coating with a subtle flavor.
The beef options turned out to be favorites at the table. The fried diced beef ($9.49 à la carte, $12.99 bento box) offered a pleasing mix of texture with juicy chunks of beef encased in crust while the grilled beef ($13.49 bento box) was made to order and cooked perfectly. Our medium-rare slices were tender and flavorful.
The Grilled Beef Salad.
The grilled beef salad ($8.49) took me by surprise. The beef is served over a generous bed of crisp greens, sliced red onions, shaved carrots and plump cherry tomatoes, and accented with a sprinkle of dried fruit and nuts. I ordered it as an afterthought, yet I couldn’t stop eating it with its delicious sesame dressing on the side. In a sea of fried food, this was a welcome change and a perfect low-carb option sans fruit and dressing.
Ninja Crispy Chicken in the bento box.
The Ninja Crispy Chicken ($7.99 à la carte, $12.49 bento box) was juicy and tender, though not terribly flavorful or crispy. I’m told the batter is slightly different here, with a sprinkle of brown sugar to add a hint of sweetness. To be fair, the lack of crispness could have been because we ordered it in a bento box, which comes with a choice of starch (fries, white rice, curry rice and, in this case, minced pork rice) along with miso soup and vegetables. The chicken was served over the rice, which likely softened it.
Speaking of the minced pork rice, or lu rou fan, I saved it for last, and not just for dramatic effect. I was thrilled to find it on the menu, but it’s not an entrée. You can order it as a starch option in your bento box or alone as a “snack” for $2.99. While it did not evoke the wide-eyed wonder from my childhood (in the bento box, the pork is hidden under the main entrée and there isn’t much of it), I’m happy to report that the flavors are spot on. A satisfactory nod from my mother confirmed my impression. We both agreed, there should be more. Next time, I’ll likely order this dish as a snack.
in the bento, The minced pork rice comes beneath another protein. what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in taste.
Some other notes: each entrée comes with your choice of sauce. Spice fiends can opt for the Sichuan Chili, though be warned, this is five-alarm-fire hot. I’m partial to the Thai Sweet and Sour, one of my favorite dipping sauces. If you’re looking for a drink, the restaurant’s signature Lemon Black Tea ($4.99) is lightly sweetened and served with fresh lime wedges, a refreshing complement to the meal.
Overall, ChiChop doesn’t strike me as a Taiwanese eatery, at least in the traditional sense. Bento boxes, a Japanese concept, come with the option of fries and miso soup. The curry rice tastes like a watery version of Japanese-style curry (you can get better elsewhere), and side dishes are made up of chopped lettuce, broccoli and carrots, and seaweed. Even as we waited by the counter for our food, an elderly passerby paused, peered up at the menu, and muttered in Chinese: “Not very Taiwanese.”
Still, ChiChop is a nice addition to Ala Moana Center’s food court offerings, and I’d gladly return for the grilled beef salad, black tea lemonade and, of course, my lu rou fan.
Open Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Ala Moana Center Makai Food Court, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd. (808) 951-7958.