Chili and Rice and Hot Dogs Finally Come to Downtown Honolulu
At Bun & Bowl, you can get chili three ways, plus jumbo hot dogs eight ways.
The Chicago Dog ($6) is one of nine hot dogs served at bun & Bowl in downtown.
Photos: Michael Keany
Honolulu’s Downtown lunch scene boasts a wealth of options—everything from plate lunches to sushi to Uzbek—but, until a few weeks ago, it was missing a couple of classic lunch favorites: chili and rice, and hot dogs.
A new spot on Fort Street Mall, Bun & Bowl, is here to fill that gap. You may remember that this storefront was recently—and shortly—open as Passport, a sandwich shop offering an international selection ranging from French (burnt onion béchamel, thyme-roasted tomato, currant jam) to Texas barbecue (coffee barbecue sauce, cabbage, chipotle-walnut pesto) to Chinese (char siu sauce, snow peas, hot mustard).
That quirky concept didn’t seem to fly with the Downtown lunch crowd, and, after it shuttered, a poster appeared in the window teasing a new place called Wind, which would offer pizza and hot dogs. It appears that Bun & Bowl is an evolution of that initial idea, swapping out the pizza in favor of chili bowls (a smart move, considering that JJ Dolan’s and Brick Fire Tavern are both already serving up amazing pizza just a couple of blocks away.)
We stopped by to check it out, and found a straightforward menu: nine hot dogs ($6, $5 for a plain, $3.50 for a kids’ dog), chili served three ways ($6.50), plus a root beer float and a few sides, including potato salad and boiled peanuts (both $2). This is not a spot with high-end aspirations, like, say, Hank’s Haute Dogs, but on the other hand, sometimes you just want a hot dog and a soda, you know?
We tried three dogs, in descending order of enjoyment: The Chicago dog is a creditable stab at the iconic form, complete with dill pickle, celery salt, sport peppers, tomatoes, neon green relish and yellow mustard. Not too shabby. The chili cheese dog would have been much better had the chili been hotter (both in temperature and in spice) and had the shredded cheese sprinkled atop been melted, instead of in hard little bits. The whole thing wasn’t even that sloppy, which, to our mind, is kind of the whole point of a chili cheese dog. And then there’s the bacon dog. The menu advertises it as “bacon wrapped!” which sounded fantastic to us, but the reality, a plain hot dog with a single slice of limp bacon twirled around the dog, was less exciting.
We didn’t try the other, more adventurous dogs, but you might be intrigued by the Hawaiian, featuring bacon bits and pineapple relish; the Seattle, with cream cheese and pickled Fresno chili; or the Kimchi, which oddly supplements its presumably Korean pickled cabbage with Chinese sausage bits and Japanese mayo. Quite pan-Asian, that one.
How are the chili bowls? It’s an interesting question. Zippy’s chili is such a dominating, long-standing force here in Hawai‘i that our tastebuds have been totally acclimated to that familiar flavor profile. Bun & Bowl’s chili tastes different, but not dramatically so. This isn’t a gourmet award-winner with an exotic flavor profile, or even a spicy barn-burner, it’s just … chili. You can get it over rice or spaghetti, or with garlic bread, and the workers will squirt a dollop of mayonnaise over it for you. If you’re in the mood for chili, this’ll work.
Chili is served three different ways here, all for $6.50.
I think that’s what it comes down to. Chili-and-rice and hot dogs are simple comfort foods, and Downtown eaters finally have a spot that can satisfy those cravings. Would I travel from another neighborhood for the Bun & Bowl versions? Maybe not, but then that doesn’t appear to be the mission here.
1111a Fort Street Mall, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., facebook.com/bunandbowloahu.