TK Yamada, who spent more than a decade working and roasting for other cafés, now has his own spot with an extraordinarily pleasant lānai.
Comfort Eats: Find Pho and Vegan Vietnamese at The Ripple of Smiles
And yes, smiles, too.
The Ripple of Smiles has stayed open for takeout during the shutdown, but take note of its hours: 11:02 a.m. to 2:32 p.m. and 5:02 to 8:02 p.m. Why? “What’s our restaurant’s name?” owner Frank Nguyen says. “The Ripple of Smiles, right? We want to make our customers smile always. Just for fun.”
Nguyen and his wife Huyen Le understand that food is and always will be essential, but restaurants exist to do more than satisfy physical needs. He points me to their mission statement: “We believe there is nothing more beautiful and powerful than our smiles. One smile spreads and inspires more smiles, and those smiles are contagious. We’re likely to pay it forward, which sends a ripple effect of happiness into the world.”
Cynic that I am, it all sounded a little too cheery and hopeful for me. But it only took a few bites of a takeout order of the beef pho ($12.75) to warm my icy heart. The pho is carefully packed—slices of beef fanned out and sprinkled with pepper, with a generous portion of rice noodles. A vegetable broth was the only option that day, but its fragrant clarity, more lively than many other pho broths around town, erased any disappointment I might have had. Papaya salad ($12.75) is pungent with a housemade fish sauce. At The Ripple of Smiles, you will find solid comfort: nothing more groundbreaking than a smile, and just as reassuring.
The restaurant also offers an entire section of vegan items, from pho to stir-fried bamboo shoots. Nguyen and Le, he from Ho Chi Minh City and she from the Mekong Delta, arrived in Honolulu in 2018 and opened their restaurant soon after, despite neither of them having any restaurant experience. Honolulu has no shortage of Vietnamese restaurants, and Nguyen says, “We are not the best but we are a different restaurant [in] business philosophy.” Through the pandemic, he says, “we realize that many people love us. Most of our customers come to support us to help us to survive. Thanks to this situation we know that we have been doing the right things for the community so far.”
Open Thursday through Monday for takeout only, 3040 Wai‘alae Ave., (808) 354-2572, therippleofsmiles.com (Delivery also available via BiteSquad, DoorDash and Grubhub, but if you can, order directly from the restaurant for pickup: delivery services charge restaurants up to 30% in fees.)