Da Sugar Mill Serves Up Modern Twists on Old-School Plantation Dishes in Kalihi

All the way at the end of King Street: Whole fried fish, curry-braised short ribs, pig-two-ways saimin and a killer pastele stew.


Sugar Mill Front


If not now, then when? That’s the philosophy that Lawrence Ozoa, formerly chef de cuisine at Nico’s Kailua, took when he decided to open up Da Sugar Mill in Kalihi in October. In the same building as Mitsu-Ken Okazu & Catering, the eatery features Ozoa’s spins on local foods that reflect his multicultural upbringing in Waialua. Short rib curry, two-pig saimin, whole fried reef fish, a turkey version of adobo: Dishes like these speak to my upbringing, too. And Da Sugar Mill’s local philosophy extends to its sourcing, with much of the produce from Mari’s Gardens in Mililani and a focus on sustainable reef fish. I head to Da Sugar Mill full of anticipation.


Da Sugar Mill Short Rib Curry Gregg Hoshida

Hawaiian curry braised short ribs. Photo: Gregg Hoshida


Based on a recipe passed down from his grandmother, with the addition of short ribs, Ozoa’s curry ($17) shines with nuances of flavor absent from the boxed curry roux I usually make. A well-balanced base of vegetables and spices bathes large, fork-tender beef short ribs braised over a low flame over two hours. There are some larger carrot pieces, but other vegetables seem to have melded into the curry. Served with a scoop of rice and macaroni salad, this is a very good start to my plate lunch tasting.


da Sugar Mill Pastele stew gregg hoshida

Pastele stew plate. Photo: Gregg Hoshida


Although I ordered this to appease my wife (it’s her favorite), I am also very pleased with the pastele stew ($15). It’s packed with flavor and filled with tender chunks of pork, with the punchiness of tomatoes and briny black olives balancing the rich meat.


da Sugar Mill Saimin gregg hoshida

Pig 2 Ways saimin. Photo: Gregg Hoshida


Da Sugar Mill’s saimin ($12) is the embodiment of its mission to embrace home-style local comfort dishes with a modern interpretation. A light broth of kombu and dashi cradles noodles from Oahu Noodle Factory a few blocks away on King Street, and the bowl is topped with a generous portion of kalua pork and luscious chunks of char siu. The result is a bowl that would be perfect after a night of partying with your friends. It’s more than the culinary equivalent of a warm hug, it envelops you like a favorite relative you haven’t seen in a long time. I do wish the soup could be separated from the noodles for takeout, since by the time I get home, the noodles have absorbed much of the broth.


SEE ALSO: Papa Kurt’s Is Honolulu’s New Old-Fashioned Saimin Stand


da Sugar Mill Turkey Adobo gregg hoshida

Waiālua turkey adobo plate. Photo: Gregg Hoshida


I love both pork and chicken iterations of adobo, so the discovery of turkey adobo ($15) on the menu was exciting. While the lean turkey meat proves a bit dry, the positive is the vinegary balance of the adobo. Bright and mildly acidic, it hits all the right salivary glands.


Da Sugar Mill Fried Menpachi Maria Burke

Fried menpachi plate. Photo: Maria Burke


My positive initial assessment sent my editor down to Da Sugar Mill the next day. The daily fried fish was menpachi. Dipped in a light coating of seasoned flour and fried to order, the two small reef fish delivered sweet, succulent flesh and crispy fins and tail, she reported. Other daily fish plates ($16.50 to $17) feature akule and āweoweo; Ozoa hopes to start bringing in ta‘ape soon.


SEE ALSO: Fish Just Got Real: Ta‘ape Throw Down Invites You to Eat the Invasives


Overall, Da Sugar Mill certainly delivers on flavor. Other dishes include a Portuguese sausage okonomiyaki, fried butterfish, chicken long rice and a teriyaki cheeseburger. If I’m to split hairs, I would like to see the same attention to flavor in the macaroni salad, which seems flat compared to the robustness of the main items. I will be back for the menpachi and okonomiyaki, and to talk story with the newlywed Ozoa and his husband, Nigel, who runs the counter. You’ll find them and Da Sugar Mill on North King Street at least until the end of the year; follow their Instagram for updates.


Open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 2300 N. King St. #101 (across New City Nissan), (808) 798-3072, dasugarmill.com, @dasugarmill