First Look: Fish Hook Café
Chef Elmer Guzman brings local flavors—and, of course, poke—to Waikīkī.
Chef Elmer Guzman searing a rib eye steak and potatoes in the kitchen of Fish Hook Café, which he opened in the lobby of the Luana Waikīkī Hotel & Suites in July.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
“I told you I wasn’t ready!”
That was the response from chef Elmer Guzman when I walked into his latest restaurant concept, Fish Hook Café, last Friday and badgered him for not never letting me know that he had opened it back in July. I ran into Guzman at a farm-to-table dinner at Mari’s Gardens in Mililani in April when he first told me about this new venture. He promised then that he would invite me to his new restaurant once it opened.
Nearly three months went by and I had to find out about it on Instagram.
The perfectionist that he can be, Guzman, owner of Poke Stop and a catering company, wanted to solidify Fish Hook Café’s concept and menu before inviting media—namely, me—to this new spot. It’s located just off the lobby of the often overlooked Luana Waikīkī Hotel & Suites, where Kalākaua and Kūhiō avenues split. The café is quaint, with about 16 seats and an open kitchen where, if you sit at the communal table, you’re close enough to Guzman you can talk to him.
On that Friday at lunch, with most of the tables occupied, Guzman seemed to be in his stride, sending out plate after plate of thoughtfully composed and unexpected dishes. While the menu features some Poke Stop favorites including a trio of poke served with Hawaiian Taro Chips ($15.95) and customizable poke bowls, Fish Hook Café has a few surprises, too. Take, for example, his version of a classic Caesar salad, which features baby romaine from Mari’s Gardens tossed in what Guzman calls a “Pinoy Caesar Dressing,” in which anchovies are replaced with bagoong, the Filipino fermented fish paste.
Here, Guzman seems to be having fun with the menu, elevating the basic and beloved avocado toast to one stacked with buttered lobster, radish slices and microgreens on toast fried in bacon fat ($18.95) or crusting a piece of salmon with a mixture of wasabi and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal ($15.95) because “we just had a lot of it,” he said. “It gives [the dish] good texture and crunch.” The result is an interesting blend of subtle heat with the warmth of cinnamon—not something I’ve ever tasted and, yet, I couldn’t stop eating it. And I don’t normally like salmon.
The Avocado Toast 2.0 has meaty pieces of buttered lobster with a tarragon aioli piled on avocado and served on bacon-fat toast.
The salmon crusted with wasabi and Cinnamon Toast Crunch is served with chilled baby bok choy and kabayaki sauce.
Of the bowls, the pork belly donburi ($13.95) is the most popular—and I can see why. It has that plesant—and utterly local—flavor combination of braised pork belly, house-made pickles and sous vide eggs over rice that’s flavored with the date-and-soy-based braising liquid.
In another bowl, Guzman torches salmon sashimi ($14.95) with Halm’s kim chee for heat, bubu arare (tiny rice crackers) for crunch, ikura for saltiness and micro shiso for a little spice.
The most popular bowl is this one featuring tender braised pork belly with house-made pickles and two sous vide eggs.
Guzman uses a hand torch to sear the salmon sashimi for this bowl, which comes with tiny, crunch arare and ikura.
Another standout was the 10-ounce, sous vide rib-eye steak ($24.95) with roasted ali‘i mushrooms, tri-colored potatoes, crumbled blue cheese and pickled pearl onions, all tied together with a perfectly salty pecorino aioli. On the side was a bowl of house-made finadene sauce. (Honestly, though the side of vinegar-soy sauce was delicious, the steak didn’t need it.)
The rib-eye steak is prepared sous vide and paired with potatoes and roasted ali‘i mushrooms.
If seafood isn’t your thing—especially in the morning, I get it—the café also serves waffles, a breakfast croissant with crispy bacon, a Hawaiian bowl with kālua pig and lomi lomi salmon and a selection of baked goods.
Guzman, I think you’re ready.
2045 Kalākaua Ave., breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m. daily, lunch from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, (808) 942-0999, fishhook.cafe