First Look, Take Two: Little Joe’s Steakhouse in Honolulu Reopens With an Affordable 3-Course Steak Dinner
A restaurant on Nimitz Highway—which opened March 13 and closed five days later—returns to carve a tasty middle niche.
Little Joe’s Steakhouse opened in Honolulu with a mix of affordable steakhouse and local fare in an approachable setting just before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered all sit-down dining.
Months before, at the initial preview for friends, family and media, the atmosphere felt good and the menu promised a fun meal out that didn’t empty your wallet. Early favorites included a tender Greek filet mignon with feta cheese and balsamic vinegar ($26.95 for an 8-ounce portion and $33.95 for a 12-ounce portion); a perfectly cooked trio of lamb chops ($37.95), a chunky ʻahi tartare appetizer on garlic crostini ($9.95); and a nicely seared scallop dynamite ($9.95).
So, it was good to see the restaurant reopen, along with many across the state, June 5. Little Joe’s is on a stretch of Nimitz Highway well-traveled by commuters and Costco shoppers, next to the second location of Liliha Bakery, a sister restaurant.
Before opening Little Joe’s, Hawai‘i restaurateur Peter Kim already had the experience of running the pricier Signature Prime Steak and Seafood at Ala Moana, which leans into fine dining and more expensive USDA Choice meat. While Kim got his start with casual dining spots that include Yummy Korean BBQ, Chow Mein Express and Lahaina Chicken, the president of Yummy Restaurant Group has continued to expand and experiment. When he took over the popular Liliha Bakery, he found that sweet spot in honoring the traditions there before he arrived (coco puffs and classic breakfast) and adding new twists (poi mochi doughnuts).
Opening a restaurant already takes some courage, even for successful entrepreneurs during good times. In a telephone interview about what it is like to reopen a new place during a pandemic, Kim said Little Joe’s got good feedback from the five days it was open. (Yes, it opened on Friday the 13th.) The former Umamiya Shabu Shabu (and long before that Sam Choy’s BLC and Aloha Beer) already had six private rooms, which makes it easier to plan a pandemic-prepared dining room with 6-feet-away distancing. Kim also kept the cooktop tables although diners leave the cooking to the chefs.
“We’re getting a good response from our old customers and the people of Hawai‘i,” Kim says. “I want to stay positive rather than negative: Whatever it takes to make it work, we’ll make it happen.”
Daily service begins with happy hour from 4:30 to 7 p.m. offering food and drink discounts. Dinner continues to 10 p.m. A reopening combo special of 16-ounce New York strip steak, salad and gelato for $29.95 has returned.
Kim says reservations will be limited to a maximum of 10 guests and each party will be seated at least 6 feet apart. Guests will be asked to wear face masks as they enter and exit the restaurant, but not while they are seated for dinner or drinks. The Kaiser High grad says he’s happy to reopen the dining room in time to celebrate the class of 2020 and for Father’s Day.
He acknowledges the pandemic’s colossal damage to the restaurant business and the state’s economy: “This pandemic is a nightmare.” But he also figures the best next step is to move forward and figure it out. “We have good people. Everybody’s working as a team effort.”
Little Joe’s is worth a socially distanced trip for a good meal to share with family or friends that’s a treat but not a major dining investment. Maybe start with the ʻahi and scallop appetizers, a spinach salad ($7.95), rich creamed corn ($6.95) and whatever protein you haven’t had in a while. It’s hard to beat the $35 pair of tender lobster tails, served with drawn butter without any notable seasoning. The cocktails include steakhouse standards of Manhattan ($11.50), Moscow Mule and whiskey sour ($12 each) but also a fun riff on a lychee yuzu martini ($12.50) where the sweet plays well against the citrus.
Desserts include the steakhouse standard of crème brûlée and a selection of cakes (the bakery IS next door), as well as La Gelateria gelato. Wondering about the eatery name? Kim says it’s a shoutout to the classic Little George’s steakhouse popular in the ’70s tucked in along Ala Moana Boulevard before anyone imagined that Kaka‘ako could someday be trendy.
Reopened June 5, open daily for dinner, from 4:30 to 10 p.m., 580 N. Nimitz Highway, (808) 524-0088, littlejoesteakhouse.com