This kind of KFC is surging and we’re so here for it.
Honolulu Skewer House’s New Locale Has a New Twist: DIY Tabletop Grilling
After a long closure, the Chinese barbecue restaurant has reopened in a new spot on Kapahulu.
Honolulu’s only northern Chinese barbecue skewer restaurant opened in 2018 on the quiet end of Makaloa Street, behind Walmart in a space that once housed a yakitori restaurant. When the building was razed the following year to make way for a skyscraper, Honolulu Skewer House and its spicy meats were forced to find a new home.
The new Honolulu Skewer House opened on Kapahulu Avenue last December in a renovated building between Zippy’s and Uncle Bo’s. The smaller footprint and better-trafficked location might have contributed to its biggest change: the addition of yakiniku-style smoke hoods and tabletop grills with self-rotating skewers.
So now, instead of having your sticks of beef tendon, pork belly and seafood grilled and brought to you, you’re in control of what’s being grilled and when. And because the skewers huli-huli automatically, you can carry on a conversation without concentrating too much on tending the grill—all you have to do is refill the slots as you eat.
Many of the popular choices like lamb, pork jowl and shiitake mushroom are bumped up to three ($6.99) or five sticks ($9.99) minimum per order, but premium and larger items are limited to one stick ($2.59 to $2.99 apiece). Much of the menu seems to be intact, and specials like fresh abalone and white fish are offered daily.
My friend and I go to town on the signature lamb skewers, ordering at least six to start, with bundles of chives wrapped in tofu skin, pork jowl and king oyster mushrooms mixed in over a few rounds. We use pieces of flaky scallion pancakes ($4.99) to pull the glistening morsels off the metal spears. They are just as I remember from my last visit—the warming earthiness of cumin blankets your palate like a down comforter with a hint of spice. But the experience is so much better because each bite is hot off the grill.
Reach for the shaker of house-blended cumin, fennel and sesame seeds, peanuts, salt and dried chile powder. A second condiment, shoyu-based, adds a sweet heat to the barbecue in a way that’s reminiscent of a St. Louis-style sauce. Of the two, we prefer the dry spice mixture; by the end of the meal, it may need a refill.
Items like the double-skewered king oyster mushrooms and whole Big Island eggplant covered in garlic, scallions and chile sauce don’t slot into the automatic gears, so a mesh grill is added over the hot coals to hold them up. It takes some planning to coordinate these items in your lineup, so be prepared.
After rounds of pork belly-wrapped enoki mushrooms, Taiwanese sausage and more lamb skewers, we call it quits. As a sweet gesture, the meal still ends with a complimentary tanghulu skewer, a candied fresh strawberry jewel that is the perfect end to a spicy journey.
In an area hit hard by a lack of visitors during the pandemic, the slow-burning coals at Honolulu Skewer House are a bright light for eaters in Kapahulu. The atmosphere is cozier than the previous location, but the ventilation hoods and social distancing sort of make up for it.
Open daily 5-10 p.m., 567 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 888-8680, @hnlskewerhouse