I Finally Tried Palace Saimin—and Feel Like I Cheated on Jane’s Fountain

After a long search, he finally found his perfect bowl at Jane’s Fountain. Then he heard Palace Saimin might be better.


won ton min And Meat Stick

Photo: Robin Bae


I’m sorry, Jane’s Fountain. I have cheated on you.


I may have been smitten by you a bit too hard in my haste to try to become a true local who understands the comforts of a bowl of saimin. I’ve been hearing some strong opinions that another place (or should I say “Palace”) not too far from you has saimin that’s just as good and classic as yours, if not better. So I find myself driving to Palace Saimin in Kalihi and while I hate to admit it, I’m feeling mildly excited.


SEE ALSO: The Bowl that Converted Me: Saimin at Jane’s Fountain


Questions that flood my mind make me feel guilty. Can a place whose saimin broth starts with meat bones (yours uses dried shrimp) really be better than yours? Is it possible that a place with just a couple of dishes on the menu might make better saimin? A place that has specialized in these dishes since 1946? It took me 10 years to find the perfection of your bowl, Jane’s Fountain, and I have been faithful. But if any place can make me change my monogamous saimin habit, will Palace Saimin be the one?


I arrive in the small parking lot across from the Kalihi post office. I have to admit that the difficulty of finding this tucked-away hole in the wall gives Palace Saimin immediate appeal. Inside, hung on painted cinder block walls, are old-school letter board menus with Coca-Cola logos. The shadows of fan blades dance across the room in the setting sun; maneki-neko cats hang out on wooden shelves. The setting feels homey and intimate.


old fashioned coca-cola letter board Menu

Photo: Robin Bae


The menu is so simple it lets you decide what you want in three questions:


  • Saimin, udon or both?
  • With or without wontons?
  • With or without barbecue meat stick?


For me, it will be saimin with wontons and a barbecue stick. Through the open door to the kitchen, I watch as my food is prepared. The bowl comes together in a careful dance of broth, noodles and toppings. Grilling my skewer of raw, marinated beef produces a brief fire show.


SEE ALSO: You Voted: Here’s Your Top 5 Saimin Spots on O‘ahu


My wonton min arrives. Toppings of char siu and green onion add vibrant color to an otherwise monotone palette. As always, the moment of truth comes with the first sip. The bone-based broth is simple and perfect, its light seasoning and umami well-balanced and comforting. The noodles have a toothsome chew but absorb the flavor of the broth. (I learn later that as with Jane’s Fountain, Sun Noodle supplies the saimin.) I try the handmade wontons with different combinations of mustard, shoyu, saimin broth and barbecue stick marinade sauce.


Between bites of saimin, I move to the more heavily flavored meat stick. The char is uneven across one side, and the chunks of steak are visibly thicker in some places. With the slightly sweet soy marinade and tender, beefy chew, it adds up to a great balance of taste and textures.


Palace Saimin Wonton Min Robin Bae

Photo: Robin Bae


When I finish, I have a moment of clarity: Palace’s saimin is just as good and just as nostalgic as Jane’s Fountain’s.


The two places use different ingredients and techniques, but the effect is the same: The saimin brings my soul home.


I think there is no competition. And by that, I mean that for me, Palace and Jane’s do not compete with each other. As hard as I’ve fallen for Palace’s wonton min with a barbecue meat stick, I still crave Jane’s combo of saimin and a cheeseburger deluxe with its fresh house-made patty and crunchy onions and lettuce.


In fact, I was back at Jane’s Fountain the very next day.


Palace Saimin: Open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., 1256 N. King St., (808) 841-9983, @palacesaimin

Jane’s Fountain: Open Monday to Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 1719 Liliha St., (808) 533-1238