Kaimukī’s Nana Ai Katsu Finally Opens for Dine-In

Transformation from a takeout counter to Honolulu’s newest tonkatsu restaurant means maximum hot crispiness.


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Photo: Thomas Obungen


Oh, the virtues of dining at a tonkatsu restaurant: a cozy atmosphere, bottomless shredded cabbage and free-flowing katsu sauce with toasted sesame seeds. But the greatest of them all has to be biting into a crispy, fresh-out-of-the-fryer piece of tonkatsu. That’s what you gain when you dine in at Nana Ai Katsu near the top of Wai‘alae Avenue.


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Photo: Thomas Obungen


When Nana Ai was at ‘Ohana Hale Marketplace on Ward Avenue, I could get my katsu bento home quickly enough to enjoy it hot and crispy. Since they moved to Kaimukī in December 2021, still offering takeout only, the effects of the longer commute made crispiness a gamble. Until last week. Now you can dine in at the former Vegan Hills space that’s been transformed into a playful amalgamation of back-alley izakaya with colorful matsuri festival touches. A rainbow of chochin lanterns and vibrant banners next to signs for beer and sake add brightness to the small space.


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Photo: Thomas Obungen


The 18-seat restaurant eschews the traditional full-service format for casual counter service. Order at the front with Lei-Anne Jones, who owns the restaurant with her katsu-chef husband Michael Jones, and find a table while they prepare your katsu. The Joneses named the restaurant after their daughter, Nanami, who loves katsu. From my observations, the menu remains the same, with a few specials permanently added to the daily lineup.


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Photo: Thomas Obungen


My favorite is the Uzumaki Shiso Katsu bento ($17.50). Thin slices of pork and shiso leaf are rolled, coated in panko, fried and sliced into pinwheels on a bed of cabbage. You’ll also find the Giga Ebi Katsu burger ($9.50) with two large shrimp patties, cheese, lettuce and tartar sauce on a soft bun that’s more than enough to share. Lei-Anne Jones hinted at keiki meals they are working on (think hot dog tako and furikake fries). Limited specials are popular, such as the Palolo Don ($18), a katsu homage to Your Kitchen’s shoyu pork belly and soft-boiled egg donburi, and the udon katsu with Japanese curry ($13). All specials are announced on their Instagram.


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Photo: Thomas Obungen


SEE ALSO: What’s New in Honolulu: The 7-Layer Tonkatsu at ‘Ohana Hale Marketplace


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Photo: Thomas Obungen


First-timers will immediately take notice of Nana Ai’s attention to detail. It’s in the perfect fluffy rice, meticulously portioned sides and, of course, the luscious, tender tonkatsu. It’s in the clean oil they fry with, oshibori napkins and all of the extras you get whether you’re taking it home or staying to dine in.


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Photo: Thomas Obungen


You might not get to grind sesame seeds or request unlimited mountains of shredded cabbage, but you will get a crispy piece of katsu when you finally dine at Nana Ai.



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Open Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m., Thursday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. 3585 Wai‘alae Ave., Kaimukī, (808) 772-0146, @nana_ai_katsu