Wai Kai’s Plaza Grill Is West O‘ahu’s Newest Casual-Chic Eatery

From Michelin-starred chef Todd Humphries, this open-air restaurant at Hoakalei is all about California-style dining.


Kitchen Door Wai Kai Plaza Grill Exterior 1 Pc Kitchen Door Wai Kai

Photo: Courtesy of Kitchen Door Wai Kai


The recent opening of Kitchen Door in ‘Ewa Beach has brought West Siders a new family-friendly eatery worth putting on going-out slippers for. The two-story, 7,200-square-foot restaurant joins The LineUp—a behemoth center with water sports (including that standing surf wave), shops, live music, cocktails and snacks—at the newly developed Wai Kai inside Hoakalei resort. At The Plaza Grill at Kitchen Door, its premier eatery, the menu screams California cuisine, offering a taste and feel of a Bay Area restaurant while keeping dishes unfussy.


It’s what chef-partner Todd Humphries calls global comfort food. Kitchen Door Wai Kai is divided into two concepts: Boardwalk Cafe downstairs serves breakfast, coffee, lunch and libations waterside underneath shady umbrellas. The Plaza Grill, on street level, serves more upscale fare with chef-y sensibilities like sturdy dish towels in lieu of linen napkins and a glass-walled kitchen that shows off a gas-fired rotisserie and wood-burning pizza oven upstairs and a bread- and pasta-making room downstairs. From the covered lanai or the open-air dining room of Plaza Grill, you watch stand-up paddle boarders and kayakers glide across the 52-acre lagoon on one side while bar patrons clink glasses on the other.


“The potential here is really great, I think,” Humphries says. “There’s a lot of people in the neighborhood that live close by. We’re already seeing a lot of regulars and locals come to try us out.”


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Kitchen Door Plaza Grill Interior Sarah Burchard

Photo: Sarah Burchard


Humphries helped open Lespinasse at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City before moving to the Bay Area, where he was the chef at Campton Place in San Francisco and the Culinary Institute of America’s Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant in St. Helena. In 2001, he partnered with restaurant mogul Pat Kuleto and Richard Miyashiro—the Kuleto Group CEO who helped open San Francisco’s famed Boulevard, Farralon and Jardiniere—to open the Michelin award-winning Martini House in St. Helena. There, Humphries began hosting casual Family Meals in the Cellar. “It was what chefs would like to eat when they get off work,” he says. Dishes such as roasted chicken, ramen, pizza and pho laid the foundation for what would eventually be his next restaurant concept, Kitchen Door Napa in California’s wine country.


Chef Todd Humphries 2 Sarah Burchard

Chef-partner Todd Humphries. Photo: Sarah Burchard


It’s California cuisine, which focuses on seasonality and locally sourced ingredients, meets Family Meal in the Cellar that you’ll find at Plaza Grill. (We arrived for an early dinner and interview with Humphries and while we paid for our order, the restaurant sent out more dishes.) Start with the creamy Mushroom Soup ($13), a staple on Humphries’ menus since Campton Place. Sauteed local button mushrooms and dried porcini mushrooms from Wine Forest Mushrooms, a longtime vendor to the Bay Area’s top restaurants, are hit with marsala wine, then puréed. Finely chopped mushroom duxelle is folded in, and the soup is garnished with croutons and chives. Since Humphries took the soup off the menu at Martini House on a 104-degree day, only to be scolded by a customer who drove an hour and a half to order it, it has remained on all his menus.


Kitchen Door Plaza Grill Mushroom Soup

Photo: Sarah Burchard


Aside from the soup, portions are large, making the menu prices more digestible when you consider that each dish is enough for two people, especially if you order an appetizer and an entrée.


Kitchen Door Plaza Grill Pepperoni Pizza 2 Sarah Burchard

Photo: Sarah Burchard


Pizzas ($11-$24) are made Neapolitan style with a 48-hour fermented dough that rises and chars beside a blazing fire, adding a pleasing crisp to the bottom. Most of the main dishes, such as the Korean-Style Short Ribs ($35), come off the grill, while whole Mary’s Chickens rotate throughout the night on the rotisserie for the Chicken Dinner ($39), Yuzu Kosho Chicken Ramen ($24) and add-on options to salads and pasta. Other entrées include an ‘ahi steak with fries ($46), an al pastor-style grilled Kurobuta pork chop ($36) and pappardelle pasta with maitake and oyster mushrooms in a parmesan cream sauce ($25).


Kitchen Door Plaza Grill Chicken Dinner Sarah Burchard

Photo: Sarah Burchard


Comforting, homey flavors make the chicken dinner and Humphries’ mushroom soup my favorites. If you skip the chicken dinner, consider ordering its mashed potatoes with green peppercorn gravy ($10) on the side. Each time the kitchen makes a batch of chicken demi-glace, they hold back a skosh to add to the next batch, building depth of flavor. This demi is the base for the gravy, which is finished with chopped green peppercorns, adding brightness and spice. The Chinese-style mushroom fried rice ($12) that accompanies the Korean short ribs is also worth ordering as a side.


Kitchen Door Plaza Grill Baked Hawaii Sarah Burchard

Photo: Sarah Burchard


For dessert, the tart, creamy Baked Hawai‘i ($17), also enough for two, arrives with a scoop of coconut gelato from Il Gelato enclosed in a thick layer of vanilla meringue torched to perfection. Bits of caramelized pineapple glazed in guava coulis wait beneath in a tart.


The beverage menu is loaded with wines from France and California, but a selection of eight sakes, including Kitashizuku Junmai Daiginjo by Islander Sake Brewery ($26/$130), and 16 cocktails are the main attraction. Classic and specialty cocktails include the Wai Kai Mai Tai ($18), made with three types of Kōloa Rum and topped with grilled pineapple whipped cream; or the Tom Kha ($18), made with the ingredients of the classic Thai coconut-based soup shaken up in an icy, refreshing drink. Ollie’s Original Coconut Lemonade ($8), served on the rocks, satisfies cocktail cravings sans the alcohol.


Like any new restaurant, there are details the service and kitchen staff can still improve on, such as timing and coursing, but these are easily forgivable when you are lounging in a big, comfy chair in balmy weather overlooking tranquil waters with a cocktail in your hand.


The decision to open a Kitchen Door on O‘ahu arose over five years ago when restaurant partner Tim Seberson approached Humphries and Miyashiro about bringing their concept to Wai Kai. Miyashiro, originally from Maui, had dreamed of opening a restaurant in Hawaiʻi, and Humphries thought the eclectic menu would be a good fit. Despite the shiny new buildout, which he says is much higher-end than the Napa location, Humphries stays true to his original concept: “It’s a place where you could come and become a local regular.”


Kitchen Door and Plaza Grill open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch, 2 to 5 p.m. for bar menu, 5 to 9 p.m. for dinner; Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for brunch. 91-1621 Keoneula Blvd. Suite 3100, (808) 494-9121, kitchendoorwaikai.com