Park Yourself in Front of These Three Vietnamese Restaurants in Kaimukī
A parklet crawl turns into an exploration of Vietnamese cuisine beyond pho and banh mi.
One thing we can thank the pandemic for: more outdoor eating options and, in Kaimukī, parklet dining. At the end of last year and beginning of this year, three cheerful ad hoc curbside seats and tables were built in parking stalls along Wai‘alae Avenue. Each one is sponsored by the business it fronts: Juicy Brew, Bean About Town and The Surfing Pig. But the parklets are public spaces, which means in addition to grabbing a parklet picnic from those restaurants and cafe, other options from Kaimukī abound: everything from vegan hot dogs (Muki Dogs) to old-school bento and teri burgers (Okata Bento) to dim sum (Happy Days) to orange cardamom buns and furikake flatbread (Breadshop).
But on a recent parklet crawl, I realized that each space also fronts great Vietnamese fare. After Chinatown, Kaimukī likely has the largest concentration of Vietnamese restaurants in Honolulu. Lemon beef salad, pork chop rice and banh mi, eaten al fresco along a busy urban street? This may be the closest we can get to Vietnam right now.
What to order: Lemon beef salad ($14.99), spring roll and barbecue pork bún ($14.99), bamboo shoot duck vermicelli soup ($15.99)
Don’t miss the lemon beef salad, just the sort of refreshing dish you’d want to eat in the tropical urban heat. Rare beef as thin as carpaccio is tossed in a sour sweet dressing along with whole slices of lemon, rind and all; a fistful of rau ram, like a peppery cilantro; and crunchy peanuts, fried garlic and fried pork bits. I turned my head for a moment and my dining companion had devoured it. Sometimes I miss solo pandemic dining.
Despite the restaurant’s name, the noodle soups are not its strongest items. One exception is the bamboo shoot duck vermicelli soup, a rather lifeless broth perked up with fresh Vietnamese herbs including rau ram, shredded water spinach and mint, plus bits of fried pork fat sprinkled like a benediction. Dip the duck in the accompanying ginger vinaigrette for added zing. Juggling all the takeout bowls for this noodle soup makes for difficult parklet eating, though—for a tidier option, order a cold bún, a vermicelli bowl with various toppings (I’m partial to the spring roll and barbecue pork).
Parklet notes: This parklet is the only one with trees planted in it, but they’re not quite big enough to provide much shade. Best to come in the early morning (when you can also grab a coffee at Bean About Town) or around sunset, when it’s cooler. (Olivier Vetter, owner of Bean About Town, says that he plans on upgrading the parklet soon and adding umbrellas.) The evening, after rush hour, is also ideal, when there are fewer buses and large vehicles whizzing disconcertingly close by.
3538 Wa‘ialae Ave., (808) 735-9989, superphowaialae.com
What to order: Lemongrass pork chop rice ($14)
It’s still takeout only at Broken Rice, a Vietnamese restaurant a touch more refined than the other homey spots, which makes the parklet in front perfectly situated. The grilled pork chop marinated with lemongrass yields plenty of juicy charred bits—pour the fish sauce and lime vinaigrette all over it and let the broken jasmine rice soak up all the juices.
Parklet notes: This parklet is best from the late afternoon on, when it’s shaded, or you can huddle in a corner under one of the street trees for some relief. But the sturdy structure—like the SUVs of parklets—and location in a protected parking spot makes this public space feel more like dining on the sidewalk than in the street.
3607 Wai‘alae Ave., (808) 739-0230, brokenricehi.com
No Name BBQ Sandwich
What to order: Vietnamese Sandwich ($7.99)
The menu is as simple as this shop’s name: just banh mi, 10 different varieties from veggie mushroom to barbecue pork, and all under $10. The Vietnamese Sandwich is the one with all the works: peppery pate, thinly sliced pork belly, steamed pork and all the requisite fresh and pickled vegetables, served in the perfect Vietnamese-style baguette with a crackly-tender exterior and soft as white bread interior.
Parklet notes: Thanks to Kim Sielbeck’s fruity fun artwork and Juicy Brew-provided umbrellas for shade, this is the most pleasant parklet to be in.
3394 Wai‘alae Ave., (808) 200-1268