Steaking Out Oahu

Hungry for success, everyone’s hopping on the steak wagon.
 Blazin’ Steaks owner Richard Craft Jr.

photo: elyse butler and matt mallams

The food paparazzi may be following the new steakhouse in town, the BLT Steak (see this month’s Dining column, page 127), but it’s the $6 steak plate that’s taking over Oahu, from the Windward Side to Waianae, from downtown Honolulu to supermarket parking lots islandwide.

The $6 steak plate’s rise might be attributed to Blazin’ Steaks—sort of the local plate-lunch version of Starbucks—overnight seeming to occupy every street corner and mall and spawning copycats, like “Steak Rave” complete with red and yellow flames, Blazin’s signature flourish.

So what’s the deal? Why the influx of cheap meat plates when beef prices are actually rising? And, for $6, can you buy a steak that’s any good? Richard Craft Jr., the local entrepreneur behind the Blazin’ Steaks empire, sounds amused by the whole thing. What first started out as a tent on the side of the road—because, at the time, “there wasn’t anybody else doing it, and everybody likes steak,” Craft says—has now turned into 28 stores from Waianae to Kāneohe, even reaching the Big Island and Maui. As far as competition, he’s not worried about the look-alikes. “Once people start copying, that’s how you know you’re doing good,” he says. “Everyone’s trying to kill themselves to sell steak, but we’re above everybody.” The details behind the business are no secret: the meat is tri-tip, because Craft finds it has the best yield. Weight: 8 ounces before cooking. Where he buys it: Sam’s Club.

So open is Craft about his business that he helped a friend, Shawn Ohashi, open his own steak stand, the simply named “Grilled Steaks," in the parking lot near Century Center. Ohashi, a former nightclub owner, runs a carbon copy of Craft’s $6 steak plate, from the salt-and-pepper seasoned tri-tip and two scoops of rice, down to the iceberg lettuce salad with shredded carrots. He’s even got the same Korean barbecue sauce squeeze bottles on the side. Ohashi prepares steaks off a grill that protrudes out the back of his trailer like an air-conditioning unit. What he may lack in the space and efficiency of the Blazin’ Steaks chain, he makes up with freshly grilled meat with a pleasant char.

Of the steak-plate fleets, Steak Rave, on the same block as Blazin’ Steaks in downtown Honolulu, stands out. The steak retains a good grill flavor and has a little kick with the addition of chili flakes. The salad is made with fresh, crisp romaine leaves, and nuzzled against two scoops of rice is a mound of pickled gobo.

“For $6, can you buy a steak that’s any good?”

At the supermarkets, steak plates don’t need a flame logo to sell; 10 feet of grills firing up steaks in the parking lot is signage enough. Foodland and Times’ grilled steaks have been around since before the advent of Blazin’ Steaks, as an alternative to the usual supermarket roast chicken. They’re available on Tuesdays at Foodland Beretania and Wednesday and Friday at Times on King Street. The steaks are good and juicy, and make for a convenient pickup on a grocery store run.

But truthfully, all the steaks at these joints kind of blur together. It isn’t about free-range, grass-fed or dry-aged—the meaty buzzwords thrown around upscale steakhouses. These steaks are cheap, quick, beefy gratification.