Sushi Tacos Are Crunchy Flavor Bombs at T8ste Buds in Wai‘anae
They’ve also got aburi-torched sushi, poke bowls and wontons with spicy ‘ahi all on the Wai‘anae Coast.
T8ste Buds is fairly easy to find. The West Side’s new sushi taco and poke bowl shop is past Ko ‘Olina and Nānākuli, just before the Wai‘anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center. It’s in the same two-story wooden building as Countryside Café. There’s a scenic view of the beach across the street, which is quite nice.
The menu is a spin on traditional sushi. You can find nigiri sushi, but only one (hamachi) is traditional. The others feature seared seafood with assorted toppings both crunchy and fresh. There are a couple of sushi rolls and poke bowls. But what really got our attention, the main reason we decided to drive out here, are the sushi tacos and sushi sandwiches. In Wai‘anae, no less.
Gilbert Mendonca, one of T8ste Buds’ three owners, is behind the counter and gives us a friendly greeting when we walk in. He explains how this fusion concept was created. The owners are all local boys who went to culinary school on O‘ahu and have worked at Mina’s Fish House, Stripsteak Waikīkī and Monkeypod Kitchen. All of them currently work full-time at Ko ‘Olina and part-time at T8ste Buds. Which is impressive, considering they’re open six days a week. T8ste Buds lets them express their culinary creativity through food options not readily available in Leeward O‘ahu.
We start with the hamachi nigiri ($15), to get a sense of how well they prepare sushi. We aren’t disappointed. The hamachi is fresh and clean, without a fishy aftertaste. It has a creamy and smooth texture and is garnished with tobiko and green onions. The amount of rice used is slightly more than you find at most sushi counters; I would say it’s more local volume. If you live on the West Side, it’s definitely a competitor and a must-try if you live in or near Wai‘anae.
Then we try the Cali Crab sushi taco ($15). The lightly battered, deep-fried nori shell is very reminiscent of a traditional taco shell and has a crispy crunch that makes it fun to eat. The imitation crab mixture is light and refreshing, playing well with the fresh cucumber topping. A unique experience, worth the drive from where I live in Kunia. If you live farther afield, I would suggest picking up sushi tacos on your next excursion to the Ko ‘Olina lagoons or Ka‘ena Point. They’re that good. I’m looking forward to trying the other flavors on my next visit.
The Spicy Tuna-San ($15) is more challenging. It’s spicy tuna and garnishes wrapped in generous slabs of sushi rice that act as sandwich bread. The spicy tuna is light on the mayo and well-seasoned, with just enough of a kick. But this sandwich is difficult to hold and leaves sticky clumps of rice on our fingers. Maybe wrapping it in nori might be a good idea. Certainly, it would make it less messy. If there were half the amount of rice, this would be up there with the Cali Crab taco.
We finish off our meal with one of the day’s specials, Spicy ‘Ahi Fried Won Tons ($12). It’s a different way to enjoy poke. The filling is tasty with a mild spiciness. The contrast of the crunchy won ton shell and the gentle texture of the ‘ahi is pleasant, and the shell is light and not greasy. This is an easy treat that combines two local favorites.
There’s limited counter seating inside, and a small stand-up counter on the lanai facing the beach. It’s a nice view, but you may start craving the comfort of the shop’s AC when it gets hot. T8ste Buds is a welcome addition to the West Side and one I plan to visit again.