The Hon-o-lu-lu Treat

I’ve been meaning to try Ninniku-Ya, on Waialae Ave., for literally years. But I kept avoiding it—I think I must have been a bit put off by the garlicky reputation. The restaurant focuses heavily on using that herb, and I’d envisioned needing a Listerine cocktail or mint-gum dessert.

But I found instead an utterly charming, old renovated home with a dark, cozy and laid-back vibe. (Some Honoluluans may remember when the restaurant Baci Due did the renovation in the late 1980s.) And the best fried garlic rice I have ever had. The garlic rice ($10) is  technically a side dish; we ordered it as an appetizer. Then we had to practically sit on our hands to stop eating it, so that we’d have room for our entrees.   

I spoke to sous chef Jon Fadli about what makes the garlic rice so addictive. It’s a simple recipe, he says, with butter, salt and pepper, and, of course, a lot of garlic. But the secret seems to be in the rice itself. “We use a blend—brown rice, red rice and white rice,” he explained. It’s hard to argue with simple food, cooked to perfection.

By the way, did you know Ninniku-Ya is actually part of a Japanese chain?

Ninniku-Ya, 3196 Waialae Ave., 735-0784. Hours: 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.