Wada Introduces a New Happy Hour Menu

Clockwise from top left: maguro poke, Wada shiso gohan, salt poke, asari sakamushi

“I came from New York, where prices are high and portions are small,” says Takanori Wada, the chef at restaurant Wada. And then he came to Honolulu, across the way from Side Street Inn, land of heaping pork chops and sizzling kalbi. It took Wada three years to adjust, which is why the restaurant now has a happy hour menu. The dining room has never been more packed.

Wada has been one of my favorite Japanese restaurants ever since it opened, but it was always a hard sell because of its price tag and a difficult-to-grasp menu that fell somewhere between izakaya and kaiseki, with some yakiniku thrown in.  But now, the pitch is easy: Go for happy hour for refined-casual food at amazing prices (everything between $3 and $5). The happy hour menu is basically bar food, but polished both in presentation and flavors, as with the rest of Wada’s food. Get both the maguro poke and salt poke ($5 each), the latter made with whatever fish is fresh that day—when we went, opakapaka. The salt poke is seasoned simply—the fish’s crisp, clean flavor and the variety of seaweeds carry the dish. Wada cuts his fish for poke in thick slices, which makes this poke feel all the more luxurious.

Try the crispy mochi sticks ($5), mochi and mentaiko wrapped up in rice paper and fried. For simple comfort, finish with the asari sakamushi (clams steamed in sake) and Wada shiso gohan (hot rice mixed with minced beef tongue and shiso).

You can eat very well off the happy hour menu, but also try some of Wada’s other specialties, like the beef tataki, seared and drenched in ponzu with garlic chips, and foie gras sushi: the fat of the land and the sea, as Jordan Edwards, bartender at Salt, once described it to me.

And with sake at $3, it doesn’t get any better.

Happy hour 4 to 6 p.m. and 9 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
611 Kapahulu Ave., 737-0125, restaurantwada.com