We Checked Out the New Sushi King in Kaka‘ako
The longtime favorite Japanese spot looks totally different in its new home, but the old flavors are back (here’s looking at you, miso soup!).
Being a student at UH Mānoa means cheering in the stands at basketball games and working up a large appetite by the end of the night. So when nearby Sushi King closed in June, I was disappointed that a longtime favorite hangout was gone. By longtime, I mean 30 years—the Mō‘ili‘ili restaurant was a favorite for customers of all ages for its late-night happy hour, early bird specials and of course its famous miso soup.
But it wasn’t gone for long. Sushi King reopened in November at the John A. Burns School of Medicine in Kaka‘ako. The new Sushi King is a takeout counter inside Café Waiola, the large cafeteria, with online ordering and curbside pickup. There’s no dine-in, but there are plenty of outdoor spots nearby to sit or spread out a mat. The hours are different, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the menu has favorites from the original location: 10 kinds of bentos, 8 different rice bowls, 24 sushi rolls, sushi sets, nigiri sushi you can order in pairs and miso soup in three sizes. On opening day a line of people snaked out the doors and around the building. I headed there during week one.
You can find Sushi King just off Ilalo Street. You’ll see the John A. Burns School of Medicine sign first, and just to the left is the Medical Education Building. Go in, walk straight ahead and take a slight right into Café Waiola and Sushi King. Pretty simple, right? If you do curbside pickup, they’ll bring your order to your car right on Ilalo Street.
We found a cool, breezy spot on the shady side of campus and spread out our lunch. It turned out to be quite a picnic.
We absolutely had to order the miso soup ($3 small, $5 medium, $8 large). Sushi King’s rich, meaty version is actually tonjiru, which has root vegetables, konyaku and slices of pork to complement the miso soup base. It’s one of the few places in town where you can find tonjiru. Our tip: Get the soup on its own or add on a small bowl with sushi to your bento for $5 more—this is a must-have dish!
The karaage chicken bento ($11) was my favorite. Like all bentos, it comes with your choice of rice or tossed salad, side dishes of tofu and hijiki seaweed. The karaage chicken was crispy and juicy, with a hint of ginger in the batter and a fresh lemon wedge to squeeze on top.
The miso butterfish ($17) is a comforting favorite from the old Sushi King. Not too sweet, tender and with just the right amount of fatty and buttery flavors throughout, the fish was delicious. The piece I had didn’t have a lot of bones, which made it all the more enjoyable.
Another fried favorite would be the ahi katsu ($17), but some pieces were juicy and some drier. Eating it immediately may help with that. The panko layer is thin and not too crusty, there’s a good amount of katsu sauce on the side, and overall I felt that the portion size for the price point was good for lunchtime.
We didn’t forget about Sushi King’s sushi rolls! The Firecracker roll ($15) has generous slices of ‘ahi on top, complementing the shrimp tempura, cucumber and avocado inside. Drizzled over is a spicy mayo, my personal favorite—it adds just the right amount of heat to a crunchy, creamy, tasty roll.
Overall, the food at the new Sushi King tasted better than what I remember. Call it a new beginning or the effects of open-air dining near the ocean, I can’t explain it. Although the old restaurant is gone, replaced by a cafeteria-style takeout counter, I can say that for me, flavor-wise and comfort-wise, the old-time favorite is back.