Yi Xin Brings Bold Flavors of Southeast Asia and Hong Kong

It’s a different culinary melting pot at this Market City eatery.


Many people have been buzzing about the new Yi Xin Café in Market City Shopping Center, but it took a while before I was ready to write about it. When it opened two months ago in the old Anytime Café space with no publicity, lines of first-generation, Chinese-speaking people were waiting to try its ambitious four-page menu.


Word spread quickly that the food was solid, and by my second visit, the menu looked like a classified FBI document with many items blacked out. I couldn’t blame them for scaling back, as Yi Xin (pronounced yee zin) was still crowded with diners barking commands and scolding the waitress in Chinese (my friends included). Plus it’s BYOB.


SEE ALSO: Chinatown’s New HK Café Has Retro Vibes and Legit Noodles


You can now find about 24 items on the regular menu, and the restaurant has started adding back a dozen more specials, including tangsuyuk sweet and sour pork and Singaporean chile or black pepper crab, which require advance orders.


So why is it so popular? Yi Xin—which means “one heart” in Mandarin to reflect the love of many cultures in one place—offers dishes with Singaporean, Malaysian, Thai and Chinese inspirations that you won’t find in other Hawai‘i restaurants. Not everything is spicy, but you’ll find that most of the flavors are very bold.


Yi Xin Salted Egg Yolk Chicken Wings Melissa Chang

Photo: Melissa Chang


Start with the salted egg yolk chicken wings ($14.95), which are like the shrimp paste chicken wings, but way better. You still get the pungent umami of the harm ha marinade, but the salted duck egg yolk powder is sautéed in butter to add another layer of salty richness. The batter is light and crispy, making it a perfect alarm clock that lets your palate know it’s time for dinner.


Yi Xin Thai Style Pork Cheek Melissa Chang

Photo: Melissa Chang


One of my favorites is the Thai style pork cheek ($14.95). The meat gets a light, sweet-salty marinade and is grilled on that layer of cheek fat to give it smokiness and a slight char. It comes with a sweet and spicy Thai dipping sauce, but it’s great even without dipping. I kind of wish they had more lettuce to go with it, as the freshness is a nice contrast.


Yi Xin Sizzling Beef Melissa Chang

Photo: Melissa Chang


The sizzling beef with black bean sauce ($19.95) is also as tasty as it is Instagrammable. It comes to the table on a smoky, sizzling platter tossed with black bean gravy and sautéed vegetables. The beef is so tender that you’ll eat half the platter before you realize you forgot to put it on rice. OK, maybe only I did that.


Yi Xin Green Beans Melissa Chang

Photo: Melissa Chang


I was also surprised that another favorite is the fried green beans with minced meat and sambal shrimp paste ($14.95). It’s very simple but super tasty—maybe I like it because it reminds me of my mom’s cooking.


fried Shrimp topped with fried garlic, a popular Chinese dish

Photo: Melissa Chang


The Hong Kong-style garlic stir-fried prawns ($22.95) are a signature, with crispy jumbo shrimp fried to perfection with jalapeños, red chiles and a mountain of garlic. You can just shake off the garlic if you’re shy about its breath effects, but let me tell you: It’s worth it.


Hong Kong Chinese bitter melon beef on a plate

Photo: Melissa Chang


Bitter melon fans will enjoy the beef with bitter melon on rice ($15.95), but I highly recommend you ask to sub the rice with chow funn noodles. I don’t know what it is, but the chow funn makes it exponentially better.


Hong Kong Chinese-inspired saucy Baked Pork Chop in a bowl

Photo: Melissa Chang


My Chinese friends always order the baked rice or spaghetti with pork chops, meat sauce, chicken or tonkatsu ($16.95 to $18.95). The beef, tonkatsu or teriyaki chicken omelet on rice ($16.95) is also very homey and comforting.


Yi Xin Curry Prawns Melissa Chang

Photo: Melissa Chang


If you’re able to plan ahead and feeling a little spendy, I highly recommend the curry crab with naan ($72.95). On the Hawai‘i News Now segment, we had it with giant prawns ($55), which was just as good. Like the name Yi Xin, the curry sauce is an exclusive blend of different Southeast Asian styles made from scratch (it takes about six hours). It’s creamy and beautifully aromatic, with a mild spiciness that will appeal to most audiences. Now that I’ve had it, I wonder if it will also be served with other kinds of seafood. It’s that good.


Yi Xin Bear Ice Melissa Chang

Photo: Melissa Chang


There’s no dessert yet, but do be sure to order the Hong Kong-style iced milk tea or lemon tea with the frozen bear ($6.95). The highly Instagrammable bear is made of sweetened tea and just adds cuteness to the whole experience. You can order the drinks without the bear (for $1.45 less), but why would you?


Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Market City Shopping Center, 2919 Kapi‘olani Blvd., (808) 738-0818, @yi_xin_cafe_808