You May Want to Eat at Chinatown’s New Burger Bar Daley

A smash burger bar with one beef burger is pretty serious.

Before we get started, you should know that I stand with Danny Meyer when it comes to the great burger debate between In-n-Out and Shake Shack.

At the latter, each burger patty has a defined crust and even crispier edges. Melting American cheese holds it all together in an airy Martin’s potato roll that’s buttered and grilled before meeting a dollop of tangy Shack Sauce. Tuck in and you’re hit with juicy, flavorful, freshly ground beef that’s rumored to be a closely guarded ratio of sirloin, chuck and brisket.

Before you know it, you’ve devoured an entire burger and you’re seriously considering a second.


Shake Shack Double ShackBurger

Shake Shack’s double ShackBurger. Photo: Thomas Obungen


Imagine my excitement, then, when I heard that a spot called the Daley just soft-opened in Chinatown with one focus: smash burgers made with fresh Kunoa Cattle Co. beef. The menu is simple: beef burger, Beyond Meat vegan burger, crinkle fries, shakes, shots and drafts. At the bottom, there’s a combo called The Man on Five ($25).


“What’s that?” you scratch your head and ask. Not for the faint of heart, Man on Five is the entire menu: a double-down burger, fries, milkshake, beer and shot. “It’s sort of a challenge,” says Daley owner Danny Kaaialii.


I’m hungry but not in the mood to hurt myself, so I opt for a double-down burger ($11) with fries ($4) and a shake ($5). Kaaialii hands me a cup and points to the corner where a soft-serve machine sits. It’s self-service. That’s like giving me the keys to a Porsche and letting me go on my merry way — it’s just reckless.


Shake dispenser with a shake in hand

Photo: Thomas Obungen


Right now the machine is dispensing a burnt orange, molasses and malt shake. Despite the ingredient list, it’s rather flat with a singular note of molasses. It’s not my favorite but it does make for a suitably icy-sweet complement to the hot and salty crinkle fries, which I like to dip in from time to time. Aaron Lopez of Mid-late Summer Ice Creamery will be rotating flavors on a regular basis and I’m looking forward to giving others a try.


Hayden smashing patties on the flattop

Photo: Thomas Obungen


Sitting at the bar, I watch as my burger is prepared. I take a bite and smile. A classic smash burger unencumbered by veggies or extra toppings is one of life’s simple joys, best enjoyed in silence. Here, the Kunoa grass-fed beef speaks for itself amid layers of buttery caramelized onions and tangy special sauce. For a moment, my brain forgets we’re still in Hawai‘i.


burger and fries

Photo: Thomas Obungen


I can’t help comparing the Daley burger to a ShackBurger because this is the closest thing Honolulu has to one. Both are prepared using the same smash-and-scrape method, provide the same beefy satisfaction, and are served with crinkle fries. Between us, the Daley gets bonus points for using local beef. Cheehoo!


The double-up burger

Photo: Thomas Obungen


After Encore Saloon, the Daley is Kaaialii’s second restaurant in the same 133-year old building on the corner of Nu‘uanu and Hotel. The smallest of the ground floor establishments, it packs a lot of charm with painted brick walls, industrial steel counters and a giant hood that towers over the open galley. From outside, the warm lighting and scent of searing beef form a compelling invitation to step in.


The Daley outside


The only thing I’m not entirely sure of is the connection with the restaurant’s namesake, Richard J. Daley. The six-term mayor of Chicago was often referred to as the Man on Five because his offices were on the fifth floor of City Hall. More interestingly, he was a longtime leader of the Hamburg Athletic Club, which was one of many social clubs that populated the city. Part-political party, part-gang, it eventually gave rise to Daley’s political career.

Hamburgs. Richard Daley. The Man on Five. Is it all coming together now? I’m still not sure.

What I am sure of is that I stand with both Dannys when it comes to burgers and The Daley is worthy of visiting on the daily.

Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday and 11 a.m. t0 6 p.m. on Sunday, 1110 Nu‘uanu Avenue, @thedaleyburger