Your O‘ahu Neighborhood Guide: Kaimukī’s Kapahulu Avenue in Honolulu
Field Guide tells the stories of people and businesses along Honolulu’s streets. This month: little shops, lots of foot traffic, local food and friendly landlords keep the 700 block of Kapahulu Avenue humming.
SKIP THE DOG, OFFICIAL GREETER FOR MOPEDS DIRECT, ALSO DIRECTS TRAFFIC.
Those who think Honolulu has lost its soul need to walk the steamy streets of Kapahulu some bright midmorning, between Winam Avenue and Hunter Street. Here is what Kaka‘ako wishes it had, what Chinatown has but struggles to keep clean and safe—shop after tiny shop, each representing a small-kine retail dream.
Poke Around ‘Ono Seafood
‘Ono founder Judy Sakuma and daughter Kim Brug.
“These are my recipes,” declares ‘Ono Seafood co-founder Judy Sakuma. “What’s good for me is good for you.” That’s just fine for three-day-a-week visitor Jarrod Shinn, 23, a hairstylist. “I’m from Kaua‘i, and I’m used to really crushing fish,” he says. “This is the best on O‘ahu.” We saw plenty of poke styles and a cold case of goodies; our go-to is the Hawaiian limu paired with ‘ahi shoyu ($12, large bowl).
“About 20 years ago, Mom and Pop needed some extra income so she started making poke,” says daughter Kim Brug, who’s running the show from ‘Ono’s tiny (but brightly painted and clinical-clean) cinder-block box. Once a local secret, the word is out now, thanks to raves from Japanese and other visitors. Mom ain’t calling it quits, either. “I’m happy with what I’m doing,” says Sakuma.
“I love having customers who love me, and at my age”—which she won’t reveal—“I don’t want to stop working.”
747 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 732-4806, Instagram @ono.seafood
The Native Hawaiian Hub
At Haili’s, 50 years of tradition are maintained by 17-year-veteran cook Jerry Ramos and carried on by husband-and-wife team of Noa Haili Alo and La‘e Alo.
Aloha abounds when I ask Lorraine Haili Alo, 66, about Haili’s Hawaiian Food, which she’s run at this location since 2003, after 35 years at the old Ward Farmers Market with her parents. Instead, she immediately wants to talk about her neighbor’s shop. “You should meet Mele,” Alo says. “Mele’s grandmother was Auntie Mary”—Mary Lou Kekuewa, whose feather lei and influence on Hawaiian cultural practices are legendary. Now, Auntie Mary’s daughter, “Auntie Pu‘u” Paulette Kahalepuna, is passing the torch to granddaughter Mele Kahalepuna Chun, so book your workshops and lectures at Na Lima Lili Hulu No‘eau.
762 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 732-0865, featherlegacy.com
But don’t forget Haili’s—and its full Hawaiian and local-style menu, prepared by 17-year-veteran cook Jerry Ramos: a couple of dozen lunch plate combinations, including lau lau and kālua pig, of course, but also poke, pastele stew, grilled ‘ahi and pūlehu steak, kalbi and more than 20 sides such as squid lū‘au, pipi kaula, dried aku and ake—“raw beef liver poke, kinda old school and hard to find.” (An internet search reveals that it’s now a popular paleo diet item, as well.) Lorraine’s daughter-in-law, La‘e, 38, is taking on the marketing and front room with husband Noa Haili Alo, also 38: “We met in eighth grade at Kamehameha; together for 25 years, married for 12,” La‘e says.
760 Palani Ave. (at Kapahulu Avenue), (808) 735-8019, hailishawaiianfood.com
The Moped Matrix
“I’m Greek, Romanian, Mongolian, Italian and Balkan,” says Mopeds Direct owner Joe Shimkonis, who bought the business in 1999.
Eric Low, 51, a man of parts, is also carrying on the family business, The Moped Co. (748 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 735-8887), which started out on Dillingham Boulevard in 1985. “We used to be the moped place in Honolulu,” says Low. Now they just sell parts, thanks to next-door Mopeds Direct, which began as a moped rental and sales operation franchised from the Lows. “It changed hands and we lost the franchise, but there’s no competition. We have a mature business and a pretty good landlord.”
Current Mopeds Direct owner Joe Shimkonis, 52, agrees. “My landlord’s very cool. I bought this business in 1999 and have watched the block change. The places with the good landlords stay in business. The empty places you see, the landlord charges $7,000 a month, they open, they close.” It’s safety inspection time and Shimkonis and his dog, Skip, see a steady parade of moped drivers from the University of Hawai‘i in for their safety checks.
750 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 732-3366, mopedsdirect.net
Eat This Street
Having relocated from Kapi‘olani Boulevard, King’s Pizza offers fresh ingredients and a full slate of nightly entertainment.
“I eat at Judy’s,” says Shimkonis, meaning ‘Ono Seafood. “Judy’s cool—the poke’s great. I eat there a lot. And the Mexican place”—BBHI, as in burgers and burritos Hawai‘i—“for the chicken soft taco trio.”
East L.A. native Jonny Hedrick runs BBHI with his wife and gets good reviews from folks on the block. Grass-fed beef, local produce and specials such as Shrimp al Diablo and Chile Verde are a tipoff that this is the real Mexican deal. But there’s more. “I normally get their burger—it’s excellent,” says Brenda Prevost, who owns nearby GoBo Glass. “And the breakfast burritos.”
760 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 734-9490, burgersburritoshawaii.com
SEE ALSO: The Best Boutiques in Kaimukī
King’s Pizza Café has great colorful red signage, eccentric retro ’60s decor and a Yelpful of comments about the “delightful” “lovely” and “mellow” vibe created by owner Korinna Brillon, who moved her King’s Pub pie shop over from Kapi‘olani Boulevard a couple of years ago. The emphasis is on all-fresh spices and unprocessed, healthy local ingredients—but Brillon doesn’t shy away from a savory Diamond Head Meat Eater’s Pizza.
746 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 675-8962
Cool Cure, Hot Glass, Real Jiujitsu
No 329 card, no entry at the local marijuana dispensary.
You can get most anything you want on Kapahulu Avenue—a recent police raid closed down an upstairs gambling shop—but you’ll need a 329 medical marijuana card to get into the sleek modernist Cure O‘ahu dispensary. That’s state law.
728 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 208-8770, cureoahu.com
Make a sun-catcher at GoBo’s D.I.Y. fused-glass space.
GoBo Glass is a cheery fused-glass D.I.Y. space where you can make your own ornaments and other decorations in a 1,350-degree kiln. A couple is making sun-catchers in Hawaiian ocean themes to take back to family in Iowa; though deep in creative concentration, Russell Schoenhard, 46, looks up with a smile: “Grandma’s 89 and we want her to look out her window and see the light coming through these over the snowy fields.”
744 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 277-2535
A RELSON GRACIE JIU-JITSU STUDENT LIMBERS UP.
Across the street is the Ronn Shiraki Academy of Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, an upper story dojo with all-white walls and padded floors—and, while behind the building’s scalloped metal grille, no windows. Gi-clad instructor Desmond Thain, 34, and member Antonio Criado, 35, gracefully paused their warm-ups and filled us in about this Brazilian variant of the martial art—and art, not brawling or a gym workout, is definitely the emphasis here. We came away rejuvenated simply by absorbing the spiritual dedication of the studio’s advanced lunchtime crowd. Seen as an equalizer for the small of stature, jiujitsu is increasingly drawing more women to the studio.
737 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 778-7207, ronnshiraki.com
King’s Pizza Café has a Wednesday night Native Hawaiian palm reader, a Thursday night ‘ukulele rock ’n’ roll show by Dr. Bones and open mic comedy on Friday nights, plus walk-ons.
Aros Bar & Lounge Waikīkī seems to be open from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., but with only one Yelp review and a Facebook page without human presence—except for a dog in one shot—it sort of belongs to the “if you have to ask” category.
758 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 735-1401
Parking and Traffic
The most parking we found, 21 spaces at Cure O‘ahu, the marijuana dispensary, is off limits to the public. (Sigh.)
There’s a long strip of free-for-all parking off Winam Avenue, mauka by an empty lot, but it fills up early. Otherwise, the curbside carve-outs open frequently and side streets are available. It’s easier than it looks.
Haili’s has a half dozen spaces in the back, but, says Lorraine Haili Alo, “the difference is the trolley bus dropping people at Leonard’s Bakery and letting them do their own walking tour down Kapahulu.”
The Bottom Line
As long as there are good landlords, there will be a Kapahulu Avenue we know and love.