Your O‘ahu Neighborhood Guide: King Street at University Avenue in Honolulu
There are plenty of old-school haunts and new grinds on the mauka side of King Street past University Avenue.
All eyes in Mō‘ili‘ili are on Hale Mahana, the relatively new 14-story student apartment complex across from Puck’s Alley. With Starbucks, Pieology and the state’s first Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, it’s easy to see why it’s a popular spot. But across the street, find more fine spots to study, drink and, yes, eat fried chicken that have been around for decades and, most importantly, are local.
The sign outside Fukuya says “Delicatessen,” which is the European equivalent of an okazuya, meaning a place where customers can point to pick their favorite foods. “Back in the old days, it was just one or two people who came in early and cooked everything. When everything sold out, they closed up shop. We’re a little busier than that,” says owner Arrison Iwahiro.
Iwahiro’s great-grandparents, Jihei and Tsuya Takayama, founded Fukuya in 1939 to provide bentos for the men working on the Mō‘ili‘ili quarry up the street (now UH Mānoa’s lower campus). They lived upstairs and worked downstairs in the building where Jr Lou & T is today, before relocating to their present location. Iwahiro’s grandparents ran the business beginning in 1965; his parents, Lorna and Edward, took over in 1975 and Iwahiro’s been at the helm since 1999. Fukuya continues to make favorites that include mochiko chicken, shrimp tempura, miso butterfish, potato mash and mochi, using an automated mochi pounding machine from 1939 that still works.
Arrison Iwahiro, owner of Fukuya
“We had tourists visiting from Texas one time. They googled ‘mochi’ because someone said to try it on vacation in Hawai‘i and they found us. I hope they liked it,” says Iwahiro. Aside from the occasional curious tourist, local regulars are Fukuya’s mainstay, whether they’re getting food for the day or catering for birthdays, graduations, retirement parties or funerals. The biggest order they ever had was for 1,600 people for a funeral. (“A lot of sushi.”) Is the next generation ready to continue the Fukuya tradition? “I have two girls but they’re not interested in this kind of work,” says Iwahiro. “But you don’t know until you try it, start meeting customers and so on. Maybe they’ll think this is cool. You never know.”
Fukuya, 2710 S. King St., (808) 946-2073, fukuyadeli.com
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Sips and Snacks
Editor’s note: Honeyboba reportedly closed at the end of 2019.
For folks looking for more Japanese food, there’s Sushi King in the strip mall next door, where late-night specials offer the best deal on jumbo platters with soup, salad, sushi and your choice of tempura, teriyaki and katsu ($14.75) or chirashi bowls packed with thick sashimi ($21.50). For a cozier dining experience, go one over to Izakaya Naru, where the menu is Okinawan-inspired but the owner is from Tokyo. Tasty dishes include taco rice in a stone pot and bittermelon stir-fried with Spam, eggs and tofu that you can pair with Orion beer and Hawaiian Shochu Co.’s NamiHana shochu, made from sweet potatoes on the North Shore.
Other tasty offerings in this area are more daytime-oriented, such as Bangkok Chef for Thai food and the newly opened Honeyboba, which has locations in Hawai‘i and Los Angeles. Nearby, a sign used to say Koa Café, welcoming patrons to a spinoff of Koa Pancake House. The café serves slightly higher end breakfast options such as butter mochi pancakes and eggs Benedict with kalbi and kim chee, an idea by second-generation owner Juno Chung. But we guess there’s no beating his parents’ original name: Koa Café reverted to Koa Pancake House earlier this year.
2700 S. King St.: Sushi King, (808) 947-2836, sushikinghi.com; Izakaya Naru, 951-0510, naru-honolulu.com; Bangkok Chef, (808) 941-2888, bangkokchefexpress.com; Koa Pancake House, (808) 941-7778, koapancakehouse.com
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Sam Han, owner of Glazer’s Coffee
Back in 2006, Sam Han was studying fashion design in Seattle, “drinking three cups of coffee a day at least.” He had fallen in love with the drink—not only its great beans and brew, but the entire indie Pacific Northwest coffee shop culture. He moved to Hawai‘i and opened Glazer’s Coffee in early 2007. A decade before the rise of Kai Coffee and other cafés boasting artisanal cups of joe, Han was pouring small-batch roasts; he says Glazer’s La Marzocco espresso machines were the first in the state. This cozy location is still a hot spot for college students, coffee aficionados and latte art Instagrammers.
Aloha Board Shop
Dive into a different liquid next door at Aloha Board Shop, which sells, rents and repairs surfboards as well as skateboards, clothing and accessories. The surf shop moved from its previous location at the corner of University Avenue (currently Cricket Wireless) to this more intimate space; behind the lava rock wall exterior, the shop feels a little like a cool cave when you step in off King Street. “We’re one of the few surf shops in town showcasing predominantly local shapers like Dennis Pang, Glenn Miyasaki and Carl Schaper,” says Chris Garth, who works at the shop along with fellow surf and skate enthusiasts Joseph Cruz and owner Karim Hammani. “Our current location provides more intentional traffic and a lot of incredibly loyal regulars. And everyone’s drawn to our mermaid logo by [artist] Sho Watanabe.”
Glazer’s Coffee, 2700 S. King St., glazerscoffee.com; Aloha Board Shop, 2658 S. King St., (808) 955-6030, alohaboardshop.com
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Flowers by Jr Lou & T
Somewhere Over the Flower Shop
Walk past Flowers by Jr Lou & T and you’ll catch a few notes of “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” by Bruddah Iz. The song runs on loop all day long. “That would be my mother,” says T Kawamura, whose father and mother are literally named “Jr” and “Lou.”
Lou loves Iz’s famous mashup of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” so much that she keeps it on repeat. “A customer once asked why she played that song and my mother said it was her favorite. The customer left and came back with a special disc of that track as a gift, because she used to be one of Iz’s managers,” says Kawamura.
Since 1979, Jr Lou & T has been selling flowers just a few blocks from UH. But their busiest time isn’t graduation season. “It’s actually roses for Valentine’s and Mother’s Day.” Step inside today though, and you’ll find aisles filled with pottery, succulents and freshwater aquariums for sale. “We’re still a flower shop. The aquariums are a hobby that sorta went awry.”
Flowers by Jr Lou & T, 2652 S King St., (808) 941-2022
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Flowers by Jr Lou & T
Those Were the Days
Between Jr Lou & T and the medical office of Dr. Curtis Takemoto-Gentile, there used to be another curbside building that housed the famous Kūhiō Grill (in front of what’s currently 7-Eleven but is now just gas pumps), where former owner Mark Kamemori Miyashiro and his waitresses provided customers free pūpū—chopped steak, sashimi, king crab legs and much more—with the purchase of a beer and, of course, a generous tip.
In the 1950s, Kūhiō Grill’s buy-drinks, get-food policy partially supported burgeoning (broke) local artists of the era, including legendary abstract expressionists Satoru Abe, Bumpei Akaji and Tadashi Sato. “[Miyashiro would] criticize us, sort of half-laughingly, because we didn’t make enough for a living, but he was just pulling our legs—he actually encouraged us,” Sato said in a 1972 interview with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Kūhiō Grill was a Mō‘ili‘ili landmark until it closed in 1979. Lorna Iwahiro of Fukuya (Arrison’s mother) shared memories of Kūhiō Grill in the book, Mō‘ili‘ili – The Life of a Community: “Saturday night we were so tired. We’d come back after catering a wedding, and we’d have to put all our dishes away and everything. And sometimes my auntie would treat us to dinner over there.”
Parking and Traffic
Fukuya and Aloha Board Shop have limited parking in a few stalls nearby. The strip mall containing Sushi King, Honeyboba, Izakaya Naru, Koa Pancake House and Glazer’s Coffee has a small lot staffed by fierce parking attendants, so don’t even think about parking here and going elsewhere, buddy.
The Bottom Line
University Avenue is more than just the intersection before you take the on-ramp to H-1. This neighborhood’s long history as a destination to snag coffee, breakfast, pūpū and late-night drinks continues to the present with eateries, boutique shops, plus surfboards and gifts for grads.
Read more stories by James Charisma