By Lisa Scontras | Photos by Davin Iyamatsu
1627 Nuuanu Ave.
For those times when only curries, coconut milk and turmeric will hit the spot, check out Bangkok Chef's Thai plate lunches. Reasonably priced ($5.97 for an entrée), the family-sized portions are large (you and your BFF can share one), the service is fast, the food is hot and the ingredients are exceedingly fresh.
This lesser-known eatery started out in 2001 as Nuuanu Open Market, selling fresh vegetables and Thai cooking ingredients. But the owner's wife is from Bangkok (where her family operates a restaurant), so naturally, in 2002, she began cooking Thai food and the restaurant was born.
The restaurant has a small yet passionately loyal fan base who rally for the fresh ingredients offered by this family-owned, hole-in-the-wall eatery. For lunch or dinner, the authentic Thai fare take-out (though you can eat-in too) - lives up to its growing reputation.
Specialties include mango salad, fishcakes, lettuce with crispy spring rolls, cashew nut chicken and curry, summer rolls with peanut sauce for dipping, green papaya salad, Panang pork curry, chicken sateh (6 sticks for $6.95), red, yellow and green curry, iced coffee and the tapioca and banana dessert for $2.50.
"Bangkok Chef impressed me with the quality of the food for such low prices," says one regular customer. "The green mango salad was my favorite dish."
According to the restaurant owner, Patrick Chang, the pad thai is their number one best seller. After that, the curries are the most popular.
"There are a few reasons I believe customers are drawn to Bangkok Chef," says Chang. "One being it's inexpensive. And then the very casual atmosphere and the simple and delicious meals we serve."
"Only my wife knows the best kept secret of Bangkok Chef," he says. "And she's not telling. But I think I can guess … we serve what people want."
Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday.
Govinda's Vegetarian Buffett
51 Coelho Way
Healthy eating isn't just for vegans anymore. Govinda's vegetarian menu is just as popular with meat eaters looking to boost their veggie intake as those looking for meat-free, organic, bargainous options And you can make your selections from the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for only $9.99.
There is always a crowd, the customers get their money's worth, and the setting is lovely.
Located off the Pali, before Queen Emma Summer Palace in the Hara Krishna temple, Govinda's is open for lunch only between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Take Wylie Street to Burbank Street and turn right. Then turn right onto Coelho Way.
1351 Nuuanu Ave.
You may have driven by Nuuanu Okazuya - on the town-side corner of Vineyard and Nuuanu - but didn't have time to stop. For the last three years, its new owner has elevated Nuuanu Okazuya's 30-plus year reputation. Still in the same location serving up traditional and local Japanese and Okinawan favorites for breakfast and lunch, this Okazuya has earned nearly landmark status.
An absolute "must-try," Nuuanu Okazuya's chef, Johnathan Mosley, turns plate lunches into an art form taking traditional Okinawan recipes and giving them his own twist.
"Our Furikake Chicken Katsu with our 'secret' sauce is our top seller," says Mosley, who has also earned a reputation for his more than 70 flavors of andagi (Okinawan donuts).
"I got bored with just traditional/vanilla and just started tweaking the recipe and playing with flavors," he says. "I used to be a bartender, so it's the same type of mixology."
Mosley's latest creations include root beer, praline and marshmallow flavors.
The friendly atmosphere offers two tables to eat-in or take-out for breakfast and lunch. Prices are reasonable.
The menu is varied and includes something for everyone: nine varieties of boneless chicken, assorted vegetable dishes including sautéed green beans and stir-fried bok choy, Okinawan sweet potato, vegetable and shrimp tempuras, a wide selection of fishcakes, chow fun, vegetarian and potato hash, shoyu steamed and grilled tofu, furikake and fried rice musubi, fried saimin, and teriyaki burgers. Be sure to save room for the andagi.
The breakfast menu includes eggs with a variety of meats, rice or toast as well as pancakes, French toast, and loco moco.
It's all so good that there is almost always a line, which gives you time to decide what you want to order.
Buddhist Vegetarian Restaurant
100 North Beretania St. #109
Vegetarians in the mood for dim sum love Buddhist Vegetarian, located in the Chinese Cultural Plaza. Various types of soft, fluffy steamed buns, mouth-watering dumplings, rice noodles, pot stickers and sweet pastry come in plenty of textures and flavors - Chinatown style - but without the meat that is traditionally included in the recipes.
The atmosphere at Buddhist Vegetarian is lively and fun, as dim sum carts are wheeled around and you can pick what looks yummy and try it.
"The entire menu is vegetarian, but meat eaters can order non-vegetarian dishes from Legends next door, since it's the same owner," says one loyal customer. "The view is the river on River Street, so you get the 'Chinatown' experience."
The take-out or eat-in, casual atmosphere is great for lunch and a Chinese comfort food fix.
This one-of-a-kind Chinese Buddhist Vegetarian restaurant gets nothing but the best ratings. Definitely worth checking out.
100 N. Beretania St. #207
The vibe at Terry's place is just the right mix of rowdy and sophisticated. The ambiance is cool, karaoke bar casual, but don't let that fool you - the menu encompasses more than just your standard bar food.
According to food reviewer Melissa Chang, one of the most popular items is the rib eye steak for $17.
"The rib eye steak with their signature mushroom bourbon sauce is fantastic," she says. "It's rich and addicting and so good with a hearty red wine.
"The fried noodles ($8) are served steaming hot with chopped char siu, Portuguese sausage, and veggies," adds Chang, writer at NonStopHonolulu.com. "I liked how the Portuguese sausage gave it a hint of spiciness."
Regulars know to ask the owner, Terry Kakazu, for a wine paring recommendation.
"When you get a wine recommendation at Terry's Place, you know it's going to be good, since she also owns HASR Wine Company in Chinatown," says Chang, who adds that Terry's wine fridge has more exquisite wines than any bar in Honolulu.
Order wine by the glass, carafe or by the bottle.
This super cool Nuuanu find is a great place to hang out.