Tag Archives: Kaimuki

#FUUD: Brunch at Koko Head Cafe in Kaimuki

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This has been a long time coming.

I finally — finally — visited Koko Head Cafe after it opened earlier this year.

In fact, the day it opened I got a text from chef Lee Anne Wong (of “Top Chef” fame) asking if I was going to pop in.

Alas, I was in the hospital. (Rememeber that?) So I missed her soft opening, I missed her media preview, I missed her grand opening, and I’ve just about missed everything else going on over there.

So the other day I had a meeting scheduled for another restaurant in Kaimukī, which was closed, so we changed our location to Koko Head Cafe instead.

And I couldn’t have been more excited.

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We got there at around noon on a weekday — and I was shocked there wasn’t a line. From Instagram photos and chatter on Twitter, it seems like there’s always a pretty long wait outside the little eatery, once the site of 12th Avenue Grill. (12 Avenue Grill owners Kevin Haney and Denise Luke own this place, too.)

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While the outside hasn’t changed much, save for the sign, the inside is markedly different. It’s bright, it’s lively, it’s fun. It’s got a cool beachy vibe that makes you feel like you’re actually having relaxing gourmet brunch on vacation — not having a lunch meeting where you had to go back to the office. It was a nice reprieve.

The restaurant is all Wong — with innovative twists on traditional breakfast and brunch dishes. Like kim chee bacon cheddar scones, a skillet dish with miso-smoked pork and five-spice pork belly with scrambled eggs and chicharron, or a poi biscuit topped with a soft-poached egg and mushroom gravy.

Oh, yeah.

So this is what we ate:

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We started with the breakfast bruschetta ($6), made with local fruit — in this case, papaya, strawberries and pineapple — with a macadamia nut yogurt on a crispy, buttery Japanese rusk. This was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long, long time. Seriously. I didn’t want to share this.

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Next, we ordered the Kitchen Sink Salad, which changes daily. Today, tossed with the micro greens was bacon, avocado, buttery housemade croutons and a perfectly tempered dressing that made this salad one of our favorites, too.

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The star of the menu is Wong’s signature Dumplings All Day Wong dumpling of the day. Today, it was a pork-stuffed dumpling topped with a housemade XO sauce that was perfectly prepared in every way. The dumpling was soft but sturdy, the sauce with just enough heat to keep it flavorful. Well done. (Her cookbook, “Dumpling All Day Wong,” drops soon. And if she can teach me how to make dumplings like this, I’m buying 10.)

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We tried the daily special, a frittata with loads of cheese, creamy eggs, and lots of green onions.

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Next was the Ohayou Eggs ($15), featuring baked eggs, heritage ham and locally grown mushrooms, topped with a Parmesan cheese cream and bonito flakes. This tasted better as you ate it. Can’t explain it.

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One of the most interesting dishes on the daily special menu — which I’m glad we got — was this: fried poke (using kakimochi, by the way) atop Okinawan soba noodles with a creamy aioli with tobiko (fish roe). Such a decadent, flavorful dish full of layers and textures that just made sense. A really cool eating experience.

Actually, the entire experience far exceeded my expectations — and they were already high considering I knew who the chef was. But Wong blew me away, and I’m already planning my next visit there. My mission is to try every single dumpling she makes. It can be done!

Koko Head Cafe, 1145c 12th Ave. in Kaimukī. Hours: 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily. Phone: 808-732-8920.

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#FUUD: Via Gelato in Kaimuki

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Two years ago I met Melissa Bow, a former physical therapist who had come back home to Oahu after living in New York City to make gelato.

She wanted to do something she loved — and, incidentally, she loved gelato.

So she decided to start a gelato company, first selling hand-crafted gelato using local ingredients from a food truck with the goal of ultimately opening her own brick-and-mortar shop.

Well, back in March, she did just that, opening Via Gelato in the space vacated by the (beloved) Covenant Books and Coffee on 12th Avenue.

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The cute storefront on 12th Avenue in Kaimuki.

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And yes, it serves more than just gelato!

It’s hard to admit that I hadn’t been there when it opened. This was about the time I had gotten really sick, and I just wasn’t getting around — or eating — as much as I had wanted to. So I put this visit on hold.

Then the other day, I get a text from Melissa, asking if we could meet up for pedis.

Uh, yeah, of course.

Except as soon as I got to the nail salon, she texted and said she had to work at the shop. Which wasn’t actually a bad thing for me since it gave me an excuse to hang out with her and her gelato.

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Inside the shop.

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There’s Melissa Bow, serving her happy customers.

I was surprised that on a Wednesday afternoon, just after lunch, the place was hopping. It wasn’t packed the way it often is at night — I see photos on Instagram all the time — but there was a steady stream of customers coming in, seeking out her unique flavors like green tea with Oreos (shown at the top), black cherry salted pecan brittle, tiramisu, coconut black sesame, and milk tea.

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The flavors available that day. She offers about a dozen flavors every day — and they change!

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Here’s the affogato, an Italian favorite. It’s a scoop of vanilla gelato topped with a shot of hot espresso.

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And here are Bow’s famous handmade waffles cones. The smell, alone, will make you want to buy gelato.

Bow raised about $8,000 on Indiegogo to help fund this new permanent space. It’s so big, though, she can’t just do gelato. So she offers espresso and sandwiches — and tons of space to spread out and kick back with friends.

I just wanted to eat gelato!

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Here’s the stracciatella, or chocolate chip gelato.

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And here’s one of my favorite combos: strawberry with Bow’s Fierce Chocolate.

So if you haven’t been, go. And if you’ve already been, go again. You can never eat too much gelato!

Here’s the first #CatChat I did with Bow back in 2012!

And here’s the second video we shot when she got her food truck.

Via Gelato, 1142 12th Ave. in Kaimuki. Phone: (808) 732-2800.

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Today’s Happy Shot

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What is it about baked macaroni and cheese that makes it so irresistibly good? That’s particularly true for the version served at 12th Avenue Grill in Kaimuki (above). This dish came with Hamakua mushrooms, too. A must!

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FUUD: Shaloha in Kaimuki

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When I was going to the University of Hawaii, I would grab lunch at JR’s Bar-B-Q on Waialae Avenue so often the owner would know my order as soon as I walked through the glass doors.

So I was disappointed when the Korean take-out shop closed awhile back.

That is, until I found out a new eatery opened in the same spot, one that serves classic Israeli street food like shawarma and falafel.

Shaloha — a blend of “shalom” and “aloha” — offers Middle Eastern cuisine with a Hawaiian twist — or so the menu says. It’s got the regional staples of Turkey and Egypt with local adaptations of traditional dishes brought to Israel by Jewish immigrants.

So it’s truly a Middle Eastern mix plate!

And if you’re not into that kind of cuisine, you gotta at least go for the homemade pita bread. It’s light and fluffily and airy and so good I could eat an entire bag myself.

Here’s what our recent lunch looked like — and yes, we’ll be back!

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Open last year, Shaloha in Kaimuki is one of only a few restaurants on Oahu serving Middle Eastern cuisine — this one with a local twist.

Shaloha, 3133 Waialae Ave. Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Phone: (808) 744-4222.

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FUUD: Pho 27 on Waialae

Five years ago I wrote a story for the now defunct Honolulu Advertiser about Columbia Inn closing in Kaimuki.

Its closure was a shock to regular customers and employees, many of whom found out by reading a note taped to the door.

The space sat vacant for a long time, and I always wondered why a new restaurant didn’t move into that huge space in the Kaimuki Shopping Center.

Then I got conflicting reports about restaurants that had moved into the space. One was a drive-in serving unique plate lunches; the other was a traditional Vietnamese restaurant dishing out bowls of pho.

So which was it?

Only one way to find out!

Here’s what my recent dinner looked like:

Where am I?

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A group of ex-Advertiser reporters wanted to meet up for dinner. One of them suggested Fairwood Drive-Inn on Waialae, a new restaurant the opened in the space vacated by Columbia Inn.

Pho 27 Vietnamese Cuisine, 3221 Waialae Ave. in Kaimuki. Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Phone: (808) 738-0027.

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