When talking about food in Honolulu, you can’t get away from references to The Pig and The Lady, a popular pop-up that started five years ago. People mention its farmers market stand, or the new casual spot that opened in Ward Village. Either way, you have to somehow try a piggy dish when you’re in the islands.
Andrew Le is the executive chef/owner of The Pig and The Lady, and his culinary skills has garnered the attention of the James Beard Foundation (he was 2014 semifinalist for “Rising Chef of the Year”) and he’s got mad chops, having worked for local high-end Chef Mavro and most recently doing a few months staging at San Francisco’s Rich Table.
Le started The Pig and The Lady with his mom (who’s considered “The Lady” in the name), and hosted popular pop-ups that would sell out in the evenings selling his twist on Vietnamese pho. Now he has an established restaurant in the up-and-coming Hotel Street district near Chinatown and recently expanded to the aforementioned Piggy Smalls.
I first dropped in for lunch at Piggy Smalls, and the fun, quirky spirit of Pig and The Lady is evident with a prominent neon sign saying “It’s All Good.” While the restaurant’s menu reflects Vietnamese sensibilities with chicken pho or a banh mi sandwich called “pho-strami,” Piggy Smalls seems to diverge a bit to more global flavors, with a spin on chicken adobo, a Moroccan papaya salad, and squash tikka masala.
I started with the Moroccan papaya salad ($13), which looked beautiful with a bright orange carrot puree encircling the typically shredded green papaya with mint. The flavor comes from an orange and cumin vinaigrette. While everything was fresh (and it is a pretty big salad), I’m not sure if I got a strong sense of Morocco, and it probably would have been simpler to keep it a classic papaya salad (which I love, BTW).
I had to try the Pho-Strami ($16), which is a hybrid of a banh mi and French dip. The sandwich in a crusty French roll is stuffed with smoked pho-spiced beef pastrami that’s tender and juicy, and then added with sriracha onions and pickled mustard seeds. A bowl of pho is served on the side, and it actually made the sandwich nice to eat when dipped in the broth. It’s a messy and good banh mi, although I felt it was a tad too much mustard seeds.
Piggy Smalls has a variety of dessert options, and it also serves up soft serve, which I tried the daily special of frozen custard swirled with kiwi ($7).
Later in my vacation I had lunch with my friend Judy who works downtown, so we made plans to lunch at the Pig and The Lady. I got reservations, which was smart because this spot on King Street continues to draw a crowd and several people dropped in looking for a table as we had our lunch.
The lunch menu is quiet extensive with a variety of options, and you can also do the lunch tasting menu for $29 where you start with the chef’s selection of apps and then your choice of a main and dessert. Both Judy and I chose to go this route so we could get the full dining experience, even though it was just lunch.
Our chef’s apps were a small papaya salad, nicely made with crispy dried squid and papaya seed nuoc cham. We also each got a LFC, or Laotian-style fried chicken that is a twice-fried chicken wing with “money sauce.” Judy raved about the money sauce, but she did say today there seemed to be less sauce and mostly fried chicken. I tried a bite to see the crispiness, and it was well cooked, but since I don’t eat a lot of deep-fried foods, I gave it to Judy to enjoy the rest.
Judy got her favorite, the P&L Pho French Dip banh mi, which is like the predecessor of the pho-strami, using 12-hour roasted brisket for the protein with a hoisin-sriracha glaze and Thai basil chimmichurri. It came with the classic pho broth to dip, and Judy added noodles so she could get the full pho experience.
Because it was hot in Hawaii, I zeroed in on the special that was a grilled beef and wild betel leaves cold noodles plate ($16). This was a gorgeous combination of fresh herbs that topped two beef patties that were marinated with lemongrass and spices, all served with rice vermicelli and a fermented shrimp and pineapple sauce. I enjoyed the patties, which were tasty and easy to eat.
Desserts were impressive for a casual Vietnamese restaurant. The “Simply Irresistible” was a pandan-filled pate a choux eclair with black sesame sable crunch topping, with even more: cocoa coffee crumble and house-made sweet corn gelato. The calamansi dream merigue pie was a beautiful meringue with the citrusy calamansi curd cream, with candied macadamia nuts for garnish.
The last bite
The Pig and The Lady may seem off for traditionalists looking for a good Vietnamese pho, but it’s the kind of experimental cooking I find exciting and so needed for the Hawaii dining scene. Piggy Smalls is fun and satisfying, but I find The Pig and The Lady (where Chef Le is primarily cooking these days) the more engaging, especially dessert.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: The Pig and the Lady, 83 N. King St., Honolulu. Reservations accepted. Piggy Smalls, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu. Walk-ins only. Get more details at thepigandthelady.com
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