Last week I was in Hawaii for a week. And while that might sound ideal in winter to head toward warmth, it was a week of taking care of my Mom who was recovering from hip-related surgery. This meant a lot of errands and making meals for my Mom, and very little time to check out the food scene.
But I am putting up this post because I was able to escape twice to eat out, once for a late-night dinner with my nephew after I was done helping my Mom, and another for brunch on my way to the airport. Both spots I tried aren’t necessarily new, but they’re popular local favorites and I enjoyed my brief culinary adventures at Lucky Belly and Scratch Kitchen and Meatery.
This 4-year-old restaurant in the city’s red light district, known as Hotel Street, started off as a ramen spot, and the Japanese soup noodles are still the main offerings. But when I went for a late-night dinner (I appreciated that it’s one of the few Honolulu restaurants open past 10 p.m.), I found that it also shines in its bar menu and fun Asian-fusion starters.
First the bar: I tried two specialty cocktails and loved both of them. The first was the “Busan Star” ($10), which was made with Makgeolli and Licor 43, but gets its full body from the blend of matcha tea and cold brew coffee (talk about a late-night starter). It’s also one of those egg-white drinks I love, so there was a layer of foam from the egg whites.
The second drink was the “Bean”To Box ($14), whose name is a play on the Japanese word “bento” box. But this wasn’t a collection of bites, but a whisky drink made with vanilla bean syrup, suze and orange bitters. Both cocktails were balanced and nice flavor (you could really take the matcha in the Busan and the vanilla in the BeanTo) so the cocktail game is still strong here.
For the food, the appetizers we had were presented like a fine-dining destination, such as the crab and avocado stack ($21), which was shaped in a circle ring studded with fish roe on the top. Then my favorite of lobster shu mai ($18), which was pricey for just three dumplings, but each were jam packed with lobster meat and flavor.
I did try the house ramen, Lucky Bowl ($12), which comes with bean sprouts, soft egg, wakame, sesame seeds, green onion and ginger. I added pork belly slices at an extra cost. The overall bowl was good, but nothing special in the soup. It’s what you can expect with local ramen in Hawaii, which often is more reminiscent of the popular “saimin.”
Lucky Belly is satisfying from beginning to end, a great spot to gather for drinking and eating.
The deets: Lucky Belly, 5o N. Hotel St., Honolulu. PH: 808.531.1888. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and dinner, 5 p.m. to midnight. Closed Sundays. www.luckybelly.com
Scratch Kitchen and Meatery
This popular breakfast spot started off in one part on the city, but closed its original location and opened up in the fancy new Ward Village near Ala Moana beach park.
I went with my niece and nephew for lunch on Monday before I headed to the airport, and it was busy even for a weekday.
As a “meatery,” Scratch’s menu is heavy on meats like short ribs, pork and a burger, but there’s something for everyone in the limited menu that emphasizes local ingredients.
We started off with the haupia creme brulee ($12), which sounded like the most unique item on the menu. Haupia is the Hawaiian coconut cream dessert, so I was excited to try this. It came out like a huge platter of food (which worked out well that we split it among the three of us), and the toast itself was amazingly fluffy and light. I was disappointed, though, that I didn’t get any of the coconut cream that associated with haupia (would have been nice to have that as a sauce), but it was still good with the fresh fruits and coconut-vanilla infused maple.
I tried to go light by ordering the Creole Shrimp and Grits ($16). It was spicy in flavor with nicely cooked shrimp and served with andouille sausages. It gets the brunch treatment with a large fried egg that covered the bowl’s width, serving as a carpet for the shrimp and sausages.
My niece’s order of “papas con chorizo” ($14) was a huge platter of refried beans and chorizo served in between layers of crispy tortillas and topped with poached egg and queso fresco. My nephew went for the meaty order with his cochon de lait egg benny ($14), which is Scratch’s version of egg’s Benedict, made with slow roasted pork, fried green tomatoes and bbq hollandaise sauce, all on a toasted brioche bun. The side of taters were huge roasted baby potatoes.
I can see why Scratch is so popular. The food is well done and plentiful, and the friendly service makes it a welcoming spot.
The deets: Scratch Kitchen and Meatery, 1170 Auahi St. (in Ward Village), Honolulu. PH: 808.589.1669. Open weekdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner, Monday through Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m.; and weekend brunch, 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. www.scratch-hawaii.com
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