Something new: Izakaya Mai

IMG_4837A new restaurant, Izakaya Mai, has opened on Kapiolani in the former Ojiya Restaurant space across from the Hawaii Convention Center.

Originally from Tokyo, Izakaya Mai owner Yoichi Ito worked in the airline industry as a dispatcher, but loved to cook and pursued traditional sushi training. He then moved to Northern California and opened a breakfast place, before working for Benihana restaurants as a sushi sensei. A decade ago, he opened Izakaya Mai in San Mateo, Calif., which became a hit among locals. But after deciding to retire in Honolulu, he sold the eatery to new owners and moved his family to the islands.

Ito’s son, Hide, a computer programmer, convinced his dad to open a second Izakaya Mai location in Honolulu. After four months of renovation and permitting, the eatery quietly opened its doors on Aug. 20 and is celebrating the grand opening today, Sept. 17.

The interior is divided into three parts — a sushi bar, an area for table dining and a tatami room. Overall, it’s more of an American-style izakaya than an izakaya straight from Japan, both in terms of its vibe and menu. The extensive menu features favorites, such as sushi, noodles, donburi, teishoku and okonomiyaki. While the menu has distinctive Japanese items — grilled squid, champon and sara udon — there are also sushi rolls and combo meals, that would appeal to more Americanized diners.

Open for lunch and dinner, Izakaya Mai has a changing daily lunch special for $12.95 and happy hour from 9:30 until 11:30 p.m. featuring $2 Kirin drafts and $8 organic sake along with rotating food specials.

Here’s a closer look:

Izakaya Mai

Owners Hide and Yoichi Ito are the father and son team behind Izakaya Mai, which is named after Yoichi's granddaughter.

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Izakaya Mai
1718 Kapiolani Blvd.
Open Monday-Saturday
Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner: 5:30 p.m.-midnight


Our Top 5: Bento

With bento being one of Hawaii’s most beloved foods, I’m sure everyone has a favorite. The variety of meat, veggies, egg and rice make it perfect for field trips, picnics and lunch on the go. If you’re like me, I was always excited when mom would get me a bento in elementary school when we had a class trip.

When deciding on the quality of a bento, I look for well-seasoned ingredients, overall value and how tasty the meal is when eaten cold.

Here are my favorites:

No. 5: Kabuki Restaurant

Kabuki is one of those old-school Japanese restaurants that has been around for decades. They offer takeout-only bentos that you can phone in and pick up. The offerings range from chicken katsu to saba to salmon and cost from $7-$10. I like the salmon bento with shrimp tempura ($9.40). It comes with teriyaki chicken, gobo and rice. The salmon is flaky and flavorful and is the star of this bento. The teriyaki chicken is a generous portion and the charcoal grilling adds a nice smoky flavor.

Kabuki Restaurant
600 Kapiolani Blvd.

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More Our Top 5

See our full roundup with more Our Top 5 picks


HFWF 2014: Halekulani Master Chefs Gala

Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival held its Master Chefs Gala at the Halekulani hotel Friday, allowing attendees who paid $1,000 per tickets to mingle with and feast on dishes by chefs Jose Garces, Johnny Iuzzini, Richard Rosendale, Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai and Halekulani’s own Vikram Garg.

The night kicked off with a cocktail hour with wine, cheese from Kent Torrey and the Cheese Shop and signature drinks handcrafted by mixologists Tony Abou-Ganim and Francesco Lafranconi. Next, guests headed into the dining room for a lavish, six-course meal with wine pairings for each course.

Here are the courses:

Chefs Who Compete Gala - Food

Gala guests were treated to a beautiful six-course dinner. — Photo by Ed Morita

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Fourth Annual Halekulani Master Chefs Gala Series: Chefs Who Cook to Compete

(L->R) Vikram Garg, Roy Yamaguchi, Richard Rosedale, Hiroyuki Sakai, Michelle Bernstein, Jose Garces, Johnny Iuzzini, Kent Torrey and Alan Wong.

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Beyond shrimp: North Shore’s new food truck scene

We’ve been hearing a lot about North Shore’s current food truck scene and how it’s evolved way beyond garlic shrimp plates. Although the guidebooks and tours may still lead visitors to the likes of Giovanni, Fumi, Mackey and Romy, hidden among these longstanding shrimp specialists are some newer vendors bringing both variety and excitement to the mix.

Here’s a look at some of the trucks we visited during our recent trek up North.

Sandy's Sandwiches

Located next to Shark's Cove along Kamehameha Highway in Pupukea, Sandy's Sandwiches serves up organic sandwiches and salads in a tiny makeshift shop that's towed in a pickup truck. Owner Ryan Dack launched the business last February with the hopes of serving up healthy lunches to the North Shore crowd.

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Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 6.56.09 AMThe original “beyond shrimp” adventureSome of our longtime readers may remember when Mari Taketa and Melissa Chang ventured to the North Shore in 2011 to sample the food truck scene. We thought you’d enjoy revisiting that post, appropriately called M&M Eats: A North Shore adventure


5 questions with Art Smith

art smithAs an official media partner of this year’s Hawai‘i Food and Wine Festival, we’ll be interviewing several of the noteworthy chefs who be attending this year’s event, which runs Aug. 29 through Sept. 7.

Chef Art Smith will be returning to the Hawai’i Food and Wine Festival and cook at two events — HMAA Presents Keiki in the Kitchen: Food, Fitness & Fun! on Saturday, Sept. 6 and It’s a Food World After All on Sunday, Sept. 7.

Smith is executive chef and co-owner of restaurants that span the country, including Table fifty-two in Chicago; Art and Soul in Washington D.C.; Southern Art and Bourbon Bar in Atlanta; Joanne Trattoria in New York; and LYFE Kitchen in Palo Alto, Calif. He was Oprah’s personal chef for adecade and has earned the James Beard Foundation’s coveted Humanitarian of the Year award. Now Smith does special appearances and events around the world in an effort to bring people together over food.

We’re excited to have you back at the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival. What gets you excited to be cooking for an entirely different and new set of people each year?

4M0E8139rtHi_resHow could anybody not be excited about cooking on your beautiful island and that amazing aloha spirit? Its fun to cook for nice people.

You’re one of the most decorated chefs ever. What is rewarding about the work you do, and what do you enjoy about the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival?

It makes me happy that I make others happy. Every chef wants people to love his food regardless of awards. The festival is small, but big, on great chefs from across the Pacific Rim and the Mainland. Who doesn’t like being around such greatness? Also, my friendship with Chef Alan Wong goes back over 30 years at the world famous Greenbrier. His stories of his love of the islands made me excited all those years ago. After competing on the first “Top Chef Masters,” when Chef Roy Yamaguchi gave me a chicken, I fell in love with this very kind, sweet man. Both of them have worked hard to make this festival best in the world.

4M0E8235BrtHi_resWhat Hawaii foods do you miss while you’re away?

I love and adore ahi tuna prepared any way. I also love poke and prefer it grilled or made into sushi. The ramen is probably the best in the world. Liliha Bakery’s Coco Puffs take me to another world. Delicious! And who doesn’t love the old diner atmosphere?

What’s on your Hawaii bucket list?

Another tour of the island, including a hop over to Maui. And make sure there are lots of plate lunches.

What do you like to eat while you’re here in Hawaii?

Dinner at Alan Wong’s Restaurant guarantees lots of delicious flavors, multiple courses, and his breads and desserts are the best. I love and adore Roy’s in Waikiki, and I also look forward to a great ramen place because I can never get enough of it. I want to check out Hank’s Haute Dogs. It has Chicago roots and from what I’ve heard, their hot dogs are nothing like anyone else’s in the world.

HFWF14-Keiki-HMAA-WebsiteHMAA Presents Keiki in the Kitchen: Food, Fitness & Fun! Saturday, September 6, 2014. Honolulu Zoo. $5 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Buy tickets

This family culinary outing features celebrity chefs cooking healthy, yet nutritious dishes, food trucks by Street Grindz, fitness and friendly physical challenges and a farmers market.

HFWF14-Food-World-hires_0It’s a Food World After All Sunday, September 7, 2014. Ko Olina Resort with Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, and JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa. VIP $500 | General $200. VIP Early Entry & Reserved Seating at 5:00 p.m. | General Entry at 6:00 p.m. Buy tickets

Fifteen celebrity chefs will prepare a feast under the stars at the lagoon fronting Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa and JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa.

Q&As with other Hawaii Food and Wine Festival chefs
5 questions with Adam Richman
5 questions with Jose Garces
5 questions with Christina Tosi
5 questions with Masaharu Morimoto
5 questions with Marcel Vigneron
5 questions with Ming Tsai