Usually hidden gems come through people who live or work in an old neighborhood and have known about the place for years. But this one is sort of new, and I had to find out about it through someone visiting Hawaii. Even weirder, though, is the fact that this is in my old neighborhood.
I was having dinner with some foodie friends, including Japanese food blogger Sean Morris — who coincidentally grew up in the same area as me and went to all the same schools. He brought Greg Luntzel, who was in town with the stunt crew filming the movie “Kong: Skull Island.” As Greg raved about a great burger place that he and his wife accidentally found on Pauoa Road, Sean and I started exchanging raised eyebrows across the table. We went to Kawananakoa Middle School and know the area well. How did we not know about this place?
The next day, we booked it over to Burgers and Things. It’s next to Pauoa Chop Suey, and you can maybe find parking on the street or in one of the six stalls in the back of the green building, against the wall.
The large blackboard is pretty much their standard menu; the small one to the left changes daily. Don’t forget to look at the pieces of paper taped above the blackboards! They also have regular paper menus next to the cash register, so you can take it home. Don’t you love the names of their items?
You can choose to sit at the counter, which is good for short people, or at the long table by the window, which is better for groups. By the way, I’m not sure if you noticed, but the place is full of quirk. I wasn’t able to fit in photos of everything, but the owners and staff are total geeks about comics, collectibles, Star Wars, gaming, anime, manga, and more. The decor and accessories are a work in progress, some from co-owner Kara Shimamura’s personal collection, and some donated from friends who had things that look better displayed in a restaurant than in a 40-year-old virgin’s home. (Kidding! Kidding!) Cashier Ky Constantino said that if you are into Game of Thrones, like really into Game of Thrones, they’ll even talk to you in that special language they speak.
The first day we went in, this is who was there. From left, Ky Constantino, co-owners Kara Shimomura and Ernesto Limcaco, and Stanley Aburamen. Ernesto was previously the corporate chef for Y. Hata, and he dresses in his white chef jacket every day. He’s originally from San Francisco by way of the Philippines, and has been in the military — which is why he runs a tight ship and a spotless kitchen. There’s more to his story … way more to his story, but you should really go by to get to know all that. Kara was his intern when she was still in high school, and 11 years later when he decided to open this place, Ernesto brought her on as a partner.
The signature item is the juicy burger ($7), topped with lettuce, tomato, balsamic and aioli. You can choose a regular bun or a $1 upgrade to a pretzel bun, and cheese is $1 extra. And of course, they have several cheeses to choose from. Their signature burgers are cooked well done, and braised overnight in Ernesto’s secret jus to ensure that they are juicy and tasty every time.
A variation on it is the teri burger ($7), which is dipped in their special teriyaki sauce. We tried the sauce by itself and found it to have a deeper, savory character rather than just the standard shoyu-sugar. Greg, who told us about the place, is completely in love with the juicy burger, but I think more locals will prefer the teri.
For a treat that won’t break the bank, we highly highly highly recommend the “Wagyu Say?!” burger ($10.75). This one is cooked medium rare and braised in a whole grain mustard jus, topped with sautéed mushrooms (we hear there are five) and onions on a bed of creamy horseradish. We like it on the pretzel bun, which is soft enough to soak up the jus but still holds up. This is super juicy, beefy, and savory with all the flavors you dream of in a burger. Grab lots of napkins for this one.
Another very addicting choice would be the “Ni’ihau Lamb Bam Thank You Ma’am” burger ($12). The lamb patty is braised in a honey, mint, and Jerez vinegar (sherry vinegar) jus and topped with their bacon, apple, maple (B.A.M.) jam. It is on a bed of honey pesto, and we ordered it with manchego cheese to change it up. This is super moist, not gamey at all, and the strong sweetness of the jam goes really well with the meatiness of the lamb.
Here’s where I have mixed feelings, though: The brie and B.A.M. sandwich ($5) sounds pretty good, but the jam makes it a little too sweet. I would recommend you order extra bacon ($1.50) with it if it is available. Or, since it’s only $5, get the next item, below, if it is available, as it goes well with the sweet sandwich.
If you are lucky enough to be there on the day they are serving “Every Day I’m Trufflin'” truffle and five-mushroom bisque ($5), you may get greeted with a sample of the lovely bowl of umami. It is good on its own or with any of the sandwiches, of course.
I was surprised at how much I liked “I Like Pork Butts (and I cannot lie)” kalua pig sandwich ($7.75, and the American cheese is included) because it seems like a lot of pulled pork sandwiches are too oily or too dry, with not enough flavor. Not this one. It’s got the smokiness that you expect from kalua pork, and it’s very moist, but not greasy. The honey mustard slaw adds sweetness and tang, with a fresh texture to contrast the tender meat.
No fancy names here: This was straight up, a plate of braised short ribs done osso bucco style with gremolata and penne ($16) and let me tell you, it was legit. The meat was super soft, and the gravy was savory, garlicky, hearty and slightly tangy from the herbs and vegetables. The only complaint I have on this one is that it wasn’t served with rice or at least some bread, so we could mop up all the gorgeous sauce it was swimming in.
If you want to be healthy, they do have salads. The Caesar is $2.50 and house salad is just $1.50; this is a half portion since I was splitting it with Sean. I should warn you that the Caesar dressing is very garlicky, so don’t eat it before a client meeting.
Kara makes some fancy desserts, like this tarte tartin with a scoop of ice cream. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to eat this since that time I got drunk in Paris … but that’s another blog post for another day.
Kara only makes this butter mochi bread pudding once a month. The salted honey caramel sauce is something I’d want to drizzle over ice cream, for sure, but it is pretty sweet. It’s not bad, but more for people who like very sweet desserts.
Dessert winnah on our first visit: The citrus bars ($3). These are made with lemons, limes, lilikoi (with the seeds in!), maybe oranges, and possibly pomelos. Kara gets fruits from a friend and whips these up with whatever is on hand. They’re not too sweet, not too tart. Not too rancid … but jus’ right, ah!
I made sure to shoot this in front of a Conan The Barbarian poster to show you the depth and breadth of their geekdom here. Most comic fans are heavily into the superheroes, but how many of you are into this dark tale from the Hyborian Age and the subsequent spinoffs? I actually know this whole series because my brothers were into it in the 1970s. If you’re going to eat dessert in front of a warrior wielding a bloody axe, you better know (and respect!) what you are looking at.
Further confirmation that this place is a winner — not that we needed any more validation — was the surprise of seeing Greg Luntzel show up with his crew after they wrapped up “Kong: Skull Island” stunt filming. He loved the place so much, he wanted everyone to try it. These guys have eaten all over the world together, too, so they know a good burger when they get it. You can see their work in “Captain America 3,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Fast and Furious 7.” Be watching for Kong, plus “The Bourne Identity 5” and “Fast and Furious 8” (and the ninth one, too).
Thanks for the recommendation, Greg. We’ll be back.
Burgers and Things
1991 Pauoa Rd
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.