By Kelli Shiroma
Grilled cheese appeals to the inner kid in all of us. I still get that giddy feeling whenever I see a grilled cheese sandwich on a restaurant menu — no matter how grown-up it claims to be.
In honor of National Grilled Cheese Day today (April 12) and National Grilled Cheese Month (the entire month of April), here’s Our Top 5: grilled cheese sandwiches.
No. 5: Amuse Wine Bar, Mini grilled cheese, $7
Let’s be clear: The mini grilled cheese at Amuse is different from the one downstairs at Stage Café, which is panini style with Havarti, Cheddar and Asiago cheeses.
Amuse’s gourmet grilled cheese is in a league of its own, with Havarti and a white truffle oil that makes it rich and savory. I especially love the buttery taste and spongy texture of the toasted white bread.
Tip: The mini grilled cheese is only $5 during happy hour, which is Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. Save a couple bucks so you can splurge on dessert.
Amuse Wine Bar • 1250 Kapiolani Blvd., 2nd floor • Ala Moana • 237-5428
No. 4: Tchin Tchin, Stinky grilled cheese sandwich, $10
This sandwich’s name had me intrigued and a little worried. But the taste is actually mild. No wonder it’s already a crowd favorite at this new Chinatown wine bar.
Each lightly grilled triangle is filled with Taleggio triple-cream Italian cheese, which is soft and gooey without turning into an oily mess. The onion marmalade has a distinctive taste that complements the cheese nicely, and the plate comes with pickled vegetables that are made in-house. This grilled cheese is unforgettable — and not just because of its name.
The Tchin Tchin Bar • 39 N. Hotel St. • Chinatown • 528-1888
No. 3: The Nook, Asian pear grilled cheese, $11
A lunch menu item, the Asian pear grilled cheese is popular with eaters looking for a lighter entrée. It veers exotic — a melted blend of Cheddar, Fontina, thinly sliced Asian pears and caramelized onions between slices of ciabatta.
You taste the Cheddar and Fontina equally, the pear and onions add a hint of sweetness and the ciabatta is fresh and crispy. The Nook doesn’t skimp on ingredients, but this lunch doesn’t leave you feeling heavy either.
While sandwiches usually come with daily greens, opt for the polenta fries instead. Whether you choose the blue cheese and balsamic combo (my favorite) or garlic Sriracha aioli, you won’t regret spending the additional $1.50.
The Nook Neighborhood Bistro • Puck’s Alley, 1035 University Ave. • University • 942-2222
No. 2: Button Up Café, Kalua pork grilled cheese, $6.95
While this quaint Pearl City café is known for its stuffed strawberry cheesecake French toast, the two grilled cheese options on the lunch menu shouldn’t be overlooked. The bulgogi grilled cheese is more popular, but the kalua pork grilled cheese is my preference.
This sandwich is so loaded, the meat spills from between the ciabatta slices with every bite. The Cheddar cheese isn’t overly melted but it melds with the kalua pork, which is tender, succulent and flavorful, with the perfect amount of spice and smokiness.
You can get this for breakfast if you ask. And meat served at Button Up, from the corned beef to short ribs, is made in-house with no MSG. You can almost kiss that guilt trip good-bye.
Button Up Café • 719 Kamehameha Hwy. • Pearl City • 454-5454
No. 1: Kissaten Coffee Bar, Grilled cheese, $6.50
For me, the phrase “grilled cheese” is best symbolized by Kissaten’s concoction. Gooey Cheddar and Gouda pull in strings when you bite in, and sandwiched between thin slices of golden-brown grilled white bread, you’ll also find bacon and Fuji apple.
Every mouthful is sheer bliss. The cheeses oozes, the apple adds a juicy crunch and there’s just enough bacon to deliver bursts of saltiness. The only thing that would make this grilled cheese better? More of that crunchy bacon.
Kissaten Coffee Bar • 88 Piikoi St. • Ala Moana • 593-1200
Hungry for more Our Top 5 rankings? Here’s the complete list.