Most of us in Hawaii are familiar with Cantonese flavors, but in recent years new expats and immigrants from China have brought flavors from Taiwan, Shanghai, Sichuan and more. The menu at the new King Restaurant & Bar is a broader and deeper representation of Chinese cuisine, with dishes that are a cut above most neighborhood Chinese eateries. Since the chef honed his cooking chops at Legend Seafood and Au's Garden, you'll also find tried-and-true local favorites.
King Restaurant is in the former Million Pocha space, so in addition to a main dining area there are small private rooms that double as karaoke rooms (you need a minimum of eight people to reserve one). It's BYOB for now, and the combination of good food and a 2 a.m. closing time give it lots of potential to become one of Honolulu's best spots for late-night food and drink.
Here are some of our early favorites.
Prawns with vermicelli and XO sauce, $18.95
A standout dish bathed in the umami bomb that is XO sauce — the ultimate luxurious condiment from Hong Kong, made with dried scallops, dried shrimp, sometimes dried ham, garlic, chilies and various flavorings depending on the chef. The shrimp are perfectly cooked, and prepped so that you can eat shell and all if you like. The vermicelli has a kick that sort of sneaks up on you, so take your time.
Fish maw soup with crab, $15.95 (serves 4)
The subtle flavor of this soup really lets the crab shine through. With the exception of a few places, fish maw, or dried swim bladders, isn't commonly found on menus in Hawaii. It's not a particularly strong flavor, but is still satisfying and light.
Salt and pepper pork chop, $12.95
A familiar item on many menus here, this was easily the best salt and pepper pork chop I've had in Hawaii. Extremely moist and tender with plenty of flavor, this would go great with a cold beer. Too bad I didn't know it was BYOB at the time. Though the menu does indicate that it's a spicy dish, we didn't pick up on too much heat.
"Mouthwatering Chicken" in chili sauce, $16.95 for a half-chicken
Boy, does this dish live up to its name. Essentially similar to the Hainanese chicken but with a slightly spicy explosion of flavor. We pick up on garlic, black beans, peanuts and all kinds of flavors in the sauce. It looks hotter than it is. Moist and flavorful, you can tell they're using good quality chicken.
Hainanese chicken, $16.95 for a half-chicken
Ask Melissa Chang or anyone else who knows this dish in Honolulu and they'll tell you no place in town does this dish exactly right. Though I haven't been to Singapore, I can say this is the best iteration I've had here. This is essentially a simple poached chicken dish with a ginger onion sauce and a spicy ginger-garlic sauce; it’s usually accompanied by rice cooked in the chicken broth and a steaming cup of that broth and is synonymous with the cuisines of Singapore and Malaysia. This one is pure chicken, no rice or broth. Because of an error, we ordered Hainanese chicken, instead were delivered the Mouthwatering Chicken and once the mistake was discovered, got our original order as well. What a bonus!
Our server was really attentive, everything came out quickly and overall the atmosphere is more modern than most neighborhood Chinese restaurants. I'll be back many more times, maybe for a late-night fix of salt-and-pepper pork chops and other items I'd like to try. King Restaurant & Bar is a great new spot to celebrate Chinese New Year. And we're definitely booking one of those karaoke rooms.
King Restaurant and Bar
1340 Kapiolani Blvd.
Daily 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
On-site parking in back on Makaloa Street