East Coast-style lobster rolls are hard to find in Hawaii. I was glancing through my Insta feed when a post from my foodie friend Rowena Salanga made me stop mid-scroll.
That's how I found out about Jolene's Market, newly opened in Chinatown Cultural Plaza. These are Maine lobster rolls with Cajun sauce, lettuce, onions, carrots, butter, slaw and mayo — and lemongrass, garlic and cilantro. What? I knew I needed to check it out ASAP.
Jolene’s Market is in the former Regal Bakery space. This place has quirk written all over it, and I mean that in the best way. It's an indoor food court with four vendors that all belong to the family that owned Regal Bakery, but now it’s run by their daughter, Jolene Lau.
Some backstory: Lau's family decided to make the Regal Bakery section smaller to offer more food options under one roof. She says her dad envisioned the space as a smaller version of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, with a fast-casual, dine-in concept and premiere seafood. Lau wanted a younger vibe in a fun food hall setting, so a colorful koi mural covers one wall, perfect for Instagram shots. There's plenty of seating and parking is easy to find in the plaza's parking structure.
Da Buttah Lobstah is on your left as you walk in — that’s where you’ll find the lobster rolls, sausage sandwiches and seafood boils. Next to it is Hong Kong Café, whose chef hails from Hong Kong and where you can find everything from braised beef soup, cake noodles and chow funn to braised pig feet, pork and shrimp won tons and roast pork. Lau's mom is from Hong Kong and wanted the authentic taste of the food she grew up with. Beyond these two stalls, Folly sells beers and wines by the glass and has a daily happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m., and Momo’s Desserts and Drinks offers coffee, tea, smoothies, Regal’s Bakery donuts and Dave’s Ice Cream.
But back to my main (no pun intended) quest: Getting my hands on the Maine lobster rolls.
Jolene’s Market gets Maine lobsters from Chun’s Meat Market on King Street (who knew?). The 4-inch roll is compact, but there’s a lot of fresh lobster meat packed in. This is a lobster roll where the seafood truly shines and the toppings and seasonings don’t detract. Butter drips out of the sandwich with each bite and the flavors of slaw, veggies and seafood are ultra umami but refreshing at the same time. The Cajun sauce delivers a nice kick but isn’t very spicy, and there's only a little mayo.
The bread comes from Daily Bread, a local Vietnamese bakery known for banh mi baguettes. I’m a firm believer that any good lobster roll has a solid foundation, and the spongy Japanese sandwich bread on this roll delivers. It's soft but good for gripping and can carry the weight of all the fresh lobster meat.
During my first visit, the clam chowder that's usually in the lobster roll combo isn’t available, so my lobster roll is only $12. Now the $15 combo is available again. From the reviews of friends who got the combo, I don’t think the lobster roll needs the chowder. Still, it's a deal: Jolene’s version is around the same size as EARL Kakaako's ($20 at brunch) and a little smaller than the one from Hamakua Café ($14.50). Livestock Tavern's lobster roll is currently $21 on the lunch menu) and Mariposa's lobster club sandwich is $29.
Da Buttah Lobstah’s full menu isn’t available yet, but Lau says it's coming soon. The menu is simple and focuses on seafood boils — you can get Single ($25), Premium ($40) or Deluxe ($60) combos that come with lobster tails, clams, sausage, snow crab legs and more. I’m sure the seafood boils will be delicious, but these lobster rolls alone are worth any trek to Chinatown.
100 N. Beretania St.
Mon-Th 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fri-Sat 9 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sun 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Parking in Chinatown Cultural Plaza