If Terrace House filmed a second season of Aloha State, ZIGU would be the locale for a pivotal first date episode. Its ambiance evokes the uber oshare or stylish vibe of a converted home on LA's Melrose Avenue, while its Hawaii farm-to-table menu amplifies the trendiness. Rustic nuances and meticulous attention to detail work so harmoniously that Zigu, which opened only weeks ago, exudes confidence. The name means "eat local," a trait it shares with sister restaurants Aloha Table, Goofy Cafe and Dine and Heavenly. The difference is that Zigu is an izakaya.
The sake list includes many of my favorites including Tedorigawa yamahai junmai ($11 a glass or $70 a bottle), whose smooth body and dry finish pair great with grilled or smoked dishes. It's presented in a chilled carafe complete with a sake card. If you're unsure what sake to start with, a sampler flight of three recommended labels will run you just $16.
Staying true to their focus on local, Zigu lists craft brews from Honolulu Beerworks ($5.80 a pint) and interesting beer cocktails made with local ginger, turmeric and kale. Shochu lovers will be glad to find Haleiwa's Namihana imo shochu, a spirit distilled from local sweet potatoes, and a few shochu cocktails like the Namihana caipirinha and mojito drinks ($13 each).
As with any izakaya, shareable small plates that pair well with alcohol make up the bulk of the menu. The menu is filled with local purveyors like Aloha Tofu, OK Poultry, Two Lady Farms and more. Nearly every ingredient has some sort of Hawaii tie, something you don't expect at an izakaya.
Start your bites with the applewood-smoked Waimana egg and potato salad ($7). An interplay of texture and taste, this unassuming side dish was a standout of my meal. Crispy PikNik potato strips add a subtle crunch to a mound of potato and smoky egg bits and make this easily one of the best potato salads I've had.
The fried Aloha Tofu okara and Ewa sweet corn balls ($8.50) are delightful. Sitting in a sweet soy and Waimanalo ginger glaze, they're quite poppable. Deep green stalks of young warabi fern or hoio are a nice touch on this and many of the small plates.
Speaking of eating your greens, the local kale udon with basil pesto ($13) is perhaps the healthiest thing I've eaten in my life. The noodles are made with pureed kale; slurping up the last, I felt so fresh and so clean! All joking aside, this is a dish that makes you appreciate everything that goes into growing and preparing the kale udon, Sumida Farm watercress and fresh basil pesto with macadamia nuts.
Other vegan dishes on the menu include a Hawaiian vegetable sushi roll ($11.50) and a local cucumber roll ($5).
The local pork belly laulau is a pinnacle of the menu. I had to do a double take when I saw laulau on an izakaya menu, but at the behest of my server, I ordered it: Pono Pork kakuni pork belly tender enough to part with chopsticks, and a too-small serving of well-seasoned taro leaves. The sweetness from the pork belly balances well with the salty leaves. Mochi-wrapped macadamia nuts were a little confusing, but when I understood them as a rice substitute that could soak up the laulau juice, it all clicked.
Other items worth another visit include a heart of palm tempura ($11), Caesar salad with Naked Cow Dairy feta ($8), a teriyaki ahi kama ($24) and a seasonal mango kuzumochi ($7.50).
I thought local food interpreted though a Japanese lens might end up somewhere between "missing the point" and "new direction," but Zigu has proved me wrong. This locally sourced menu in an izakaya setting is not just cool, it's tottemo oishii!
413 Seaside Ave.
Monday - Saturday 4 p.m. - 1 a.m.