by Rob Lowe
What’s in a word? Today’s effort to entice our readers to experience a fine place to dine couldn’t possibly come under the heading of “Gourmandise,” if the context is gourmet eating, but that’s the name of the column the Weekender folks gave me, so, what the hell. Even though my object of gastronomic desire is a glorified hamburger joint, I suppose I can pigeon-hole it under the “gourmet’ category because the new Kua’Aina eatery on Aoyama-dori is really special. Saw their ad in Weekender where it’s billed as “the best.” Hey, it just might be exactly that!
If the name sounds sort of Hawaiian, it comes honestly: the “chain” that spawned it in Tokyo originated on the North Shore of Oahu, at Haleiwa. A new branch recently opened in Honolulu and doing just great business, according to a message we received from Kua’Aina President Terry Thompson. More on that later.
A bunch of us explored Kua’Aina last Saturday afternoon—including a couple of kids—and found it just delightful. Deal is, you enter on the street level and place your order at the counter. (They have a take-out counter adjacent, and it was doing good business while we were there.)
There are three floors up above, accessed by a colorful winding staircase. I snooped around and found two more floors above, but they were being used as storage space. I’ll set when they get real busy, these floors will be used for gorging customers, too. Great location.
Wooden tables fill the various levels, plus a couple of stools at a counter facing an enormous plate-glass window over-looking the busy Aoyama district below. Great for people-watching while noshing one of the terrific sandwiches offered therein. If you’re going to eat in the cafe, the drill is that you place your order downstairs where they give you a number. The waitress brings your grub as it’s elevated to your floor via a dumb-waiter, still piping hot.
While our children enjoyed a Coke, the grown ups had a cold Budweiser (¥400!) or so. Kiddy Burgers for the kiddies (¥530), plus french fries. Since I knew I was going to write about the joint, we ordered various stuff so as to compare and taste. Here’s what we had: Bacon Burger (1/3 lb. ¥950; 1/2 lb., ¥1,150). I had a BLT with avocado (¥1,100, plain BLT, ¥850) and it was just terrific. The Tuna with Avocado (¥1,100) also received raves.
As we read the menu, we decided what we’ll order next time at Kua’Aina: Pastrami on Hearth Rye (hot or cold, ¥1,050) and a Mahi Mahi sandwich (¥1,100). Also available are Roast Beef, Roast Turkey (hot or cold, ¥1,400 for the former, ¥1,100 for the latter) and a Pineapple Burger (¥1,050 or ¥1,250, depending on the size of the meat patty). Hit of the day for the burger eaters was the Kaiser rolls, amply covered with those little black seeds. What are those things?
Each sandwich or burger includes lettuce and tomato plus your choice of condiments. The veggies are garden fresh, the tomatoes huge and juicy. Picture perfect and really good. The salads, therefore, must be great. We didn’t order any, but they boast a green salad (just ¥250), tuna and turkey. Side orders include home-made french fries, cole slaw and a great, saliva-inducing pickle for ¥100.
Now, doesn’t that sound delicious? Well, it was. Is. Kua’Aina is kitty-corner across from Kinokuniya, just on the intersection on the corner leading down to the Blue Note. You can’t miss it. Look for the edifice depicted here in the photo. I got the idea they encourage take-out service. Call 3407-8001; they open at 11 a.m.
The in-house dining service is friendly and fairly swift. When we wondered why our order was taking a while, my wife went downstairs to check and reported, “They really take care and give a lot of effort in making each sandwich; you can tell they are proud of their work.”
President Thompson wrote, “This past May, Kua’Aina Haleiwa rolled into its 23rd year of business and, once again, for the 22nd consecutive time, we surpassed the last year’s sales. Our reputation for great burgers and deluxe sandwiches continues to attract visitors from all over the world.” He credits his hard-working, caring staff for this success which earned $1 million last year. The new Honolulu cafe is located in the Ward Shopping Area, “ideally located to attract both tourists and kamaainas.”
Kua’Aina was named as creating the “Best Hamburger” in the Honolulu Weekly’s “Best of Honolulu” survey. “We can’t help but have high expectations,” Terry Thompson wrote.
“Wish us luck!” We sure do, and the Tokyo store, owned by Four Seeds here, seems certain to succeed. Bet you anything there’ll be a chain soon. Can’t beat this new place!