Ramen at Yotteko-Ya (Honolulu, HI)


yotteko-ya

Yasai Paitan Ramen

Yotteko-Ya is hard to find at first. There is no restaurant with that name on the outside, only one that says “Kyoto Ramen.” It’s located on the second floor at the west end of the McCully Shopping Center.

Yotteko-Ya is primarily a ramen restaurant, though a few other Japanese items are offered on the menu. For example, we’ve read that the chicken karaage is excellent. Their specialty consists of a paitan base, a broth that has been 10 hours in the making, using “pork, the freshest chickens and 10 different vegetables and spices.” In the process, collagen is extracted from the bones, yielding a thicker, milky broth that is highly prized in Kyoto and by ramen fans around the world. It isn’t as thick as kotteri tonkotsu, which therefore makes paitan more accessible if you’re put off by kotteri’s extreme porkiness and thickness.

The subtlety of the broth here is somewhat different from those we’ve had before with ramen. This doesn’t mean that it lacks flavor. There is both refinement and richness, balanced with no specific quality dominating any other. And it isn’t over-salted either. Too much salt can mask defects in the broth. Yotteko-Ya is confident you’ll enjoy the broth; they provide you with a large-bowled, long-handled spoon, whose underside looks like it’s fashioned out of an ohitsu container.

There are five versions of paitan available, differing primarily in the quantity of chashu that come with it. My wife picked the standard paitan ($7.45, two chashu slices), while I chose one with vegetables (Yasai Paitan Ramen, $8.95), which included not only a single slice of chashu but cabbage, onions, bean sprouts, negi (Japanese green onions) and carrot.

Any of these ramen can be ordered in either of two noodle textures: the traditional “Japanese style,” which is boiled al dente; the other is called “local style,” a softer (and therefore longer cooked) noodle. We both opted for the former. As anyone who appreciates great Asian noodle soups will agree, the texture of the noodle is as important as the flavor of the broth. Here, the pasta cooked al dente rewards you with a wonderful firmness and chewiness that, for reasons having to do with economy and expediency, is not found in most ramen restaurants.

Now a word about the kakuni, those slices of pork that resemble chashu. They are flat-out addictive. Unlike Chinese char siu, they are very tender with teriyaki flavors with savory undertones (dashi). They tease you with a single slice in the yasai paitan. After one bite, I was compelled to get a side order of 5 pieces ($3.50), they were so good. Paitan Chashu Ramen ($8.95) gets you 5 pieces right off the bat (but no vegetables), while a “block” comes in the Kakuni Paitan ($10.95).

Yotteko-Ya is a superb ramenya. I’m already looking forward to a return visit.

yotteko-bar
Yotteko-Ya
1960 Kapiolani Blvd #214
Honolulu, HI 96826
808.946.2900
Menu

Liliha Bakery (Honolulu, HI)


We stopped at Liliha Bakery on the way back from Helena’s. Customers come here for the coco puffs. There was a line to order the bakery items. A cafe inside also serves meals, breakfast apparently being the favorite time. For the puffs, you get your choice of original, green tea, chocolate or custard, although it’s beyond me why custard is a separate kind. It seems to be in all of them. The custard is lightly sweet and creamy, surrounded by a tender, eggy shell. The effect is not unlike a good cream puff. As of this writing, they are $1.35 apiece. Personally, I didn’t find these desserts to be compelling enough to warrant a return visit. They are certainly good, but Leonard’s is mo betta pastry.

Liliha Bakery
515 North Kuakini Street Honolulu, HI 96817
808.531.1651
Baked goods

Helena’s Hawaiian Food (Honolulu, HI)


The last few days have been really blustery. Strong winds have been blowing across all the Hawaiian Islands, gusting up to 30mph right here in Honolulu, not exactly conducive to hiking weather. So we made a decision to stay in town.

Our day out to Kalihi started out pretty badly. Bishop Museum turned out to be closed. A visit to the bus pass center (about 1.5 miles away) to purchase a senior pass didn’t work out either. But, our day wasn’t a total loss because we got to eat at Helena’s, which is popular among the locals and much less known among tourists, likely because it is quite out of the way. It takes about 30 minutes to get here by bus. To add to its distinction, Helena’s was a James Beard Regional Classics Award Recipient in 2000.

Kalua pig with cabbage

Like Ono’s, Helena’s is a hole-in-the-wall diner that serves delicious island food. It’s less expensive than Ono’s and you can order a bunch of small portions a la carte, although plate lunches are also available. We took the small plate route: Kalua pig with cabbage ($3.80), luau squid ($3.60), long rice chicken ($3.60), pipikaula short ribs (small order, $4.70), poi ($2.60) and rice. The Kalua pig (☆☆☆½) is made in an imu (underground oven). The result is fork-tender and wonderfully smoky in flavor (more so than Ono’s).

Long rice chicken

The long rice chicken is basically chicken cooked together with rice noodles, ginger and broth. Helena’s is not bad (☆☆½); the chicken was dry. My wife and I both recall enjoying the version at Sib’s in LA, and we don’t recall it being soupy.

Pipikaula

The star of the show is definitely the pipikaula (☆☆☆☆). Instead of boneless beef flank steak (like Ono’s), theirs are made with beef short ribs that are first marinated and then hung to dry over an oven. When ready to serve, they are fried in hot oil to crispy perfection. Even the slightly charred edges of fat exploded with flavor. These are best eaten out of hand (your fingers will be slathered in grease). There is also occasional pockets of gristle to get past (unless you enjoy eating it), but most of the pieces are meaty. Don’t forget to dip them in chili water and sprinkle with a little rock salt. The hearty beef flavor lingers long after the bones are discarded.

Squid luau

An island staple you won’t find in many places is squid luau. This dish superficially resembles Indian palaak, but the greens are taro leaves (luau) that have been long simmered with squid and coconut milk. Helena’s squid is chopped up; in other versions, you’re likely to get the entire tentacles. We’ve never had anything like this, but it definitely was delicious (☆☆☆).

Highly praised is Helena’s haupia (☆☆☆½). To me, there isn’t a more quintessential Hawaiian dessert than this. Helena’s is smooth and has a robust coconut flavor. The poi was sour, an indication that it has been fermented longer than, say, Ono’s. It has been likened to eating yogurt. How much tartness you like is a matter of preference. The chile water has a yellowish tinge, unlike Ono’s, which is more reddish. It has more chile potency than Ono’s and is saltier. Sliced onions and red rock salt also were provided.

Helena’s is onolicious. And the price is right, too.

Helena’s Hawaiian Food
1240 North School St.
Honolulu HI, 96734
808.845.8044
Menu