Hidden Gem: Side Street Inn

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It's a little something of a misnomer to say Side Street Inn is a hidden gem. It qualifies on a technicality: It's situated in the middle of a back street that, though close to Ala Moana Center, isn't necessarily the easiest spot to find. But that's all that's vaguely "hidden" about it.

Side Street is a celebrated restaurant in Honolulu — winner of every culinary award under the sun, the go-to diner for chefs who work in Waikiki's hoity-toity restaurants, featured on Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations." But you wouldn't know it from its nondescript exterior. It's in the same spot it started in when self-taught chef Colin Nishida opened it 20 years ago — though it's expanded several times to keep up with demand. (Photos: 3D Travel, Inc.)

Nishida opened a new version of his restaurant, Side Street Inn on Da Strip, to give locals and visitors another option (it's featured in our Food Trip: Kapahulu Avenue), but most still make the pilgrimmage here to partake of Nishida's "local-style comfort food" at the original location.

The moniker is Side Street's, and it's perfect. It's home cooking with distinctively local flair and flavors, Pacific and Asian inspired and inflected, and anything but pretentious. It's tasty and comes in large portions. Go with a group, order several dishes and enjoy family style.

(I saw a large group of Japanese visitors leaving Side Street in three cabs. That's about the right size.)

We visited over the weekend to celebrate a birthday with some friends who own a local cupcake shop, so the Side Street staff were gifted with a couple dozen of their treats. We were gifted with a round of drink markers from the staff. (Yes, the staff is friendly and fun.)

The signature dish is the pan-fried pork chops (pictured above) — succulent, crispy on the outside, served simply with ketchup. It's a must-order. We also enjoyed the classic fried rice (with char siu and Portuguese sausage), crispy Chinese pork with hot mustard, sauteed mushrooms, a "Beer Man's Salad" (romaine, creamy Caesar dressing, pretzels, salami, parmesean and tomatoes), smoked ahi dip and spicy chicken, capped with an assortment of desserts: baked haupia (coconut) puffs, lilikoi creme brulee and the chocolate peanut butter crunch (pictured). Mine was accompanied by Side Street Inn's very own Rogue Ale.

Did we have enough people in our group to reasonably finish all this fabulous food? Let's just say we didn't have to take anything home.

Side Street Inn Restaurant & Lounge, 1225 Hopaka Street, Honolulu, 2 p.m.-2 a.m.,
lunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

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