Two Japan-based restaurants are widening the lunch and dinner choices at Ala Moana Center’s Makai Market Food Court.
Steak Teppei opened its first U.S. location last month , specializing in sirloin seasoned and sauced with a big garlic punch.
Right next door, Ramen Bario opened its second restaurant Saturday after impressing customers with its signature tonkotsu (pork) broth for three years at Waikiki Yokocho.
To celebrate opening day, Bario ran a special on the first 1,000 basic bowls, worth $10.99, for only $1.
Open 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays
Prices: $13.95 to $15.95 for plates with two sides; $11.95 to $13.95 for bowls with rice
The restaurant chain was founded in the 1970s to give young people an opportunity to eat affordably priced steak, then considered a rich man’s food; it now has five locations in Tokyo.
The star of the menu is called Crazy Garlic Steak to glorify its pungent flavor.
The highly seasoned, bite-sized chunks of beef can stand on their own, but for added flavor, customers may choose one of three sauces: Garlic Punch, Sukiyaki Sweet and Wasabi Spicy. The first delivers an especially potent wallop.
Garlic shrimp and a loco moco are also on the short menu, which will be expanded in the next month to include chicken, pork and additional sides. The most expensive plate is the steak, for $15.95; all come with shredded cabbage, rice and mashed potatoes.
Two other sauces that accompany each plate are also laced with garlic — soy sauce butter, a favorite in Japan and great on the mashed potatoes; and a “secret” dressing that goes with anything, not just salad. Only six chefs in the Teppei chain know the flavorsome dressing recipe, said Kanako Nako, marketing director. Her only hint was that no mayonnaise or milk products are used to give it its creaminess.
Nako said chef Toru Ogura devotes a lot of time to tenderizing and marinating the beef before it hits the teppanyaki (flat plate) griddle. He created the dipping sauces, keeping in mind local preferences for sweetness and strong garlic, and even tried his hand at a loco moco.
General manager David Nako (Kanako Nako’s cousin) is familiar with local tastes, having cooked at booths in Ala Moana’s Shirokiya Japan Village Walk.
Kanako Nako said the company considered Hawaii ideal as a launching site for other possible locations on the U.S. mainland, given its large Japanese population and many tourists from Japan.
Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, until 7 p.m. Sundays
Prices: $11 to $23; $16 to $41 for family-sized bowls. Additional toppings $1 to $2; ultra or double char siu portions for $10 to $28. Side dishes $5 to $11
The point of pride here is a creamy ramen broth rich in flavor and texture.
Ramen Bario is one of the few restaurants in Hawaii or Japan to use pig heads in addition to thigh bones to flavor its tonkotsu (pork) broth. Spokesman Koichi Hozumi said the head, including the brain, gives the broth a sweeter, more umami taste — “It’s a funky ingredient, but that’s where the flavor comes from.”
The head and bones are cooked more than 24 hours to extract all the good stuff, resulting in a sturdy broth enriched with pork fat.
The chain opened its first U.S. location in the Waikiki Shopping Plaza in 2016. Locals who venture there sometimes outnumber the Japanese tourists, Hozumi said, so the owners thought they’d do well outside the tourist hub, at a place more convenient for locals, where parking is free.
Company Vice President Hayato Otake will manage the new site and supervise the kitchen, Hozumi said, “so the quality is the same; this is the real flavor from Japan.”
In response to customer requests in Waikiki, Bario’s new location will offer thinner noodles, made in the local Sun Noodle factory, following Bario’s recipe; and the broth will be creamier to balance the thin noodles.
Bestsellers are double char-siu ramen, including the sweet Chinese pork plus three garnishes; and green onion ramen, with what Hozumi called a “humongous amount” of the refreshing chopped onions piled on, along with char siu, pickled ginger and wood ear mushrooms. Both bowls have “mega” and “ultra” versions, with enough of the featured ingredient to satisfy a family.
The smallest, simplest bowl is $11. Customize with a poached egg or any of 12 toppings, such as fried garlic or nori. Or make it an extravagant meal with char siu portions in two sizes.
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