1610 Haleukana St., Lihue; 808-245-2522. Lunch, dinner (weekdays). $
Chef Mark Oyama is the president of Mark’s Place, a casual dining spot on Kauai that opened in 1998.
Born and raised on the island, Oyama grew up with a love of the ocean. “My nickname was ‘water buffalo.’ I would never come out of the ocean. I’d come out to eat, but would go right back to dive, fish and swim.”
That lifestyle, in fact, led to his career choice. “Every weekend we had a party on the beach, and I enjoyed watching everyone enjoy food and come together. I knew that this is something that I wanted to do.”
A 1988 graduate of Kapiolani Community College, Oyama worked with chef Alan Wong at the Canoe House at the Mauna Lani resort on the Big Island, followed by stints at the French restaurant Bertrand in Connecticut and running the kitchen at a fishing lodge in Alaska.
In 1992 he returned to Kauai as a culinary instructor at Kauai Community College. “I was doing catering on the side, and people used to tell me that I should open up a restaurant.”
That became Mark’s Place.
Oyama’s executive chef is Gavin Onishi, a former student.
QUESTION: Describe your menu.
ANSWER: Local cuisine, a fresh special, an upscale item, desserts, upscale plate lunches. Our menu is small but people all over the island come to eat. For 12 years I never had a sign at my restaurant, and tourists would want to find it, but couldn’t see the sign, but would find it by asking around and talking to the locals. About 10 years ago I finally put a sign on the building.
Q: What does Mark’s Place bring to the Hawaii food scene?
A: My pride and joy is that we love to give back to the community, as the community is here to support us. Every Thanksgiving we cook about 900 meals and bring it to a central location, All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Kapaa. All groups of churches come together and sponsor that, and also deliver to homes to people who cannot come out, and to the elderly.
Q: Does the restaurant have a specific motto or mission?
A: Quality food, quality service at a quality price. We do a lot of weddings, funerals, first birthday parties, events. We do our own baking, wedding cakes. We are able to accommodate all requests.
Q: What is your most popular dish?
A: Mark’s Famous Mixed Plate — beef stew, teri beef and chicken katsu, with mac salad and fried noodles and rice. Everyone loves this plate, even the tourists.
Q: What are some other favorites?
A: Our teri beef and loco moco. We have a fresh fish special every day, I rely on my staff to create it, and that is really popular. We also take special orders for the holidays — pies, cakes, etc.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: I am lucky to have the best staff in the world.
Q: If you had to choose one thing to eat every day for an entire year, what would it be?
A: Good sashimi, I like it simple and good, just good flavor.
Q: What do you like to cook at home?
A: A good steak. I love being at the ranch and cooking for friends.
Q: What is the best part of your job?
A: Meeting people, to watch people enjoy what we do, the fruits of our labor. That’s what makes it worthwhile.
Anne Lee, sales manager for Dining Out, made this selection as her favorite neighbor island restaurant.