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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 14, 2002

Heat at Irifune doesn't necessarily come from the food

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Irifune is a popular spot among neighborhood people, but our critic found the food too ordinary to make him want to endure an uncomfortably warm dining room.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser


563 Kapahulu Ave.

Open Tuesdays-Saturdays Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; dinner, 5:30-9:30 p.m.

Take-out at lunch only



Food: 5 points

Ambience: 4

Service: 5

Total rating: 14 (of a possible 30)

Acoustics: Conversation-friendly

What's memorable? Sweltering dining room, good dipping sauce

Editor's note: Today we introduce a new ratings scale with our restaurant reviews, designed to give you a quick summary of Matthew Gray's critique and to easily assess food, ambience and service. Points are awarded on a scale for 1 (poor) to 10 (exceptional).

Irifune is a popular neighborhood restaurant. For the past 27 years, it's been in the same tiny location. I visited about eight years ago and wasn't crazy about the place and, after two recent meals, I still feel the same.

This funky Kapahulu eatery is always crowded at dinnertime, with a queue of hungry patrons waiting outside on the sidewalk.

I'd guess it's the neighborhood-hangout feel and affordable pricing that draw customers to Irifune. But when I'm physically uncomfortable (as I was here because of the heat), it is difficult to appreciate any experience. Add to this paper napkins and made-from-a-mix lemonade, and this restaurant has a lot of shortcomings to surmount. The food, however, is a mixed bag.

We began with an order of California-roll sushi ($3 for four pieces), which tasted quite good but, because the rolls had been made in advance, the nori was soft, not crisp. Other appetizers include yakitori (skewered teri chicken, $5.50), 'ahi-roll sushi ($3 for four pieces), breaded tofu with ginger sauce ($4) and yummy garlic mushrooms with tofu ($6). Three starters priced on an "as quoted" basis are sashimi, tataki sashimi (lightly seared), and new-wave poke.

Garlic 'ahi is Irifune's signature item — soft-textured, garlicky and seemingly flash-fried rather than seared on the grill. You can order this dish solo ($10), or in combination plates with other preparations such as shrimp and vegetable tempura ($11), or with a choice of barbecued chicken, garlic crab or tataki sashimi ($11). Miso soup is included with many dinners; otherwise, a bowl costs $1.50. The small bowl was filled with cubes of tofu, fresh bean sprouts and a lot of flavor. Of course, the entrées come with rice.

Tempura dinners are served with green salad, drizzled with garlic vinaigrette. You can choose from vegetable ($9), shrimp and vegetable ($10), or a mixed tempura plate with crab, shrimp, and vegetables for $13. The batter was not light and crunchy, and the tempura didn't arrive at the table piping hot as it should have. However, the dipping sauce was a fine blend of salty and sweet, the best part of this dish.

Other choices include chicken katsu and pork tonkatsu ($9.50), and a cutlet special ($11) that includes a vegetable omelet over chicken katsu. There are four garlic stir-fry dishes with vegetables — garlic tofu and/or garlic chicken ($9), garlic 'ahi ($11) and garlic seafood ($12). Japanese curries range from vegetable or chicken ($9), to seafood ('ahi and shrimp) to tonkatsu ($10.50).

Of course, this kind of local-style Japanese food lends itself to that island favorite, the plate lunch. A mixed plate (garlic 'ahi, barbecued chicken and veggie tempura) is $6.50. The bento includes garlic 'ahi, shrimp tempura and sashimi at $7.50.

Keep in mind that take-out orders are available only at lunchtime.

A simple but quite tasty dessert called ice cream crepe ($3.50) is the special here — a fresh crepe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream inside, and creamy yogurt and chunks of fresh mango on top.

I know many people enjoy the food here, but Irifune is not my cup of tea. You can find better food, presentation, value, ambience and service in a cooler, air-conditioned environment at many places around town.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com with comments, questions and suggestions.