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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 1, 2002

For pizza or ramen, here are 2 top local spots

 •  Dining Page

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Shirley Shimamoto serves up a pizza of pepperoni, cheese, black olives and green peppers at La Pizza Rina. The restaurant's marinara sauce is its strength.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Two very worthy little places lead the way for this month's column. One is primarily a pizza place, but oh so good, and the other, well, it's a top-notch ramen house, tucked away and ready to feed you.

La Pizza Rina
1425 S. King St.
Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays;
Dinner 5-9 p.m. Sundays

When the American Dairy Association conducted a random survey, it found pizza to be America's fourth-most-craved food, behind cheese, chocolate and ice cream.

A favorite comfort food such as this, whether it's eaten in, ordered to go or delivered to your door, is always so satisfying, the sum greater than its parts. That explains why each man, woman and child in America eats an average of 46 slices (23 pounds) of pizza a year.

Food geeks such as myself keep a close eye on the Pizza Marketing Quarterly Web site (PMQ.com) for up-to-date pizza news and a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun.

For instance, did you know the 11th annual World Pizza Championship will be held in Italy in April? Categories of competition are best traditional pizza, best gourmet pizza, largest pizza stretching and best "freestyle" pizza performance (conjures up some kooky images, eh?).

La Pizza Rina's strength, in my opinion, is its marinara sauce. It's rich but not thick, herbal without the oregano overload so many places are guilty of. The crust is chewy and flavorful, but be sure to ask for your pizza well done if you enjoy a more crunchy crust. (As for takeout, I like to reheat pizza very slowly in a large nonstick frying pan, with a cover on.)

Don't expect sexy gourmet-style pizza, wood-burning ovens, or fancy-shmancy toppings such as barbecued anything, shrimp or shredded duck confit.

This is anchovy, Canadian bacon, garlic, onion, Italian sausage and meatball territory, my friend. The cheese pizza (12-inch small, $8; 14-inch medium, $9; 16-inch large, $10.95) is the purist's choice. But the pepperoni used here is not too greasy or salty. And vegetarians can delight in the standard nonmeat toppings: mushroom, fresh tomato, spinach, green peppers, etc. They'll even hand-toss a thin, medium or thick crust for you on request.

While you're at it, try one of the pasta specials. The lasagna ($6.25 with meat sauce, $6.75 with two meatballs, $7.55 with two sausages) is quite good, as is the cannelloni ($6.50, $7, $7.80) and the spinach fettuccine ($5.50, $6, $6.80). A selection of salads, sandwiches and submarines rounds out the selections here.

La Pizza Rina offers good, honest and simple food in an extremely casual neighborhood setting. The people who run the place are nice folks, too.

. . .

Tai Sei House of Ramen
800 S. Beretania St.
10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 10:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sundays

There are times when a steaming hot bowl of ramen becomes the perfect food. What makes these noodles so satisfying is the confluence of sensory factors.

It's oral. It's fun to slurp long, slippery noodles. Sometimes the dangling noodle, with a life of its own, may take a detour on the way to your mouth and smack you on the nose or your chin. How could you possibly have a care in the world when ramen is in your bowl?

It's flavorful. Ramen's broth, liquid gold when it's at its best, is fragrant and flavorful. It's the underlying foundation to a bowlful o' fun.

Special ingredients and other toppings offer many varied tastes and textures, bringing this noodle soup to (borrowing from TV chef Emeril Lagasse) "levels unknown to mankind."

It's primal. The payoff is when you take these strands of flour and water and show 'em who's the boss; get ready to chew, gnaw and nibble these babies into submission.

Tai Sei's menu is separated into six sections: soup noodles, fried noodles, crispy noodles, cold noodles, rice, and side orders.

The chicken katsu side order ($3) was crisp, with a feather-light panko coating without a trace of oil. The miso soup ($1) is a tasty bargain, and the crispy gyoza (four for $2.50, six for $3.50) presents a nice contrast of both soft and browned noodle surfaces.

The shoyu ramen ($5.25) is topped with char siu, vegetables and bean sprouts. The seafood ramen ($6.75, the priciest item on the menu) includes shrimp, scallop, squid and veggies. My favorite here is the mabo tofu ramen ($5.95, also available as a yakisoba topping), a brown gravy-ish sauce with morsels of spicy pork hash and lots of tofu chunks.

Tai Sei is a great place to do the noodle dance. It's big, bright and very clean. The air conditioner is so efficient that even the hottest day is quenched of its heat once you step inside.

More than 50 dishes are offered, making this eatery worth seeking out.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com.