Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 9, 2004

Eat till you drop at Makino Chaya's hot spot

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Grace Kobayashi of Kahala helps herself to the goodies at Makino Chaya. The all-you-can-eat restaurant, next door to Jimbo, is run by the owners of Todai Japanese seafood buffet in Waikiki and throughout the Mainland. Customers serve themselves at a salad bar and fried-food table and then order off the menu.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Makino Chaya

1936 S. King St.


Lunch: ($10.40) 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily

Dinner: ($20.40) 5:30-11 p.m. daily


Makino Chaya is the new hot spot in the location once occupied by King's Café, next door to Jimbo on King Street. It's nearly impossible, at least in the initial flush of its opening, to get in without a considerable wait.

So what's the deal with this place, anyway? Well, for starters, it's an all-you-can eat restaurant owned by Toru Makino, former owner of the Todai and Edokko buffet chains (the name, by the way, means something like "Makino's tea house"). The eat-till-you-drop concept has been tweaked slightly here, however.

There are no reservations taken except for the first dinner seating at 5:30. For the rest of the dinner service, and at lunch, it's first come, first served.

This is the drill: After being seated, you are invited to serve yourself at the salad bar and fried-food table. After that, all further dishes are ordered off the menu, to your heart's (or stomach's) content, for a flat price.

At dinner, the salad bar includes assorted sashimi, poke and sushi. When I visited recently, there was ocean (seaweed) salad, macaroni salad, crab salad, mahi-mahi, watercress, Caesar salad, cold noodles and more.

The fried-food table featured chunks of fried chicken similar to mochiko chicken, as well as fried oysters (steer clear of the sauce on the side and ask for wedges of lemon instead), and big-as-your-fist rice balls (onigiri), which are also fried and served plain or filled with salmon.

The entrée selection at lunchtime pales in comparison to the nighttime menu, but there's enough variety to give you a run for your money. Shrimp and vegetable tempura, butter-grilled salmon, pork sautéed with ginger and teriyaki chicken on rice led the way for me.

Several don (over rice) dishes are available, among them squid, pork katsu, chicken and egg, beef, maguro (raw tuna), and ikura (salmon eggs).

Noodles are all over the lunch menu as well: cold udon or soba with ponzu sauce, fried udon (yaki udon) with shoyu, shrimp curry over udon or soba.

It's easy to fill up too quickly when so many starchy items are included on each order. I prefer more protein than carbs these days, so dinner at Makino Chaya was enjoyable for me.

A huge seafood combination platter includes green mussels, fried soft-shell crab, scallops, fried shrimp and a baby ear of corn. Two different croquettes, one with crab and one with pumpkin, were flavorful and crunchy, resting on a brown sauce.

The restaurant also serves sea bass and butterfish misoyaki, pork stew, beef sukiyaki, chicken dumplings, fish cakes and Japanese sausages.

Many people were ordering the sushi, normally a pricey food. You definitely can get your money's worth here, though. The sushi mori plate changes depending on what's available but consists of about 10 different pieces, and may contain tuna, shrimp (ebi), raw shrimp (ama ebi), yellowtail, scallop, squid (ika), octopus (tako), sea urchin, tamago (omelet), red clam (hokki gai), cucumber temaki or salmon.

The ubiquitous California roll is available, as are a soft-shell crab roll, pickled veggie roll (oshinko) and moheji roll, a strange concoction of salmon, cream cheese and avocado (which made me pine for a bagel).

Desserts include ice creams (vanilla, azuki bean, green tea), along with mochi and sweet-bean jam, three organic cheesecakes and an organic green-tea cake. The cheesecakes include a plain New York-style, pumpkin and a chocolate choice. They were all quite dry and way too heavy to serve after a buffet meal. I was dismayed that fresh-fruit desserts are not on the menu.

I enjoyed most exploring Makino Chaya's first-of-its-kind-here concept, although I've wondered since why they don't just place everything on a buffet, let the patrons eat and run, and turn the tables that much faster. And even though you may have fun here, you won't find the normal delicacy, contrast, colors and lightness of Japanese cuisine.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com.