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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, October 23, 2005

Kamaaina return for bountiful seafood

Long lines begin to form outside at Makino Chaya's in Westridge as early as 45 minutes before opening.

Photos by Randy T. Fujimori

Makino Chaya

Where: Westridge Shopping Center, 98-150 Kaonohi St. (486-5100); 1936 S. King St. (955-5966), Mililani Marketplace, 94-780 Meheula (625-6200)

Hours: Daily lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner nightly from 5:30 to 9:30

Note: Reservations are highly recommended. An hour-and-a-half time limit is imposed.

Running his finger down the reservation book, Makino Chaya owner Toru Makino stopped at 283, the number of reservations they had for this Saturday, which, at the time, was still a week away.

"On average, we have more than 500 reservations on weekends and maybe 200 to 300 walk-ins on top of that," asserted Makino, who renovated his namesake Westridge restaurant late last month. "Look at all these reservations — they're weeks away."

Standing outside waiting for her girlfriend, Pat Shimomura said she forgot to make her reservation, but luckily she came early enough — a half hour to be exact, like the rest of the throng of hungry diners who formed a snaking line along the sidewalk — to snag a table.

"My girlfriend, who has to drive from Ewa Beach, loves it here," said the Kunia resident. "She always asks me, 'When are we going back to Makino's?'"

Waiau Elementary School teacher Scott Fang found his way back to Makino Chaya for August Ahrens Elementary School teacher Paula Igawa's retirement party.

Setting up a projector and screen in the back room, Fang said he likes Makino's prices and the wide selection of food.

"The last time we had a staff party here, we had some vegetarians," he said. "And they found enough dishes that suited their diets."

Not surprising, considering the multitude of dishes that Makino and his kitchen crew prepare every day for the buffet.

Pointing to the long row of chafing dishes, general manager Chris Mitchell raised his eyebrows and said, "It's a lot of food."

Once shown to their seats, a number of guests will make an immediate charge toward the hot items, while others will split off in another direction, heading for the sushi and huge mound of shrimp cocktail.

The scene is a feeding frenzy, in which patrons are all too eager to participate.

Shimomura moved with purpose and strategic precision, striding toward the sushi area.

"I love the maguro sushi," said Shimomura, who often comes here with husband Stan and grandson Lee Lippincott. "It's way better than anything else you'll find at other buffets."

Pat Shimomura dips a piece of pineapple in the chocolate fountain.
And so are the hot items, which include pepper steak, tori karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken), inch-thick kalbi ribs, baked mussels, chicken teriyaki, barbecue ribs, tako karaage, miso basa, and shrimp and vegetable tempura.

"And this is only lunch," Makino said. "For dinner, we'll have lamb chops, blue fin tuna, prime rib, and soft shell, Dungeness and snow crabs."

Makino's also showcases Maine lobster, going through 500 pieces on any given night.

"We even have an evening a la carte menu that guests can order from," Mitchell said. "This is on top of the buffet lineup."

Lunch, which is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., costs $12.98 Mondays through Thursdays, and $13.98 Fridays through Sundays.

Available nightly, dinner costs $24.98 Mondays through Thursdays, and $25.98 on weekends and holidays.

"For all the food they put out, it's a good deal," Fong said. "And plus, it's all-you-can-eat."

And the promise of eating as much as you want — or can —is what keeps kamaaina returning to Makino's.

"This is it," Shimomura said. "I won't go to any other buffet restaurant but this one. I love the food and the variety."