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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 26, 2006

Just the ticket: Where to go for pre-show bites

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Le Guignol, near the Blaisdell Concert Hall, serves fine French cuisine.

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Betty Pang chats with customers at the Green Door Cafe in Chinatown.

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Quick, simple, satisfying and in and out in an hour.

That's the ideal if you're eating out before a show.

And if your destination is the Hawai'i Theatre or the Blaisdell Concert Hall or Arena three venues with a regular slate of attractions this requires a little planning, an early start and luck at scoring a table at informal places that don't take reservations.

If your destination is the Waikiki Shell, there is the option of bringing your picnic fixings or buying a plate lunch and beer or wine there.

Of course, where to grab a bite, and still make the curtain, depends on what you're in the mood to have, how much time you have before the curtain rises, and, in some cases, a little footwork and strategy. Traffic en route is a definite factor, and you pretty much have to dispense with dessert and that second cuppa joe.

It's eat, then run.

Here are 12 places six convenient for Blaisdell events, six in the Chinatown area that have worked for me in the past. Even with planning and good intentions, however, the traffic factor on the road and in the restaurant will set the tone of your meal and perhaps influence your attitude by the time you're in the theater. A few places accept reservations.

Note: Many shows start on "Hawaiian time," giving you an extra 10 minutes to hele on.

HAWAI'I THEATRE-BOUND

  • Pho My Lan, 1160 Maunakea St. (528-3663), is my downtown savior. What makes it stand out from the rest of the pho flock? Even with crowds, there's vast seating space late arrivals almost always can be accommodated. It's BYOB, and as you sip, your order arrives pronto, so it's possible to zip in, grab a table, order, and be out in 30 to 40 minutes. Start with goi cuon (two summer rolls with sauce), then try any of two dozen pho combinations get your soup filled with noodles, meats or dumplings, with add-in sprouts and basil. Most pho most choices are $4.99 or $5.99, including a soft drink.

  • Sweet Basil, 1152A Maunakea St. (545-5800), offers neo-Thai entrees of exceptional flavors, from curries (yellow, green, red) to noodle dishes (oxtail pho-style soups, stir-fried Thai noodles) and seafood (crab cakes, garlic prawns, a catch of the day). For small eaters, an entree will do nicely; for larger appetites or those with precious little time, the dinner buffet can be your mixed-plate special, with seasonings, textures and hues to please not only the taste buds but provide a feast for the eyes. It's BYOB (there's a corkage fee). The space is minimal, so you're practically elbow-to-elbow if the joint is jumping.

  • Mei Sum Dim Sum, 65 N. Pauahi St. (531-3268), is known for its brunch/lunch dim-sum carts, but dinner is good, too. Dependable and hearty choices might include starters such as crispy gau gee and scallop soup, followed by a couple of entrees like shrimp with glazed walnuts, oyster-sauce chicken and eggplant Szechuan style. Or go with steamed stuffed tofu and choy sum with garlic sauce. Then finish with Mei Sum's special fried noodles.

  • Little Village Noodle House, 1113 Smith St. (545-3008), still is the hottie downtown (hey, we included it in last week's date-place round-up). Its menu includes crowd-pleasing appetizers (potstickers, lettuce wraps), beef and pork (black-pepper beef, salt-and-pepper pork chop), poultry (orange chicken, roasted duck), stellar seafood faves (honey walnut shrimp, sizzling scallops) and vegetarian preparations (eggplant with garlic sauce). Noodle options abound (dried beef chow fun and minute-chicken fried noodle) they don't call it Noodle House for nothing. No wonder the place is busy, even with the expanded space. A couple of appetizers and a noodle dish might be fit for a fast feast. Reservations accepted for five or more.

  • Cafe Oriente, 1157 Maunakea St. (599-5262), is an often-overlooked Chinese eatery, its spiffy decor and floor covering belying the affordable menu prices. Deciding on two or three shared entrees is the problem; the standard fare includes beef, chicken, pork, and seafood items with noodles or in soups. There are pot and casserole items, too. Some unlikely (no, I haven't tried 'em yet) dishes include deep-fried big intestines, pork blood jello rice soup, pork tongue with black pepper sauce, and beef organs with rice, for those with adventurous appetites.

  • Mini Garden Noodle House, 50 N. Hotel St. (538-1273), is a typical neighborhood restaurant that probably relies on brisk lunch trade more than dinner. You'll likely feel overdressed if you're dolled up for a show, but who cares? Watching orders pass by is part of the fun in determining what you'll sample. Top entree is a half roasted duck ($9.50), but the fare fulfills any hungry soul, whether it's duck and char-siu noodle soup, cold ginger chicken, or rice plates with choices of duck, shoyu chicken, ginger chicken or char siu (each $4.95). Grab a bubble tea ($2.25) and slurp your way to the theater.

    BLAISDELL-BOUND

  • Dixie Grill, 404 Ward Ave. (596-8359), offers finger-lickin'-good ribs, finger-busy barbecue peel-your-own shrimp, and a savory pulled pork or chicken sandwich (enhanced, of course, by the assortment of yummy sauces try one or try all from the tote you get with your order). Most items are under $10, so you won't go broke. But you can go hog wild with the Trash Can Buffet ($44), with ribs, chicken, catfish and all the fixings for two, including cole slaw, baked beans, corn on the cob and snow crab. After all that, the hike to Blaisdell will do you good.

  • Yanagi Sushi, 762 Kapi'olani Blvd. (597-1525), offers Japanese classics, from combination plates encompassing tempura, teriyaki chicken or misoyaki butterfish to udon and New York steak plus a sushi bar that's constantly busy. Reservations accepted.

  • TGI Friday's, 950 Ward Ave. (524-8443), on this list? Hey, it's all about location, location, location it sits across the street from the Blaisdell Concert Hall. Get there early; otherwise, the wait is far too long for what you get. Perhaps the trick is to glide into the bar area and see if you can order pupu and wrestle with your drink, nibbling while standing up. Yeah, not ideal. If so, finger food (fried mozzarella, potstickers, tostado nachos, Tuscan spinach dip or sesame jack chicken strips with Jack Daniel's sauce) works best.

  • Le Guignol, 1010 S. King St. (591-1809), across from Thomas Square and the King Street entrance to Blaisdell, offers French cuisine, hardly fare you'd gulp down in an hour. If you're allowed to make dinner out of escargot and foie gras, and maybe finish up with dessert before you hele on across the street to the concert hall, this might do for a quickie. Ze French like to linger, savor and enjoy something quite impossible to do on the run. A plus: reservations are accepted.

  • Kats Sushi, 716 S. King St. (526-1268), is an all-you-can-eat sushi spot with indoor and outdoor seating; if it's not crowded, you can easily zip in and out in an hour, tummy satisfied. Reservations accepted.

  • Flamingo Restaurant, 871 Kapi'olani Blvd. (593-9585), just across the boulevard from Blaisdell Arena, is your time warp to family-dining past. You can't go wrong with the teriyaki chicken or hamburger steak. Comfort food prevails, and your meal comes with soup, salad and entree, plus a modest dessert (Jell-o or eye-shkreem). If you have time, order the double-crusted banana pie.

    • • •

    TIPS ON MANAGING A PRE-SHOW DINNER

    Things you need to consider if you're dining before a show:

  • Parking will be at a premium. It's best to park near the show site, then trek to your chosen restaurant. The Blaisdell lot fills up close to curtain time, especially if there are multiple events. Downtown has several garage options, which fill up close to showtime, so the early bird gets the space; it's chaos on First Friday nights, however.

  • If you're going with another couple or in a group, it's wise to drop off passengers at a restaurant, park your car, then meet the rest of your party. That way, the early arrivals will have scored a table (and, if you know the menu, they can order for you).

  • Eat accordingly, depending on the restaurant and how much time you have. Buffets, burgers, salads, chili and sandwiches require less prepping than grilled meats, stir-fried items and start-from-scratch entrees. The ideal place: one that gets you in and out within 45 minutes, allowing you time to get into your theater seat.

  • Avoid a fancy-schmancy place that requires two to three hours for your meal, unless you plan to dine at 5 p.m. for an 8 p.m. curtain.

  • You could eat on the run; that is, buy an assortment of Kozo sushi, a Subway or McDonald's sandwich, and munch in the car. (Well, it's a thought.)

    The other option, of course, is to eat afterward something I prefer to do, especially on weekends. The late meal encourages post-mortem exchanges about what you've seen.

    Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.