A strip mall is the last place you’d expect to find a traditional Japanese restaurant.
But nestled between an IHOP and a pet hospital in a nondescript strip mall in Pearl City on the Hawaiian island of Oahu is where you’ll find Spicy Ahi & BBQ, a Japanese Teishoku restaurant whose location is only the first of many unexpected surprises.
As is the norm at Japanese restaurants, you might expect high prices paired with minuscule amounts of food. While you definitely get the experience of an authentic Japanese restaurant– hearty miso soup, pickled tsukemono, and fresh sashimi– the portions at Spicy Ahi & BBQ are anything but small.
In fact, you’re very likely to leave here stuffed to the gills.
Your order arrives on a single plate sectioned off into multiple compartments, evoking memories of years of school lunches. The similarities end there though, as these compartments are deep, providing ample room for sizable portions.
Indeed, much of Spicy Ahi & BBQ’s menu is composed of deep-fried fare. At many restaurants this can lead to oil overload, but you don’t have to worry about that here.
The Mochiko Chicken is coated in a light batter of mochiko flour, shoyu, and other seasonings before it is deep-fried to perfection. Instead of being weighed down by grease, the bite-sized pieces of chicken breast are surprisingly light and flavorful.
The same goes for the Tonkatsu whose panko-encrusted shell is light and crunchy, while the meaty sirloin pork chop remains tender and juicy. The subtle peppery flavor is a delight compared to most other restaurants where the most prominent flavor is of the oil the katsu was fried in.
Also rolled in panko and deep-fried, the Ahi Tempura’s crunchy exterior keeps the meat within moist and tender. Though it may appear similar to your run of the mill fish stick from the outside, the tempura’s fresh ahi tuna is whole meat– not ground up and reformed.
For many eateries, it would be enough to excel in fried dishes, but Spicy Ahi & BBQ doesn’t stop there and applies the same attention to quality to their Sashimi as well.
The raw ahi tuna is light and delicate, while the fresh raw salmon is buttery and smooth.
Location is Irrelevant
The location may not seem to lend itself to an experience rich with ambiance, but that quickly becomes irrelevant. Once your meal begins at Spicy Ahi & BBQ, it doesn’t matter if you’re in a strip mall in Hawaii or in a small village in Japan.
The food here does the talking, and I like what it’s saying.