The word 居酒屋 Izakaya refers to bars in Japan where home style dishes and pupus are served along with alcohol (beer, sake, shochu). Usually these small establishments are family-owned and appeal to the “common people” or working class seeking booze and comfort food at the end of a long work day, all at reasonable prices. The word 呑兵衛 nonbei roughly translates to a drunk person or alcoholic.
The moment you step into Izakaya Nonbei, it’s like being transported to a neighborhood izakaya decades ago in Japan, complete with seating areas surrounding an 囲炉裏 (irori, or open fire pit) to seating on tatami mats and dim hanging lanterns. It even has a teapot hanging over the fake red flame in the irori. It’s a little dramatic and delightfully corny; you’d think this was a movie set or a some wax museum display. The only things missing are the drunk Japanese men and the haze of cigarette smoke. The menu items hung on the walls and daily specials include favorites like Deep Fried Flounder, Nikujaga and Buri Daikon. I can only describe this restaurant as 渋い (shibui, there’s no good translation for this word except maybe “old school”).
The unique vibe attracts an eclectic mix of people including hip young professionals (ourselves included, or at least we like to think so). I met up with some friends and we were so busy chatting over dinner that I completely forgot to get the menu item pricing and to take photos of some of the items. This is what happens when you’re with good company.
- Nasu Miso: A simple dish of sauteed eggplant in a sweet miso sauce
- Moro Q: An even simpler dish of cool cucumber with a miso paste. Refreshing.
- Agedashi Tofu: Served with grated daikon, ginger, and dashi broth
- Fried Whole Moi
- Nonbei Steak: I loved the sauce on this
- Oden: Daikon and egg
- Tori Kara: Their version of chicken karaage is tossed in a ponzu sauce
- Oyster Zosui: Rice porridge with oysters and egg, large enough to share (they use fresh mitsuba as a garnish, which is my favorite but a rare find in Hawaii restaurants)
- Ume Zosui: Rice porridge with egg and umeboshi
- Isobemaki: Mochi drizzled with shoyu and wrapped in nori. Everyone should follow Nonbei’s version and deep fry the mochi instead of grilling it!
- Zenzai: Mochi with sweet azuki beans
If you dine there, you must try the Agedashi Tofu, Tori Kara, Nonbei Steak, and end your meal with the Isobemaki.
For my initial impression, I thought that their food is good, but there’s nothing special about it. But as I thought more about it, I realized that this is exactly what a good izakaya is: good home style food, nothing fancy, with friendly service in a relaxed atmosphere. I must congratulate Izakaya Nonbei for recreating this izakaya experience worlds away from Japan, here in the middle of the Pacific.
The only thing is that the prices are a little higher than compared to some other izakaya type restaurants in Honolulu. After we shared everything and split the bill three ways, it came out to $40.00 each (including tip and tax).
Price Range: Sorry, I forgot to take notes!
My Bill: $40.00
3108 Olu Street
Honolulu, HI 96816
(Just off of Kapahulu Ave. across from Safeway)