(AUTHOR’S NOTE: This restaurant is now defunct; I passed by its old spot at Eastwood Mall’s ground floor, and found the space boarded up. Timestamp: 8 January 2020, 07:25 am.)
Expect Pearl Harbor to come up most of the time whenever the words Japan and Hawaii are mentioned in a sentence. December 7, 1941 is a date immortalized in history due to the attack on the eponymous naval base—now a National Historic Landmark. However, Japan-Hawaii relations started as early as the 1800s with King Kamehameha I helping a few shipwrecked Japanese sailors return home. (Manga artist Akira Toriyama would use the king’s name as Son Goku’s signature move in his Dragon Ball series.) More Japanese nationals would arrive years later as laborers in the island’s pineapple plantations. By the 1930s, the descendants of these laborers would be considered as Americans after a 1900 law – stating that persons born in Hawaii after April 30, 1900 are counted as citizens by birth.
Putting that short history lesson aside, Hawaiian cuisine is influenced by the native populations – but the Japanese also contributed in their own way. Okazuya-style tempura, with a simpler yet puffier batter, is a popular staple in restaurants. In addition, I just realized that poke (an appetizer made with raw fish, rice, and seasonings) is slightly similar to the Japanese dish tekonezushi (marinated red fish, vinegared rice, and garnish). The similarity can be noticed with both dishes’ use of red fish such as tuna, serving the fish on a bed of rice, and the variety of toppings and garnishes that can be used—thanks to this post by Anne.
Thankfully, I don’t need to book a flight to Honolulu just to have a taste of Hawaii. Johnny Kahuku’s Hawaiian Shrimp House brings the flavor of the islands in the middle of Libis. They have another branch at Newport Mall within Resorts World Manila, but it’s far from where I am. Located at the ground floor of Eastwood Mall, this restaurant takes cues from Hawaiian surf shacks. You get transported to the beaches of North Shore as soon as you enter; reggae tunes playing in the background add to the tropical vibe of the place. Even the staff wear summer attire; the female servers wear hula grass skirts, while the male crew are clad in floral polos. It just saddened me that I didn’t hear the ukulele version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow / What A Wonderful World” by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole during the times I visited. Why so, you may ask? Braddah Iz is a legend in Hawaii, and an authentic Hawaiian experience would not be complete without his memorable tune.
Say aloha to amazing shrimp specialties! Here’s a random fact: Johnny Kahuku’s next door neighbor is The Red Crab (serving the namesake crustacean).
The bright lights replicate the summer sun, contributing to the beachside dining experience.
Those leis hanging on the wall are available for photo ops. Just ask your server.
The “aloha” wall mural isn’t painted – it’s plastic cling film on a stone wall backing.
Pictures showing the island life and surf culture in Hawaii.
Now, on to the food. Johnny Kahuku’s Hawaiian Shrimp House does its namesake crustacean right—from shrimp baskets for appetizers, to entire shrimp buckets the whole family can share. I can attest that they always have fresh shrimps ready, and my personal favorite is their honey garlic shrimp. If you’re not a fan of seafood or are allergic to it, don’t fret; Johnny Kahuku’s Hawaiian Shrimp House also has grilled specialties on the menu. Specialties such as ribs, chicken, and pork grilled the Big Island way are available for those with dietary restrictions. The restaurant also has poke bowls (either tuna or salmon) and smoothie bowls to cap off a hearty seafood meal. The thought of shrimp buckets are overwhelming if you’re dining alone, but don’t let that discourage you from visiting. The lunch specials at Johnny Kahuku’s Hawaiian Shrimp House deserve special mention—most of the dishes I’ve tried here are easy on the pocket. (Just a note on the lunch specials: they are only available at this particular branch.)
Okay, surf’s up! Here’s a few of the Hawaiian fare I ordered.
Fruit Punch (P95): Basic fruit punch, but this comes free with the Hawaiian Truck meal.
Honey Sriracha Fish & Tofu (P119): Fried breaded fish and tofu cubes tossed in honey Sriracha sauce, served with cabbage slaw and rice. Despite the presence of Sriracha, this wasn’t overly spicy.
Huli Huli Glazed Bacon Belly (P99): Stir-fried bacon pork belly and onion glazed in huli huli sauce, served with cabbage slaw and rice. I honestly didn’t like this one compared to the other lunch specials, mainly because I don’t eat fatty cuts of pork.
Mahalo Miso Glazed Fish (P119): Pan-grilled fish fillet in soy miso and pineapple glaze with green onion and sesame seed topping, served with stir-fried vegetables and rice. This one is a personal favorite of mine!
Kahuku Pork Katsu (P99): Pork tonkatsu with coconut curry sauce, served with cabbage slaw and rice. This is Johnny Kahuku’s take on the Japanese katsu curry, and they surprisingly do it right.
Honolulu Chicken Cutlet (P119): Breaded chicken breast in teriyaki sauce with a sunny side-up egg, served with stir-fried vegetables and rice. Bonus points for the shiitake mushrooms.
Ahi Tuna Kani Crunch Poke (P295): Tuna cubes, shredded crab stick, tempura flakes, shredded barbecue nori, honey Sriracha dressing, and toasted sesame seeds on rice. You can choose either brown rice or white rice for the poke bowl.
Peanut Shoyu Ahi Tuna Poke (P285): Tuna cubes, tempura flakes, peppers, red onion, cucumber, fresh seaweed, and shredded nori on top of rice. The addition of tempura flakes (made from tempura batter) give texture to the poke.
Aloha Shrimp & Fish Skewers (P175): Shrimp and white fish skewers with onion and peppers, served with stir-fried vegetables, Hawaiian fried rice and a wedge of lemon. I found the skewers rather small, but the freshness of the seafood made up for the small size.
Huli Huli Chicken Skewers (P175): Chicken skewers glazed with huli huli sauce, served with stir-fried vegetables, Hawaiian fried rice and grilled pineapple wedges. The chicken was tender, and the grilled pineapples provided sweetness to counter the savory taste.
Tempura Solo Shrimp Truck (P320): Five pieces of tempura shrimps served with stir-fried vegetables and plain rice. Don’t expect Japanese-style tempura here as the Hawaiian version looks fluffier.
Coconut & Pineapple Glazed Shrimp Basket (P248): Coconut-crusted crispy shrimps tossed in sweet pineapple glaze. The pineapple glaze lent sweetness at the cost of texture; the shrimp was no longer crispy.
Honey Garlic Shrimp Basket (P248): Buttered crispy shrimps tossed in honey butter, and topped with garlic bits. The honey offsets the savory taste of the butter and garlic without the cloying (nakaka-umay) taste.
Salt & Pepper Shrimp Basket (P228): Deep-fried crispy shrimps sauteed with green chili and bell peppers, and flavored with Chinese five-spice powder. I found this too salty for my liking, but it would work if the shrimp was peeled.
Ultimate Crab Fat Rice (P80): Johnny Kahuku’s take on the Filipino aligue rice. Rather expensive for extra rice, but worth it.
Hawaiian Fried Rice (P80): Fried rice, Big Island style. Rice mixed with carrots and peas, and topped with green onions. Methinks this is cooked with butter, thus the yellow coloring?
Do visit their Facebook and Instagram pages to stay abreast with their latest promotions. Until the next review, mahalo a e ‘ai kākou!
Johnny Kahuku’s Hawaiian Shrimp House
G/F Eastwood Mall,
Eastwood City, Bagumbayan,
Libis, Quezon City 1110