Chicken Karaage  JAIMIE KIM PHOTOS

Chicken Karaage

1009 Kapiolani Blvd. Honolulu, HI 96814
Phone number (808) 591-0101

I like Doraku.

It’s a good place to go with friends. The atmosphere is fun and upbeat, with furniture and fixtures that make it feel very unlike Hawaii and more akin to some trendy neighborhood bar in a big city. I’ve never had a bad cocktail there, or a horrible dish, for that matter.

And yet, my feelings for Doraku are more of tolerance than anything else.

I want to love it, I really do. I find myself there quite a bit, as it’s often one of the first suggestions someone has of where to go. I just never feel terribly excited to go there.

Still, I found myself at Doraku in Kakaako (the restaurant also has a location at Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in Waikiki) last week for some pre-The Book of Mormon drinks, and I’ve decided that its true value lies in its happy hour. Because, let’s be real, even the most basic menu can be made more appealing with attractive prices.

Deluxe Spicy Tuna Roll

Deluxe Spicy Tuna Roll

Happy hour at Doraku is available daily from 4 to 6 p.m. and from 9 p.m. to close. The menu is a pretty extensive one, too, though not if you’re in the mood for sushi. Only four rolls are available during this time: California Roll, Veggie Hand Roll, Lomi Lomi Roll and Deluxe Spicy Tuna Roll.

I opted for two tried-and-true items, ordering the California Roll and Deluxe Spicy Tuna Roll. There’s not much to describe here. Both were not remarkably different from any other I’ve ever eaten, but you’ll hear no complaints from me — not when they were only $4 and $6, respectively.

From the Hot Dishes portion of the happy hour menu, I also sampled the Sweet & Spicy Edamame, Chicken Karaage and Steak/Shishito Pepper Yakitori. All of it turned out unexpectedly good, the Sweet & Spicy Edamame and Chicken Karaage in particular.

At this point, pretty much every seasoned edamame I’ve ever had has relied on flavor from pepper flakes, shoyu and sesame oil. There’s nothing wrong with that, don’t get me wrong, but something new once in a while is always nice. Doraku’s version, for example, was a balanced combination of what tasted like miso and gochujang (Korean chili paste), which resulted in a different, welcome kind of heat.

Then there was the Chicken Karaage. Admittedly, I am not a huge fan of karaage because it so often results in a dried-out, oily piece of chicken. As if to prove me wrong, Doraku’s was soft, not overcooked and slightly crispy. It was sweet and salty, but mostly sweet — always a plus for me.

Steak/Shishito Pepper Yakitori

Steak/Shishito Pepper Yakitori

So at the end of the meal, I felt put in my place. Doraku was not as mediocre as I always felt it was. Basic still, yes, but I found myself looking forward to my inevitable return — provided it happens to be during happy hour, of course.


Guys, the most amazing thing has happened in my life. If you are a regular Gastronome reader (as I’m sure you all are, right?), then you know that my love for bubble tea runs deep.

I’ve featured quite a few here, but the one I keep returning to is Mr. Tea Cafe. It’s my favorite for a lot of reasons, but mostly because they really seem to have the customized sweetness down. I never have to worry about it being any sweeter than I want it to be, and I really like the employees there.

Anyway, Mr. Tea Cafe has opened up a second location in Salt in Kakaako, which means that my most favorite bubble tea is now within walking distance of my office — walking distance. It is simultaneously the best and worst thing ever. I am really going to have to keep myself in check and not go there every single day.

It will be the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life.