Pau Hana Patrol: Choco House

Mar. 19, 2015 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
The family dining area in the Choco House, located inside the Hawaiian Monarch Hotel. (George F. Lee / glee@staradvertiser.com)

The family dining area in the Choco House, located inside the Hawaiian Monarch Hotel.
(George F. Lee / glee@staradvertiser.com)

BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com

I needed a happy hour and I needed one fast — but where to go when my job doesn’t let out until after 5 p.m.? Many pau hana offerings in Hono­lulu are scheduled for 3:30 to 5:30, but I can’t start that early. So I was excited to scout out Choco House, where the happy-hour discounts begin at 5:30 p.m.

Choco House was a score: It’s Japa­nese-cute and idiosyncratic, and welcoming in a no-nonsense, take-care-of-business way that will appeal to locals.

Inside the Hawaiian Monarch Hotel on the Ewa/mauka side of Waikiki, it’s a funky, accessible, affordable spot, cheerfully accessorized with tiki accents and Japanese pop culture references. In a location that attracts full-time Waikiki residents and budget travelers — I spotted a few cheerful Australian surfer types hanging outside — the restaurant offers reasonable prices, comfort and personality.

THE EXPERIENCE

With its owner also serving as manager and waitstaff in the first hours of afternoon service, and a cheerful kitchen staff at the ready, including a sushi chef, Choco House is at your service for happy hour. The full menu is available.

CHOCO HOUSE

Hawaiian Monarch Hotel, 444 Niu St.

(808) 942-5304

Happy Hour:
5:30-7 p.m. daily
>> Poke and kim chee, $6
>> Spicy tuna roll, $6.50
>> Draft beer (Kirin, Budweiser or Amber Bock), $2.90
>> House wine, $4
>> Hot sake, $5

The whimsy of Choco House is apparent before you even enter the door. A tall, black tiki statue greets patrons at the door; paper lanterns frame the entrance. Inside, liberal use of rattan screens gives the space an earthy, warm feel.

A colorful kite embellishes one screen near the bar, and masks of manga characters smile down on the tables.

It’s also worth noting that if you’re driving, and if you can swing your arrival into Waikiki to be at almost exactly 5:30, that is an auspicious time in the district: Rush-hour “no parking” zones become legal parking lanes, and you just might be able to park on the street. Choco House validates, so you can park right in the hotel, but it’s the thrill of the hunt, I guess.

I found street parking right away — what a rush! Was this what it used to be like in the neighborhood, before it was filled in with towers?

THE DRINKS

Happy-hour specials are offered on wine, beer and sake. It was still early by my book, so I went with something that seemed more light: the house white. That was also a good choice — crisp, with just a touch of sweetness, the well-chilled white went just fine with my varied, fish-based izakaya plates.

Kim chee poke is a highlight on the Choco House restaurant’s menu. (George F. Lee / glee@staradvertiser.com)

Kim chee poke is a highlight on the Choco House restaurant’s menu. (George F. Lee / glee@staradvertiser.com)

THE FOOD

A highlight was the kim chee poke ($6) — a house specialty, with fresh chunks of ahi and tangy kim chee, slices of green pepper and a splash of sesame oil. The different flavors and textures were entertaining; this would be good with beer.

The spicy ahi roll was delicious and generous — and at $6.50 didn’t cost a lot. Pau Hana Patrol win.

It wasn’t a happy-hour special, but our sashimi plate, reasonably priced at $23 and big enough for two, was truly fresh and tasty. The ahi, hama­chi, salmon and ika were a treat to look at and to eat, and the plate was served with generous amounts of sliced cucumber and seaweed as palate cleansers.

THE VERDICT

I liked the friendly, funky feel of Choco House and felt I would be comfortable there as a one-time tourist or a regular.

It was comforting to see old-timers who appeared to live in Waikiki drop in for a quick cold one in the cas­ual front room, which looked something like a garage furnished with four-seater tables, while young couples on a budget vacation wandered into the restaurant for a drink and pupu.

Service was efficient, and most everyone, staff and customers alike, was smiling.
Just one off note: the restrooms. Choco House shares a common bathroom with its fellow ground-floor tenant, King’s Pub. And the bathrooms don’t appear to have been renovated in quite some time.

Need I really say more? Well, yes, I need to say this: The restroom key provided by Choco House is attached to a large, fuzzy stuffed animal — meaning you need to carry this fabric “pet” to and from the restroom. Um: I’d rather not?

Never mind. Bathroom aside, my visit to Choco House was cute and entertaining — kawaii! I want to go back, and to bring some friends.

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