Wednesday, May 25, 2016

One-woman show at Sara's Cafe

Nadine Kam photos
Chili pepper lovers can test their endurance with Sara's Cafe's spicy fried chicken wings. The bits of red and yellow are Thai chilis and their seeds in a honeyed shell. Don't even try this if you can't drink in something as mild as Sriracha.

Korean women have a reputation for toughness, and some prove it by being masters of their domain in the restaurant biz. It's a difficult enterprise even when many hands are involved, yet these strong women are willing to go it alone.

Those who miss the Angry Korean Lady behind Ah-Lang, who's now on hiatus, might try heading to Sara's Cafe. There, Sara Kim is similarly a one-woman act, doing all the cooking, waitressing and cleanup. (Now that she knows my newspaper column is coming out, she may call on some extra hands and see how it goes.)

Sara Kim rules the kitchen.

But, unlike Angry Korean Lady, Kim is quite the opposite, doing her best to be accommodating. If she seems to ignore you when you walk in, it's just because she's juggling dozens of other details. It's not only in-house customers who need tending. There are also phone and take-out orders to deal with.

Their cooking styles also differ, with Kim providing more casual, simple home-style Korean dishes, along with the comfort of knowing you won't get yelled at. Whew!
Sara's Cafe is at 1551 S Beretania St., on the ground level of the Kualana Hale senior housing building. Call 955-1353. Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, and 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Look for these street signs on Beretania Street, on the ground level of the Kualana Hale senior housing building.

The living room ambience has the feel of being at your aunty's house.


Here are my top three dishes. Keep in mind that my personal biases have no bearing on these choices that I think best reflect the restaurant's strengths. For instance, I love Korean spicy pork, but it's not a dish that defines this restaurant:

No. 1
The spicy fried chicken wings at the top of the page. Sorry some of you will not be able to withstand the heat.

No. 2
(Tie) Depending on your preference for seafood or veggies, a soft egg-y texture, or crisp flour-based pancake.

Among Sara's specialties are her pajeon, scallion pancakes, including this seafood version. Killer with accompanying sauce of vinegar, shoyu, Thai chilies and pickled onions.

In contrast to the egg-y seafood pajeon, a kim chee pancake had a beautiful crisp finish.

No. 3

Sara's kalbi looks like typical teriyaki-style shortribs, but the sauce is Korean, with shoyu and plenty of chopped onions lending natural sweetness to the sauce.


Banchan is limited here, but requests for seconds, and thirds of the zucchini jun were accommodated.

Kim prepares Korean home-style cuisine, but how many people make sone pot bi bim bap at home?. A real treat.

Home-style sautéed garlic shrimp is served with lettuce topped with Caesar dressing.

Korean-style hamburger steak is not hamburger as we know it, but a lighter combo of beef, pork and tofu dipped in egg batter.

A comforting pot of soondubu.

Spicy pork with gochujang sauce.

Shrimp fried rice didn't have much shrimp in it, but was still enjoyable, and a great accompaniment to all the meat on the menu.

I ordered half portions of meat jun and spicy squid that turned out to be least favorites. Some might appreciate the generous slices of ribeye, but it was too chewy, and there was little dimension to the squid. It would be fine for non-tasters.



Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

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