When the name Nobu pops up in the context of food, a more culinary-inclined bunch might think of a renowned restaurateur titan whose namesake Japanese-fusion eateries span Tokyo, California, New York, London and Milan. But on the Westside, the Nobu that reigns supreme has been in the ranks for as long as his acclaimed counterpart. Try 14 years. And business is solid as ever.
Nobu Yoshida, 44, came to Hawai’i from Yokosuka, Japan, to work with Olympic wrestler turned heavyweight entrepreneur Rocky Aoki for the grand opening of Benihana in Honolulu. As the popular franchise expanded to Maui, he and his wife Masako moved as well. When the restaurant closed its doors nine years later, he was faced with the choice to pack up to Honolulu or Japan. “I decided to stay and open up my own business,” he says.
With little overhead, he opened a lunch truck in Lahaina that would serve one of the first industrial areas of the island for over a decade to come. The trim menu consists of six staple favorites, including shoyu chicken, beef stew, chicken curry and meatballs; there’s also a special item that changes daily.
Having sampled most of the menu without disappointments, I chanced the roast pork special on my last visit. Cooked to tender perfection, the pork is delightfully topped with a sweet mabo dofu glaze. Noodles accompany each order and are made with thin spaghetti pasta done lightly in soy sauce and garlic. Though lacking sauce, the noodles are pleasantly far from dry and pair very well with all the entrees.
With a side of macaroni or fresh green salad tossed with a tangy ginger-onion dressing, a plate lunch costs about $7. But in true aloha fashion, Yoshida has been known to let a few regulars pay in kine—local musicians Keola Beamer and George Kahumoku in exchange for guitar lessons, for instance, or a broke surfer or two in exchange for a good wave. Yoshida has been an avid surfer since the age of 16.
The pink truck—its color credited to his wife’s adventurous aesthetics—serves more than a 100 hungry heads a day, around 30 of which turn up regularly.
“I have been going there for five years, maybe longer,” says Desmond Alexander, 23, a regular who stops by twice a week and works at one of the island’s highly noted five-star restaurants. “I like that the food is consistent. My favorite is the hamburger steak but instead of the salad, I get an extra scoop of noodles.” MTW