I just returned from my week long trip to Honolulu, Hawaii and wanted to review one of my favorite restaurants on Oahu after having another splendid meal there. Pioneer Saloon, located on Monsarrat Avenue near Diamond Head, is an unassuming relatively small, fast casual restaurant. The decor of the restaurant is somewhat eclectic with the back of the restaurant filled with vintage and antique items that are up for sale. There is no wait service. The customers go up to their counter, order food, and pick it up at the counter when it’s ready.
The menu is EXTENSIVE! Considering the space of the restaurant, it never ceases to amaze me how much food they have churning out of their kitchen. Their menu focuses mainly on Japanese food, although they also do have green curry on their menu which I thought was a bit random as there are no other Thai dishes offered. Most of the plate lunches comes with your choice of protein, their side dish of the day (usually pasta salad), and your choice of rice. They offer white rice, brown rice, multi-grain rice and shiso wakame rice. The multi-grain and shiso wakame rice both cost an extra $1, which is totally worth it. In addition to their extensive menu, Pioneer Saloon also offers their version of a “Ramen Burger”, and though I’ve never tasted it myself, I have heard that it is the best on the Island.
On my first visit to Pioneer Saloon, I was told that they had the BEST garlic ahi steak. I am not a fan of akami, or raw plain tuna so I didn’t think I would like the Ahi Steak since it is basically seared akami. I ordered their miso butterfish plate instead which was quite good, just a bit light in flavor like perhaps the fish hadn’t been marinated for long enough. I took a few bites of my sister’s garlic ahi steak and was SO disappointed that I didn’t order the dish for myself!! The fish itself is tender and juicy, with a ponzu based sauce and the whole dish is covered in fried garlic. Oh lawd it’s good. You HAVE to try it to understand the deliciousness of their garlic ahi steak.
On another visit, my husband ordered their braised short ribs which comes with a choice of two flavors: BBQ or Gravy. My husband opted for their BBQ flavor. If any mainlander ordered the BBQ, they’d probably assume it was American BBQ sauce, however, the dish comes with a Korean style BBQ sauce. Slightly sweet and salty with a hint of garlic. The short ribs were very thick slices of kalbi and it was some of the BEST kalbi I’ve had. Having grown up with family from Hawaii, every family bbq includes our own barbecued kalbi but this was something totally different. The kalbi had been braised for what I assume is many hours and the bones slipped right out of the meat. The meat just melts in your mouth and coupled with the sweet and savory sauce is a complete foodgasm.
I would rate Pioneer Saloon 4 out of 5 stars. While the food is amazing, sometimes the service can be a little off. It seems they hire young high school or college students who are really unfamiliar with the menu. The last time I was there, I asked about one of the sauces and the girl just told me, “I have no idea”, and didn’t bother to ask anyone even though the owner was right behind her. Having worked in the hospitality business, I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to service. I’m not expecting service equivalent to a fine dining restaurant, however, I expect employees of restaurants to have some familiarity with their menu. Even if they don’t, when a customer asks a question regarding a dish, I should hope the employee would attempt to ask the kitchen or manager for more information. Overall, Pioneer Saloon is an excellent restaurant with an extensive menu. I’ve come to the restaurant on every visit I’ve had to Oahu since first trying it and plan on making it my regular spot when I’m in town. Any visitors looking for GREAT Japanese food on the Island should come try, I promise you’ll leave very satisfied 🙂
Pioneer Saloon – 4 Stars3046 Monsarrat Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815
Ph: (808) 732-4001
Since they don’t have their own website, please check out their Yelp page for more information here