Anyone for grilled meats? Juicy pork meatballs on a stick? Marinated chicken thighs? Pork belly ramen with a rich, homemade broth? Tofu salad with yuzu and local mesculun? Then welcome to Kaiso, our newest go-to spot in Kailua.
I have to admit that when we first peeked into this spot when it first opened I was suspicious. It has a weird entrance and didn't pull me in. It's right in downtown Kailua off Alii Drive, in the strange little shopping center that houses Bubba Gump Shrimp and Crazy Shirts and the outdoor jewelry vendor, Bluewater Fantasies (stellar jewelry, by the way). It's in the back of this space, so keep walking towards the back, past the jewelry, past the gallery and real estate office, past the espresso and ice cream stand (although stop back here for local-made ice cream on the way out). The restaurant has two doors, the first of which is locked and says, closed. But around the corner, you'll come to the second door. Bend under the Japanese noren and find yourself in a sweet little dining room with just a few tables, open to the outside with the sound of the waves in the background, cool jazz and the sizzle of meats on the grill in the foreground.
While Sushi Shiono is our favorite sushi place in Kailua town and provides an elegant, upscale dining experience, Kaiso provides an authentic Japanese pub experience. The food is fresh and excellent: it's high-calorie comfort/pub food that has been prepared with love and care. We have gone there several times now and have had a good experience each time. We have tried almost everything on the menu, too, from a variety of yakitori (grilled, skewered meat), to musubi, to salads, to agedashi tofu (one of my tests for Japanese restaurants), to Chinese-style fried eggplant to grilled veggies and steak...and it is all delicious. Even with two babies we feel at home in this lovely little space, so if it were just the two of us, on vacation, we would definitely enjoy it. This is a place to come and drink and listen to the waves and relax and sample multiple dishes. It will receive a definite five stars in our restaurant guide.