Italian Food with Heart & Soul

Riga Tony’s isn’t fancy, but the food and
service will warm your heart.

By Kevin McQuarrie

Riga Tony’s is a small restaurant tucked into a corner of downtown Honolulu on Alakea Street. It opened last fall, and judging from the crowd that was there on a Friday evening, it’s getting a loyal following of regulars.

This ten-table spot is simply, but lovingly decorated, with Italian-themed art on the walls, rows of cheerful white Christmas lights, homey wood paneling, and a grapevine wallpaper border. We were greeted warmly upon our arrival, and told to sit wherever we liked. The swinging, Rat Pack-style music certainly put us in the mood for Italian food. The restaurant is BYOB, so feel free to bring in a nice bottle of Chianti or a lively prosecco.

We dug into a bowl of bread, dunking it in olive oil, and studied the menu. Appetizers include healthy options, such as bruschetta ($4) and insalata Caprese ($6), with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil in a vinaigrette, and the more decadent, including fried mozzarella cheese ($4.50) and garlic cheese bread ($4).

Being decadent types, we ordered the fried calamari ($6). “Right on!” encouraged our sweet server, a beautiful woman with cascading curls and a husky, hippie voice.

The calamari arrived fairly slowly, but was well appreciated: large rings (about onion-ring size) of tender squid, with a nice light batter. Note to the chef: Please, warm up the marinara dipping sauce! It was served cold, straight out of the fridge. We also tried the bruschetta, a simple, eye-pleasing preparation of thick slices of bread, with a garlicky basil and tomato topping. The tomatoes were perfect—where did they get such ripe, red toma-
toes at this time of year?

The chef himself brought out our entrées, a sweet touch, and offered us ground pepper from a grinder the size of a table leg. We had the chicken cannelloni ($12.50), a dish featuring three homemade crepes filled with a creamy mixture of ricotta cheese and chicken, covered with a Béchamel sauce. This dish was rich and delicious—far too much for one meal, so we enjoyed it the next day as well for lunch.

Despite repeated warnings on how spicy the shrimp diavolo ($13) was, I had ordered it. I found it was actually a good heat level, with a prolonged, warm mouth sensation—but extremely garlicky. Garlicky, as in, chew gum on the way home, brush your teeth twice before bed, drink a cup of mint tea, and still wake up with garlic in your mouth garlicky. If your name is Nosferatu, this dish might kill you.

Other meal options include pizzas and calzones, as well as favorites such as veal Marsala, lasagne, Caesar salad and fettuccine alfredo. Next time I visit, I will have to try the eggplant Parmesan, which was one of the specials the night we visited.

Overall, we found our meal at Riga Tony’s to be inexpensive (a huge meal for two was $45, including tax and tip), with warm, personal service. The appetizers weren’t nearly as strong in terms of flavor and presentation as the excellent entrées, but there is still something about Riga Tony’s that’s special. It’s not a fancy place or gourmet cuisine, but you leave feeling good. Perhaps it’s simply the pleasure of being cooked for by someone who is cooking from the heart.


Riga Tony’s

1192 Alakea Street • 534-0100

Lunch is served Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Dinner is served 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday.