Comfort Zone:

Every ‘Hood Needs

A 12th Avenue Grill

 By Kevin McQuarrie

Oahu Island News

As wonderful and unique as Hawaii Regional Cuisine is, one can only eat so much ahi, mahi mahi and Kahuku shrimp. If you could use a change of pace, you’ll find Kaimuki’s 12th Avenue Grill to be a godsend. This small gem offers contemporary American cuisine, a low-key, but polished décor, and servers who actually know what they’re doing.

I originally had two hang-ups about eating at the 12th Avenue Grill. One, you can’t make a reservation. Two, there’s no wine list or bar—it’s BYOB. But I got over these “problems” because they actually add to the value of the experience. Yes, you’ll probably have to wait for a table, but you’ll wait in a comfortable seating area under a cheerful striped awning. You’ll mingle with a crowd of pleasant, eager fellow foodies. And the lack of a wine list means you can bring your favorite merlot without paying for that 30-percent mark-up. Gee, what a concept.

The décor is relaxed, urban—the whole thing reminds me of a hillside in San Francisco. There’s pendant lighting, banquettes, and servers in long white aprons. Longtime area caterer Kevin Hanney attracts a crowd with his outstanding menu, too. You can order small plates, or large, depending on your mood. Entrées range from about $15.95 to $26.95 for dinner, although the exception is a burger for $7.95. Lunch prices are lower, topping out around $17.

Our server, Jenny, was excellent. I was impressed that she knew the specials without having to refer to notes—she sounded like she knew food.

Don’t miss the baked macaroni and cheese ($6.95, or with sautéed mushrooms or Black Forest ham for an additional charge). It’s just about the most comforting dish on the planet —creamy, hot, with perfectly cooked, firm pasta and an adult-appropriate (read: not gloppy or dyed orange) sauce.

I was tempted by the soup of the day, a corn chowder, but decided to try one of the specials of the day for appetizers, a wild mushroom risotto. It was creamy, with intriguingly textured mushrooms. The pan-fried trout ($17.95), served butterflied and cooked in truffle butter, was simply outrageous. “Wow,” said my dining companion, “I didn’t even know I liked trout.” Her smoked duck breast ($24.95) entrée, served with sautéed greens and with homemade cornbread and sausage stuffing, was just as good. I have to pause here for a moment and eulogize the corn pudding that had arrived with the trout. Salty, sweet, a flan consistency but a savory outcome—it was as creative as it was addictive.

For dessert, we couldn’t possibly have resisted the homemade apple pie, topped with house-made ice cream. (The desserts at 12th Avenue Grill are by Lisa Siu, who is the pastry chef at 3660 on the Rise.) Another option is the fruit crisp, made with whatever fruit is in season and available that week. The coffee, served in a sturdy, reassuringly solid mug, was unusually good.

Even at my favorite restaurants, there’s usually some dish that misfires, but at 12th Avenue Grill, there were no disappointments. Every neighborhood needs a restaurant as convivial and well executed as this one.



12th Avenue Grill

1145C 12th Ave., just off Waialae.

Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m.
to 2:30 p.m. weekdays.

Dinner is served from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; and
5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday;
closed Sunday.

Phone: 732-9469

No reservations are accepted.

Nearby parking is available,

but you’ll have to troll a bit;

the lots are usually quite busy.