Located on the quiet side of Waikiki Beach Walk, Ginza Bairin has been a tonkatsu institution in Waikiki for the better part of 15 years. The word tonkatsu is a combination of two words – “ton” which means pork, and “katsu” , a shortened word for “cutlet”. Arguably one of Japan’s national dishes, tonkatsu was developed during the late 1800s. Japan was opening up its borders to the west.
Food from the west gradually found an audience in Japan. This style of Japanese style western cuisine was called “yoshoku” , which literally means “western food”. Tonkatsu was originally included under the yoshoku umbrella, but branched off into its own distinct form of cuisine, similar to how pizza has become its own category of food distinct from Italian cuisine here in the States.
What’s intriguing about Ginza Bairin is that they are bridging this historical gap between the two styles. After years of serving up some of the best tonkatsu in Hawaii, they took over a vacant space located next door to start serving traditional yoshoku cuisine.
The Tonkatsu Room features decor reminiscent of a traditional Japanese tonkatsu restaurant.
The Yoshoku Bistro Room’s brighter decor has a pleasant, nostalgic feel.
Head Chef Roy Ogasawara has been working in the restaurant industry since graduating from high school. He spent 8 years working in Japanese restaurants, sushi restaurants, and even American diners. He landed at Ginza Bairin in May of 2007. Since then, he’s been frying up some of the most flavorful tonkatsu on the islands. Asked about his cooking philosophy, he put it simply. “I just try to cook things that make people happy. If they are satisfied, they will come back.”
The top 3 most popular dishes at Ginza Bairin are;
1) “Specialty” Kurobuta Pork Loin Katsu (Available in Both Rooms)
The number one best seller at Bairin, this dish tops it all. The high quality pork and ingredients used results in a moist on the inside, delicately crispy outside cutlet. Delicious, and is always our go to. Try it with the homemade tonkatsu sauce, or with a touch of salt to keep it simple.
2) Light and Fluffy “Omurice” Demi Sauce (only available in the Yoshoku Bistro Room )
One of the mainstay examples of Yoshoku cuisine is Omurice, which is as shortening of the words “omelette” and “rice”. What seems like a beautiful but plain omelet is brought to the table. Once you cut into it however, the fluffy egg insides spill over outwards over the rice. Then, a rich demi-glace sauce is poured over the rice and eggs. Bon Apetit!
3) Kurobuta Pork Loin Katsu with Curry Rice
A distant cousin of Indian curry, curry rice is a national dish loved by most Japanese people. Top it with tonkatsu and you’ve got a winning combo. Interestingly, the two sides of the restaurant serve this dish with minor tweaks to fit their aesthetic. They’re both delicious, so we recommend you try both!
The manager, Yuki, enthusiastically told us that he wants the restaurant to be somewhere people of all ages can connect with their memories. He told us that Japanese Americans will likely find the taste of Western food very nostalgic. Younger generations born and raised in Hawaii, as well as those from the mainland, will naturally find these flavors fresh and new. “I would like people to enjoy the taste of Western food that was originally brought to Japan from America, but has evolved and changed in a way that is unique to Japan. I want people of all ages to discover that the value of a dish such as tonkatsu, which has now become popular, can be changed depending on the way it is fried and the sauce used.” Yuki said.
Asked about what dishes he recommends, Yuki said the Matsu, Take, and Ume sets on the tonkatsu side and the Yoshoku dishes served on the bistro side. They’ve also introduced a dish that has a little bit of everything. “When I was a child, there was an attractive plate at many restaurants called “kid’s lunch” (where you can enjoy a little bit of everything you like). I wanted to recreate that for adults. Fried foods, hamburgers, fried shrimp, pasta. You can try a little of everything. This is also a dish with a very high order rate. Highly recommended.”