“What do you recommend for fresh fish?” a friend asked on his recent visit to Oahu. While Honolulu is filled with great restaurants, fish doesn’t get much fresher than at Nico’s Pier 38. The Honolulu Fish Auction is just across the street, which produces the daily menu. Large open-air windows in the dining area look out toward the fishing boats that supply the daily auction.
The lunch crowd at Nico’s gets a front-row view of the fishing boats.
Nico’s has recently been transformed from a small lunch counter to a full-scale restaurant. In the move to larger quarters across the street, Nico’s added a fish market that sells wonderfully fresh poke, other fresh fish and assorted sauces, seasonings and sides. While you could always get a great sandwich and beer, the new Nico’s features a full bar with beer on draft and mixed drinks. The menu has also expanded: the Pier 38 Fish Tacos are now joined by dishes like fish and chips, garlic pesto shrimp, seared ahi poke salad and fried ahi belly (I don’t know if that last one is a Hawaii invention, but I haven’t seen it on mainland menus.)
The menu includes local plate lunch favorites, such as pork chops, chicken katsu, loco moco and Hoisin BBQ or orange fried chicken. These plate lunches come with the traditional two scoops of rice and mac/tossed salad, but Nico’s also adds chow mein noodles. On Fridays, the Hawaiian plate lunch features laulau, kalua pig, lomi salmon, rice and poi. Prices for lunches range from $9 to $15.
On the lunch menu at Nico’s: Fish and Chips ($10.95) and the Fisherman’s Stew ($7).
Rick and I had lunch at the new location the first weekend they were open. It was wonderful. The food was as good as I expected, and the view is fabulous. However, I saw some local comments that the location had gotten so popular that service was slow, so we went back for a second visit. We arrived at the end of the lunch rush while it was still busy. Most of the tables were full, inside and outside on the patio; however, seating was still available. There was no line to place our order, which went in at 1:09 p.m. We were given a beeper to let us know when it was ready to pick up. We barely had time to order a beer at the bar when the beeper lit up. Our fellow diners seemed to be a mix of locals and visitors from Japan and the mainland.
I have not yet visited Nico’s for dinner. They have live entertainment and the menu says “it’s a different vibe at dinner time.” The appetizer list includes several versions of poke, along with Marlin Carpaccio, sashimi and non-fish options. The fried ahi belly returns as an entree, as do some of the other lunch items, which include Nico’s steamed clams and seafood pasta. There are also salads, sandwiches, burgers and pizza, as at lunch. Sunset at the waterfront is always special, and it can’t be hurt by good music and great food.
Nico’s at Pier 38 has lots of open-air seating, next to the fish market.
If you are new to Honolulu, it is important to know that the large front entrance faces the water, not the street. There is a sign on Nimitz Highway that says “Pier 38, Fishing Village” marking the place to turn. It lists six businesses, but you won’t be able to read them or find Nico’s on the second line, if you’re driving past. Very generally, Pier 38 is between the airport and Waikiki as you drive along the coast.
NICO’S PIER 38 • 1133 N. Nimitz Hwy., Honolulu, HI 96817 • Opens Mon-Sat 10am-4pm (lunch), 5-9pm (dinner), Sunday lunch only • 808-540-1377
Posted by: Bruce Fisher