It’s a theme I have been giving attention to in my life. It’s one of my favorite things in the world, and maybe even THE most important thing in my world.
We all have endless memories centered around meals and family gatherings. The connections that happen between teaching children to eat, meals with friends, date nights, cooking at home for someone, weddings, funerals, sad days, or happy days alone.
Connecting with someone who feeds you, or someone you have fed, or someone you share a meal with, holds much of the magical stuff of life: the connection we crave and seek and discover and share. The connection we find over food and drink and adventure.
Sometimes the desire to fly away and experience these things in a far away place is incredibly strong, and sometimes when that happens, a whole new world opens up and the experience is life changing. Sometimes that connection can happen at the kitchen table, or at that cool little place down the street over a drink and something great to eat.
Hawaii is a place that is bursting with new and creative places to savor those connections and there is no better place for that than Chinatown, where there is a literal buzz on the streets with all of the new and exciting places that have come to the neighborhood.
Just ten years ago, much of the neighborhood’s shops were covered in papered windows, empty and waiting for the area’s revitalization to be realized.
Over the years, the neighborhood has blossomed with fresh new places to eat and drink, blending in with the places that have been around for decades and standing arm and arm with the ever present crazy side of Chinatown.
Chinatown has always been the seedier side of Downtown. And honestly, this is why we love it. It’s on the edge, but just enough to make it unpretentious, artsy, and a mecca for creative culture.
Since the 1800’s when sailors first began to use the harbor for shipping and docking large vessels, which also meant the arrival of sailors and harbor workers to the area offering migrant plantation workers the opportunity to settle in the area and open up shops and bars, Chinatown has had a rich history and made way for it’s colorful inhabitants today.
As for connection, the business owners in the area have an almost familial connection, and for the people that visit these merchants, it is easy to feel the connection to them and their product.
I recently sat down with Dusty Grable, co-owner of Lucky Belly, located in the heart of Chinatown and was not surprised that our conversation centered around this very thing: the connection that happens through food and drink.
Dusty opened Lucky Belly nearly three years ago, along with co-owners Jesse Cruz and Mary Tess Calad, in the heart of Chinatown and is a favorite spot for lunch, dinner and of course cocktails.
Lucky Belly is a spectacular combination of Asian influenced dishes with a definite local flare and is riddled with both Jesse and Dusty’s determination to do things in their own style. The result is a comfortable, modern-rustic place that is putting out some seriously sexy food, centered around the concept of the hospitality found by simply sharing a meal.
Among their amazing appetizers, salads, special plates and their signature ramen, are my favorites and the items I order over and over again:
The amazing Pork Belly Bao,
their seriously sexy Shrimp Gyoza with edamame avocado puree and ponzu,
the best Beet and Spicy Greens salad anywhere
and of course, their giant Lucky Bowl.
Although Dusty is a certified Sommaleir, and their sake selection is amazing, I can never order anything to drink except The Aviation – a cocktail made with gin, elderberry flower and citrus, OR their smokey Old Fashioned where they smoke a piece of kiawe wood under the glass before pouring in the cocktail to give it an amazing smokey flavor.
However, if you need a non-alcoholic beverage, the Chinatown Swizzle will make you feel like you’ve got the real deal in your hand. It’s made with galangal, kaffir lime, lemongrass, drinking vinegar and coconut juice.
And to make things even sweeter, for your late night needs there is the Lucky Belly Window: A little walk up window on the street where only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10pm-2am you can grab one of three $5 plates to sop up any late night booze after carousing at the many great bars and clubs in Chinatown. The menu changes weekly and is actually something to plan your nightlife schedule around.
The moral of the story?
Chinatown, with all of it’s whackiness, is home to places like this; where great food is taken seriously, but not too seriously and where the most important factor is connecting to the place, the food and the people you are with. Take it from all of us, who’s bellies are lucky on a regular basis, Lucky Belly needs to be on your list of places to try and Chinatown needs to be on your list of places to experience on Oahu.