The Weekly Eater

By Nadine Kam

Thursday, March 4, 1999

Cocina offers fine
dining for the family

AFTER visiting my tax guy in Kalihi, I decided to a little sightseeing in the area. Like all my travels, this inevitably leads to food, which wasn't always the case.

In another life a long time ago, I cared little about food. A meal was a chore that got in the way of doing and seeing and experiencing. Food was fuel, nothing more. So what if I ate cold pizza in Venice or Chicken McNuggets in Hong Kong?

Well, one does grow up.

Food, of course, is as integral to cultures as history, language and art. In Hawaii, we're lucky that we don't need to travel far to gain exposure to many cultures, many kinds of food.

There is no such thing as knowing it all because there is always some new -- to some of us anyway -- concoction awaiting inspection.

At Cocina Filipina, I sampled a dry version of kare-kare ($8.25) for the first time.

Most versions of the oxtail and peanut sauce stew served up at local Filipino restaurants are soupy. In those cases, the pungent pink shrimp paste that accompanies the dish can be stirred into and dissolved in the liquid to add flavor to the dish. With Cocina Filipina's drier stew, the shrimp paste doesn't blend in quite as easily.

Star Rating

Cocina Filipina has a lot to live up to, having been preceded on this site by Jo-Ni's, which brought the notion of upscale Filipino food to Hawaii. If the shape of the restaurant looks familiar, it was also a Pizza Hut at one time. Inside, it still looks like a Pizza Hut, but the food certainly could not be more different.

The usual local favorites are here: delicious Chicken and Pork adobong (adobo to us, $5.95 per dish); Crispy Pata (deep-fried pig's knuckles, $7.50); Pork Guisantes ($6.50); the vegetable stew Sari-Sari ($7.95) and several pancit dishes. There's a lot to like.

DISHES aren't always handled with as much finesse as at Jo-Ni's. For instance, the Inihaw Na Baboy ($5.95), pork sauteed with soy sauce, garlic, vinegar and green onions, ran dry, and Shrimp Sarciado ($10.35), sauteed with egg, onions, green onions and tomatoes, though tasty, offered some of the shrimpiest shrimp you'll find. And the cream in the center of one of the restaurant's many cakes was grainy with sugar.

In spite of these few oversights, the Manila-style food is extremely tasty and makes for reasonably priced family dining. Standouts were the Pork Adobo, Crispy Chicken, and Deep-Fried Calamari dipped in vinegar and garlic, and save room for dessert of Halo Halo.

If you want a lot of company when you try out this restaurant, see if you can make reservations between 5 and 9 p.m. March 11 and 12, when Cocina Filipina hosts a 15-course Anniversary Day Fiesta Buffet. There will be 15 courses available, entertainment, karaoke and prizes. The cost is $7.95 for adults and $4.95 for children.


Cocina Filipina: 1314 North King St. (across from the post office). There's plenty of parking
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays; 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays; and 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sundays
Prices: About $20 to $25 for two for lunch or dinner; eight-course buffet lunch also available at $7.95 per person, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays
Call: 841-5200

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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

-- excellent;
-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- average;
-- below average.

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