How Tane Vegan Izakaya Is Giving Honolulu’s Sushi Scene a Run for Its Cash

On an unassuming block in Honolulu, hidden in plain sight amongst workplace buildings, fuel stations, and dry cleaners, a small, slate-gray constructing is churning out a few of the most subtle and dazzling meals locals have ever skilled. Inside awaits a world crammed with plant-based culinary artistry, unbelievably recent produce, and an explosion of taste. The restaurant is Tane Vegan Izakaya, the first-and-only strictly plant-based sushi and izakaya in Hawaii’s capital metropolis. And right here, masterful takes on nigiri, specialty rolls, and traditional ramen—all with out fish, meat, and eggs—are rivaling even town’s greatest seafood eating places.

How chef Kin Lui received his begin

Lush greenery, the bluest of skies, and white sandy seashores—this beautiful backdrop of the mountainous, volcanic metropolis of Honolulu is the place over 350,000 individuals name residence. Amongst that fortunate quantity is Hong Kong-born chef Kin Lui, who started his profession on the sun-soaked island. Lui’s resumé is as intensive as it’s spectacular. After shifting to Hawaii at 15, he secured an after-school job at Pizza Hut that helped set the inspiration for a profession in eating places. First, he was a busboy at a fine-dining restaurant in Waikiki—then, a server at a neighborhood Japanese restaurant. Earlier than lengthy, he made the transfer to San Francisco the place he would go on to grasp his signature izakaya abilities whereas tenuring at Kyo-Ya, one of the vital costly sushi eating places within the metropolis. Not lengthy after, he met chef Raymond Ho, who would change into a fast buddy and, ultimately, a enterprise companion when the duo determined to forge their very own enterprise.

VegNews.TaneTeamChef Kin Lui (left) and the Tane workforce (proper)

Whereas brainstorming concepts for a brand new sort of eatery, a sudden realization got here by means of a newspaper article. “In the future, at lunch throughout my shift, I noticed an article speaking about how the bluefin tuna was going to go extinct if we don’t change the way in which we eat,” Lui remembers. “After lunch, I nonetheless had to return and serve bluefin tuna to prospects. So we determined to open our personal sushi bar.” The restaurant could be centered on “sustainable fish,” a subject that nationally recognized environmentalist and writer Casson Trenor constructed his profession upon. Trenor consulted the 2 cooks on their menu, serving to them with the opening of San Francisco’s Tataki, “America’s first sustainable sushi restaurant,” which might go on to be a serious hit with town’s locals and guests alike.

After a 3rd location and a TIME journal “Heroes of the Setting” accolade in 2009, the trio appeared to pursue a completely new idea for the opening of their fourth location. “We needed to do one thing nobody had ever carried out earlier than,” Lui says. On the time, Tataki had a one-page vegetarian menu for those who abstained from seafood. Lui needed to run with the concept, however Trenor challenged him to take it a step additional and make the menu totally plant-based with no hint of eggs or dairy. This enterprise took a 12 months to finish, however from the onerous work, one of the vital acclaimed vegan eating places on this planet, Shizen, was born in 2015.   

VegNews.TaneSushi3 Tane workforce

Three years later, after constructing the vegan establishment from the bottom up, Lui determined it was time for a change of surroundings. The 42-year-old chef at all times knew he needed to open his personal restaurant within the hometown that nurtured his love for cooking, so he packed up and moved again to Hawaii. After a complete 12 months of location looking proved fruitless, Lui had all however given up hope, reserving a flight to maneuver again to the Bay Space. Serendipitously, the day he flew again, a buddy from highschool known as a few Japanese restaurant that was on the market on the island. Lui flew again the identical night time to see the area and identical to that, Tane discovered its residence.

Tane’s seeds are planted

The Hawaiian phrase “tane” interprets to “seed,” and no particular person takes this extra actually than chef-owner Lui. Whereas the idea bears similarities to San Francisco’s Shizen, Tane Vegan Izakaya sprouted purely from Lui’s personal onerous work and ingenuity—from the smooth, modern inside to the non-public connections he solid with close by farmers to assist fill his restaurant with an abundance of recent, native produce. It’s this mixture of painstaking intention and good luck that’s guaranteeing a fishless izakaya on an island saturated with seafood eateries cannot simply survive however thrive.

One other serendipitous second got here within the type of Philippines-born Catherine N. Palazo, a pastry chef who discovered herself in Hawaii in search of a recent begin. Palazo had no prior Japanese cooking expertise, however Lui noticed expertise in her, so he introduced her underneath his wing. The partnership was greater than only a gig—she’d discovered a mentor whose abilities she admired as a lot as his philosophy. “It’s not about making a reputation for himself and being well-known,” Palazo says of Lui’s work ethic. “It’s about reaching individuals all around the world—whether or not they’re vegan or not—and serving to them admire that greens can style so a lot better than meat.” 

Whereas sushi cooks go to the fish market each morning to handpick fish for his or her dinner service, Lui and the workforce go to the farms early within the morning to select produce, somewhat than ordering from purveyors. “Hawaii may be very various, and we needed to make use of lots of native produce from small farms. We work intently with our farmers and assist the group,” Lui stated. “It’s a seed—a philosophical concept.”


That seed got here to bloom within the fantastically designed area that harkens again to nature, inviting diners to a heat, unforgettable expertise. Earlier than even getting into, Polaroid pictures of glad diners cling on close by partitions, a testomony to how vital group is for the eatery. Inside, visitors are bathed within the delicate pink glow from string lights dangling above. Informal diners can sit up entrance, capable of glimpse beautiful Hawaiian sunsets whereas savoring their meal, or on the sushi bar close to the entrance, the place magic occurs earlier than your eyes. For these embarking on an intimate date night time, the smooth center part emits a heat, delicate yellow glow for 2 to take pleasure in hushed conversations and flirtatious giggles between bites, with a full wall show of the best sake obtainable. For those who’re celebrating an occasion, the again space is reserved for big teams for an evening to recollect. Regardless of the event, be sure you make a reservation, as spots fill shortly, particularly on busy weekends.

Tane’s vegan menu

Visitors who step into Tane as skeptics are assured to go away as believers. Believers within the energy of greens, that’s. Juicy, handpicked tomatoes change into complicated, integral elements of an uramaki-style roll; chewy, bouncy noodles are slicked in yuzu shoyu and tossed with recent cucumber, carrots, nori, and rice crackers within the refreshing chilly soba salad; and earthy torched miso eggplants present a convincingly fishy texture for a easy nigiri bursting with intense taste.


Once you first go to Tane, it’s greatest to take action with pals to expertise the whole menu and dine family-style. For starters, a traditional miso soup will heat you up, whereas the poke salad with marinated fried tofu, pink onions, cashews, and scallions tossed in a yuzu-kombu-shoyu sauce will tantalize the palate. Shared plates characteristic shiitake mushrooms full of shredded tofu and sprinkled with matcha salt; agedashi tofu with hand-cut daikon; and panko-sprinkled, marinated katsu. Delve into a number of or order all of them—you’ll be able to’t go improper. For those who’re in want of consolation meals, one of many 4 ramen noodle bowls ought to do the trick. Every one—the fragile Shio, complicated Shoyu, wealthy Roasted Garlic Miso, and daring Spicy Garlic Miso—employs a wide range of flowers, seaweeds, and mushrooms to taste their fragrant broths, assured to assuage the soul. 


However after all, the star of the present is the eatery’s sushi. In Lui’s nigiri, grilled enoki mushrooms stand in for fish, their pure umami contrasted and highlighted by a drizzling of luxurious ponzu and garlic oil. It’s then topped with buttery ripe avocado, an intriguing smoked beet aioli, and a bathe of lemon zest earlier than being positioned fastidiously on a mattress of vinegar-seasoned rice. “The small print make the dish. After we’re making it, we take pleasure in every thing that we put together, and that interprets to our prospects,” Lui explains. “We imagine they’ll really feel the love we put into our meals.”


Like several sushi restaurant, Tane makes traditional rolls starting from the easy California roll to spicy “tofuna” roll. However essentially the most explosive of flavors come by means of the specialty rolls, all named after well-known seashores in Hawaii and California. Adventurous eaters ought to strive the Manila Dune, an uncommon mix of spiced burdock, shredded tofu, avocado crema, spicy chili, and lotus root chips. Or go for the Kailua, a ginger-shoyu tomato with pickled mango, marinated shiitake, and asparagus topped with candy mustard shoyu, wasabi mustard, and rice cracker pearls. Catch your breath in between rolls with a beer from native brewery Kona Brewing Firm, or strive one of many many sakes imported from small household breweries all through Japan. Once you’re able to get again to consuming, go for the Half Moon, a candy potato tempura roll with smoked bean curd, pickled mango, tomato, yuzu, shiso, and jalapeño. Then, share the crowd-favorite The Wedge, that includes spicy tofu tempura, scallions, shichimi togarashi, spicy aioli, and candy shoyu. Craving one thing candy? Chef Palazo’s pastry experience shines on the menu with distinctive dessert specials like her Orange Olive Oil Cake with Ricotta and the Pineapple Galette topped with scratch-made ice cream drizzled with miso caramel.

“We’re grateful that the vegan group on the island was very supportive. They’re bringing their pals who aren’t vegan and nearly all of them are mind-blown,” Palazo says. “The second they take their first chunk, it’s like an invisible gentle bulb. You see a glow on their face, and so they say, ‘I didn’t know that an okra or eggplant or tofu may style like this.’”

Tane’s future plans

Like a lot of how Tane got here to fruition—a matter of proper time, proper place—Lui and his companions have discovered one more excellent location to proceed to develop the seed. Tane opened its second outpost in Berkeley, CA final 12 months, additional intertwining Lui’s homeland together with his beloved Bay Space. However whether or not you go to Tane on the island or within the Bay, the mission of sharing the facility and mastery of vegetation with anybody and everybody grows deeper. “It’s important to imagine in what you like and what you like to do. We need to share this meals and philosophy with anybody that walks in,” Lui says. “In the future hopefully, we are able to develop this seed to completely different locations the place individuals can nonetheless benefit from the roots from right here.”

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