Chiba-ken is one of the recent restaurants to open in Waikiki. Ok, maybe not so recent because it's been a little over a year, but we just got around to trying it. It's conveniently located at 468 Ena Road just off Kalakaua Avenue. The location is great for us because it's about a 5 minute walk from our condo. If you are driving there, I'm not sure where the best place to park would be but I'd look for a street stall.
The ambiance is a mixture of Western (American), Japanese and Hawaii. There are bright colored walls, assorted squash on display, Hawaiian paintings and Japanese geta (wooden shoes) as light diffusers. It's quite a mixture, but all some how pulls together nicely. One thing we felt is that it could use some padding or noise buffers in the restaurant. It was very loud to the point where we didn't have much discussion with each other and I also couldn't hear what the people were saying to me (like eating in a school cafeteria with hundreds of kids, but there are really only maybe 30 or so adults drinking beers!). I think the noise level detered 2 or 3 parties from dining there. They actually sat down at the table beside us for a minute and decided to go somewhere else. I don't usually see people actually leave a restaurant after being seated very often, but it happened at least twice while we were sitting there.
Their menu has a lot of items to choose from. Most Japanese restaurants concentrate on one type of food preparation style (noodles, sushi, sashimi, meals, bowls, etc.), but Chiba-ken has a bit of everything. They specialize in a large sushi selection while also having several teishoku (complete meals), some donburi (bowl dishes), curry and skewered items. The prices range between $2.75-$5 for the sushi, $5-$6 for donburi, $11-$16 for teishoku and several $2-$3 items. It's perfect for people that enjoy some beer with their food. We don't drink beer, but it was still good.
We had 6 temaki sushi (maguro, unagi, sake & ume handrolls), vegetable tenpura, agedashi tofu and hire katsu.
The tenpura and agedashi tofu came out first. The tenpura was crisp with a good variation of vegetables and the agedashi tofu had some konbu (seaweed) in the broth. The broth or sauce that was served with both of those dishes was very light in flavor, almost too light for my tastes. It tasted good, but the agedashi tofu is prepared with firm tofu and I didn't care for it because it was too hard.
The hire katsu (pork tenderloin fried cutlet) then came out. This is probably the best hire katsu I have ever had! The pork was so moist, soft and juicy. I've had hire katsu at places in Japan and this made more of an impression on me than those. I didn't order the hire katsu at Tokatsu Ginza Bairin yet, but it's probably good there also.
Then the sushi came out. We would have enjoyed the sushi a bit earlier, but I think they held it back because of lack of space on the table. When it arrived the nori was a bit moist and no longer crisp. It still looked good enough for the price. It tasted good.
Lastly, we were waiting for our last item. We had ordered a tsukune (chicken meat ball skewer) at the beginning with the rest of our order. It still didn't arrive. We asked about it and the waitress checked on it. They apparently forgot about it because it wasn't started yet. We were both pretty full so we cancelled it and decided to try it another night.
Finishing up our dinner hot tea was served and our tab was brought over to our table. The tea was served way too hot. If it was a special tea the flavor would have already been ruined because of the over heating. The cup was so hot it was difficult to hold it long enough to take a sip. Anyway, it didn't taste great, just like regular super hot tea.
Overall, I'm very happy this restaurant is here. The food is good, service is ok (they missed 1 item and it's difficult to hear them), very convenient location and good selection of food. We spent about $46 for 2 of us without any drinks. We'll probably be going there more often on Mondays. Why Mondays? Most other Japanese restaurants are closed on Mondays. Our favorite place Michinoku on Kalakaua Ave is closed on Mondays and we actually saw them at Chiba-ken enjoying dinner that night! Even restaurant chefs and their families need to eat out some times...