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20 for $20: You and your wallet can leave full

October 21, 2007|Rosemary McClure | Times Staff Writer

Nico's Pier 38

Price: $6.95 to $10

Downtown workers, fishermen and savvy tourists have a favorite seafood restaurant in Honolulu: Nico's Pier 38. And we agree. The seafood here is so fresh, you know it just came off the boat. Actually, the Honolulu Fish Auction is next door; each day, owner Nicolas Chaize chooses what he'll serve that day. Try the pan-seared ahi ($8.45) or the succulent opah ($8.15); the seafood plates are accompanied by fresh organic baby greens and rice. Order inside and eat on the busy patio or at a picnic table near the fishing boats.

We loved . . . the freshness of the fish.

We didn't love . . . the lack of air conditioning on the patio.

Nico's Pier 38, 1133 N. Nimitz Highway, Honolulu; (808) 540-1377, www.nicospier38.com.

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Uncle's Fish Market & Grill

Price: $5.95 to $15.95

There's only one seafood restaurant we like as well as Nico's, and this is it. Conveniently, it's next door, so if one has an overflow crowd, try the other. Uncle's is the new kid on the pier -- open three months -- with an open kitchen and lively, sea-oriented, casual decor. The menu here is larger than at Nico's, offering more types of fish, plus pastas, salads, deli foods, sandwiches, burgers and chicken. As at Nico's, customers are served a huge fillet of fish.

We loved . . . the decor, the freshness of the fish and the variety of the menu.

We didn't love . . . using a public outdoor restroom (although it was clean).

Uncle's, 1135 N. Nimitz Highway, Honolulu; (808) 275-0063, www.unclesfishmarket.com.

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Helena's Hawaiian Foods

Prices: $2.25 to $15.65

If you're looking for aloha spirit, Helena's is the place. This funky hole in the wall is a Honolulu icon. Locals come here for real Hawaiian food; visitors in the know skip the hotel luau and drop by to taste kalua pig ($2.90), poi ($2.25), squid luau ($3.15) and fried butterfish collar ($3.95). The James Beard Foundation called Helena's "a regional classic."

We loved . . . the friendly staff.

We didn't love . . . the run-down neighborhood, which includes a radiator shop and a feed store.

Helena's Hawaiian Foods, 1240 N. School St., Honolulu; (808) 845-8044.

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Mei Sum Dim Sum

Prices: $1.95 to $3.15

Dim sum isn't just for breakfast or lunch at Mei Sum. This popular Chinatown cafe serves it from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Steaming carts make the rounds displaying dumplings ($2.35), spareribs ($2.35), barbecued pork ($2.35), spring rolls ($1.95) and baked treats. Around you, other diners are gossiping, conducting business, socializing and drinking hot tea. You may have to wait for a seat here, but it's worth it.

We loved . . . the tastes -- and the low prices.

We didn't love . . . seeing shark's fin soup on the menu, which reminded us of the millions of sharks killed annually to bring this delicacy to the market.

Mei Sum Dim Sum, 65 N. Pauahi St., Honolulu; (808) 531-3268.

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Little Village

Prices: $4.50 to $16.95

Little Village ranks high on many best-places-to-dine-in-Chinatown lists, as well it should. The emphasis at this busy noodle house is on healthful, tasty food, with vegetarian substitutes available for all dishes. Murals, bead curtains, statuary and other Asian decor give the restaurant more character than many Chinese cookeries. It's not for the indecisive, though: The menu lists more than 100 items, with most dishes priced at about $7.50.

We loved . . . the pecan spinach salad ($6.25) and the honey walnut shrimp ($13.95), both house specialties.

We didn't love . . . waiting 45 minutes for a table.

Little Village, 1113 Smith St., Honolulu; (808) 545-3008, www.littlevillagehawaii.com.

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Vino

Prices: $7.50 to $16.95

Wine connoisseurs will raise a toast to this trendy tapas and wine bar on Honolulu's Restaurant Row (which isn't a row at all but a group of restaurants in a downtown commercial building). The grape is the king here, with a menu that's one page of food and three pages of wines. Sommelier-owner Chuck Furuya hasn't sold dining short, however. Try the seafood ravioli ($9.95) or gourmet pizza ($9.95). The restaurant won a 2004 award of excellence from Wine Spectator magazine. Flights are $2.50 for 2 ounces and $5.50 to $12.50 for 5 ounces.

We loved . . . the stylish look of the restaurant and the helpful waiters.

We didn't love . . . the limited menu.

Vino, 500 Ala Moana, Honolulu; (808) 524-8466.

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Side Street Inn

Prices: $6.50 to $20

Side Street Inn is wildly popular with locals, especially local chefs. No one is more surprised than owner Colin Nishida, who likes to remind diners, "We're a bar that serves food. We're not a restaurant that serves alcohol." So go there to kick back with a few beers or to watch a game; the rambling, unassuming bar has 11 TVs and video screens. Nishida's creations arrive at the table in large dishes meant for sharing. Try the BBQ baby back ribs ($15) or the special fried rice ($10).

We loved . . . the happy clamor and local atmosphere.

We didn't love . . . finding the place. It's on a side street (natch) near Ala Moana Shopping Center.

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