New Hilo restaurant rolls out sushi, salads and ramen

Sushi — it’s what’s on the menu at Hilo’s newest downtown restaurant.


Sushi — it’s what’s on the menu at Hilo’s newest downtown restaurant.

Kanpai, Japanese for “cheers,” is a casual, fine-dining bar and restaurant, focusing on sushi, salads and ramen.

Co-owned by Issa Hilweh and Rhonda Nichols, of Hilo Town Tavern and Hilo Burger Joint, respectively, the late-night eatery and karaoke bar offers friendly service, good grinds and tasty drinks.

Hilweh opened the restaurant March 29, and said it’s since been a source of inspiration for him.

“I love building out new ideas, creating a vision, then watching it grow. It keeps me inspired,” he said.

Located at 190 Keawe St., Kanpai is open 5 p.m.-1 a.m. everyday.

The food, designed by chefs Derek Ishii and Mike Ito, is reasonably priced with sushi rolls ranging from $7-$9.

Some favorites include the $9 rainbow roll — perfect for classic sushi lovers. It’s a surimi and cucumber roll topped with ahi, salmon, avocado, tobiko, scallions and shiro goma.

The popular red eye roll is $9 and packed with hickory smoked bacon, asparagus, and cucumber. It’s topped with sweet-spicy ahi, tobiko, shiro goma, scallions, roasted mac nuts and kagu-tsuchi sauce.

Another one to try is the $7 bamboo roll, which includes locally made pesto, cucumber, carrot, avocado, asparagus, purple cabbage, horseradish sprouts, and is topped with roasted mac nuts and scallions.

For appetizers, there’s miso soup, your choice of garlic or kim chi edamame, poke and a two-piece summer roll.

Kids and adults alike will be pleased with the soups.

The Kanpai ramen is made with pulled pork, boiled egg, nori and fish cake. The tan tan has Japanese style char siu and includes an assorted vegetable garnish. The won ton mein has won tons, assorted Chinese vegetables and can be served with or without noodles. Ask about mixing the won tons into other soups; all ramen dishes are $9.

There’s also several different nigiri and side options. Try the kim chi, it’s made fresh each night.

Dessert includes the $6 mochi ice cream.

Chris McGuire, Kanpai bar manager, said the restaurant tries to use as much local ingredients as possible and it is a healthy alternative for late-night foodies.

You will more than likely find McGuire behind the bar whipping up one of Kanpai’s signature drinks, where he aims to please.

“One of the best complements someone has given me is ‘that’s the best drink I’ve ever had,’” he said. “Or, when I watch them take their first sip and see their eyes light up like ‘wow … never had that before.’ ”

Like McGuire said, they’re good and you pay for it. Cocktails are priced at $9 a glass.

A popular concoction is the Swamp Water, a classic mojito with fresh ginger and balsamic vinegar.

If you like cucumbers, try the Cucumber Collins, made with gin, cucumber, splash of lemon and a subtle twist.

There’s also a variety of white and red wines, champagne and plenty of sake options on the menu. Ask for the Banzai Bunny sake.

McGuire said the restaurant plans to host small performance acts in the future. Kanpai currently seats about 70 people.


For more information, find Kanpai on Facebook or call 808-969-1000. The menu can be found online at

Email Megan Moseley at