On A Roll With Restaurant 2978

2978 staff (from left) Richie Ogata, Yoshi Yonemura, Stephanie Papgayo and David Fukushima. Daniel Lane photos

“After you try the sushi over here, I guarantee you’re gonna be hooked!” Richie Ogata tells me. He’s the owner of Restaurant 2978 and Richie’s Bar & Grill in Lihu’e. Although the restaurant serves local-style food, it’s the sushi that gets him really excited.

“We just reopened the restaurant with a Japanese menu and a new sushi bar,” says Ogata, whose restaurant has been open for nine months. “Chef Yoshi (Yonemura) does excellent sushi, so we’re rolling with it!”

“We have people come here all the time, they’re regulars,” says kitchen manager David Fukushima. “They order the same things every time. I ask them, ‘If we’re closed and you’re hungry for sushi, where do you go?’ And they say, ‘We don’t go!'”

Richie laughs and adds, “Once you have something good, you don’t wanna have something bad!”

Tekka Maki, Eternal Sunshine, Maguro Nigiri, Bento, Tempura Shrimp and Miso Soup

I laugh, but I’m scared. Dare I admit that I am not a sushi fan? My husband Dan is, and he can see this is really great tightly rolled, not too much rice and lovely to look at.

I want to like sushi, I really do. It’s light and healthy good for you. Everybody likes sushi! So, in the name of research, I try a bite of Eternal Sunshine ($13). The roll is beautifully presented: tempura shrimp and avocado tightly wrapped inside sushi rice, draped with succulent salmon and topped with thin slices of lemon.

The first thing I notice is that it fits neatly in my mouth. It’s not loose with giant chunks flapping around. The rice is perfectly cooked and nicely seasoned. The crunchy tempura plays nicely off the creamy avocado, and the lemon adds a refreshing bright note. I am hooked, and Dan is shocked as I reach for a second bite.

Sushi chef Yoshi Yonemura is a slender young man from Japan. I watch him take his time making another roll. As he kindly explains the different types of sushi, he puts his next order on the handmade bamboo bar: a stunning Rainbow Roll.

But there is more than great sushi here. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And you can order breakfast until 2 p.m.

“The Oki pancakes are my mom’s pancakes,” says Ogata, whose mom Barbie Oki is the former owner of the now closed Oki Diner. “I’m not really a pancake eater, but after trying her pancakes I can see why people like them so much! It’s not heavy. Usually some places you gonna eat pancakes, they’re heavy, kinda doughy. These ones are real nice, light, fluffy!”

Teriyaki Chicken. Daniel Lane photo

Then there’s the Bombucha. “It’s so big that it’s served on a pizza platter!” Ogata says and laughs his deep, heartfelt laugh. “It’s got pancakes, fried rice, Portuguese sausage, corned beef hash, four eggs. It has everything on there! There’s a few guys who have eaten all of it. I’m thinking of doing an extra large one. I wanna make it so you can’t eat it. And if you do, it’s like, wow!

“If you like burgers, we got an awesome burger!” he adds. “Ohhhh! First of all, our burgers are huge, and if you wanna get crazy we do a pounder. Our patties are moist; we have fresh bread made for us. Everything has to be good, right? Your bread, your burger, whatever toppings you put on top of there. We toast it too, ya? And put some butter on!”

Twenty years ago, Ogata ran a somen and bento restaurant in Kekaha. “It did really well out there, but I was a little too young for it,” he says. “But this is my passion. So when the opportunity to open a restaurant and bar came, I jumped on it.”

I ask him how he can make quality food at reasonable prices. “Most places go for tourism; we like to keep our prices low for everybody the locals as well as the tourists. There’s people who come here and say, ‘Ho! These prices are reasonable!’ People can come here and get a good meal for a reasonable price. That’s my main focus, topnotch food at affordable pricing.”

As we get up to leave, a family of four walks toward the sushi bar. Auntie quickly sits in the chair I just vacated. Pulling herself closer to the bar, I can tell she’s been thinking about this sushi all day!

Restaurant 2978 2978 Umi St., Lihu’e 246-6300 Breakfast: daily, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Lunch: daily, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dinner: MondaySaturday, 5:30-9:30 p.m.