Food & Drinks

This Chandler ramen restaurant now serves a taste of Hawaii

“Hoomaka hou” means new beginnings in the Hawaiian language and represents chef Turbo Zha’s quest at Hawaiian BBQ Nishikawa Ramen in Chandler. Zha moved to the metro Phoenix area last year from Hawaii and is bringing a taste of the islands and his heritage to the Valley.

The original story was featured in the print edition of the Phoenix New Times in August of 2023.

“I stayed on the Big Island, Maui, and Oahu for 13 years,” Zha says, explaining that he moved to Hawaii from China in 2006. “During that time, I went to school, and I worked in different restaurants, including L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.”

In March, Zha fused his Hawaiian barbecue creations with chef Alex Feng’s menu at Nishikawa Ramen. Together, the two chefs run the popular East Valley fusion spot on Ray and Cooper roads.

One Hawaiian dish served at the restaurant is kalua pork, a slow-cooked pork that is shredded and has a tinge of smokiness. In Hawaii, traditional kalua pork is cooked in an imu, a deep pit in the soil lined with banana tree leaves and ti leaves. While the preparation is different at his Chandler restaurant, Zha worked to ensure the flavor remains.

“I brought this kalua pork recipe from Hawaii to Phoenix, also, our chicken katsu,” Zha says.

At Zha’s restaurant, the kalua pork is served with two scoops of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad and veggies. The platters are called plate lunches, or in Hawaiian, pā mea ʻai, and often include a combination of Asian and American food.

Chicken katsu, a recipe that originated in Japan and is popular in the Aloha State, is a deep-fried breaded chicken fillet served with katsu sauce. Zha’s recipe is made with a soy sauce base, a hint of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and brown sugar, providing a sweet and tangy flavor. “I cannot tell you the secret ingredient,” he jokes. The platter costs $12.95.

The Hawaiian entrées come in varieties of meat, poultry and seafood and the restaurant serves white fish, breaded shrimp and giant prawns.

“You know, in Oahu island, you can see a lot of shops and they sell giant prawns,” Zha says. “I make it with a little butter where I stir fry the garlic and the prawns. I brought that recipe in from China, but it was (already) popular in Hawaii.”

“Since its founding in 1970, Phoenix New Times has become a cultural force in the Valley of the Sun.”

On the menu, it’s listed as the Chef’s Special and costs $15.95.

A plate lunch with two or more entrées is called a mixed plate in Hawaii. At Hawaiian BBQ Nishikawa Ramen, it’s called a Hawaiian Favorite.

Other popular Hawaiian entrees Zha serves are barbecue chicken and beef. While Zha grills food in the kitchen at the restaurant, back in Hawaii, he’d head outdoors to cook yakiniku  — Japanese barbecue or grilled meat.Zha also makes kalbi short beef ribs which are marinated in savory and sweet Korean barbecue sauce and then grilled to tender, juicy, bite-sized pieces. Korean for rib, galbi or kalbi is a staple in Korean spots around the Valley, but Zha’s partner Feng uniquely serves kalbi in another cooking style.

“We mix the kalbi with Japanese ramen. We call it kalbi short rib ramen,” Feng says. “It’s $16.95 and is served with curved noodles, pork broth, beef short rib, green onion, nori, corn, sesame seeds (and) seasoned egg.”Another creative combination is the kimchi ramen, which includes a mix of Japanese ramen with

The original story was featured in the print edition of the Phoenix New Times in August of 2023.

chashu or braised pork and kimchi. The large bowl of soup is served with pork broth, corn, sesame seeds, green onion, kimchi, curved noodles and a seasoned egg, which can come boiled or fried sunny side up. The restaurant serves 10 different types of ramen.

The Asian-influenced fare continues onto the appetizer menu. Kimchi, a spicy fermented napa cabbage is available along with edamame, crispy seaweed, spring rolls and shrimp shumai.

Whether you’re craving a bowl of comforting ramen or a taste of the Pacific Islands, this Chandler spot promises an experience that’s as rich and captivating as a Hawaiian sunset — mahalo for the flavors expertly prepared by chefs Zha and Feng.

Hawaiian BBQ Nishikawa Ramen

1909 East Ray Road, Chandler