The Kenji’s Food Truck experience, which deceivingly is also a brick and mortar, starts the second you step foot in the front door. Located on Spring Street, near Longley Lane, the Hawaiian fusion eatery houses a full-sized food truck façade so it feels like you’re ordering from the side of a vehicle, even though you’re not.
It’s a nod to Kenji’s beginnings, opening as a food truck in 2011 before adding the brick and mortar to its fleet in 2019. The menu at the brick and mortar is an expanded version of the truck’s menu, featuring fusion dishes that pull from Hawaiian, Asian and Latin cuisines. The inspiration comes from owners Joe and Keliana Najeras’ roots; she’s from Hawaii and his family hails from Central America.
In addition to affordable lunch plates that feature a protein selection, two scoops of rice and one side (macaroni salad, green salad or coleslaw), the menu at Kenji’s has tacos, sandwiches, edamame and more. There are several protein options to finish meals, including Hawaiian barbecue chicken and beef, Kalua pork, tofu and spam.
The tacos are served street style but each one has its own combination of flavors. If you’re looking to skip the spice, the pork taco, made with Kalua pig, onion, cilantro and queso fresco, will be your best friend. The chicken, steak and tofu tacos come with a spicy cucumber mix that brings the heat.
For vegetarians, the mushroom taco, with queso fresco, onion and cilantro feels similar to the classic taco truck options with a vegetarian twist.
If you’re looking for something hearty and flavorful, you can’t go wrong with fried udon noodles. These pan-fried noodles come with cabbage, green onion, red pickled ginger and your choice of protein (chicken, beef or tofu) before it’s heavily drizzled with a garlic-citrus mayo. The noodles are greasy and delicious, just the way they should be, marinated in a sesame-soy sauce mixture before served. The sauce really makes this dish stand out, giving it an additional blast of flavor and texture that one wouldn’t expect from traditional udon.
Many of the menu items also feature spam, common in Hawaiian cuisine, including the spam tacos served with a katsu sauce. The spam fried rice, however, is a favorite. The spam is crispy, perfectly chopped up into small bites that complement the egg and vegetables well. The rice is slightly crispy and full of flavor, cooked to absolute perfection before it’s served, and overflowing on the plate.
If you’re looking to go all in on a plated lunch, you won’t go hungry. Actually, the portions on everything are generous, and very reasonably priced. You can tell just by picking up a to-go container how loaded every dish is.
For me, it’s the Hawaiian barbecue chicken; sliced, marinated chicken is served with two heaping scoops of white rice and another side. The macaroni salad stands up to the other items on the menu, so often a toss away at other restaurants, packed with flavors that work together seamlessly.
Once you’ve gotten your order, you can take it home or dine in. Kenji’s offers cool wall art including a brief history lesson on some of the cuisine and a drawing of a cat in sunglasses that somehow makes you feel not quite cool enough to be in its presence. There are also Hawaiian beverages for sale.
The truth is it’s hard to pick a favorite dish from Kenji’s, and I’d venture to say it’s my favorite Hawaiian food in Reno (which isn’t to say the competition isn’t fierce). Everything I’ve tasted is equally delicious, so it really just comes down to preference. Whether you’re feeling a traditional Hawaiian breakfast of grilled spam, eggs and rice (served all day) or prefer to bite into an El Hawaiiano (Kenji’s twist on an El Cubano), we doubt you’ll be disappointed.
3940 Spring Drive, #40, Reno, Nev. 89502
Tuesday – Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Nora Heston Tarte is a long-time Reno resident living on the southside of town. In addition to food, her hobbies include wine, hiking, yoga and travel. She is also the managing editor of a regional, lifestyle publication and freelances for other publications most frequently in the travel space. Nora received her bachelor’s in Journalism from California State University, Sacramento before graduating from University of Nebraska, Lincoln with a master’s in Professional Journalism. You can follow her travel adventures, and local exploits, on her Instagram account @wanderlust_n_wine.