Hot!Dining around Oahu

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kaszeta
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2014/03/19 13:04:33 (permalink)

Dining around Oahu

Last month, I was invited to the wedding of a former coworker, and since the groom had gone to University of Hawaii, and the bride was from Japan, they held the wedding in Waikiki.  Since I hadn't been to Hawaii since the early 1990s, and hadn't really had a chance to explore the area (culinarily or otherwise), I figured this would be a great opportunity to check out the area.  Due to a variety of logistical reasons (primarily my work schedule, and the date of the wedding), I didn't have a chance to get off of Oahu... but I did otherwise have ten days exploring the island.
 
Here's the full list of places I ended up reviewing, 18 in all: http://offbeateats.org/category/us/hi/
 
But I'll cover the highlights.
 
First up was Joe's Grill Express.  There aren’t a lot of great ways to get to HNL from New Hampshire, with most every option involving either a long layover, multiple hops, or red-eye flights. Or a combination of these.  Between that, and an actual snowstorm in Seattle (requiring us to wait almost an hour for what is apparently just the one deicing truck at SEA), we pulled into HNL at almost midnight. Luckily, we had known that our flight would be getting in relatively late, so that we decided that the easiest way to handle things would be to get a hotel room near the airport.  But that left us, pre-rental car, located in a part of town near the airport that's mostly a culinary wasteland.   Mostly.  There's at least one exception to that, and that's Joe's Grill Express.
 
Joe’s Grill Express is in a fairly nondescript strip mall about a half mile East of the airport, and a short walk from either the Best Western (where we stayed) or the Alamo Rent-a-Car lot. Like a substantially large fraction of lower cost restaurants in Hawaii (typically these places are called “Drive Ins” or “Drive Inns”, despite not actually having drive-up service, although this usage isn’t unique to HI, I’ve seen in it New England as well), the decor is sparse and almost non-existent: you walk in the door, and there’s basically just an ordering window and a few tables (and the ever-present in HI cat statue for good luck). But what it lakes in ambiance, they more than make up for in quality and variety.  Hawaii is a culinary melting pot, with contributions coming from native Hawaiian cuisine, the mainland, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Korean and Filipino being the major contributors, and Joe's is mostly a Filipino place.   We were both unable to resist ordering theiradobo pork omelet with fried rice. A few minutes after ordering, it came out as a nice three-egg omelet stuffed with an ample portion of adobo pork, all over a bed of fried rice. And this was just about the perfect breakfast for recovering from a late-night flight and a five-hour jetlag shift. The omelet was cooked perfectly. The fried rice was nice and crispy and flavorful. And, most importantly, the adobo pork was absolutely delicious:

Let's open that up to get a look at the adobo pork:

Soft, tender, and juicy chunks of pork in a rich and spicy sauce with some rice garlic and pepper notes, I would have been thrilled with just the pork. But it combined perfectly with the fried rice and egg to make one of the more delicious breakfasts I’ve had recently, and a great way to start off our trip.  Full review here.
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    ScreamingChicken
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/03/19 14:25:41 (permalink)
    That looks mighty good!  Is Joe's a 24/7 place?
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    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/03/19 15:03:08 (permalink)
    ScreamingChicken
    That looks mighty good!  Is Joe's a 24/7 place?

    No, but they have pretty good hours for what's mostly a breakfast joint: 4:30 am to 7pm.
    #3
    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/03/19 19:19:06 (permalink)
    One of the things that intrigues me about Hawaiian food is one of the more peculiar culinary traditions, the "Plate Lunch".  Going back to the plantation days, it's basically a variant of bento tradition that has morphed into something more reflective of both Hawaiian and mainland American ideals.  The basic plate lunch is *everywhere* (including places you wouldn't expect, like McDonald's, which also has all sorts of other Hawaiian stuff on the menu like saimin and Portuguese sausage).  But the basic plate lunch is (a) one or more grilled meats, (b) two giants scoops of rice, and (c) a giant scoop of macaroni salad.   The last of these always amazes me, since it's distinctly, well, non-native.  But macaroni salad is to be had most everywhere as well (including sushi joints and Korean places...). 
     
    Here's a good example of a plate lunch, from Mike's Huli Huli Chicken in Kaneohe:

    This was a particularly fine lunch.  I’ll be honest, I usually eschew anything resembling barbecued chicken, because it is so, so easy to use a grill to convert a perfectly delicious piece of chicken into a dry and unsavory result, as I’ve found at entirely too many restaurants (Peruvian chicken places are one of my few regular exceptions to this). But that’s not the case here at Mike’s: the resulting dark meat chicken quarter was basically the perfect expression of a grilled and glazed chicken breast. The meat itself was nicely cooked and very moist throughout, with a lot of mesquite smoke flavor permeating most of the meat. Add in some nicely crisped chicken skin covered with a tangy and somewhat spicy huli huli sauce, and the result is exactly what a good piece of grilled chicken should taste like.  The kalua pig was no slouch, either.  (Full review here.
     
    Up the shore a bit is an example of another fine island tradition: the shrimp truck.  Between Punaluʻu and Sunset Beach are a quite a few stands and trucks selling you shrimp. Some of these have quite the following, such as Shrimp Shack (Punaluʻu), Macky’s (Haleiwa), Giovanni’s, Fumi’s, and Romy’s (the last three of these all in Kahuku, and the style is often called “Kahuku shrimp”). Thus, stopping for shrimp is a popular pastime in both the surfer and tourist communities. For our visit, we decided to give Fumi’s a try:

    This was some really fine garlic shrimp, with a fair bit of peppery heat.  The shrimp itself is cooked perfectly, without overcooking or mushiness, for the perfect shrimp texture. The spiced garlic butter sauce is a perfect complement for both the shrimp and the rice. The salad and pineapple, while almost an afterthought, do add a nice dimension to making this a meal instead of just a “rice and shrimp” snack.  (Full review here)
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    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/03/22 20:09:54 (permalink)
    If there’s a single place that really represents what “Hawaiian Food” is, the first place probably has to go to Zippy’s (their competitor L&L Drive Inn comes in at a close second). Zippy’s is a combination fast food and casual restaurant (literally, since most Zippy’s have both the fast food counter and a table service dining room) that started in Honolulu in 1966. Filling nominally the same sort of market niche that Denny’s does on the mainland, the key to Zippy’s is that just about every local Hawaiian food item out there:

    It's also a great place to get a Loco Moco. A culinary tradition coming from the Big Island, your standard loco moco is basically a variant of the “plate lunch” I’ve already described in the previous posts: a large plate of white rice, topped with a hamburger patty, two fried egg, and brown gravy. Oh, and the obligatory macaroni salad…. It’s basically “plate lunch” meets “salisbury steak”. And I’ll have to say, while setting no records for healthiness, it was an enjoyable meal: the hamburger patty is nicely done, and served up in a rich gravy that’s actually pretty flavorful (instead of the usual emulsion of fat and salt) that I would have enjoyed by itself, but it actually worked quite well combined with the fried egg and the rice:

    Or it's cousin, the Chili moco:

    Or the other great Hawaiian treat: the Spam Musubi:

    (Full review here)
     
    Speaking of Musubi, that stuff was everywhere.  Including some of the sushi places (this example from Genki's Sushi)...

    Homemade at a friend's house:

    Or, probably my favorite overall: 7-Eleven:

     
    Yup, Hawaii even manages to infiltrate 7-Eleven, with every one of them in the state selling fresh made Musubi, Manapua (steam buns, more on those later), and other local snacks.  (Full review here).
    #5
    ricoboxing
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/03/28 09:01:36 (permalink)
    mahalo! our keiki luv zippys!!
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    Foodbme
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/03/29 02:29:53 (permalink)
    I read your detailed report. FANTASTIC REPORTING!
    Engineers aren't supposed to be able to write like that!
    Does the NY Times Food Editor know about you?
    post edited by Foodbme - 2014/03/29 03:24:03
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    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/01 11:44:58 (permalink)
    Sorry I've been slow in updating this (groan, suffering from my second kidney stone in as many years).
     
    But I'll have to say that Honolulu was the source of one of the best food tours I've ever been on.  I don't usually do organized food tours, since I'm often pretty good at sniffing out my own destinations, but in Hawaii in particular several people who I trust all recommended Hawaii Food Tours (http://www.hawaiifoodtours.com/), so we decided to give them a try.
     
    Their main food tour is their "Hole-In-The-Wall Tour", in which a driver (Bill) and a guide (in our case, a young woman named Sahara who had studied Hawaiian history, language and culture at University of Hawaii) were focusing on showing us "local" cuisine: what the people in Honolulu generally love eating.  So at 9am, we loaded up into their van, and started our tour.
     
    Our first stop with them was in Chinatown Cultural Center at the edge of Chinatown, in a place called Royal Kitchen:

    While Royal Kitchen does serve up a lot of standard Hawaiian fare like plate lunches and saimin, what they are really known for is manapua, the Hawaiian version of char siu bao, those Chinese soft buns filled with meat. But, while most places steam their manapua, while Royal Kitchen bakes theirs.  Here's my Kalua Pig manapua:

    this was a substantial manapua, a bit denser than many of the steamed ones I have. Biting into it, it was generously stuffed with very tasty shredded kalua pig, with a nice, sweet and slightly smoky flavor. Bun-wise, this was about a traditional steamed Chinese bao bun, and a really good Western-style dinner roll. Overall, I was pleased with this manupua, and agree that Royal Kitchen did one of the better ones we had on the island:

    But they've got a lot of varieties:  Enough that they mark them with edible red dye, and the box has a nice legend about all the flavors:

    Including some great ones like Japanese Sweet Potato:

    ’ll have to say, Royal Kitchen was a great place to start a food tour. It’s a nice hole-in-the-wall joint serving up a rare but pleasant variation of the standard manapua, doing so with a great amount of flavor and an excellent texture of the bun. And at $1.30 a manapua, the price is pretty good as well.
    (Full review here)
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    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/01 12:16:57 (permalink)
    Next up was Chinatown proper.  Keeping in the theme of "Manapua", our next stop was Char Hung Sut.  Char Hung Sut is another one of those old school places in Chinatown, and they’ve been producing manapua and other dim sum for a rather long time. Indeed, I’m not even sure how long, since aside from finding mention of it in a 1960 Hawaii tourism guide, I can’t find any reference to how long they’ve been around. But in any case, they make most short lists I’ve found online for where to go to get good manapua.  Indeed, Char Hung Sut is basically the historical source for the modern manapua with the big, giant steamed bun: the late Bat Moi Kam Mau who used to own the place is generally regarded as the baker that popularized the oversized manapua:

    walking into Char Hung Sut is like walking into a factory. Indeed, Char Hung Sut is one of those places where, upon walking in the door underneath their big sign, you immediately wonder if you’ve walked in the back door by mistake, since you pretty much step right into the production line. But nope, you’re in the right place, a few seconds after you walk in, one of the ladies will grab and order slip and ask you what you want:

    In any case, I ended up with a giant softball-sized char siu manapua:

    With a rich, delicious char siu pork interior:

    (Full review here)
     
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    brisketboy
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/01 14:20:28 (permalink)
    Love this report as it stirs up many fond memories of my tour at Pearl Harbor. Gone are the fun days of the Pearl City Monkey Tavern but I remember eating there in it's heyday. One of the best places I ever ate was Keneki's on Kalanioli highway in Wailea. Kahlua pig, two scoops rice and some cole slaw.
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    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/01 20:44:34 (permalink)
    Our next stop was the gem of the tour: the Ying Leong Look Funn Factory:

    It's a fairly subtle store front on the Kekaulike Market in central Chinatown, but stepping through the door, it’s less like walking into a store than, well, a factory, and you pretty much walk right into the noodle production line.  Usually when you think “factory”, the idea is automation and machinery, but this place is basically pre-industrial, with hand labor doing most of the steps (about the exception is that they have an automated vibrating wire cutter to cut sheets of noodles into chow funn noodles if you want them that way).

    Nope, the process here starts with one worker oiling sheet pans (traditionally with peanut oil, but due to allergy concerns, they now use a canola mix), and then fresh noodle batter is ladled into each pan, swirled around, and then the pans stacked up in a giant steamer vessel. The lid is then lowered (with a pulley and a rope), and the noodles steam away, while they work on the previous round of noodles that just got pulled out of the steamer:


    Once the noodles are done, the vessel is opened, and a group of sheets are brought over to a table and put in front of big fans to cool, with the fans being one of the other few concessions to modernity. After each noodle sheet is dried and cooled, teams of workers roll up the flat noodles by hand, and stack them. It’s quite a process, but they do it for three different styles of funn: normal funn, and then two flavored varieties: one with chunks of shrimp, and another with chunks of char siu pork, with the bits mixed into the batter.


    Each of us got samples of both the pork and shrimp noodles (at right), as well as a serving of chow funn with some freshly grilled chicken from Jackie’s Corner inside the Maunakea Marketplace nearby, which has a phenomenal food court representing most major Asian cuisines.  The result was pure awesome:

    (Full review here)

    #11
    buffetbuster
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/02 22:04:13 (permalink)
    Kaszeta-
    Not sure why this thread isn't getting more attention, but those are fantastic photos and descriptions!  As usual.  I especially love the look of that garlic shrimp from Fumi's, but truthfully, everything looks good.  Thanks so much for posting this.
     
    Feeling any better?
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    mamaduck43
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/03 00:20:02 (permalink)
    OMG!!!!!  If I were to make a bucket list of my old haunts in the 25+ years I lived on Oahu, each and every place that you visited would be on it - - on top of that, you ordered all of my favorite items at each place...    Outside of my family members who are still there, and some very dear friends that I haven't seen in 8 years since I left, what I miss the most were the 'ono grinds' (good eats) that were around every bend in the road....  I really don't miss the scenery and the weather, but, if it wasn't for the unbearable flights back and forth, I would be going back one time per year for an orgy of souvenir eating - - - Manapua, musubi, hulihuli chicken, malasadas and all the other treats that cannot be found in my little corner of Wisconsin.....  And I will never forget the first time I almost fell down  the cement steps into the 'kitchen' at Char Hung Sut.

    And I do have an explanation for the ubiquitous macaroni salad that is a staple of the plate lunch....  The plate lunch is actually an imitation of the bento type lunches that the workers would bring from home...  Macaroni instead of potatoes, since it was cheaper and easier to store, since Hawaii's climate doesn't make good storage for the potatoes...  If you go to a  pot luck in a friend's or relative's back yard, the 'white' salad will usually be a potato / mac blend....  And it will have lots of additions like sliced black olives, red and green peppers, sometimes tuna and more veggies than the restaurant fare....  Each family seems to have a favorite version - - usually a result of an extremely wonderful version that one Aunty or another made one time when she was cleaning out the fridge, and that's what everyone tries to imitate...    Oh, how I miss those pot lucks - - what a variety of foods show up.....  Good eating, for sure.....
    Thanks for sharing your travels and experiences - - give me a head's up before your next trip, and i will turn you on to a few places that are a 'must try'........  Aloha...
    #13
    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/03 07:48:49 (permalink)
    Yeah, I figured the storage ability of macaroni figured into it...
     
    And I'd love to know your must try places, although I have several of my own that I just didn't have time or stomach space for...
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    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/03 08:10:51 (permalink)
    The tour also took us to several places for sweets.  The first was Liliha Bakery.  Located in Kalihi, which is one of the older and distinctly less touristy parts of town, Liliha is one of those places known for three things in particular: coco puffs (no, not the cereal, we’ll get back to that), great pancakes, and being open 24 hours a day (except for Mondays, when they take a day off). Indeed, when I was getting recommendations for places to check out for “local eats” in Honolulu, several people all gave me the suggestion “Get some coco puffs from Liliha Bakery”. So when our Hawaii Food Tours van pulled up and stopped at Liliha, I had an inkling as to why we were there:


    At 10am on a Friday, so many people were there trying to order various cakes, breads, and, of course, Coco Puffs (looking at the various boxes going out the door, it was clear that half the people were getting… Coco Puffs). So, I’ll have to get right down to it: what’s a Coco Puff?

    Quite frankly, it’s what happens when you take a nice, classic French-style cream puff made with choux pastry (much like the fine products of Beard Papa Cream Puffs, who actually have a location in Honolulu, putting them on the short list for a future Death March), and instead of the whipped cream filling, having a deep, rich chocolate filling (much like a pudding), and being topped with a nice, light chantilly frosting:

    Indeed, biting into one, you can see that a Coco Puff isn’t some sort of pastry that’s got a little bit of filling in it… no, each Coco Puff is filled to the point that it’s basically a thin pastry shell around a core of rich chocolate. And indeed, it’s a good chocolate filling, and a great frosting. I can easily see why these are so popular.
     
    That said, the place seemed to have an awesome breakfast counter as well.  I will have to go back:

    (Full review here)
     
    #15
    mamaduck43
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/03 11:43:20 (permalink)
    AAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!  You are killing me here!!!!  I have eating many a breakfast at that counter and it has a special intrigue by the huge variety of selections on the menu....  One of the better offerings of ox-tail soup in town, and the friendliest counter people in the world....  And dessert (for the road0 is easily obtained at the bakery counter just to the left of this photo - - always bustling and busy, but the aromas and the people watching make the wait go quickly.... 
     
    After reading you prior posts, I found myself at 11 PM the other night, cooking up some Spam - - I am low carbing, so I sated my cravings by wrapping some sheets of Nori around the Spam, and I skipped the rice....  It was yummy.....  My Hapa-Hawaiiian grandkids who live near me here, did a 2 week Oahu trip last summer....  They found some adorable mini musubi in Longs - - two bite kine!!!!  Longs is a local chain which is a treasure trove for local goodies.....   And right next to my favorite Longs in Kaneohe is a Chinese take out with the best roast pork on the Windward side...  The counter folks are very adept at picking a hunk of pork from the rack that is a bit bigger than what you asked for, and, of course, after it is weighed and before chopping, I would always go for the larger amount.... 
     
    I have been jotting down a list of must do's and will elaborate after I make sure the list is complete.....  I think I have to win the Powerball so that I can afford a first class seat for the flights - - the only way I can even imagine making that claustrophobic flight....  Sigh....
    #16
    brisketboy
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/03 12:26:28 (permalink)
    I'm surprised that you haven't stopped in at Ono Hawaiian Foods. I go there when I'm in town because it's just down from my hotel and they're always good.
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    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/03 16:39:13 (permalink)
    For the last stop on our food tour, they took us to Leonard’s Bakery, a modestly-sized bakery located in the Kaimuki neighborhood, not to far from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, with their gleaming sign advertising malasadas and pão doce. The destination wasn’t particularly a surprise, since I’m pretty sure that Leonard’s Bakery was far and away the most-recommended place on Oahu, with literally dozens of people telling me that I had to go to Leonard’s and order a malasada:

    But I’m sure quite a few of you are now asking “what’s a malasada?” Well, as I mentioned, Hawaii is quite the culinary melting pot, and that influence includes Portuguese cuisine (a large number of Portuguese workers came to Hawaii from the Azores in the late 19th century to work on the sugar cane plantations). This immigration added several major items to Hawaiian cuisine, including Portuguese sausage (available at most breakfast places in Hawaii, and also widely available as a choice in a standard plate lunch), pão doce (Portuguese sweet rolls, kind of like a sweet dinner roll), and the malasada. The malasada is basically a Portuguese donut: a nominally egg-sized lump of dough is fried up and, in its most basic form, served up rolled in granulated sugar. It’s one of the classics of Hawaiian cuisine (indeed, the wedding we attended had fresh malasadas at the reception), and it’s a dessert widely available across the state.
     
    Hawaii takes its malasadas quite seriously: You’ll barely find an actual “donut” on the island, since the malasada reigns as king here. And freshness is highly valued, to the point that “fresh malasada” is almost redundant: almost every single place that sells malasadas is selling them to you freshly made, hot out of the oil. And Leonard’s follows this tradition: Malasadas are only available hot out of the oil, rolled in a variety of sugars (plain, cinnamon, or li hing), and optionally filled with one of several cream fillings (custard, chocolate, huapia, or the flavor of the month):

    And I’ll have to say that there is definitely something behind the hype, for both malasadas in general, and Leondard’s malasadas in particular. Each malasada itself is the perfect expression of a fried pastry from the moment you open the box: that fresh combination of sugar, grease, yeasty dough, and just a hint of coconut makes for the perfect box opening experience. And each malasada follows through with that, being a perfect little pillow of soft dough, with a perfectly crispy exterior and just enough sweetness from the granulated sugar to make everything to come together:


    But the filled malasadas take this to the next level: I sampled both the chocolate and the haupia (shown here) versions of the filled malasada, and both showed that Leonard’s is working just as hard on the filling as the malasada itself. The filling in both was warm, rich in flavor, and, most importantly, not too sweet. The chocolate was a deep, rich chocolate note. The haupia was similarly a nice expression in subtlety, with a soft coconut flavor that was more nutty and silky than sweet:

    (Full review here)
    #18
    mamaduck43
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/03 19:06:56 (permalink)
    brisketboy

    I'm surprised that you haven't stopped in at Ono Hawaiian Foods. I go there when I'm in town because it's just down from my hotel and they're always good.

     
    It is pretty far from here - - almost 3 hours each way - - and I am at the mercy of my family for transportation, but it is on my list, too...  There is a good Hawaiian place in Chicago, too - - I have been there a couple of times...  We have found manapua - - frozen in an Asian market in a neighboring town and that has become a regular stop... 
     
    kaseta, another Portuguese import is the ukulele!!!!  If any of you see a concert in your area by Jake Shimabukura, don't miss it - - he is amazing....
     
    I have yet to find a Chinese Restaurant that comes close to what I am looking for, and I have learned to cook many of the dishes that I love so much...  I get a 'care' package occasionally from my son and some friends in the Islands, and my daughter and I have put on Graduation Luaus that would rival Paradise Cove... 
    #19
    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/06 19:39:17 (permalink)
    The food tour folks also did a great job showing us other Hawaiian foodstuffs.  As we were walking around Chinatown, one of our hosts, Sahara, would dart off and come back with something else to try, depending on what was available that particular day.
     
    This ranged from rambutans from the local market...

    to fresh pineapple (served up straight, and with li hing mui powder), with a side of coconut tarts from the Rainbow Tea Room...

    to ma tai su and  half moon dumplings from Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery....

    Or some ahi poke:

    Or even more Spam musubi:

    And even some cocktails, like these Kekaulike Cocktails  (lychee-vodka-pineapple smoothie) spiked with li hing mui infused vodka...

    Ending up at Char Siu House for these wonderful bits of Hong-Kong style barbecued char siu on the bottom, and 5 layers of heaven roast pork on the top.  Both were delicious:

     
    #20
    EdSails
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/07 01:27:54 (permalink)
    I did the same "Hole in the wall" food tour last November and it was very enjoyable. The Char Siu House was great. We had Sahara with us too---she was really nice. The li hing powder was the best part----I really liked that and got a shave ice topped with it the next day. Sounds like you had a good time with them too, kaszeta.
     
    Sahara

     
    Our co-guide, Robin

     
    The box from the Char Siu House

    post edited by EdSails - 2014/04/07 01:57:35
    #21
    pnwchef
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/07 14:42:39 (permalink)
    Liliha Bakery, I think everyone stops for the bakery, I would stop for breakfast. Anytime you see all locals at the counter, it's a good thing. Rainbow drive in down the street from Leonards is my choice for Shoyu Chicken, Loco Moco, Roast pork, Specials listed on their web site. This place as been a local favorite for years. Teddy's burgers is always good. The Shrimp truck in Hali'ewa is my pick for garlic shrimp, wash you hands in the dishwashing sink in the back of the truck. I always buy my Char siu from a small place in chinatown, mom and pop place that has pop in the front window chopping the pork. No one smiles or talks but, I came to eat, not make friends. Side street inn near Ala Moana ctr,  Kim Chee Fried Rice, fried pork chops, Kalbi ribs, big portions.....


    #22
    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/07 20:38:03 (permalink)
    Since you mentioned Teddy's Burgers....
     
    After a trip to Waimea Valley, we took the western route back to Honolulu, stopping in Wahiawa for burgers at Teddy’s. Normally a place that is advertised as “Teddy’s Bigger Burgers” wouldn’t immediately make my short list: of the many adjectives I look for in a good burger, “bigger” isn’t at the top of the list.  But I didn’t let the name stop me: I had heard rather good things about getting a teriyaki burger in Hawaii (it’s one of those standard things you can expect at most places selling burgers in Hawaii), with a liberal application of teriyaki sauce… and that Teddy’s was one of the better places to get one. So we stopped in to give it a try, and I ended up getting a Teri Burger and some garlic butter fries:



    Well, the burger was a nice surprise. A lot of places that have a huge toppings list seem to focus on that instead of the burger, but underneath the substantial slice of pineapple and the heavy applications of teriyaki sauce, was a surprisingly good burger: with nice, rich and juicy beef, nicely cooked up medium rare with a nice crisp on it. The foundation was good. The next surprise was the teriyaki sauce. Usually teriyaki sauces are a combination of strong flavors of salt, sweet, acid, and umami, but the fairly thick sauce they use was actually fairly subtle, complementing the meat instead of completely burying it. Add in a nice slice of grilled pineapple, and this was actually quite a great burger. I’ll be craving another for a while.
     
    The fries were pleasant as well, although they weren’t kidding about the “garlic and butter” part: the garlic was liberally applied, and the butter very liberally applied, so the bottom layer was basically swimming in them. But, like the burger, the fries themselves were very nicely done under all the fuss, so these were pleasant as well.
     
    #23
    ScreamingChicken
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/08 09:50:10 (permalink)
    The fries look pretty good!  Is the chopped garlic basically raw or has it been cooked a little bit to take off the edge?
    #24
    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/08 13:36:40 (permalink)
    ScreamingChicken
    The fries look pretty good!  Is the chopped garlic basically raw or has it been cooked a little bit to take off the edge?

    I think it's your standard "chopped garlic in a jar".
    #25
    ricoboxing
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/10 13:35:48 (permalink)
    great report! No trip to Oahu is complete without Leonards!
     
    did you go to Helenas? We were there during thanksgiving and they were closed
    #26
    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/10 13:47:20 (permalink)
    Helena's is also on my list for a future visit.
    #27
    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/15 13:13:14 (permalink)
    Was going to mention my writeup of Palace Saimin, but realized that I actually forgot to review it on my site.  So I'll have to come back to that one.
    #28
    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/16 12:03:19 (permalink)
    Okay, so now I have a full review of Palace Saimin:
     
    Few foods in Hawaii embody the multicultural fusion of Hawaiian cuisine as much as “saimin”.  Saimin is basically a noodle dish that is a mild fusion of elements taken from each the major cultures of Hawaii’s plantation era: Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Hawaiian, and Portuguese. The resulting dish is a noodle soup that bears a lot of resemblance to Chinese “mein” and Japanese “ramen”, usually with some other ethnicities adding ingredients, such as Spam, gyoza, udon, or wontons. In any case, much of the Kahili neighborhood had Saimin joints popping up during the middle of the 20th century, usually run by recent Okinawan families. And pretty much everyone I know that grew up in Hawaii has told me stories about how much saimin they ate as a kid, either as soup, or as the related “fried min” (pan-fried noodles with the same sorts of toppings). Oahu has dozen of Saimin places, and one of the older, more classic, and, quite frankly, no-frills places is Palace Saimin:

     
    You know the saying “Location, Location, Location?” Well, Palace Saimin doesn’t really have that. Indeed, it’s nestled between a carpet store and the “A Klass K-9 Kutters” dog grooming. But it’s also in Kalihi on King Street, which, aside from the rather eclectic mix of businesses, really is ground zero for local food from the Japanese tradition, and quite a few of the businesses have been here a rather long time (Palace Saimin open in 1946).  Inside, it's pretty sparse:

     
    The menu at Palace Saimin continues the no frills approach. There are three sizes of soup. Each has a choice of plain saimin, wonton, or udon, or a combination thereof (such as the puzzling “saidon”, until you realize that “saimin + udon = saidon”). Otherwise, there’s exactly one other menu item, the “barbecue stick”, a simple skewer of teriyaki beef. So there’s not a lot of choice here, but sometimes that’s the way of tradition (Well, one of my favorite burger joints has a menu that’s essentially “hamburger, cheeseburger, fries, onion rings”, so who am I to complain?). 
     
    A few minutes later, you will find yourself staring at a fresh bowl of soup, saimin noodles in a basic pork and shrimp dashi-style broth, topped with char siu pork and some green onions. Palace Saimin sources their noodles from Eagle Noodle Factory, like several other saimin houses around the island, and here they cook them a little softer than most places. The broth is quite good, with notable notes of pork, shrimp, and possibly a little dashi as well. Add in some fairly flavorful char siu and you’ve got a rather nice bowl of soup. Nothing fancy, but good:

    Full review here
    #29
    kaszeta
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    Re:Dining around Oahu 2014/04/18 13:03:33 (permalink)
    So, speaking of noodles...  In addition to the Saimin shops, there’s recently been quite an upwelling of ramen noodle joints of both Japanese and Korean influence in Hawaii.  Indeed, as we were wandering around Kailua on the windward side of the island (our original choice for dinner turned out to be closed on Sundays), we found a nice, modest ramen shop just off of Highway 61 in Kailua: Rai Rai Ramen.

    Rai Rai is a modest joint, of about 30 feet square, and having only five tables for guests. Despite that, they seem to do a lot of takeout business, so it wasn’t terribly busy when we visited. What they lack in seating, they make up for in the menu variety, in that they have a great assortment of ramen dishes, with three different base broths (shio, shoyu, and miso), as well as several variants of these (curry and kimchi ramens, for example), and a good range of katsu meats and gyoza as side dishes.

    Looking over the menu, we decided to split our order, with Carol getting the Shoyu Ramen, while I ordered the Kimchi Ramen. Both emerged from the kitchen after approximately five minutes. Carol’s Shoyu Ramen was a well-done example of a classic ramen dish: The noodles were spot on perfect, with the exact consistent we both love for our ramen: cooked just enough to have lost a bit of the wheatiness, but still firm and toothly, combined well with a rich and flavorful shoyu broth.  

    I did even better with my Kimchi ramen. Built upon a rich and creamy tonkatsu pork base to which kimchi had been added, the result here was one of the most wonderfully delicious and slightly spicy broths I’ve had in a ramen dish—one that was even more rich and flavorful than the wonderful tonkatsu I had a few months ago at Bone Daddies in London. Add in just a little bit of flavorful pork and the same wonderful noodles as the Shoyu Ramen, and this was a thoroughly enjoyable bowl of soup:

    (Full review here)
    #30
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