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Oahu Trip Report

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Thanks to Chowhound we ate really well on our recent trip to Oahu. Here's a rundown...

The GREAT:
Sushi Sasabune (1417 South King St., Honolulu). Do what everyone says and sit at the bar and put your meal in the hands of the sushi chef. His slogan is "trust me" and you won't be disappointed if you do. It was one of the best meals of my life. We were instructed, in detail, how to eat each amazing piece of fresh fish, and we did what we were told. The monkfish liver and their special preparation of ahi tartar were particularly memorable.

Indigo ( 1121 Nuuanu Ave # 105, Honolulu). I was lucky enough to have Indigo cater the work event I was planning (the reason for my trip to Hawaii). For a very reasonable fee they offered up an amazing variety of fresh regional hors d'oeuvres. Some of the best were the crisp goat cheese won tons with four fruit sauce, the shiitake mushroom and chicken bao buns with raspberry hoisin, and the hau'ula heirloom tomato and sweet maui onion salad with fresh basil. I don't know how many of these items are on their restaurant menu, but I best it's all just as good.

Leonard's Bakery (933 Kapahulu Avenue, Honolulu). Mmmmmm, malasadas. So warm and sugary, plus the bakery is really cool and old school with a great neon sign. We tried the plain sugar coated ones, the chocolate filled and the coconut cream filled. We ate 2 right away and they were the best because they were still warm, but we ate the rest throughout the vacation and they were still pretty damn good, even a few days later.

Side Street Inn (1225 Hopaka St., Honolulu). I called Side Street Inn to ask if they served dinner, and they said, "no, just pupu's (appetizers)". Since we wanted a full meal, we were just about to go somewhere else, but luckily someone told us that their pupu platters are enough food for a whole family. I don't know why they don't just say they serve dinner, because it looks just like a restaurant to me, but maybe they like being thought of as a bar. In any case, the food was GREAT. Heaping platters of fresh, nicely dressed salad, delicious ahi poke, authentic kalua pig, spicy seasoned fries. I think this may have been my other favorite meal after Sasabune.

Matsumoto Shave Ice (66-087 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa). Unfortunately there weren't any big waves for us to check out on the North Shore, but there was the most delicious of treats, a shave ice at Matsumoto's. We splurged and bought the 25 cent plastic holder so we didn't get all sticky. I got a small coconut, mango and passion fruit. My husband got "The Rainbow" combination of strawberry, pineapple, and lemon, with an added scoop of ice cream on the bottom. Sticky, cold and good. The line was long but it's a well oiled machine so it moved quickly.

Giovanni's Shrimp Truck (somewhere along Kamehameha Hwy). A plate of 12 peel and eat shrimp plus 2 scoops of rice, all covered in the most delicious buttery, garlicky sauce. I could have just eaten a plate of the sauce.

Ono Hawaiian Foods (726 Kapahulu Avenue, Honolulu). I know that Ono's and Side Street are really apples and oranges, but I must say, overall, I liked Side Street better. HOWEVER, Ono is still a can't miss if you want to experience true local food and local ambiance. We went crazy and got the combo plates. So much food, and we definitely didn't know what the hell it all was, but we ate it all any way. It's all served on old cafeteria style melmac plates too, which just adds to the ambiance! The combo plates have kalua pig, laulau (pork or chicken wrapped in taro leaves and steamed-we got both kinds), pipikaula (pork jerky), Lomi Salmon (sort of a salmon salsa) and haupia ( coconut jello-y type dessert), plus poi or rice (we got both). You gotta get the poi. Don't be scared.

The GOOD
Wailana Coffee House (1860 Ala Moana Boulevard, Waikiki). We just had drinks here, not food, but I love kitschy stuff, and this was a very kitschy change from all the flashy touristy Waikiki bars. The funky old-school diner is 24 hours with an even funkier dive bar hidden inside. The bar had an ever-so-slight tiki theme and seemed to be mostly locals, and starting at 9:00 every night you can stand in front of a silvery mylar curtain and sing your little karaoke heart out. What could be better than that?

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue (chain - ate at the Ward Center location). We got off the plane and my husband demanded he be taken to a plate lunch place immediately for some pork. I wanted to go to Kaka'Ako Kitchen (see below), but we got lost and couldn't find it and husband was getting grumpy. This was the first place we found and for his first plate lunch this did the trick. He got the small and it was too much to eat (our first introduction to Hawaiian portions!). He thought the kalua pig was good but the macaroni salad a bit too mayonnaise-y.

Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Bar (2255 Kalakaua Ave, Waikiki). You gotta love a big pink hotel with such great history. The bar was fun because it has a lot of beach front seating and fruity drinks. Exactly what you need on a Hawaiian vacation. Find out when the luau is going on and then go sit at the bar for a free show.

The JUST O.K.

Kaka'Ako Kitchen (1200 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu). We went here because I heard it was gourmet plate lunches with fresh, local produce. We actually went for breakfast because I was craving something healthier after a run. I expected, based on the descriptions I read, that there'd be healthier stuff, but there was not a fruit to be found on the breakfast menu. I had pretty good french toast, and husband had a mahi mahi and eggs that he really liked, but it wasn't what I expected. Next time I'll try it for lunch.

Duke's Canoe Club Waikiki (Outrigger Waikiki Hotel, 2335 Kalakaua Ave.). Go for a touristy fruity drinks and the great views of Waikiki. Don't make the mistake of eating there when there are so many better places to go. It's just average hotel/chain restaurant food. We split the ahi and it was overcooked and unremarkable. Then we went crazy and got the Kimo's Original Hula Pie for dessert. It was a TGIFriday's style gargantuan ice cream concoction that was big on presentation and small on taste. I don't know what we were thinking! Did I mention the drinks were pretty good? Maybe we should have had a few more before we ordered.

Hula Grill Waikiki ( Outrigger Waikiki Hotel, 2335 Kalakaua Ave.). In my continued quest for a healthy breakfast, we went to Hula Grill because a friend told us they had great healthy choices. I ordered the "bikini omelet" made with egg whites, with a fruit salad instead of home fries. I'll eat greasy, fattening food with pleasure, but when I order something that's called a "bikini omelet" I expect it to be somewhat healthy. This was practically swimming in oil, and the fruit salad was 1 piece of pineapple. Bleck. The view was great, though!

Shorebird Restaurant (Outrigger Reef Hotel, 2169 Kalia Road, Waikiki). Got some o.k. recommendations on Chowhound, but I thought it was just your average hotel breakfast buffet. Don't go without a coupon for $1.00 off. They're in every free magazine. This also had a great ocean view, but we had to fight off the pigeons.

Like Like Drive Inn (745 Keeaumoku St., Honolulu). O.k. breakfast, but nothing special. I got a huge stack of fluffy banana pancakes that were good, but not remarkable and husband got an egg combo plate with a corn beef hash patty that he said tasted straight out of a can. Cash only.

Germaine's Luau. I know, I know. I read all the warnings about how bad Oahu luaus were, but my husband really wanted to go to one. The food actually wasn't that bad. I thought the kalua pig was on par with some of the other restaurants we ate at, and the side dishes and drinks were definitely more than adequate. The show was cute, but not great. The location was beautiful, right on the water. I was most disappointed that we didn't get a real flower lei, just a shell lei. Oh well. If you've never been to a cheesy Hawaiian luau this one was fine, but I'd probably go with others' suggestions and see a free show and then go eat at Ono!

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  1. great update jldrussell!!! i haven't been to some of your places that you said, but i have been to most =) next time try the macadamia nut pancakes at wailana... those are really very yummy....

    i'm not into duke's, shorebird, or hula grill either. i find that the restaurants directly in waikiki are a bit overpriced, considering there are other places everywhere else. i willa dmit though that i do go to duke's for drinks because, well, they make a mean lavaflow (if a lavaflow can be considered "mean" hahaha)

    i do enjoy giovanni's as well, the sauce is amazing!!! and actually, if you wanted to try other shrimp trucks further into north shore, i don't think you really go that wrong...

    i'm very picky and torn about my luau experiences, considering that most of my female cousins and i have a history in polynesian dance (competitions, halaus and such)... AND i love to eat... sooooo... i've been to the polynesian cultural center luau (a long time ago) and i remember the food being pretty good. but i hadn't started dancing yet, but i believe that is a good one to go to.. unfortunately, i also think it's the most expensive one to go to...

    germaines and paradise cove are popular ones in oahu and i have actually been to both... i prefer germaine's for the food.. because i found the food to be pretty good for a luau type of place... however, after seeing a lot of competitions and such, i enjoyed the show, but it did not wow me like i wanted it to. although, on the plus side, i remember seeing a more varied program of dances...

    paradise cove, i thought had a good interactive premise... but since it's so popular as well, there are lines at certain exhibits, and you would be lucky to just do one thing... the dancing at paradise cove i found to be much more entertaining. i enjoyed their tahitian and when i went one female performer was really advanced.. BUT on the downside, i didn't really enjoy the drinks... i also didn't really like the food. i found the selection to be less than that of germaine's and less flavorful as well....

    i would partly agree with your statement to see a free hawaiian show, but i would venture further and say that you are lucky enough to be there when they have festivals (like the merry monarch or aloha festivals), then i would stick to watching those so you could see the halaus perform instead.. and then eat somewhere else...

    they also have a mai tai bar over at ala moana mall on the 3rd floor (semi outdoor with a small view of the boats).. they have good pupus and i think 1/2 off during happy hour... i enjoy their mango colada with 99 banana... i would caution about going in the evenings though because it gets really crowded and can be difficult to walk around...

    your post is great though.. and now that i'm finished with my reply, i think i want some custard filled malasadas!!!!! =) mahalo!

    ps i'm curious, did you bring any food back with you? did you get to try the honolulu cookies from the honolulu cookie company? they are the pineapple shaped ones... hawaiian ex-patriots on the mainland and their friends/families like to bring back zippy's chili... hahaha

    1 Reply
    1. re: kinipela

      Damn, I was bummed that Like Like didn't have macadamia nut pancakes, and now it turns out I should have just listened to my husband and eaten breakfast at Wailana. Oh well. Next time. We were actually there during the Merry Monarch festival, and though it was on the big island and we were on Oahu, it was fun to watch such amazing hula on TV. It was also interesting to learn about an event that's clearly such a huge deal in Hawaii though most of us know nothing about on the mainland. We were also there when Don Ho passed away. Crazy.