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Young Family on Oahu's North Shore-Need Focus

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Hey, I'm going to be on Oahu next weekend, and was wondering if you had any recommendations about Chowhoundish things to do, see, and places to shop. We will be staying in a house on the north shore, but will be in the Waikiki/Honolulu area on Saturday and Sunday. I'm looking for places that are a good value, but don't suffer in quality, and keep in mind: I have a toddler and an 8 year old. Some restaurants I've read good reviews about in this area are Marbella, Kakaako Kitchen, Genki Sushi (fun for the kids?), and Olive Tree Cafe. Also, I really want to see hear about the best food in Chinatown. On the North shore, I'd like recommendations as well. I was thinking along the lines of Haleiwa Joe's, Cafe Haleiwa, Cholos Homestyle Mexican, Kua Aina, Paradise Found Cafe, and what about the shrimp trucks? I don't know anything about grocery/specialty food shops on the island, so I would appreciate some input. As far as things to do, I know there is a Dole plantation, but what else? I obvoiusly can't see everything, but hopefully you can help me narrow things down.

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  1. In the north shore you should consider Jameson's as well as the other places you mentioned. Cholos isn't bad, if you like "tourista" mexican. If you like "real" mexican food, then Cholos is not the place to go. Kua Aina is almost a must do, as is Matsumoto's shave ice. There really aren't a lot of "specialty" food shops in hawaii, you are just as likely to find things in the major grocery stores as anyplace. Tamura's in Wahiawa may have a little more in terms of gourmet items... but Hawaii is much more a "good eats" kind of place than a gourmet haven. Most of the major markets here have good poke - Hawaiian style raw fish, local customers are very picky about fresh seafood.

    In chinatown Little Village Noodle House is generally considered one of the best Chinese restaurants. Mei Sum and Legends are best for Dim-Sum. Mei Sum has dim sum till like 2 or 3 pm, although the carts stop roaming shortly after 1, but you can still order. If you want nicer dining in the Chinatown area consider Indigo, or less known but still excellent, Duc's Bistro.

    One of the reasons for going to the north shore is that there isn't anything to do except head to the beach. If it isn't too muddy the hike (long walk) to Kaena Point from the end of the highway is interesting, but leave no valuables in the car. At the point you can very visibly see the difference in the character of the ocean on the two sides of the island depending on the season, the surf conditions, and the overall weather patterns. The Puu o Mahuka Heiau above Pupukea is also worth a drive. The view from the cliff top location is spectacular as well.

    7 Replies
    1. re: KaimukiMan

      Thank you for the info!

      I understand that you mean it's not "authentic", but could you please define "tourista" mexican? Would it be more like tex-mex, like a Don Pablo's type of place? I wanted to try their fish tacos (a dish I've never had before). I love mexican-style food, just so it's executed well with fresh ingredients. So, just so they have good tortillas, fresh fish, tomatoes, onions, and chiles, I'm there!

      So, in your opinion, is Jameson's better than Cafe Haleiwa, or are they pretty much the same?

      Yeah, I'm definitely at least doing the shrimp trucks, Kua Aina, and Matsumoto's shave ice. Those seem like north shore staples.

      I was thinking about spending a few hours one morning wandering Chinatown. Is this going to be a pain for a family of four with little knowledge of Asian culture? What I mean is, will it be difficult to find out what everything is, and are the people mostly nice and helpful to travellers? A lot of people come through here, so I would assume so-lol.

      Also, are there any "genuine" Hawaiian foods that I should have my kids try? I know the culture is very eclectic, but I want to make sure we try some signature items that are considered Hawaiian. I have a few ideas, but would like to see what else there could be.

      Oh, and I was wondering what the best places are to get groceries. Any places to avoid?

      1. re: madgreek

        I think that the only problem that you might encounter in Chinatown will be parking. Maybe Da Bus from your hotel. The culinary culture there is on display in many shop windows. I'd recommend a list of "must-eats," but spend most of my time there at Indigo's, which is a bit more upscale, although still very good. There are a ton of mom-n-pop's, but others will be able to fill in that list much better, than I can.

        Chinatown is rather small, with a lot of restaurants, both inside the boundaries, and very, very near. You could probably eat for a week and still not cover all bases, though you'd leave with a pretty good picture. The folk there will be very helpful in steering you to good food, as will the folk here.

        Sorry that I cannot offer specific recs. for dining with a family.

        Hunt

        1. re: madgreek

          Aloha madgreek. Just returned from the islands the other week and had a great lunch at Happy Noodle House on Maunakea and King Streets. Never ate there before so thought we'd give it a try since it was crowded. Good place for good comfort food. Parking may be difficult to find but we found convenient parking in the underground public lot on Maunakea St. As Kaimukiman suggested, Kua Aina's on the north shore is a must but I was a little disappointed in Matsumoto's shave ice. I still prefer Waiola's but not by much. We also ate at Ono's in Kapahulu for probably the best Hawaiian food IMO. Used to like People's but I heard they're not there anymore. Oh, for good "inexpensive" poke which is marinated Hawaiian raw fish, I find that Don Quijote has probably the best prices and selection as any of the specialty places that serves poke. Even the butcher says that he'd compete with anyone's prices anywhere in the island. I'd have to agree.

          1. re: madgreek

            in chowhound terms, cholos is about as mexican as pf chang's is chinese. A few hours in chinatown could be too much, or not enough depending on your expectations. Lots of places there to buy fresh vegetables, fish, etc. Check out the Oahu Market and Maunakea Marketplace. There are a couple of pho places along river street worth checking out, but I think I would stick to dim sum. Kids like helping pick from the carts as they go past the table and might be more adventurous.

            No doubt the kids will like kalua pig. possibly lau lau, and surprisingly kids seem more prone to liking poi than grown-ups. putting sugar on the poi is acceptable for kids. you can generally find all three things in the refrigerator section in the grocery store, although sometimes poi is harder to find depending on availability. You may run across haupia, coconut pudding, kids generally like that.

            As far as groceries on the north shore, there aren't many choices depending on where you are. Foodland in Pupukea is fine, so is the grocery store in Haleiwa.

            1. re: madgreek

              If you would like a recipie for fish tacos just let me know. They are really easy and really good too.

              1. re: bnrMan808

                sounds great, would love a simple recipe.

            2. re: KaimukiMan

              We have always had good meals at Jameson's. Last trip to the North Shore, we had received recommendations for Haleiwa Joe's, from locals and tourists alike. We went, skipping Jameson's on that trip. We will not make that mistake again. I won't post a link to my reviews on that trip, as only the Haleiwa Joe's would pertain to the OP's requests. All others were in the "fine-dining" arena, and probably not of much use.

              Yes, Jameson's has a certain "tourist" air about it, but the food has always been very good, and a good value. Their "flash-fried calamari" is up near the top of my calamari experiences. All other dishes have been well received. I'm just sorry that I missed them on that last trip, but now I know to not make that mistake twice.

              Hunt

            3. Thanks for the reco's everyone! It was a great experience, and I think my favorite meals were the least expensive (Giovanni's, Kono's and Kua Aina spring to mind). I was actually surprised how well we ate for so little! I will definitely post some more detailed reviews in the next few days. I'm still recovering-lol!