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Some questions for my Oahu trip (a bit long)

Hi all. I'll be in Oahu for the upcoming holidays. It makes planning a bit difficult because many places close down. I like to mix it up between casual and fancy. I'm from NYC and prefer to eat things that I have trouble finding in my hometown -- so no burgers and Italian on this trip. I'm really psyched to indulge in all of your awesome seafood, though I'm also a big fan of land animals as well. We're going to be based in Waikiki, but will have a car.

It was really difficult to narrow it down, but this is my tentative itinerary:

Breakfasts (trying to keep it light so I have more room in my stomach; I also don't snack so using breakfast is a good way to get my RDA of cocoa puffs)
Leonard's for masaladas
Liliha Bakery for cocoa puffs
Ted's for chocolate coconut cream pie
Fresh tropical fruit
Waiola shave ice (okay, probably more of a snack than breakfast) -- am hoping the texture is like my beloved Hansen's Sno-Blitz in New Orleans

Lunches
one of the shrimp trucks at the North Shore
Fresh Catch
Ono
Sam Choy's (DH is requesting this)
Huli-huli chicken somewhere
Chinatown -- Char Hung Sut; Royal Kitchen
Sunrise (b/c there's no Okinawan in NYC)
Helena's

Dinners
Sushi Sasabune
Side Street Inn
Roy's
Tokkuri-Tei
Mavro
Alan Wong
Papa Ole (b/c it's near PCC)
Hoku (b/c it's one of the very few restaurants that offers a regular a la carte menu on NYE)

Have a few questions (OK, a bit more than a few). But I hope some of you can help me out.

1. Best place for huli huli chicken? I understand that some grocery stores carry it. But I'm looking for the outdoor experience. I see there's one on the North Shore (Ray Kiawe) that seems well reviewed. Is that one superior over the one at Ward's Warehouse?

2. I plan on doing the whole touristy PCC thing. However, I think I want to skip the food part there and find something on my own. Looks like there aren't too many choices in the immediate vicinity (want to get back for the fire show at night). The best thing I've found so far is Papa Ole. Any other recs near PCC?

3. Generally I order a la carte when I go to sushi restaurants in my hometown as I know what I like to eat. It seems that you're strongly urged to order omakase at Sasabune. Do you get off-menu items or better pieces of fish when you do omakase versus ordering a la carte? I've also looked at Mitch's, but I think I would be happier at Sasabune. The fish pieces at Mitch's look way too large for my taste.

4. If you had only one farmer's market to go to, which one would you go to in or near Honolulu?

5. Where is the best place to purchase tropical fruit? Chinatown? Farmer's markets? Supermarket? Am very partial to mangosteens. And I was also wondering whether the white sugarloaf pineapple and mangoes were to be found this time of year.

6. Any other places in Chinatown that carry local-inspired Chinese food?

7. I'm sure debating shrimp trucks is like debating pizza in NYC. Part of me wants to visit Giovanni's because it's the original. But Macky's seems to be getting some good reviews as well. Which one would you go to? And taste will triumph over history for me.

8. Is it worth going to both Ono's and Helena's? Or should I swap one of them out and try Boots and Kimo for their macadamia pancakes?

Thanks so much for reading.

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  1. Miss Needle, you have done quite a bit of good research for your trip. A couple of observations.

    Ono's or Helena's? If this is your first time trying Hawaiian food, one or the other will probably be enough and either place is a good choice with Ono's being closer to Waikiki.

    Tokkuri Tei has its fans but I really think either Imana's Tei or Gaku's would be a better choice for an izakaya experience. Sunrise will be an interesting hole in the wall visit.

    Char Hung Sut has really gone downhill and I wouldn't recommend it, Royal Kitchen is also quite mediocre. If you want to try dim sum, Legend at the Chinese Cultural Plaza would be a good choice. I know you have dim sum in NYC, but Legend is one of the better places in Chinatown and equal or better than most of what you can get back home. The last good dim sum I had in NYC was more than 15 years ago at 20 Mott Street which is no longer in business, I think it's Ping's now.

    Foodland supermarkets sell Ted's pies (or is it Times?). No need to hit the North Shore just for that, unless you happen to be passing by going around the island. Waiola is ok for shave ice, but I prefer Matsumoto's in Haleiwa or the B&S store on School Street more. Have a great visit and good eating.

    1 Reply
    1. re: curiousgeo

      Curiousgeo, I appreciate your insights. Ha ha. Yeah, I've been racking my brain trying to come up with what I feel is a balanced itinerary. The holidays and the hours of some of the places have certainly made it more challenging.

      Yes, it is indeed my first time trying Hawaiian food like lau lau (though I've had than my fair share of plate lunches). Perhaps the second meal would be better spent at Boots and Kimo as I can do a combo plate at Ono to try a bunch of stuff. Difficult to find macadamia pancakes in NYC.

      Can I ask you why you think the other izakayas would be a better choice? I wish I could find menus for these places online, but I cannot. One of the big reasons I chose Tokkuri Tei is that they're actually opened on New Year's Day.

      Oh, that's too bad about Char Hung Sut and Royal. The only reason I wanted to try it is because I can't find things like lau lau pork buns in NYC. I'm not a char siu bao fan, but DH is and I think he would find this stuff interesting. Actually, there's some really good dim sum in NYC now -- not in Manhattan, but in Flushing. It is definitely on par with many places in the Bay area (where I also visit frequently due to having family there). So I feel that I just can't find myself spending a meal on dim sum when I can get that at home (which is one of the reasons why I'm avoiding restaurants like La Mer). Do they have some dim sum with a local twist -- like wok-fried opihi with ginger and scallions or sticky rice with lotus leaf with Spam and kalua pork (I don't know if these things actually exist -- just a fantasy concoction I came up with in my head)?

      The texture of the ice is very important to me, and I've heard that Waiola's has the finest grain. I like my ice more like snow. Are there shave ice places that you know of that are fine-textured?

      Thanks for letting me know about Foodland. I hope they sell slices as I don't think I can get an entire pie. I was just planning on sharing a slice with DH for breakfast.

      Oh, and I don't know if this would make a difference but I will be heading to Oahu after spending a week in Maui. I'll be writing up my Maui post separately as I still need to do more research.

    2. wow you really did your research.

      1. Huli Huli Chicken. Huli Huli is a trade name for a teriayki based barbeque sauce. I don't know of anyplace that has Huli Huli in a fixed location all the time, at least not the "real thing" It is sold for fundraisers, and the only way I know to find it is to look for clouds of smoke billowing up from church and school parking lots. You may be able to find out who is having a fundraiser by calling the fundraising office (808)222-0797.

      2. PCC can be fascinating or touristy. It seems to vary monthly if not daily. You are right, there is very little anywhere near there to eat except McDonalds next door. The Hukilau Cafe (of 50 first dates fame) gets mixed reviews, but it closes around 2pm, so that wouldn't work for you. Laie Chop Suey also gets mixed reviews. And of course Turtle bay is 6 or 7 miles down the road. Papa Ole's is a good choice (have to admit its been a couple of years since i was out there.)

      3. Iv'e not been to sasabune (for shame) but I've never seen anything but great reviews in here and they all say to do the omakase.

      4. If your schedule allows you should do the KCC/Diamond Head farmer's market (saturday morning only.) The others just don't compare. I saw some of the sugarloaf pineapple there two weeks ago. But like farmer's markets anyhwhere, it is hit or miss. There is a LOT of prepared food there, so that can be one breakfast. The kahuku sweet corn is always good, the fried green tomatoes are good too, but the line is insane. As for the other options, the traveling market has really gone downhill, half the stuff is still in the cardboard shipping crates stamped sunkist or chiquita. You won't be finding any mangosteens threre.

      5. The markets in chinatown along king, hotel, and pauahi from smith to river are the best place to find a lot of tropical fruit, but only if it is in season. The other place to try is Don Quijote (yes thats how they spell it) on Kaheka street near Ala Moana Center.

      6. I don't work downtown any more, others can answer this better than I.

      7. Exactly. Giovanni's is still the most popular, but it also depends where you are when hunger strikes... or how much shrimp you want to eat. I've known people to hit two or three of the trucks as they do a circle island trip.

      8. You could start a feud in here with questions like that. This haole boy gonna keep his big mouth shut for once.

      You have a great list... although I'm not sure I'd think of coco puffs for breakfast. Liliha Bakery does make some mean pancakes.... then you could just cart some coco puffs along in the car for a snack on that long ride out to Haleiwa or wherever (buy the frozen ones...hehehe)

      1 Reply
      1. re: KaimukiMan

        adding to my own post based on curiousgeo's comments and your replies.

        Char Hung Sut and Royal Kitchen are not dim sum places, they are Manapua Places (along with Libbey Manapua on Kalihi Street.) Royal Kitchen has the most diverse menu, but their buns are baked, not the more traditional steamed. I think you should make menu suggestions, although Royal Kitchen does have lup chong and kalua pork buns. None of these places have anywhere to sit and eat. Counter service only.

        If you want dim sum, as geo mentioned, then legends, mei sum, and Tai Pan are your best bets. Mei sum used to be a lot cheaper, and "in" chinatown, but their prices have jumped. I haven't been to Tai Pan in a long time. Outside Chinatown Happy Days in Kaimuki, Royal Garden at the Ala Moana Hotel, and Panda restaurant on Keeamoku are all well known for Dim Sum. I think in a fairly recent post geo and I agreed that Mandalay on Alakea is a pass. I recently went to Hee Hing for dim sum and was disappointed there as well.

        I think you better hit Waiola Store AND Matsumoto's and let us know what you think. I'm a Waiola devotee, and i still think the one on Waiola street has a slight edge (over the kapahulu location... but that is only a block from rainbow drive inn.....), but both Waiola's have the same ultra fine ice.

        Foodland and Star Market both carry teds pies, sometimes in slices. The King/Beretania/University Star Market closed recently. They are mostly in the burb's now.

      2. Miss Needle, lots of good insight and information from KaimukiMan.

        Regarding Tokkuri Tei, I just prefer the taste and preparation of Imana's and Gaku, I think they do a much better job, but whether they are open on New Year's Day could be a major factor. If that's the case Tokkuri Tei will be fine.

        If you go to Ono's they make a great lau lau and salt meat watercress. Helena's is famous for their pipikaula short ribs and imu (underground pit) kalua pig as opposed to oven baked with liquid smoke. I forget which day it comes in fresh though.

        Shave ice can be a very personal thing and Waiola does make a super fine grind which is why I prefer Matsumoto's, but I've gone there since I was a small kid, so that may also be why I like it more. Nothing wrong with Waiola, I've eaten shave ice there many times too.

        I agree if you can find dim sum equal to the Bay area in Flushing there's no need to eat it in Hawaii. Any recommendations you might have for a future New York visit would be appreciated. Thanks.

        2 Replies
        1. re: curiousgeo

          There are some great reports people have posted on the Outer Boroughs board about dim sum. But my favorite is Jade Asian in Flushing. Large selection -- both old school and new school (things like shark's fin dim sum). It's a cart restaurant and not order by the piece. My preference are the restaurants where you place the order on a sheet of paper as they're made to order and a lot more fresh. But Jade Asian has such good turnover that I've been pretty happy with everything I've gotten.

          Flushing also has some great regional Chinese cuisines that may be difficult to find elsewhere. One of my favorite things is the gua bao, a Taiwanese "burger" composed of steamed mantou, braised pork belly, pickled mustard greens and sweetened chopped peanuts. My favorite place to have it is Temple Snacks in the Flushing Mall.

          Another great unique (well, at least in NYC) place is Xi'an Famous Foods in Flushing. Here is their website:

          http://www.xianfoods.com/

          1. re: Miss Needle

            Because you plan to get around, and apparently visit Kailua, we think the best malasadas are from Agnes' Portuguese Bakery in Kailua. Different style from Leonards, which are perfectly shaped like a jelley doughnut, while Agnes' are more unevenly shaped and crisper with a more custardly interior.

            Not sure Boots & Kimo's is worth the trek; that macadamia nut sauce is very sugary, but....I'd have breakfast elsewhere and grab coffee from Daily Grinds in Kailua and then some malasadas at Agnes, where the coffee is poor.

            Instead of Giovanni's, which used frozen shrimp, stop at Romy's stand, they actually grow their own shrimp in the acqualculture ponds behind them.

            One other suggestion, if you want local, try Mitch's for sushi. Owned by a seafood wholesaler, the fish is impeccably fresh. You can find your own sushi Nazi in NY.

            And for dim sum, while we've enjoyed Legend multiple times, nothing matches mainland dim sum, at least by San Francisco standards (Yank Sing, Tong Kiang, plus multiple spots in Burlingame/Daly City.)

            Our favorite shave ice is a cart in the big shopping center in Waipahu, near the Sports Authority. And if you're looking for local suhsi-esque, you could do a lot worse than Poke Stop in Waipahu or Mililani Mauka for hamachi sashimi or any of a number of different kinds of poke'...local raw fish tossed with ginger, soy and sesame oil.

        2. Excellent list - I am jealous!
          1. huli huli chicken is tough to find on demand (as Kaimukiman points out). The ward center one is fine. It's generally handed over to you in a bag, and my family always ate at least half a chicken with our fingers out of the bag. Last trip to HI my SO and I did just that in the parking lot. YUM. Could be a snack.
          2. PCC is sort of a deadzone - way out in the middle of nowhere, unfortunately. Maybe pick up a cheap cooler to stow in the trunk and bring a picnic lunch?
          3. Don't know.
          4. KCC or Kailua (it's been a while, though). Kailua has (or at least used to have) two farmer's market - the real one with all the farm stands and one on Thursday night with more interesting prepared food and less produce.
          5. Chinatown is a good place to walk around and find fruit. Good luck with mangosteens - still not very common.
          6. Make sure you try manapua, pork hash (basically pork shumai) and crispy gaugee dipped in chinese hot mustard and soy sauce for the local chinese snack experience.
          7. All the shrimp trucks I've been to have been pretty good if you like shrimp, butter and garlic.
          8. It depends how much you end up liking Hawaiian food. If you don't like it much, I wouldn't expect the second restaurant to change your mind. If you do like it, you might have a good time eating at both and it's one of the things you really will have a hard time finding outside of HI.
          Boots & Kimos is a pretty standard HI breakfast/diner type place, but those pancakes are really tasty. I think they've moved (just down the block) to a bigger place, so that should make it easier to get in.

          A note: shave ice is not supposed to be superfine like those sno cones, so you might be happier if you aren't expecting that consistency. I actually like Island Snow in Kailua the best (with a snow cap). If you happen across something called "guri guri" you might like that.
          If you find yourself in Ala moana, check out upstairs at Shirokiya. They have a ton of pickles, etc. to sample and they rotate the food available up there. Last time I went they had people flown in from Japan making really good takoyaki. YUM.
          On your way out to PCC, check out the Haleiwa Coffee Gallery for a nice cup of coffee. They roast their coffee on site and you can get excellent blends as well as a variety of local beans. My favorite! http://www.roastmaster.com/

          1 Reply
          1. re: akq

            akq makes a good point about shave ice. traditional asian shave ice is more granular than a typical "sno cone." there are a lot of different toppings that are put on it depending on where in asia it comes from. Shave ice in Hawaii is a little different, and there is a lot of discussion about what is and what is not "authentic" shave ice. curiousgeo grew up with the somewhat more granular Matsumoto's, but even this is not as granular as "Japanese" shave ice. Matsumoto's also has a wide variety of tropical flavor syrups, but like most local/Hawaiian shave ice, only azuki beans and ice cream go under the ice, and just syrup and perhaps condensed milk (sno-cap) go over the ice. Waiola and a few other places shave their ice superfine. It was the first shave ice I ever had, and I am still mystified how ice can be shaved to create such a smooth almost creamy consistency.

            I said it tongue in cheek earlier, but I really do think both types are worth trying, and along with akq, a lot of people on the windward side swear by Island Snow. So many choices.

          2. Thanks to all for responding! Yeah, the KCC one was the one I was originally looking at. And the places to get my fruit are very helpful. Drat! Mangosteens aren't as popular as finding bananas in a supermarket? I love that fruit. Luckily, in the last couple of years, NYC has been getting some mangosteens -- most are previously frozen (gross, makes it bitter), but there will be a few bags of fresh ones here and there (costing a small fortune). But it's not the same as trying one grown from the region.

            Ooh! I didn't realize that Ono's versus Helena's could start a war? Helena's makes their kalua pork in an imu? Then I'm assuming that Ono bakes it in the oven with liquid smoke. Oh no! This will certainly make my decision more difficult. Perhaps I should try one place. If I love it, then I'll try the other one. The difficulty is deciding which one. Though that would mean my pancake lunch would have to be sacrificed. Decisions! Decisions!

            My preference is indeed for the finer grind in shave ice. There are some Korean and Chinese places in NYC that do their take on it. If room in my stomach allows, I'll sample several and compare.

            And thanks for the tip on the Coffee Gallery. DH is indeed a huge coffee fan and will definitely be interested in trying some local ones. And looking at the menu at Alan Wong, it seems they even have a coffee bar! How fascinating!

            Yeah, I think I've got a couple of weeks of some good eating ahead for me soon. I'll be sure to report back.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Miss Needle

              Unlike most popular thought there are seasons here in terms of both weather/climate and
              crops. Mangosteen is not a winter crop, they were very delicious last year in the summer.
              If you can find the bananas with the sticker 'Candy Apple" you will not be disappointed. I get them at the Safeway and they have spoiled me for all other bananas, they come from the
              Big Island. Sure we have other apple bananas but these rule.

              The coffee at Alan Wong's is impressive in that the menu presents the different farms with description of their growing region, soil, roast type etc. They bring it in a French Press and the price is completely worth it. Their tea selection is equally treated the Jasmine Pearls
              is the most beautifully presented and scented in the French Press as well.

              If you pass through Kailua (seems everyone has to) a good place for coffee is Morning Brew, much of their coffee is locally roasted by Koko Crater roasters. They serve breakfast, lunch, pupus and have entertainment in the evenings during the weekends.
              It is a local favorite and has a great atmosphere.

              In Kaneohe on Alaloa St. behind Windward Mall every Saturday there is "Huli Huli" chicken for sale, don't know how much or the hours but it's always there. Foodland
              sells this type of chicken everyday and it is packaged like a Costco rotisserie chicken
              in a sturdy plastic container I have bought it several times and it is very good and
              completely cooked - sometimes that is not always the case and not a good thing if
              you just plan to eat it right away say at a picnic on the beach.

              Oh, mangoes are like the mangosteens not in season. We've gotten good pineapple year round and grill it weekly. Oh, Costco also sell's Ted's as does Long's (at least the one near my house does.)
              Have a great trip. Bring a sweater! It's chilly now especially in the morning and night!