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First Visit to Hawaii...and I don't want to miss anything!

I am vacationing on Oahu in October. I was already looking forward to the trip - and after reading the yummy posts - I am even more excited! Any must do culinary experiences while I am in town? I am looking for anything from great local food trucks to high end dining experiences - and I would really appreciate a place to get a Spam breakfast...or is that just way too touristy? ;-) Thanks!

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  1. When I'm in the mood, one of my favorite cheap breakfasts is from Rainbow Drive In just outside of Waikiki in Kapahulu. Portuguese sausage, eggs, rice with a side order of chili over it and macaroni salad. It may sound gross, but you'd be surprised how many people comment how good it looks when my order comes out and order it too. You can get it with spam as well.

    2 Replies
    1. re: curiousgeo

      That sounds pretty good. Actually, if they threw in a hamburger patty (becoming a chili moco) that sounds really good.

      Speaking of which, ksueroy, other breakfast item (the conversation has triggered breakfast recs.) is Zippy's chili moco: It's a hamburger patty, chili (Zippy's chili is popular among Hawai'i people), a fried egg and a little bit of mayo--all over a bed of rice. Actually, I've never tried this particular combo (I've tried Zippy's chili), but it sounds good.

      1. re: curiousgeo

        Block away from Rainbow Drive is Waiola Shave Ice and further up the street is Leonard's Bakery for the best malasadas.

        -----
        Leonard's Bakery
        933 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816

      2. If you don't mind my asking, where are you coming from? I ask because there are certain places I wouldn't really recommend if you come from a city that has better quality of certain styles of cooking (e.g. Korean if you're coming from L.A.).

        What kind of restaurants do you like or interested in trying? Do you want to experience what locals eat, or are you primarily interested in quality?

        I'm assuming you'll have transportation to go wherever you want?

        As for a spam breakfast, I can't think of any notable place to get a breakfast with spam. (A lot of places probably serve it, though.) It's actually probably the opposite of a touristy breakfast: most locals probably make fry some spam and eggs and eat with rice (the wet, sticky type). The other popular local breakfast meat is portuguese sausage. That reminds me: consider getting fried rice with your breakfast. Big City Diner has a solid kim-chee fried rice (pretty huge portions), although there may be better ones.

        I'll try to suggest other places, after you give some details

        -----
        Big City Diner
        3569 Waialae Ave Ste 3, Honolulu, HI 96816

        3 Replies
        1. re: Jazzaloha

          Jazzaloha - thanks for the interest and probing questions. Details are below:

          I lived in DC for the last 6 years and just moved to the Boston area. While in Oahu, I want to try foods that are unique to Hawaii - but I am primarily interested in quality. The New York Times had some recommendations that looked really great - I like that many of the recommendations were asian restaurants of the variety I don't see everyday. They are below.

          Green Door Café
          Little Village Noodle House
          Nico's

          Transportation should not be an issue - we are renting a car.

          Thanks again!

          -----
          Little Village Noodle House
          1113 Smith St, Honolulu, HI 96817

          1. re: ksueroy

            Just a few comments on the NYT's recommendations.

            I've been to Green Door Cafe once, and I thought it was OK, although people seem to really like it.

            I liked LIttle Village Noodle House the first couple of times I went there, but I was a bit disappointed by the last two visits (although I was trying new things). I imagine if you get specific recommendations on what to order, it might be worth the trip.

            Nico's does have fresh fish, but I think their menu is a little limited. (Usually, they have a fish special and maybe one or two other fish dishes. This is essentially a plate lunch place, btw.)

            -----
            Noodle House
            69-201 Waikoloa Beach Dr Ste F5, Waikoloa, HI 96738

            1. re: ksueroy

              For lunch, Nico's is a good choice, and the fish is fresh.

              Do not know the other two, so cannot comment.

              Hunt

          2. You can get a Spam & eggs, Portuguese sausage & eggs or even saimin at McDonald's.

            1 Reply
            1. re: monku

              Hm. I didn't know McDonald's sold spam and eggs.

              Btw, if I prefer Jack-in-a-Box's portuguese sausage, eggs and rice meal. I like the sausage and the way they cook their eggs better than McDonald's. If you're looking for something fast and cheap (under $4), Jack's is decent.

            2. For breakfast go for the portuguese sausage eggs and rice combo available almost anywhere (including McDonald's.) It is the definition of "local" breakfast. If you want spam with something, get a spam Musubi - even the ones at 7-11 and or ABC stores are good. A great snack!

              Another morning (or lunch) get a real loco moco (big scoop rice, hamburger patty, fried egg, all smothered in brown gravy.)

              Other must do's are:

              Shave ice: Matsumoto's in Haleiwa or Waiola Store just off Kapahulu (across / around the corner from safeway) I like mine with ice cream and azuki beans.

              Malasadas: Great for breakfast or a snack. Leonards near the top of Kapahulu (the other end from waikiki) Champion on Beretania near McCully, and Agnes Bake Shop in Kailua are among the best.

              Plate Lunch: Zippy's isnt bad, but Rainbow drive in (mix plate, gravy on the rice), Grace's (chicken katsu or Hawaiian Plate on Fridays), or L&L drive in (not my fave, but some people swear by it), Bob's Giant BBQ (Dillingham @ Waiakamilo Road), especially if you want a 'meat' fix.

              Shrimp Trucks: There are several from Haleiwa to Kahuku, do a search here or on yelp to get a take on the discussion on which ones are best. If you don't make it to the north shore (gasp!), Blue Water near Kuhio and Kaiolu is really pretty decent.

              Fine Dining: If you want one really nice meal consider the following: Alan Wong's, Roy's, Mavro. Not recognized among the best, but also great: 3660, Hau Tree Lanai, Town. Duc's Bistro (chinatown), Chai's at Aloha Tower.

              Hawaiian Food: Ono's, Helena's, People's cafe. These places sell endemic Hawaiian, not contemporary local food. Lau Lau, Lomi, Squid Luau, Chicken Long Rice, Poi, Kalua Pork (thats Kalua, not Kahlua) Hawaiian Sweet Potato, Haupia.

              Crack Seed: This is an increasingly underappreciated segment of local food. Crack seed are essentially traditional chinese snack/medicinal items and include dried and pickled plum. mango, and other fruits, dried squid and other fish, and various types of senbei (which is japanese). Crack Seed Store on Koko Head near Waialae, Crack Seed Center (ala moana), C-Mui on the edge of Chinatown (Bethel Street) are among the more popular old time places. More contemporary is Wholesale Unlimited (various locations.) Most supermarkets and drug stores sell some crack seed items. Look for "local snacks."

              If you hit at least one of each of these categories no one will be able to say you shirked your gustatory duties while you were here. Yes, there will still be things you missed. I've lived here almost 35 years, and I still drive past places all the time and think, "I really need to get there one of these days."

              -----
              Duc's Bistro
              1188 Maunakea St, Honolulu, HI 96817

              Alan Wong's Restaurant
              1857 S King St Fl 3, Honolulu, HI 96826

              Waiola Store
              2135 Waiola St, Honolulu, HI 96826

              Hau Tree Lanai Restaurant
              2863 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815

              1. I enjoyed eating fish plate lunch at Nico's, and really loved the Hawaiian food at People's Cafe. Ono Hawaiian Food is also consistently delicious. Someday I will make it to Helena's, but they were closed for vacation the last time I was on Oahu.

                Another must-do for me is a visit to an okazu-ya. Fukuya was good, but I have a feeling there's better around somewhere...probably in Kalihi, which seems to be the epicenter of great local eats on Oahu.

                -----
                Ono Hawaiian Foods
                726 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816

                Fukuya
                2710 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96826

                3 Replies
                1. re: Quince

                  Quince, try Gulick Deli on Gulick Avenue in Kalihi, about a block makai of Tasty Chop Suey. There is another branch on King Street, but they don't serve that ono lumpia there like at the Gulick Avenue location.

                  1. re: curiousgeo

                    I really like the lumpia at Gulick's, too. If I'm not mistaken they have slivers of potato, which is something I like.

                    Unlike most okazu-yas, Gulick's is not really oily, and the food is well-prepared. However, it's not cheap. Btw, Okazu-yas sell pre-maid items a la carte, so patrons "build" their lunch by selecting items. The food is local-Japanese based, but you can find non-Japanese items occasionally as well (e.g. lumpia, pork gisantes, etc.)

                  2. re: Quince

                    Fukuya is good, and I've heard good things about Gulick Deli. If you are in the downtown area you might give Nuuanu Okazu-ya a try. Pretty big variety of items there, but they close early (2pm?) and start running out of some items during the lunch rush.

                    -----
                    Fukuya
                    2710 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96826

                  3. OK, I'm not sure what the DC food scene is like. (Boston might have some good Asian food--I have a friend who has a cultish love for Mary Chung's, but I'm not sure). Here are some suggestions:

                    <b>Fine dining</b>
                    Alan Wong's or Pineapple Room (an Alan Wong restaurant that is a bit more casual). I think regulars on the board all like Alan Wong's, and I agree with them. If I had to choose one restaurant to represent Pacific Rim cuisine on O'ahu, it would be Alan Wong's. Personally, I think he is the most consistently successful and sophisticated at blending different ingredients. The ingredients and cooking styles seem more natural and integrated versus forced or slapped together.

                    Mavro. I went here once, and loved it--particularly the wine paired with the meal. Some of the individual items were just OK, but I loved the way he combined flavors, too. I'd make AW a higher priority than Mavro, though.

                    Roy's is also not bad, too.

                    <b>Hiroshi's</b>
                    I'd describe the cooking here as "neo-Japanese." The cooking is definitely rooted in Japanese cuisine, but the dishes are more of the fine dining variety versus traditional Japanese dishes. The restaurant features fish, so if you like fish, I'd recommend this place. Also, if you eat at the bar between 5:30-6:30, most of the items are 50% off.

                    There are several places to consider for sushi (not cheap, as you could guess)

                    <b>Mitch's</b>
                    This is a hole-in-the-wall fish import place that has a sushi/Japanese restaurant on the side. I haven't been here in a while, but they used to have a set meal ($75 at the time) where the chef would choose several items. (You'd have to get it at the bar, which seats around two to four people.) I had the best nigiri-zushi here--specifically the Spanish toro ($19 for two pieces--this was several years ago). Another highlight was the live NZ lobster: the tail was served raw (OK) and the body was used to in a miso broth (yum!).

                    <b>Sushi Sasabune</b>
                    Order omakase--chef's choice. OK, I went here once, and I was a bit disappointed in the flavor of the fish that night (kinda lacking). But the texture of the fish was incredible. I really like a fresh, flavorful fish, but the texture here almost made up for it. (Supposedly the owner has a "nazi" reputation as he wants customers to eat the sushi the way he prepares them, but he didn't so rigid when we went; we didn't eat at the bar, though.)

                    I agree with K-man regarding getting malasadas and shave ice (I don't think Matsumoto's is a must though, as there are equally good shave ice places in town.)

                    I think the shrimp trucks (well, I've been to one or two) are OK, but the one's I went to (Giovanni) weren't really unique or exceptional.

                    I'll try to think of more later.

                    -----
                    Alan Wong's Restaurant
                    1857 S King St Fl 3, Honolulu, HI 96826

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Jazzaloha

                      We've generally had good luck at Little Village Noodle House.

                      Have come to prefer PIneapple Room over Alan Wong after multiple reservation and service gaffes I don't tolerate at this price level.

                      In our mind, you can skip 98 percent of the so-called shrimp trucks since with the exception of a couple of spots (Fumi's and Romy's, which raise their own farmed shrimp) they all use frozen shrimp and cook it in gallons of oil and spoonfuls of pre-chopped garlic. You can make your own oily, garlicky shrimp at home with better ingredients.

                      Instead go to Kua Aina in Haleiwa and get a chargrilled mahi sandwich with avocago, grilled onion and some crispy fries with a real lemonade.

                      You must try poke', which is small pieces of fresh, raw fish (or cooked tako-octupus, mussels, or crab) mixed with soy sauce, sesame oil, chili flakes and other things such as kukui nut or seaweed. Beware, stick with "Island Fresh" fish and pay extra or it will be frozen. The best seems to be at Tamashiro's, a very funky local market/fish market on North King. They often have four or five grades of ahi in the case, the top grade being as good or better than you'll get in most sushi bars, and fresher. Plan on $16-17 a pound for the ahi poke and $23-4 a pound for top grade ahi.If you ask, and order enough, they'll trim it into sashimi blocks, otherwise you get a slab of ahi you can slice yourself. (They also have real Japanese wasabi in a freezer case up front.)

                      For malasadas, we think Agnes Portguese Bakery in Kailua is the best, the only one that looks like the real thing; the rest are perfectly formed like jelly doughnuts, and Leonard's takes it a step further with (very sweet) fillings.

                      Do take a drive around the island. In Waimanalo, try Sweet Home Waimanalo bbq. We like the pulled pork and the smoked chicken, and have picked up half a chicken and sides for dinner.

                      -----
                      Little Village Noodle House
                      1113 Smith St, Honolulu, HI 96817

                      Alan Wong's Restaurant
                      1857 S King St Fl 3, Honolulu, HI 96826

                      Sweet Home Cafe
                      2334 S King St Ste 102, Honolulu, HI 96826

                    2. Aloha..
                      Just got back from O'ahu last week and had some pretty good food and drink.
                      We had the best garlic shrimp at the famous food truck, Giovanni's in North Shore..damn, it is so good and followed that up with Matsumoto's shave ice.
                      Had great happy hours at Hula Grill at the Outrigger Waikiki..mai tai's are excellent for $4 and the calamari was some of the best I've ever had..this was our go to place since we swam all day in the ocean.

                      Getting in and out of Waikiki is a real hassle and knowing you come from Boston, it might not seem so bad but lots of good food that you can walk or taxi to since getting your car out of the hotel parking lot takes a lot of patience and time..sometimes an hour+ wait.

                      Check out my link to Happy hour and other aloha fav's...KaimukiMan and the other wonderful aloha souls are very helpful and spot on!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Beach Chick

                        Yes, Ala Moana can seem tough, but compared with driving in Boston, the OP will likely say, "what?"

                        It is good to know where one is coming from, as there can be some aspects that might, or might not be important.

                        The Korean for a visitor from LA is a good example.

                        Hunt

                      2. On the fine-dining end, here are my favorites:

                        Alan Wong King St.
                        Chef Mavro's King St
                        La Mer, Halekulani
                        Mariposa, Ala Moana Center
                        3660 On the Rise (out of the Waikiki Area)

                        Matter of fact, after an aborted trip in May, we made reservations to all but 3660 and that was because of time constraints in November.

                        Most of all, enjoy and aloha,

                        Hunt

                        -----
                        Alan Wong's Restaurant
                        1857 S King St Fl 3, Honolulu, HI 96826

                        Chef Mavro restaurant
                        1969 South King Street, Honolulu, HI 96826

                        La Mer
                        2199 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815

                        Mariposa
                        1450 Ala Moana Blvd # 2101, Honolulu, HI

                        3660 On the Rise
                        3660 Waialae Ave Unit Frnt, Honolulu, HI 96816

                        Ala Moana Center
                        1450 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96814

                        Halekulani
                        2199 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815

                        1. Hey All - I have been on Oahu since Saturday and I am having a great time! Thanks for all the yummy reccomendations! I just had dinner at the Side Street Inn - why wasn't that included in anyone's posts? I thought the meal was yummy, the service friendly, and the atmosphere low key but distinctly Hawaiin.

                          Headed to Haunama Bay tomorrow to snorkel!

                          -----
                          Side Street Inn
                          1225 Hopaka St, Honolulu, HI

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: ksueroy

                            side street inn is included in many other postings on the hawaii board even if it didn't show up here. as stated before, there is no way to "not miss anything" (even on a thread) LOL. glad you are having a yummy trip!

                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                              There is also the new location on Kapahulu of SS. Great review/story in the new Honolulu magazine by John Heckathorn.

                              1. re: manomin

                                Have you guys been to the new location? I went once to the original and thought it was good, but kinda pricey.

                            2. re: ksueroy

                              Glad you're having a good trip.

                              Please do a write-up of the places you tried.

                              Have fun!

                              1. re: Jazzaloha

                                Hi All! I had a wonderful first trip to Hawaii - thanks to all of you for your wonderful suggestions! Here are some highlights and notes -

                                We stayed in Waikiki...so started eating on the 'strip' there. The food was well prepared - don't get me wrong. However, it was very much like dining in a Vegas i.e. very mainstream and unimaginative cuisine...while a little pricey. However, if you have to do it: Lu Lu's had a great view, Tiki's had great night life, and Duke's had both....all the food was decent, but as described above.

                                I had a great Mai Tai - at 'Mai Tai' at the Royal Hawaiian. Allegedly, the mai tai was created there. I had their original version - to try the original, but the menu had a version with ginger that I regret not trying. I had their poke while I was there - they served their on guacamole with taro chips...yummo!

                                While at the Royal Hawaiian, I overheard a bar tender suggest the 'Side Street Inn'. His recommendation was further romanticized by indicating that many of the great local chefs (ex Roy, Alan Wong) eat there after service. I loved how casual it was, how all the great food went great with beer, and how the place was packed with locals. This was probably my favorite meal.

                                My second favorite meal was at Sweet Home Waimanalo. I loved the barbeque, plantation iced tea and inventive sides.

                                I had malasada's at Leonard's (didn't drive buy without getting one hot with coffee) and the Rainbow Inn a couple of times. Definitely unique experiences I am so happy you all pointed me too.

                                My travel companion took me to Boots and Kimo's in Kailua. I found the banana pancakes with mac sauce truly delicious - but didn't love their ribs as much the ribs as Side Street Inn. I just found the ribs at Boots rather bland - while the ones at SSI were spicy deliciousness!

                                I didn't make it to Alan Wong's or Roys. I had reservations - but I got caught up in the travel and activities outside of Waikiki. Just gives me a reason to go back!

                                One final thought - I attended a luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center. The center itself, and the show 'Ha!" were really great - I loved it. However the luau, left a lot to be culinarily desired. If any of you had suggestions of where to get a scrumptious luau - I think it would be appreciated by future readers.

                                Thanks again to all of you for your help - it really made my trip!

                                -----
                                Alan Wong's Restaurant
                                1857 S King St Fl 3, Honolulu, HI 96826

                                Side Street Inn
                                1225 Hopaka St, Honolulu, HI

                                Royal Hawaiian
                                2259 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96815

                                Lu Lu's
                                75-5819 Alii Dr Ste F, Kailua Kona, HI 96740

                                1. re: ksueroy

                                  Aloha ksueroy!
                                  Great report and we missed you by a week..love the mai tais at the Royal Hawaiian but not the $14 each price tag..should of gone for the $6 Stella..gotta love the view.
                                  Watching all the tourists lining up on the main drag of Waimanalo to score pakalolo is always a hoot....should try Sweet Home next time..
                                  Did you get out to North Shore?
                                  Glad you made it to Boots and Kimo's..
                                  Mahalo

                                  1. re: ksueroy

                                    I love the full day at the PCC, and do not really get into "shows." For me, talking with the kids in each "village," and learning about their lives and cultures is paramount. Still, I can take the shows, as they ARE well-done.

                                    However, the food has never registered with me. I strongly recommend that people do the full tour, and then skip the lu`au, for dining elsewhere. Even by lu`au standards, I find it bleak, and not worth the time and calories.

                                    Mahalo for the reviews,

                                    Hunt

                              2. We walked to Waiola Shave Ice on December 26, 2009 (after Rainbow Drive Inn) and it looked for all the world like it had gone out of business. Not closed; out of business. Maybe somebody else knows something more recent.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: swimmom

                                  Waiola Shave ice is now on Mokihana Street, across Kapahulu from Safeway, Has been for about 8 months now.

                                  3113 Mokihana St

                                2. Not my first time in Oahu, but first time as a foodie and chowhounder. Going to try a bunch of the recs in here, some of them look real good!

                                  Beach Chick good to see ya in here!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: deeznuts

                                    Aloha deez..
                                    love the islands brah..

                                    1. re: deeznuts

                                      I am a big fan of the Orchid's Sunday Brunch at the Halekulani. Not many noteworthy brunches around any more. The Marquesa in Phoenix is history, and some other great ones are gone, replaced by some absentee chef's steakhouse, or similar. Other than a very few spots, I can only recommend some in New Orleans, or Hawai`i.

                                      Enjoy,

                                      Hunt

                                      -----
                                      Halekulani
                                      2199 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815