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Mar 13, 2011 04:53 PM

Comments on plans for foodies on a budget!

Thanks for the suggestions so far in my other thread and for all the other informative posts. I've been researching for months now and drooling in anticipation!

To recap: Boyfriend and I are both grad students so even though we're both pretty big foodies, we can't afford to hit all the biggies (La Mer/Alan Wong/Mavro/etc)! We are staying in Kailua and will have a rental car.

I'm looking for some suggestions for awesome food near where we'll be seeing the sights. If there are awesome food trucks (I've been reading a lot of posts on Camille's) nearby, we'd totally be up for that as well. If we can eat great food at happy hour prices, we certainly wouldn't object to that either! Oh yeah, we'll eat almost everything under the sun (blood cakes, stinky tofu, raw squid,…). :)

Want to eat/love:
sushi/sashimi (especially butterfish which I've never found in Chicago)
izakaya (loved the izakaya scene in Vancouver…)
food trucks?
shave ice (but probably not willing to go way way out of our way for it)
fresh/local food

Avoiding unless it's on the level of "top 10 in the USA" because we can get it in Chicago/elsewhere:
Classic French bistro/brasserie

Current plans

Monday: arrival
Dinner: Formaggio (happy hour) or Haleiwa Joe's in Kaneohe

Breakfast: Malasadas from Agnes' in Kailua
Morning: Lyon Arboretum & Manoa Falls Hike
Late Lunch: Helena's Hawaiian Food?
Afternoon: Get groceries somewhere (breakfast supplies, poke, food for picnic lunches)
Dinner: Probably cooking something awesome?

Wednesday: Beach/snorkeling/kayaking day
Lunch: ?? something casual near Hanauma Bay, on the way between Hanauma Bay and Kailua, or just picnic lunch
Dinner: Hiroshi's Eurasian Tapas (50% off happy hour)?

Thursday: Pearl Harbor/USS Missouri/Aviation Museum all day
Lunch: ?? picnic/sandwiches/buy in Pearl Harbor/other ideas
Snack: Shave Ice at Ice Gardens in Aiea
Dinner: Kailua Thursday Night farmer's market

Friday: Various activities near Waikiki and Ala Moana area
Lunch: Ah-Lang Korean (Angry Korean Lady -- is it all hype or is it totally worth it?)
Dinner: ?? Yanagi Sushi? Doraku for the happy hour?

Saturday: Touring sights in downtown Honolulu
Breakfast: KCC Farmer's Market
Lunch: Chinatown? Vietnamese?
Dinner: Current candidates are Town and 3660 on the Rise


Hiroshi's Eurasian Tapa's
500 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI

Ice Gardens
Aiea Shopping Ctr, Aiea, HI 96701

Yanagi Sushi
762 Kapiolani Blvd Lowr 1, Honolulu, HI 96813

Helena's Hawaiian Food
1240 N School St, Honolulu, HI 96817

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  1. Your schedule seems tight. HI is a nice place to relax, but don't let your awesome dinner fresh fish come to room temp. before you're ready to cook it. Ask for ice.
    I BELIEVE there is a Kozo Sushi near Hanuma Bay (but away from Kailua).
    Helena's?: unless you grew up with it, I don't see it.
    Italian: you can do better home than ANYPLACE here IMO.
    Fatty's (Chinese) in Waikiki for CHEAP cake noodle.
    Fresh Catch in Kaneohe(?) has received good buzz here lately.
    Angry Korean Lady: though hard to find, worth it for the vibe, the hot wings, and the chrome chopsticks.
    Filipino: If in Aiea, consider (got GPS?) Anties Kitchen in the Waipahu Marketplace (worth a visit for fruit and entertainment both) and the ~$10 BUFFETS in Elena's and Thelma's. There too is Tanioka's for Delux Spam and Goteborg musubis and Poke Stop.
    Filipino up country: Gloria's. Be sure to mix the fermented shrimp into the oxtail stew.
    Another trip, if you like Moroccan, is Marakesh (sp?) in Kailua. A not so cheap prix fixe, but great decor and decorum, BYOB and good food IMO.
    Bac Nam on King between downtown and Waikiki for good Vietnamese.
    Southern end of Chinatown has the nicest fish, but some prefer the inside of the Manukea Marketplace.
    +1 on 3660 and Town.
    We were grad. studs. once RELAX AND ENJOY! You've UNDOUBTEDLY earned it.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Joebob

      Thanks for the suggestions. Between Antie's Kitchen, Elena's, Gloria's, and Thelma's, if you had to pick one Filipino restaurant, which would it be?

      1. re: autumnmist

        They all are about equal. Gloria's is in Wahiawa, but the other three are within a mile of each other in Waipahu. You could go to all three, review the menus, and take out a choice-of-two (or three) lunch from each and eat them on the beach. Antie's has no menu, but the food is up front (literally) and you can ask for tastes before deciding. I think the three-choice at Antie's is $7.50 for about two dinners worth of food. If you can get lechon anywhere, try it.

        1. re: Joebob

          What do you think of Max's of Manilla Joebob. I've been to the one in town, by Iwilei Costco and thought it was pretty good.... but all my friend ordered were meat dishes. Of the Waipahu ones, I have a slight preference for Thelma's, but Elena's is good too. I know there is also a Max's out there too.

          1. re: KaimukiMan

            We've been to Max's in Waipahu a few times. One dish, lechon accompanied by a cream sauce, was pretty good as was fish fillets. but I didn't think much of their signature chicken. Nice crisp skin but not flavored in any interesting way and darned small too. The oxtail stew wasn't as good as Gloria's and not much meat, but at least it was oxtail. Not like some other places...
            Have you been to the Filipino place on River St. in Chinatown?
            We've recently had good pig leg and orange beef at Chin's in Aloha Tower, but parking is expensive unles you can talk them into giving you a VIP parking validation.

            1. re: Joebob

              Oh for the days when you could find a parking space downtown and walk over to aloha tower. Its still cheaper to park in one of the city lots if you don't mind walking a few blocks.

              Nope, haven't been to the place on River Street. Most of my Filipino friends never want to go out and eat Filipino food. Although the way most of their mom's cook I don't blame them, why eat out when you can have mom make better at home.

    2. OK, some comments off the top of my head:

      Formaggio has a nice vibe and if you can get good happy hour deals, it'll probably be worth it. However, I'd guess you could get similar food in Chicago? You know, if you're in the mood for something simpler like burgers or diner food, I'd recommend Teddy's (burgers) or Big City Diner, where you could get local style food. Zippy's is another place--which is *the* diner spot in Hawai'i. You probably could get slightly better food at Big City, but the quality at Zippy's is solid. Both are relatively inexpensive and very casual dining.

      Helena's is very good for Hawaiian food. (Definitely try the pipikaula; they have good squid luau there, too, although unless you're into coconut milk spinach-y type of leaf, you don't have to try this). If quantity is a bigger issue, I'd consider Ono Hawaiian in Kapahulu (near Waikiki and Manoa). Quality is solid here and portions are significant.

      Here's another suggestion. If you go to Helena's right down the street is a place called, Mitsuken. Go there and pick up some garlic chicken--even if you get a few pieces, it's worth trying! (It's basically a fried boneless chicken in a crispy batter with a garlicky soy sauce.)

      Can't help you with any lunch places near Hanauma Bay.
      I've been to Hiroshi's once for the 50% off, and I loved it--although you have to sit at the bar to order the happy hour. The 50% doesn't apply to a few dishes. To me, if you like fish prepared in a neo-Japanese style this is a place to try; and it's a good deal. The place is clean not a dive too.


      Ice Garden is good, although I wonder if people who have grown up eating shave ice will appreciate it more. They have different toppings that one doesn't normally see with shave ice (custard, oatmeal, etc.).

      If you drive off the base, I'd consider going to Young's Kal-bee, a Korean plate lunch place. It's very close to Pearl Harbor and across the street from Ice Garden. (So you could go to Young's then get shave ice for dessert). For Korean plate lunch, I think they're very good--and if you haven't been to a lot of great Korean places or almost never eat Korean food, this might be worth it. It's not expensive, and the portions are huge.

      Or you could drive over to Waipahu and try some poke at Tanioka's and/or Poke Stop. If you've never had poke, but love sashimi, I think you should try this. Tanioka's has good poke, plus musubis and other stuff that you can order ala carte. (It can get a little pricey--at least for lunch food.) Poke Stop is also excellent for poke (they let you sample). The creamy ahi poke is very good, and they have a lot of seafood plate lunch. I think Joebob loves their eggplant fries, too.

      OK, here's a suggestion. If you take a lunch break and leave Pearl Harbor, you could drive down to Waipahu (approx five-seven miles) and hit Taniokas, Elena's or Thelma's and Poke Stop. You can get a little bit of everything from each place. If you go to Elena's or Thelma's definitely try the lechon--which is roast pork that's fried with a semi-crisp outer layer. You could also hit Ice Garden on the way back. Oh, there's also a place in Waipahu called Hula Boba, which has some pretty good shave ice. They use ice milk instead of plain ice and they use fruit preserves instead of syrup. All these places are really close together and off of Farrington Highway! Boom, boom, boom and you're good to go!


      OK, I've only been to Ah Lang, once, and I didn't really care for it. Some people find the grouchy lady endearing, I sort of didn't.

      Yanagi is decent. (I bet you could get butterfish there, too. In my experience, you can get decent butterfish at almost any Japanese restaurant on O'ahu.), and if you're going for sushi/Japanese food on a budget, the choice is understandable. But for better sushi you should consider Mitch's (Spanish toro is like butter!), Sushi Sasabune and Gaku. (I haven't been to the latter, but my Japanese sister-in-law says it's great.) These places aren't cheap, though. I've been to Doraku once, and I thought it was fine--sort of creative fusion sushi.

      If you're going to Waikiki, consider Sansei, which has a 50% special like Hiroshi. To me the quality is not spectacular, but I'd go for that deal. They have solid wine selection, too, but I'm not an experienced wine drinker.


      Lunch in town. Not sure. (I think my brain is fried. :)
      I like the Town choice for dinner, though. They definitely try to use locally grown foods. Not pricey for the type of food you get, too.

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

      Ice Gardens
      Aiea Shopping Ctr, Aiea, HI 96701

      Sushi Sasabune
      1419 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96814

      10 Replies
      1. re: Jazzaloha

        I have always been able to order everything on the menu at either Hiroshi or Vino for 50% off during the happy hour.

        1. re: manomin

          The one time I went there the 50% discount did not apply to a hamachi sushi special that . (I ordered it anyway because it sounded so good--it was.)

        2. re: Jazzaloha

          Problem with Big City Diner is that it's not on the windward side and we're not too eager to drive back just for dinner after arriving.

          I'm definitely interested in trying Hawaiian shave ice -- especially to see how it's different from Malaysian/Singaporean style ais kacang (shave ice desserts) I had a lot when I was growing up in the NY area.


          Sansei's 50% off happy hour is limited to only rolls on Friday (or so I've read during my research).

          I couldn't find a website/menu for Izakaya Gaku--how do their prices compare to Mitch's, for example? In Chicago, if we go to our regular neighborhood sushi place (not great but the fish is ok), we would usually order a sashimi platter and two rolls for dinner for two people and come out paying ~$60 including tip.

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

          1. re: autumnmist

            Last time I checked, there's a Big City Diner in Kailua. Also, fwiw, with both Big City Diner and Zippy's have your standard diner fare, they also serve local foods. For example, Big City serves poke, Hawaiian food on Fridays, and an enormous kim chee fried rice. Zippy's also has a very good won tun min (or go for the zip min which includes more garnishes like deep fried shrimp), imo, and other things like Korean fried chicken, chicken katsu, teri beef, etc. The portions are more on the modest side, though. Still, if that doesn't appeal to you, then you should check out some other place.

            As I mentioned, I haven't been to Gaku, so I can't comment. With Mitch's you can order ala carte, and I'm not sure how the prices would compare if you order a sashimi platter with two rolls. However, I do know that the most yummy fish is going to be expensive. The last time I went--and this was several years ago--two pieces of Spanish toro nigiri went for $20. Here's the thing though: they had a special where you pay $75 per person and you get an omakase meal (not unlimited items though). The meal, both times I went, consisted of the Spanish toro and other really good sushi (that would be really expensive a la carte). The meal also included a live, New Zealand lobster--sashimi-ed tail, while the body was used in a miso soup served after! Definitely the best raw fish I"ve ever eaten, especially in terms of flavor.

            The thing about Sushi Sasabune and Gaku is that I would go there for the omakase (chef's choice), and in that format, you decide when you want to stop (I don't know if there is a minimum order, though). So you could possibly order a few pieces and just stop within your budget.

            Re: Shave Ice

            Ice Garden seems to be different, as in more Asian (maybe Taiwanese?). They don't put very much syrup on the ice and they have unusual ingredients like oatmeal, green beans (not what you think), custard, etc. So I don't know how "Hawaiian" it is. If this is a high priority, I'd recommend Waiola or the Strawberry cream or haupia cream at Ailana, near Ala Moana.

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

            Ice Gardens
            Aiea Shopping Ctr, Aiea, HI 96701

            Sushi Sasabune
            1419 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96814

            1. re: Jazzaloha

              Cool thanks for the info. Alas I think Mitch's has raised their price -- they list a "Special Course" but it's now $105 per person instead of $75!

            2. re: autumnmist

              There is a BCD in Kailua next to the Foodland. IMO it is not worth even thinking about. I do not like their food at all, have tried many times. I must say though the people who work there are really nice. If you like Japanese Noboroku (sp?) in Kailua next to Zia's is a wonderful little place. They have great tempura and other items as well as a great sake program and they will guide you with great interest in helping your selection.

              I guess it's good to be me because I've never been denied anything on the items at half price except when they have the $12.00 steak special (at Vino) which is not going to be $6.00 during that time. I just ordered the $24.00 dinner and got it for $12.00 and it was amazing and I was at the Hiroshi bar so I combined restaurants.

              1. re: manomin

                not fond of big city....hummm... now i'm confused, or is it just that one?

                I admit, I am not fond of their tequila chicken or the chinatown style noodles (not). But other things are really good. The ribs, the meatloaf, the double down chili dogs, the burgers, and of course the kim-chee fried rice-arguably the best on the island. I've always found the salad greens to be fresh and crisp, the dressing a bit on the heavy side unless you ask them, but other than that usually pretty good (except the tomatoes) I will concede that the deserts are only so-so.

                Not that I have any objections to Formaggio. I hear mostly good things about that. Just not sure how awake they are going to be to appreciate it the first night on island.

                1. re: KaimukiMan

                  Haha we're not sure if we're going to be able to appreciate it either! That's why I was coming to you guys for feedback. :)

                  Even though our flight is 9 hrs from Chicago to Honolulu, they (American Airlines) aren't serving any meals whatsoever.... not that that's such a terrible thing given how iffy airline food is.

                2. re: manomin

                  Not familiar with "Noboroku" -- is this the restaurant?

                  If so, prices look good and if the fish is good, we might have a winner!

            3. I think you have some good advice on here, in both the original and new posting. I kinda wonder along with Jazz about formaggio on your first night, but it is good. Big city diner is a lot more low key.... depends on what you are looking for.

              There are a number of things you can get in the Hawaii Kai area before or after hitting Hanauma bay ranging from Hot Dogs at Costco to the Original Roy's... quite a diverse range. A few comments:

              The Shack Burgers...not what it once was, but if you avoid the burgers and go for a salad or chicken sandwich, its ok. I'm pretty sure they have take-out.

              Loco Moko Drive in: Pretty decent plate lunches.

              Zippy's: Its zippys, not gonna be fantastic, not gonna be horrible either. Good for take out. Get some napples (turnovers) for dessert.

              Teddy's Bigger Burgers: Some of the better burgers around. Lots of specialty burgers, not much else.

              Blue Water Grill: Not what it used to be, good food, skimpy portions, high prices, nice setting next to the water. Unaffected by the tsunami.

              Kona Brewing Co.: Meh, i think its vasty over-rated (and i used to like it.)

              Koa Pancake House: Haven't been to this one, they serve decent pancakes and such. In the late morning till around 2 they have pretty good plate lunch, take out or dine in.

              8 Replies
              1. re: KaimukiMan


                The thing about Formaggio is that it can get pricey--especially if you order a bunch of small plates and drinks. Big City, Zippy's and Teddy's are pretty cheap in comparison.

                Agree about the napples at Zippy's--which are flaky, buttery apply turnovers (although if you have really great turnovers in Chicago, you can pass on this; they also have blueberry cream cheese and coconut napples, too.) People like Zippy's chili and fried chicken, too. Solid and maybe different, but probably not earth-shattering.

                FWIW, agree with K-Man that Teddy's has one of the best burgers on the island.

                1. re: Jazzaloha

                  Hm, so my hesitation about BCD/Zippy's/Teddy's is that Chicago is pretty good at restaurants serving enormous quantities of meat in burger/diner form. Napples sound tasty though!!! Maybe I should rethink Formaggio, though, given the number of comments on that.

                  Is there a good ramen/udon noodle place in Kailua (or nearby)? I think we could be up for that on Monday after traveling.

                  1. re: autumnmist

                    Check on the Formaggio's menu online to get a better sense. I like the ambiance at the Kailua Formaggio, though. It's open and casual, but sort of elegant, too.

                    Don't know about any good ramen/udon places in Kailua or Kaneohe. There are some really good places in downtown Honolulu! (Tan-tan min at Jin Din Rou or the same dish at Goma-Ichi.)

                    Jin's Restaurant
                    4303 Rice St Ste B6, Lihue, HI 96766

                    1. re: Jazzaloha

                      Au Contraire. Sumo Ramen has an excellent menu of ramen/noodles/croquettes/mochiko/katsu curry. And, the place is extremely clean and friendly. They are in the Kaneohe Bay Shopping Center unattached from the Safeway/Long's portion.

                      Kaneohe Bay Shopping Center
                      , Kaneohe, HI 96744

                      1. re: manomin

                        Wait, I said I didn't know about any ramen/udon place in Kailua, not that there WEREN'T any good places. :)

                        But while we're on the subject, do you think Sumo is as good as Goma-Ichi's ta tan ramen or Jin Din Rou's version? What about Sumo compared to Tenkkaipin's kotteri? I haven't been tried Sumo, so I'm not saying it's not as good, but I'm just asking.

                        Jin's Restaurant
                        4303 Rice St Ste B6, Lihue, HI 96766

                        1. re: Jazzaloha

                          I can't answer that since I've never been to them. Sumo is convenient and I've never been disappointed.

                            1. re: Jazzaloha

                              The maebo tofu is really good, I like the won ton ramen. The Sumo Ramen itself is quite good as well. They have a thing where if you buy a ramen/entree you get a side of gyoza for a cheaper price too. They make a great chicken katsu curry too and mochiko chicken.

              2. Re your Saturday schedule: If you're wanting lunch downtown, you might consider Indigo, which has fusion food, or Down Town, which is Town's restaurant in the Hawaii State Art Museum across from Iolani Palace, or one of the Vietmnamese Pho restaurants in Chinatown.

                If you want to try Hawaiian food and not leave Kailua to do it, Fat Boy's (which right next to Formaggio) has a Hawaiian plate on Friday's (only) which is very good. Foodland Supermarket in Kailua has decent poke and other take-out food along with the stuff you need for the week.
                Re your last day in Hawaii: If you want to get to the airport by 2 p.m., you might want to consider kicking back in Kailua. The trip to the airport from Kailua using H3 is going to be much less stressful than driving from Kailua to Waikiki for brunch and then from Waikiki to the airport. Kailua Bay, especially before 9 a.m on Sunday., is to my mind as beautiful as Waikiki Beach. I'd get coffee and muffins from Agnes' or Kalapaki Market at the entrance to Kailua Beach park and sit on the beach and people watch. For food to bring on the plane, I'd stop by Safeway and buy a couple of their made-to-order sandwiches from the deli.