OAHU Report (very long)
There are places to which we travel that are gastronomic meccas, where we know that a little legwork will reveal untold culinary treasures. And then there is Hawaii – islands of unparalleled beauty that we visit to unwind and breathe in the natural beauty of our surroundings, the hospitality and easy nature of many of the locals, and to contemplate how grateful we are to have the chance to visit. The food often pales in comparison to everything else the islands have to offer, but that’s ok. With that in mind, here’s an Oahu report.
To start, our large group (6 adults, 3 kids) was not altogether a group of adventurous eaters, and we were unlucky enough that 3 of us suffered a bout of stomach flu (and 1 got a cold) that really dampened our eating spirits.
Bogart’s, Honolulu. This is a diner style place (DDD would totally cover this) that emphasizes breakfast but also offers sandwiches and plate lunches. Some in our group went 3 times! The food is tasty and reasonably priced. B’fast is best – pancakes are generous, fluffy and tasty. Belgian waffles crisp, French toast crusted with hazelnuts. The fruit is fresh fresh, and my sister was swooning over the omelettes. I’m still debating what I thought of my tuna sandwich – giant hunks of albacore in a lemon-celery seed vinaigrette. The sandwich was very subtle, bordering on bland. But I can’t debate the quality of the ingredients (except the sad winter tomatoes). A lox bagel was overflowing with tasty fresh fish.
Da Spot, Wed FM Blaisdell. Tasty Egyptian curry chicken and garlic spicy chicken. Yellow or brown rice, good price. A little on the oily side, but good fast food.
Miyoshi Ramen, Kailua. Really tasty, low price point. It was the perfect antidote to a number of overpriced, poorly prepared meals we had been eating. The noodles were al dente, broths were tasty, portions large. I got my favorite mabo ramen, so I can’t really comment on how well the shoyu broth was made. A little heavy handed with salt.
Olive Tree Café, near Honolulu. Cash only, food was generally quite good, with the appetizers (dolmadas, hummus, baba ganouj) edging out the entrees in taste. Falafel got a big thumbs up, chicken kabob was average, shawarma was popular. They’re a little weird in their inflexibility. I asked for my 2 appetizers on the same plate because our table was small – they refused.
Legends, Chinatown. The real deal Cantonese restaurant, like you would find in a Vancouver, Seattle, or LA (these are my points of reference – I live on the west coast). Really tasty, well prepared dishes. The mabo tofu was great, the handmade noodles were good, shrimp and veg were fresh, pork mushu was great, interesting pressed tofu pork and spicy cabbage dish. We went twice. It was particularly fun watching the waiters serve the large Chinese families populating the place, bringing dish after dish after dish.
Breakers, Haleiwa. Surf and turf with pizza menu. It was our last meal before driving to the airport, so we were a little preoccupied. But the food was a’right. Tuna salad was a little weird, mixed with all variety of pickled veggies.
Dukes, Waikiki. What can I tell you that you don’t already know. Party atmosphere. Burgers and sandwiches, a bit overpriced, generous portions, not really that creative other than the purple taro buns. The drinks were incredibly weak. I would’ve shared with my child without blinking an eye. We had lunch here after a superb catamaran ride, where we were lucky enough to be the only passengers – 8 of us on a private charter for $100 – we were happy to put up with Dukes after that.
Banzai sushi, Hale’iwa. Meh. The quality of the fish was only ok. The salads were fresh. The gyoza was oddly deep fried. Tempura was fine. Service was terrible. They kept screwing up, and when we pointed out our unhappiness with them, they simply shrugged and smiled. Mind, the waitress and “front of house” were surfer girls who probably rolled out of bed 30 minutes before they opened the place at noon - a little late to be opening for lunch anyway. Pretty expensive for what we got. My pet peeve, and this happened at the next place too, was that they did not bring out people’s dishes simultaneously. Rather, we hade 6 get their food, and the other 3 had to wait 15 minutes. There is nothing pleasant about eating (or letting your food get cold/warm) in front of a hungry child who hasn’t been served yet. Said hungry child was waiting for his dumplings and not interested in my tuna sashimi.
Amici, Waikiki. Italian, pasta and pizza. The food was quite good, pasta fresh, pizza beautiful - especially the margarita. Prices were outrageous though. My child ordered a chicken and mushroom pizza – it was $22. We didn’t make that mistake again – went to W Puck express next door a few nights later, and got a pizza for $10. My 6 y.o. ordered a pasta w/red sauce, he waited 15 minutes to get his food after the rest of us were served. Sucked.
Tacos and More, Wai’anae. This unassuming little place – well, it actually looks like a dive, was a most pleasant surprise. The host is gracious, the food delicious, and everything compared very favorably with other casual Mexican restaurants we’ve been to in cities with a much larger Hispanic population. We ordered tacos, burritos, chili verde, horchatas, tortillas. Everything was fresh and tasty. Stop here if you are driving to Yokohama beach on the west side.
Romy’s shrimp shack, Kakuhu. Maybe I don’t like the taste of farmed shrimp, although I’m pretty sure I’ve had it before. This shrimp was really quite off tasting, and the texture was so tight and rigid that I wondered if they hadn’t overcooked it by half. The sweet and spicy sauce was terrible – it tasted like a buttery, watery tomato soup. The condiment cup contained the very sweet chili sauce you can get at any asian market. The wait was obscene, the atmosphere pretty terrible (a muddy field next to a muddy pond) with a canvas tent over your head and a view of the porta potty. The price, while pricey, seemed reasonable for the fact that it was shrimp. I realize these shacks are popular, but we will certainly be skipping next time. I'm guessing these joints are popular for the same reason that the Kardashians, or any other train wreck, is popular. If enough people stop to look, you think there must be something interesting to see. Of the 7 of us who ordered the shrimp (some steamed, some sweet/hot, some garlic butter), 1 think 1 of us finished their food. Many didn’t even eat ½.
Ted’s Bakery, Sunset Beach. Pies are completely overrated. Crust was ok. Filling was grocery store pudding - generic brand~! I wish I’d tried the cake, which was likely equally pedestrian, but I prefer pedestrian cake to pedestrian pudding. I think. Surprisingly, the mahi mahi plate, which was egg battered and fried, was delicious.
Hawaian BBQ (name?), Ko Olina. I don’t recall the name, other than it is in a plaza with a Mexican café and across from an ABC market. Pretty bad food. The grilled fish was drowned in some oily sauce; the chicken stir fry was overcooked and did not do any justice to the ingredients, the mac salad was an unwelcome overdressed mess on the plate. Most fortunately, the ABC market sold fresh cut fruit with which we cleaned our palates afterwards. The lagoons here are beautiful though, and offer some good snorkeling, though nothing like Hanauma Bay.
Cheeseburger in Paradise, Waikiki. Went for breakfast one morning. Utterly forgettable. The eggs and toast anyone could have made. The side of fresh fruit (I was really hoping – our first morning in HI – was pineapple and papaya) was grapes, honeydew, and cantaloupe. Really? There was a homeless guy – probably schizophrenic – that walked in, sat at a table behind us, and proceeded to talk to himself the entire time we were there. He made us uncomfortable but the staff ignored him entirely. I’m not sure why.
Leonards, Waikiki. The malasadas were hot, fresh, and tasty (say my 3 boys). I got a ham and cheese roll (I’m a sucker for savory), and was unpleasantly surprised that the cheese was sweetened cream cheese, like in a Danish. Had a much much better version of this at a Portuguese bakery on Kauai (aptly named Kauai bakery) in the spring. God how lucky am I to go to HI 2x in one year. This has never happened before, and probably never will again!
Buzz’s Original Steakhouse, Kailua. Surf and turf. Food was good, steaks well prepared, fish well prepared. But I have so many qualms about the place, I don’t know where to start. The argued with us about where we could locate a high chair at our table. We didn’t want the baby on the end, where the waiters carrying food trays might drop something on her. They insisted the only people near the baby would be patrons waiting for the salad bar. Then waiter after waiter proceeded to carry food laden trays over baby’s head. The minimum per person charge was $12, which is ridiculous. Personally, I think a split plate charge is ridiculous, but insisting on how much patrons should spend (whether they are hungry or not), is bad customer service. I’m guessing the reason is because the cheapest entrees were around $20 apiece, so they didn’t want us taking up their space. Still though, they are in the hospitality trade. The salad bar, alone, was a convenient $12, and completely not worth it. It consisted of lettuce, maybe 5 raw veggies (odd choices too, like onions, green beans, and beets, but not tomatoes, not carrots, not broccolli or cauliflower), and the rest were a variety of unidentified prepared salads and pickled things. The blue cheese dressing wasn’t. Their dessert handling is odd too. They plate up one of each kind on a tray, then peddle it to the tables. So if any table wants 2 or 3 of something, 1 person gets it right away and the rest wait. That happened to us. Finally, they told me on the phone that they wouldn’t split to 3 credit cards – their max was 2. Fortunately, when it was time to pay, they didn’t give us grief over that. Finally, for the privilege of them waiting on us, we were charged a 21% tip. I believe the bill was around $220, with several in the group ordering an app only, and 3-4 drinks total. 3 entrees and 2 kid entrees if I'm remembering correctly.
Nico’s Pier 38, Honolulu. The place we almost went to 5 times, and the one I most wish we had hit up. The grilled fish plate lunches sound stellar.
I hope this post helps someone out there!
That's a valid point. Actually, I think we were fairly happy with at least 1/2 of the eateries we visited, and as for the rest, it wasn't necessarily the food that brought us down but the combination of food, price, and service.
As you might imagine, it is very difficult to maneuver a group of 9 anywhere, including out the door in the morning. There were a number of times that I suggested we go to abc place I had read about only to get groans and grimaces from those who wanted simply a plate of coconut shrimp, a mai tai, and some ukelele music. So it is what it is. I am grateful to have spent some time with my larger family in the gorgeous setting that Hawaii offers. Also, in my OP, I mentioned being somewhat ambivalent this time about being the food detective that is my usual role, because I had started a diet and so I wasn't about to go balls to the wall on the culinary scene. That is probably reflected in the choices we made as well.
Now if I wasn't dieting, was with my small adventurous group of 4, I'm certain we would have ventured a little farther outside of the norm for our culinary delights.
thanks for the report. sadly i have to agree completely with L&L Hawaiian BBQ and with Cheeseburger in Paradise (which a 13yo once described as a burger so bad it should be illegal) I was really disappointed to hear that your experience at Buzz's was so bad, the setting is so wonderful, the food used to be good. Hopefully they get the message. I'm glad you enjoyed DaSpot at Blaisdel. The 'restaurant' is very close to me and just gets better and better.
At one time, Cheeseburger in Paradise (if at Ala Moan and Kalakaua) was a Sizzler. Back then, and especially considering that they were a Sizzler (just imagine that), their breakfasts were surprisingly good, and nicely priced, if one knew what to order.
We did Cheesburger once, and never again, but that is just us.
re: Bill Hunt
the Cheeseburger at the old Sizzler is actually called Cheeseburger Waikiki, while the one closer to the Zoo is Cheeseburger in Paradise (same owner, though). I've eaten at Paradise several times and was pleased with both the meal and the service. Once i had my dog with me and ordered from outside. They were very accommodating.