Trip report- New Yorker's first time in Oahu. Medium budget.
I arrived Christmas night and had no dinner plans. We walked around and stumbled into a place called Yakiniku Hiroshi. 339 Royal Hawaiian in the heart of the tourist area. I am no expert of Asian fare so take my comments for what you will but this food was excellent! It is one of those places where you grill your own meat. I had Kobe beef, vegetables, salad, bim bi bap and tea. Flawless! I was upset about the price at first but it was more than worth it. My Mom had a puffed ice cream ball thing for dessert and she loved it but I did not try it.
Boxing Day- no breakfast. Jetlagged. Took a taxi to Helena's Hawaiian foods. It was CLOSED!!!! From the car I confirmed the hours which were clearly visible but after the man drove away we tried the door and noticed the small sign stating that they were closed until 2013!!!! There is nothing else around there. We were starving so we went into the first place that we saw - a Chinese restaurant near a gas station. I had the worst meal of my life. My food looked like a 2/10and tasted like 3/10. We both hated our food and did not finish. There were only two other people in there and they returned their food. Golden City.
We hopped the bus to Bishop Museum and starved until dinner. My Mom had lost faith in me after the Helena's fiasco and the disgusting Chinese so she picked the spot for supper. Five Star International Buffet - the epitome of tourist dining. The food was not CH quality but it was abundant and varied. It was "all you can eat" so if you didnt like something you could try something else. The restaurant was nicer than I expected for that sort of place and the service was friendly and efficient. I had fun and ate a lot but there was nothing that was amazing. My fave items were the tempura and the teriyaki. If u go at lunch it is loads cheaper but there is no seafood. Desserts are included but drinks are not.
The next day we did Iolani palace and wandered through Chinatown. The area was disappointing compared to NY and San Fran in the sense that it was nearly deserted and appeared as if it were not a valuable part of the community. We went for Dim Sum in the Chinatown Cultural center. Because it was late afternoon there were a few things that had run out. I had beef balls, chive patties and bread balls stuffed with chicken. No complaints about any of it. Mom had soup which she loved. There is a tank with fish for sale against the back wall - if you see it you are in the right place. A good place if you are in the area at this between hour and want authentic Chinese.
For dinner I tried some Filipino food in the International Marketplace. It was very good! I had takeout from BFK- Bautista Filipino Kitchen. The only other people in line were Filipino (I understand a few words) so that was validation for me. I had some yummy chicken dish after googling popular foods in line. Most of the items were pork so my choices were limited but it was great. And dirt cheap!
Onos was crowded and had a weird smell. I enjoyed my chicken long rice soup but found the poi flavorless as I expected. I like haupia so that was fine. The lomi salmon was ok. Didnt differ much from Five star international buffet.
They were out of lau lau and a few other items...
I much prefer Champion malasadas to Leonards but Leonards has more variety. Of their's my fave was the one with the red spicy sugar- it isnt on the website. ? Li hing??
On the North Shore the only thing I ate was shave ice at Matsumotos. I went all out and got the green tea with azuki bean and condensed milk. It was good! There is a huge difference between this and ices or snow cones. Perhaps the smaller ice particles allow for deeper penetration of flavor. It became watery in the end and somewhat diluted but I ate most.
On my last day I ran around seeing sites and buying souvenirs but I did manage to try chicken lau lau in the food court at AlaMoana ctr. It was wonderful!!! But the best part of the Ala Moana center is the Asian market. I bought enough food for dinner and the long flight home. I picked up noodles, mochiko chicken, this purple potato ball stuffed into ? Taro bread? Red bean jin dui and veggies with sauce. I think its just a grocery store but with a ton of freshly prepared, neatly packaged, colorful Asian food. If you are in the area it is a good place to grab a snack or picnic lunch. Everything else in the mall is exactly like the mainland so this was a pleasant little surprise.
Thanks for your report. But I'm wondering why you didn't do your research and call ahead to be certain Helena's would be open. Glad you found something you like in the Ala Moana food court. I can't stand the underground melee of what's there. The only reason I know where it is now is because I periodically shop at Lush for their handmade cosmetics, etc.
Here is the OP's original thread asking for recommendations for reference:
Most places in NY don't close for a whole week at a time for holiday breaks... Or they will close only on 12/25 and it is back to business as usual on 12/26. The thought didn't even occur to me that Helena's might be closed for Xmas break until someone pointed it out in another thread. And they don't have anything on their web site to indicate so. At least Hot Doug's in Chicago's web site explicitly says they have crazy hours and to always call ahead!
Well, aside from a few mishaps, you got to see many different areas of Oahu. Kalihi is a pretty good place to view life from a locals point of view. Hiroshi's is indeed pretty good. Too bad about Helena's, but pipikaula short ribs are not really mind blowing, just comforting.
There are many things you need to try next time: a plate lunch place like Rainbows, old fashioned coffee houses like Zippy's, oxtail soup, a real luau, Alan Wong's, a huli huli chicken stand, a poke maker, Kahuku shrimp, Kona coffee, fresh coconut from a trea, etc...
These types of things, in the same category of NYC places like that Halal white sauce place, Di Fara's in Brooklyn, you get the idea.