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Apr 30, 2013 05:22 PM

Burgers in Honolulu/Oahu

It's been well over a year since we had a discussion on this, places have come and gone since then.

I went to Honolulu Burger Company today for lunch with a friend. We both decided to stick to the basics, each ordered a cheeseburger. I'll focus on the burger itself, the meat, the patty, whatever you want to call it, was excellent. Cooked to order, full of flavor, very tender and moist but not greasy. Big Island free range beef, organic, etc. The bun, condiments etc. were also very good, as were the fries.

Over the years I have watched the competition slide, and some of them close. Papa's Burgers and Burgers on the Edge are both gone. The shack long ago switched to frozen hockey puck meat, not sure what it is that Teddy's did, and they are still a cut above some others, but not what they once were. It's been a while since i was at Kua Aina, so I won't comment on them. Honolulu Burger is my new favorite. Two locations, today was my first time at the Kahala location. Our server was also great, friendly, quick, etc.

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  1. do they do it double rare?

    i was told to try wolfgang's but haven't yet.

    1. i'm glad most people like the Honolulu Burger Company, but its been really hit and miss for me so I've not been particularly motivated to go of late...i will note that safeway always has a buy one get one half off coupon on the back of receipts, so, thats appealing.

      i dont have anything new or incredibly interesting to contribute though this topic is a particular passion of mine. The best burgers I've had of late are made in my kitchen, but I digress. If i had to pick one around town, i think maybe the burger at SALT is my fave? A big sucker, usually cooked perfectly as ordered, with high quality ingredients and condiments ( their ketchup and mustard are so freaking good, though their bun could use an upgrade), sundays are happy hour all night (starting at 5) so the burgers are like 8 bucks or something super reasonable.

      i had a fantastic drunken bacon cheeseburger deluxe experience at liliha that did not hold up after a return experience under the influence of sobriety. oh well.

      i'm hoping someone throws out a new gem, maybe a burger from a restaurant - like wongs pineapple room, or 12th ave grill, etc etc....i've had the burger from wolfgangs and it was damn good, but i think they only serve at lunch and its just tough to get to waikiki during lunch....i've had the burger at BLT steakhouse at the Trump Tower and its a pretty good burger, but its also a great deal >> for 16 bucks you get their famous popovers, liver pate and crostini, and the fatty burger and fries. totally worth sidling up to the bar. maybe someone knows of a burger worth seeking out at one of these new gastropubs - dash? home bar? had the slider at REAL and its nothing special...i've had the burger at pint&jigger and while i enjoy it, its nothing incredibly noteworthy.

      I've had the burger from Hank's Haute Truck...for 5 or 6 bucks you get a quintessential backyard burger. no frills no nonsense charred 1/3 lb burger made with a relatively high fat content patty (lots of clear fatty "juice" drippage) and american cheese if you want...lettuce and tomato and onion. was good.

      i dunno --- someone come up with something good! I'm game to run a burger mission.....

      17 Replies
      1. re: fatstern

        I guess I'm different than a lot of people. I think that burgers should be made from beef with a 15% fat content or less. Your description of high fat content patty makes my stomach churn.

        Good quality beef has good flavor and doesn't need the high fat content (25%) that so many hounds seem to insist on, at least in my humble - and not mainstream - opinion. One of the things I like about costco ground beef is that it is 12% fat.

        1. re: KaimukiMan

          in my experience, lean meat may have a nice basic flavor, but lacks the richness of a fattier ground beef. it also is drier and more crumbly, which are negatives for me. but i am not sure as to what exactly 12% tastes like vs more; i don't know the numbers. but if i were to look at the steak i would expect good marbling.

          today i had a primeburger from zippys on dillingham by violet's grill, and was just expecting some blah sandwhich, but boy was i surprised! the burger was juicy and flavorful. obviously, it was not top notch beef, and it wasn't raw/rare that i like such good beef to be, but i was very happy for a fast food burger. i have had the same item at other zippy's, but never so tasty.

          1. re: indelibledotink

            I'm going to have to agree with indelible on the higher fat content in the burger -- however i think the Hank's one i was talking about above was definitely pushing it...had to be around above the 20% mark --- i'm in the 15-20% camp myself. If you slightly overcook a leaner burger, its not very forgiving....which brings me to....

            my return to honolulu burger company. wanted to give it another shot so went again last friday...and like K-man, i just went for a straight up bacon cheeseburger keeping it simple. Ordered it medium rare, received a very dry burger pushing well done. This is the 2nd time in a row its happened to me here and has happened off and on on prior visits...didnt say anything last time, but this time i politely asked their policy regarding burger doneness and they were very nice about cooking me another. The 2nd i received was perfectly cooked and juicy....but i dunno. the bread has always bothered me there, and this time the regular bun had to have been a touch stale, wasnt griddled, and was even falling apart a bit. the taste of the bun drastically took away from the burger and really has just turned me off to this place. again, peeps have different tastes and i'm glad HBC does well (my buddy i was with loves that joint and stands by it), but i think i'm done with it.

            I've griped about the bun quality with burgers all over town before.... i think Teddys is one place that has good diner/fastfoodie style potato buns that work really well, as does the Momo Burger truck..... the new chef at Whole Ox makes the buns in house these days, and they look great. However last time i was in there the burger ballooned to 16 bucks...too rich for my lunchtime funds at the time. Havent had the burger there since the new guy took over, but that dry aged delight was a fave of mine....i'll have it again soon, maybe payday (tomorrow!), just because.

            1. re: fatstern

              The burger at whole ox went back down to $13, but that's with nothing on it. You want onions or cheese they are an extra $1 each, a fried egg will set you back an additional $2.

              1. re: fatstern

                yelpers say that the new owners are strict, won't make more than 30 burgers per day?! and even $13 is a hellovalotta cash for a hamburger.

                sadly, i never ate at the whole ox in its glory days.

                1. re: indelibledotink

                  Yeah, the new chef is all about sustainability. Says it's not sustainable to go through more than 30 burgers a day when you are buying one cow at a time. You can read about his philosophy in a bunch of articles/interviews.

                  1. re: killersmile

                    the articles make him sound like adecent guy, but yelpers paint him/the staff as jerks.

                    at such prices, though, i can't afford to find out.

                2. re: fatstern

                  just had a lunch burger at Whole Ox...added swiss and onion at a buck each to make my plate $15+..... it was good. not totally amazing though. i get the price is for premium dry-aged beef, and i'm not sure if anyone else serves dry-aged burgers around town, so i guess thats fine. it was of decent size, prob 6 oz or so, and the cheese was generous, onions not so much. the housemade sourdough bun was pretty good and a welcome change to the usual forgettable buns, and was served with some pickles and pickled red onion on side....i ordered it medium rare, the dude at the counter said they default to medium rare, but there wasn't a spot of pink in my burger. i should have said something but didnt. sometimes i do, sometimes i cant be bothered. for 15 bucks, in retrospect, i should have. however, being dry-aged, it had plenty of concentrated fat and maintained its juiciness and very nice beefy flavor. however, at least today, the patty was very loosely handled to the point of crumblage in spots....maybe this is why it overcooked. there is a just-right zone of burger patty formation that keeps the patty intact and loose but with good bite and chew, and i think they came up just short of this (the flip side of over-handling is much worse IMO). the strength of this burger is the nice beef, followed by the nice bun. flavor was there but it just didnt fire on all cylinders for me, mostly bc of the overcooking and too-light handling of the patty...

                  1. re: fatstern

                    couple recent burgers...

                    went to visit the Counter with some friends last week and had a somewhat disappointing experience, though i dont feel like thats the norm here. Decided to work a messy concoction with chili/slaw/pickles on a 1/3 lb beef burger (they carry buffalo now, btw)....their chili was 100% meat based and was greasy and not very complex flavor-wise. their cole slaw was a joke....just a few pieces of chopped napa cabbage - not sure if they ran out of real slaw and they tried to subsititute, but, sheesh. I ordered my burger rare/medium rare and it came nearly well done. But i already dumped the chili mess on top and had it dripping down my wrist about a third of the way through the burger when i realized it was super i didnt say anything. others at the table had their burgers cooked better than mine. anyway - avoid the chili and slaw as toppings here....bummer experience for me. One of my friends had their monthly shake special - georgia peach shake. was insanely delicious, as their shakes and malts tend to be. i'll give 'em that.

                    today i went to the Morning Glass Cafe in Manoa for their burger which only shows up on Fridays (and Saturdays if they have meat left). Heard really good things so wanted to check it. 2 offerings: they have their "good" burger...i'd say about 1/3 lb kulana big island beef, spicy mayo, arugula, tomato, choice of cheese, and house pickles and a salad for $8.50. I got their "better" burger that came with roasted poblanos, aged vermont cheddar, arugula, bacon, and spicy mayo...and pickles and green salad. I ordered it medium rare, the gal said it comes medium rare by default, but my first one was easily well done. I politely asked their policy about overcooked burgers and they didnt hesitate to make me another, which was cooked to a nice medium and was a very satisfying burger. the bun was a relatively soft ciabatta that worked well, held its own and was yielding enough not to squish the whole thing into a mess. 2 generous slices of quality thick bacon, a modest mound of shredded cheddar, the balanced portion of roasted poblanos and the spicy mayo worked to give a little background oomph to the sandwich, and the house pickles that came on the side were delicious and added the acidic contrast to whole gig. i could have used a little extra spicy mayo or even some ketchup, but this was a good burger worth tracking down if you're in the mood for a longer aloha friday lunch session. The salad was perfectly dressed and for $10.50, this plate was a solid value. Plus, great coffee and lattes.

                    1. re: fatstern

                      thanks fastern, never heard of morning glass before now, or at least it didn't make an impression on my brain.

                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                        They're also known for their breakfast sandwich.

                        1. re: kathryn

                          ya, pretty damn good breakfast/brunch spot. i see it as more of a hipster city (portland/brooklyn) approach to the grub than the usual cafes around town...they offer portland's stumptown coffee so there you go....a good number of single origin manual drip coffees to order, though i think they brew them a touch weak. but the latte was perf.

                          i'd like to hit for lunch a couple to times and try a smattering of their sandwiches....

                          and btw, they also have an outpost at R/D in kaka'ako.

                          1. re: fatstern


                            oh, ok, I googled it. R&D

                            how is this place?

                            1. re: indelibledotink

                              its a cool little meeting/work space. free wi-fi, can rent space for meetings on the cheap....always have great books for sale > >> creative books, great food books, etc....nice to browse while waiting for my coffee to brew...the morning glass outpost has their coffee and smattering of baked goods and sandwiches prepped fresh at the main manoa homebase. i couldnt resist buying the banana doughnut with papaya glaze the other day. who could?

              2. re: KaimukiMan


                I am with you on that. Now, this is getting a tad Off-Topic, but we do a double-ground sirloin, then I cook each patty under applewood smoked, thick-cut bacon (for the fat, and flare). That is how I like 'em.

                As for burgers on O`ahu (the topic), I am reading and learning. I have only done burgers in Hawai`i once, and that did not turn out well. Let's just say that "Paradise" was not on my plate, and leave it at that.

                Now, I am a burger lover, but just do not think about them, when in the Islands - maybe my bad?


                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  i don't know if you're addressing this specifically to K-man, but I don't think you should feel like you are really missing something on Oahu. When you are traveling and you got a jones for a burger its worth knowing the better spots I guess, many of which have been touched on, but I don't know if there's a supreme superlative burger here. I am passionate about finding it though! I really do like the burger at SALT quite a bit, and I consistently like their other food (though I rarely spring for their house made charcuterie), so to me its ALWAYS worth splitting one of their burgers should you find yourself snacking there.

                  I've had some really good and fewer mild letdown stuff from Village Burger in Waimea Big Island. Have friends in Honokaa so it always seems to be part of our lunch route when we homebase/adventure there. Everything served there is grown and made within an x-mile radius of the joint...I'd stick with their chuck/brisket blend for best flavor. Their little mushroom burger concoction is very delicious as well, i've opted for it more than once (and stolen bites of beef from everyone else).

              3. re: fatstern

                I've eaten several times at the Momo Burger food truck and really enjoyed their burgers. They use grass-fed Big Island beef and do a good job of grilling a flavorful and juicy burger that is rich without being fatty or greasy.

                I've also enjoyed the burger at Downbeat Diner, although the roll can be a bit on the dry side (especially when paired with their delicious Cajun fries).

              4. My still favorite is Kua Aina even though the Big City Diner in Kaimuki is pretty decent. But I will never step foot in the BCD in Kakaako ever again since we had a terrible experience a few years ago. The management needs to enroll in charm school and brush up on their PR. I do like Kua Aina since it's real messy and they provide you with unlimited napkins. One really need it plus the French fry orders are pretty humongous.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Clinton

                  i do like kua aina as well - they made me a nice almost rare burger once, although i don't think they usually do. i remember enjoying it and that it was messy!

                  also, you reminded me of an actual rare i had at the kaimuki big city diner as well! again, they usually won't make em like this, but it was delish.

                  i just scarfed a sourdough jack and am thinking how good it would be twice as large and using some premium rare hamburger. a bag of frozen curly fries would complete the meal.

                  1. re: indelibledotink

                    big city used to do medium unless requested rare or medium rare, then they asked you to sign a chit acknowledging the risks. i thought it was a good solution, but apparently their marketing department (?) didn't like it. I can usually get it medium rare there. And yes, they are good burgers, but I think HBC is better for the burgers, not as many options for your dining companions.

                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                      While revisiting the islands a while back, we had lunch at the new Island Burgers (I believe it was at the Ala Moana Shopping Center?) which is one of my favorite burger joints back here in Los Angeles. We do have multiple locations in our southbay area and they are quite popular with younger patrons. Their burgers are juicy and the fries are unlimited with their burger plates. If I would had to compare, I would rate them along with BCD's quality with the edge going to Islands. Kua Aina is still my favorite though.

                      1. re: Clinton

                        Funny you should mention Islands. My experience there was the same as yours at Ward BCD. Bad enough I haven't gone back. Asked for medium rare, they told me they only do medium and i got well done. Could have used that burger as the gravel in a batch of concrete. I guess I will allow myself to be dragged back there someday.

                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                          Kman, you probably was there on a bad day when things were hectic I'm guessing? In any case, they should have paid more attention and cared about what they were putting out. Burger flippers are definitely not one of the highest paid professions out there. Same goes to say for any fast food joint unless you're the owner who relies on repeat business? Never ever had any complaints from any of the three "Islands" we have located in our area. Always crowded and the service has always been reasonably efficient and pleasant.

                2. Went to Kua Aina Honolulu yesterday. So disappointed -- had my standard cheeseburger. The meat was not juicy, the cheese was not melted and the bun was like a separate entity lacking a relationship with the meat & cheese. The bun was dry and not fresh. I have been going to Kua Aina since the 80's in North Shore and Honolulu at least 4 times when visiting from the Mainland and Never Ever has it not been delicious. Is this now typical? Last here May 2012.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Auntiero

                    hmmm...this happened to me twice upon my first visits there...say 2007-2008....and that was my norm. i havent had a burger there in forever for fear of disappointment. i like getting the mahi ortega and cheese sandwich add bacon when i visit, doesnt disappoint.

                    1. re: Auntiero

                      Last week I had friends in town and we ended up on the north shore. That entailed a visit to Kua Aina. The burgers were good, probably even very good, and the fries were crisp and hot. I'm not sure any burgers will taste as good as how I REMEMBER the ones from the original location, that narrow storefront in Haleiwa, but these were good burgers.

                    2. Went to the Kahala Honolulu Burger Co. last night for the first time and was very impressed with the food. Had a single cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and mustard on a kaiser roll. The meat, while slightly over cooked (I ordered medium, it was medium well), was moist and tasty. The cheeseburger as a whole was excellent and I really enjoyed it. The fries were fresh, crispy and hot. Will definitely be returning when in the mood for another burger.

                      4 Replies
                          1. re: James Cristinian

                            Can't seem to find it on yelp and Wikipedia says its a spoof, but it shouldn't be confused the very real Big Kahuna sandwich and pizza in Honolulu near the airport or the Da Big Kahuna in Waikiki, which is not the same as the one by the airport.

                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                              Thanks, got to be a spoof, when I clicked the menu and directions nothing happened. The reason I thought about it is the wife and I watched Pulp Fiction, again, this weekend.