Honolulu, HI (EATS)

August 20, 2010 § 2 Comments

Surfer dude strolling in Waikiki

This week we’re in Hawaii. We spent three days in Honolulu for a wedding between friends of ours who are a genocide activist and a documentary filmmaker/Yale divinity school student. While the wedding reception was entirely vegetarian, we ate plenty of meat beforehand to make up for it.

Eating “local” has a different connotation in Honolulu — it means eating like a local versus eating locally-grown food. It’s about a melding of various ethnic flavors into a uniquely Hawaiian cuisine. It’s about plate lunch, poke, malasadas, lilikoi (passionfruit) and coconut cream. Given the high percentage of Japanese tourists and legacy of Japanese Americans on Oahu, it’s also about authentic Japanese food. The great eats we had:

  • Rainbow Drive-in: Ultimate eating like a local. Think: Hawaiian diner food. But really damn good. You order at a windowed-in counter and get you food on a styrofoam plate encased in a cardboard box. You can eat at one of the few cement tables abutting the parking lot or eat your food balanced on the trunk of your car. We went for breakfast, splitting the breakfast special of two eggs (we had them over easy), two scoops of rice and meat (Portuguese sausage). Great way to start the day.

Breakfast special at Rainbow Drive-in

  • Leonard’s Bakery: Best way to cap off your Rainbow breakfast? A malasada from Leonard’s Bakery down the street. The first time we went, we ordered a malasada (a doughnut without the hole, traditionally made in Portugal for Shrove Tuesday) filled with coconut cream. While delicious, it was a crazy sugar rush, so the second time we went, we ordered a plain malasada — still scrumptious, more manageable.

Freshly fried malasada

  • Poke: I love (love, love) poke. I’ve loved it ever since I went to Maui with my family as a teenager and had poke with hot white rice from a grocery store. So we had to have it on Oahu. After doing research, it seemed like Poke Stop was a good place to try, especially since the owner is committed to using local produce, including local, organic eggplant for their seemingly famous eggplant fries. Unfortunately, the poke didn’t taste fresh the day we went, and although it’s hard to screw up fried vegetables served with chili remoulade, the eggplant fries tasted a bit like they were fried in old oil. After this disappointing poke showing, upon a friend’s recommendation, we tried the poke from the Foodland grocery, which was excellent — I’d highly recommend the avocado poke rice bowl.

Poke at Foodland

  • Sidestreet Inn: We were taken here by friends of friends, the husband a native Hawaiian who used to serve on the Hawaii State House of Representatives. The place serves local style comfort food and was packed with locals. Our friends ordered us a good sampling of the menu; our favorites: the garlic butter eda mame; Nalo greens salad topped with ribbons of carrot and beets (the greens are grown by Nalo Farms on Oahu, founded in 1953 by a decorated World War II combat veteran, Charles Okimoto, and currently run by his son, Dean, who was originally going to be a lawyer but then became committed to offering local produce to Oahu’s people); the lilikoi baby back ribs; and the pan fried island pork chops (three pork chops pan fried in a nicely salty batter, served with ketchup). The servings are huge, so go with friends or a really healthy appetite!

  • Honolulu Cookie Company: Pineapple-shaped shortbread cookies in a plethora of flavors, offering just the right amount of buttery richness combined with a crisp-crumbly texture. Our favorites: pineapple, lilikoi and coconut.

  • Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin: A small room on a side street in Waikiki staffed by and largely patronized by Japanese. Don’t believe them when they say it’ll be a 20-minute wait — it’ll be more like 45 minutes — but know that it’s worth it. The restaurant serves perfectly crunchy, deep-fried pork cutlets with a succulent sweet-savory dipping sauce, enriched by sesame seeds that you grind yourself by hand in a small suribachi (a grooved ceramic mortar and pestle). You can also order the oroshi tonkatsu, which comes with ponzu dipping sauce centered by a mound of finely-grated daikon.

Mmm...fried pork

  • Nakamura Ramen: You walk in, sometimes wait in a line to be called to your seat at the counter and order a big bowl of ramen or one of the sets they have, which pair ramen with gyoza and/or fried rice. I’d heard the oxtail ramen was the best, so the first time we went, I ordered that with miso broth. And it was delectable: tender, big oxtails with a ponzu-daikon dipping sauce; a slightly spicy miso broth; perfectly al dente noodles; and fried garlic slices and crisp bok choy. Mmm. So good that we went back a second time.

Oxtail ramen specialty

Rainbow Drive-in, 3308 Kanaina Ave, Honolulu. 808.737.0177. www.rainbowdrivein.com

Leonard’s Bakery, 933 Kapahulu Avenue, Honolulu. 808.737.5591. www.leonardshawaii.com

Sidestreet Inn on Da Strip, 614 Kapahulu Avenue, Honolulu. 808.739.3939. www.sidestreetinn.com

Honolulu Cookie Company, multiple locations. www.honolulucookie.com

Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin, Outrigger Regency Beachwalk, 255 Beach Walk, Honolulu. 808.926.8082. www.pj-world.com/bairin

Nakamura Ramen, 2141 Kalakaua Avenue, Suite 1, Honolulu. 808.922.7960

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