I had some delicious meals during the three weeks I was in Honolulu, but the one place I really wanted to go was Side Street Inn. I had heard tell of this local institution for years, but when Saveur devoted 10 pages of their magazine to their review of Side Street last year (in an article entitled "Pork Chops In Paradise") I knew I had to eat there.
The culinary highlight of my trip was eating at Side Street. My mom, sister, aunt, and I had dinner there on my last night in Honolulu. On the upside, it was a great way to end the trip. On the downside, it was a bad way to end the trip... because now I will have to wait until my next trip to Honolulu this summer to eat there again. And I have been dreaming about the food ever since...which is bordering on becoming an unhealthy obsession.
When you arrive at Side Street (which is literally a "side street" off a main street near the Ala Moana shopping center) the first thing you notice is its non-descript, "could be a bar anywhere" appearance. Although they now have valet parking, inside it ain't any fancier. Your Daisy Dukes-clad servers double as cocktail waitresses and when the bar is busy, you wait for things like more napkins and water.
When we arrived for dinner, we were quoted a 40 minute wait, but being that this is Hawaii, my mom and aunt knew someone at the bar who helped bump us up the list. In any case, time passes quickly when you are at the bar downing Salty Dogs and Patron Reposados along with your ahi poke and hamachi kama (grilled yellowtail collar, which was out of this world!).
A word about "local-style" Hawaii food. By its very definition, "local" Hawaii food is "fusion" food, but without all the froufrou. Fusion in Hawaii means that you can eat kimchi atop your chili con carne or sashimi along side your potato salad and no one bats an eyelash. Hawaiian fusion is a crazy clash of cuisines reflective of all the different cultural influences of the islands.
Local food isn't fancy, but it's good. When you live on a rock in the middle of the Pacific, there's nothing else to do besides perfect your cooking. "Local" cooking also can't really be explained. You just have to spend enough time in Hawaii to understand it. For example, for one lunch my sister and I ate fried saimin (noodles), fried chicken, macaroni salad, and kimchi. All in the same restaurant. So when people say that Side Street is a local restaurant, it means that anything goes.
The Saveur article raved about the pork chops, lilikoi (what Hawaiians call "passion fruit") ribs, and pocho clams. As you can see by the photos below, we ordered all of that and then some. Note: all dishes at Side Street are served pupu-style (family-style) and meant for sharing. Portions are abundant so it's best to go with a group.
Side Street Inn
1225 Hopaka Street
Telephone: 808.591.0253 or 808.596.8282
The next batch of photos show more deep-fried goodness. The items were all battered in the same highly seasoned (and surely MSG-laden batter—which, don't knock it, makes it better) and then fried. Everything was crisp, salty, and completely greaseless as excellently-prepared fried food should be.
First up: ahi belly, then chicken gizzards (my mom loves them), and then the pork chops. The are normally butterflied before they are fried but my mom asked that they not be. Ours were fried whole and that way remained moist and juicy inside.
Even if you always shun busy, crowded Oahu in favor of visiting other, more mellow Hawaiian Islands, Honolulu is worth visiting at least for one night in order to experience Side Street Inn. This is a real Hawaii experience—the kind that you surely won't find at the Grand Wailea or the Lodge at Koele.