a local-style lunch: fish, fried saimin, mac salad, rice, and mochiko chicken
I had planned on writing these meals up as I went along, but the beach got the better of me, and I never got around to it. Now the yumminess is just a distant memory, but just in case you ever visit Honolulu, you have to try these places.
Yesterday I was sitting in the hair salon getting my french-fried hair toned down (a month in the sand and surf did nothing for my hi-lites), and the woman next to me was talking about how horrible the food is in Hawaii. How everything comes with two scoops of rice and macaroni salad, and I thought, "Girl, you have no clue." Then I I thought, "Mmmmm. I could go for some of that RIGHT NOW." She was obviously talking about plate lunches which are a local thing, and to understand the beauty and magic of a plate lunch you have to either be 1) local or 2) really hungry or 3) both. The best place for plate lunches in Honolulu, bar none, is Rainbow Drive-in, a local institution. Where else can you get a plate of gut-busting beef curry, beef stew, or chili with, yes, rice and mac salad for under $6? Shoot.
For quick snacks, you cannot beat Shirokiya's food hall. Shirokiya is a Japanese department store located in the Ala Moana Mall. The top floor is a food hall which sells everything from packaged and canned Japanese goods to freshly prepared foods and groceries. Grab a basket and wander around. Soon it will be filled with inari sushi, freshly fried tempura (sold by the piece), all manner of Japanese pickles, croquettes, assorted bento boxes, soba, you name it they have it or make it. My daughters love Shirokiya because they can choose whatever snack they want. And don't forget to pick up a pastry or cream anpan at the St. Germain Bakery downstairs.
For sushi, I like to go to Akasaka at 1646 Kona Street, which is an unassuming restaurant sandwiched between a bunch of Korean strip clubs. Hands down, the sushi cannot be beat. Silky, buttery, generous slices of fish overlap small balls of rice so much so that the end of the slice of fish fans out like a tail on the plate. That is the way to eat sushi, in my opinion. Lotsa fish, not a lot of rice. I also like to order the chawanmushi there. It's like eating a puffy, custardy cloud.
For Korean food, nothing beats the hustle and bustle of the always-open Sorabol on Keeaumoku Street, near the Ala Moana shopping center. My favorites there include: the raw fish salad (cubes of raw fish atop a herby mix of fresh greens with a spicy dressing), the fried zucchini and fish "jun", steamed butterfish, and, of course, the kal bi (bbq ribs). Best of all, it's open 24 hours so you can get your barbecue on anytime.
And back to local favorites, I have to make my way to a Zippy's (Hawaii's version of Denny's) within 24 hours of setting foot on Hawaiian soil. Where else can you get two eggs over-easy atop fried rice with a side of Portuguese sausage for breakfast? Or fried saimin with sides fried chicken, kimchi, and macaroni salad for lunch? Zippy's is a beautiful, beautiful thing. And the service is always quick and friendly.
Lastly, it's not really a meal, but for groceries, I like to stock up at Umeke Market (4400 Kalanianaole Hwy.) in Kahala. They have a wide selection of organic local produce (I practically ate my weight in local greens when I was in Honolulu) and organic meats. They also carry other organic grocery and health items like sunscreen and bug spray. The sad part is that a Whole Foods is going in nearby which almost assures the end of Umeke and the other local health food stores in the area.
I did go back to Side Street Inn while I was there, but I felt they were off their game. It just wasn't as good as the last time, but the pork chops still kick ass.