ʻOno grinds in Honolulu…ah, good to be home…

31 August – 3 September 2015

One of the best parts about being back in Honolulu is doing local food for lunch. Nothing says being home like a plate lunch, a bowl of chicken long rice, or just a nice chunk of haupia. This is what I miss most about Hawaiʻi, as real good Hawaiʻian grinds are not easy to find on the Mainland, especially the East Coast. So I took advantage of it during the few days I spent in Honolulu.

If you recall, I had a rather hellish flight from Melbourne thanks to that awful airline Jetstar. My legs were feeling just awful as I got to Honolulu. After I checked into my vacation house I headed out for a drive towards my old hood. And en route back to the house I stopped at a place I stopped at hundreds of times in the past, ʻĀina Haina Shopping Center. Why? To pick up lunch at a place that wasn’t there back then, but locals like a lot, BBQ Town Drive Inn.

It’s an unpretentious quick service place with 4 tables, though most people take their food to go — like me. I placed an order and went to grab a few things at the Foodland next door (my, that place has changed…) before I came back and appreciatively too the box and drove on back to the house. And this is what I found…

BBQ Town Drive Inn - mixed grill plate

Mmmm, as good as it gets, this is the BBQ Mixed Plate — with some kalbi, chicken, and teriyaki beef. Excellent, simple stuff, with the obligatory mac salad on the side and rice on the bottom. This was a very satisfying moment, and I truly felt like I was back “home” in Hawai’i. Later that night I had the solid dinner at 12th Ave Grill.

The next day, my first full day, I had lunch with an old friend (so not reviewing it) and dinner was the fabulous dinner at The Pig and the Lady — especially that amazing marrow dish. I can still taste it…oh, what rich goodness…

My second full day I had a long, busy set of things to do. One of them was to explore the historic Oʻahu Cemetery, where so many of the key figures of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi are buried. For a historian like me, it was a treasure trove in a small area. But a few hours under the blazing sun I was burnt to a crisp. I was worn out and dehydrated, so I headed to one of the very best places in the world for Hawaiʻian food — Helena’s Hawaiian Food.

This legendary eatery has been hear for over 60 years, and has even earned a James Beard award. It’s down-home good grinds, and I was really looking forward to this. And of course there’s a queue out the door, but I was gonna take it to go anyway. I waited for a bit, chatting with the staff and taking down a lot of liquids. Then the food was ready and I drove as fast as I could back to the house to enjoy this…

Helenas - mixed grill plate

Mmm, another beautiful plate lunch. The kalbi, which are hung and aged in the kitchen, are legendary — full of flavour, more intense than most other preps. Fabulous, the epitome of the Hawaiʻian version of this Korean favourite. Then, of course, was the kālua. One of my favourite things to eat in the world, it was so good to have excellent kālua on Hawaiʻian soil again… Thick and juicy and tender, oh my… And of course, no meal is right without some haupia

Helenas - haupia

Oh, I love these things, such coconut goodness. I can eat these things all day (and I used to…). What a totally wonderful lunch, totally recommended for as many meals as possible! I just went with what I missed most, but I can spend a week eating there and not order the same thing and be totally happy… Oh, I miss this… Later on that evening was the mediocre experience at Alan Wong’s — nearly the antithesis of what Helena’s is…

And finally, the last day arrived. It was cooler when I woke up and then I saw the storm clouds. Today is gonna be an adventure. I checked out of my vacation home and took a long drive back to the old hood again, just to say goodbye if my absence from Hawaiʻi is another 7 years (I doubt it, having discovered so much good food!). But by the time I got back from the east, the skies began opening up.

By the time I got to my lunch location it was pouring, and the parking lot was flooding. If anything, Honolulu has an awful drainage system (or some would say NO drainage system), and ponding/pooling is very common when a storm hits. And this is a storm. I parked and ran into the Highway Inn in Kakaʻako and hopped on a stool.

Highway Inn is another well-liked Hawai’ian food place, this being a more convenient location. Designed like a diner, I loved the coincidence as the music over the PA was all 80s hits — the music I remember listening to on 98 Rock… I ordered my lunch and chilled out. This is my last meal in Hawai’i for awhile, so must milk it. Plus, I am jumping on a red-eye flight, so… Then the tray arrived…

Highway - plate lunch

Wow indeed… This was a big tray, of all sorts of goodness aside from my main items — beautiful purple local sweet potatoes, the ubiquitous mac salad, and of course rice. And the necessary piece of haupia. But the first star of the set is the extremely hard-to-find naʻau stew:

Highway - na'au stew

This is basically a chitlin’ stew, cooked with young taro greens. Awesome, I don’t know how long since I’ve had this… Then the chicken long rice…

Highway - chicken long rice

This is a Hawaiʻian staple, and it just worked for this weather. The broth was intense, and the flavour was strong and beautiful. The 2 items contrasted in every way, which made this selection so much better. Oh, this was a wonderful final meal in Honolulu, a perfect way to end things.

I fought the storm to the airport as now there was widespread flooding and road closures. It was chaos at the rental car return as the downpour was extremely intense, and tourists were caught off guard. I actually gave my umbrella to the Thrifty employee with the unfortunate task for checking cars upon return (she was drenched). I headed to the terminal and awaited my red-eye to Atlanta. Now that won’t be fun, having to run for a connection after that. But this meal will keep me going. Now I just hope I get some sleep on the flight…

But this has been a wonderful few days of eating, especially these lunches. All my favourites, from kalua to chicken long rice, all my cravings satisfied — for now. I have to return sooner than later… Mahalo, Hawaiʻi!

BBQ Town Drive Inn
ʻĀina Haina Shopping Center
820 West Hind Drive #117

Helena’s Hawaiian Food
1240 North School Street

Highway Inn
680 Ala Moana Boulevard #105
Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

* PS… Well, it was a disaster after this. I thought I had the front row of my section (meaning lots of leg room) but turns out I had the door (and emergency slide) in front of me, so my legroom was smaller than most seats! 8hrs later, sleeping little, we landed in Atlanta. I had 39 minutes to connect, and just as you expect, Delta would make it 3 terminals away. My leg was asleep, and sprinting was no fun. I got to the gate just as it was boarding and my left leg cramped up bad… Got to Baltimore, chaos at the car rental, then fought 3hrs of traffic home (less than 75km). Ugh…

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2 thoughts on “ʻOno grinds in Honolulu…ah, good to be home…

  1. Hi there! I loved reading about some of your favorite spots in Honolulu. I was hoping I could ask you a question about your blog. Could you email me at the address I provided whenever you have a chance? Thank you!

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