Trips to Oahu are annual since we’ve got to visit the family, and this also means good and CHEAP eats. If you’re planning on going to visit Oahu, here’s some places where you can eat like a local.
Ono Hawaiian Foods
If Kapahulu Avenue was a baseball team comprised of restaurants and their lineup included Leonard’s Bakery, Waiola Shave Ice, and Rainbow Drive-In batting in the 1,2, and 3 spots, Ono Hawaiian Foods would be the clean up hitter waiting to drive them all in. There’s a reason Ono is an all the tourist books, and you know the place is good because the locals will put up with all the tourists to eat there.
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Ono is THE place to get authentic Hawaiian food in Oahu. They’re known for their kalua pig and their enormous, almost plate-sized lau laus. And it’s not all taro leaves either…it’s a generous amount of pork, enough for two or three people to split. The pipikaula (Hawaiian beef jerky) is also excellent and something I’ll be ordering from now on. The ahi poke is fresh and wonderful and the butterfish luau was also really good.
Ono Hawaiian Foods
726 Kapahulu Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816 map
Gina’s serves local-style Korean food, and it is one of my favorite places to eat in Hawaii because I love meat jun, which is almost impossible to find in this form on the mainland. Meat Jun is basically a really thin steak that’s dipped in egg batter and then fried. It’s kind of like a thin egg pancake with a sliver of steak in the middle. They serve it with a sweet dipping sauce that takes this humble dish to a whole other level.
On this trip, I paired my meat jun with some spicy fried chicken wings that were excellent. The crunchy, slightly spicy skin really hit the spot.
In addition to rice, you get your choice of four sides, which include basic Korean banchan offerings such as taegu, kim chee and pickled daikon, as well as local favorites like mac salad.
It’s small inside, so most of their business is take out, which is what we did. Best of all, Gina’s is cheap and the portions are extremely generous, so you get a lot of food for the money.
2919 Kapiolani Blvd
Honolulu, HI 96826 map
With the proliferation of Hawaiian barbecue places in the SF Bay Area over the past few years, my once rabid obsession with plate lunch slowly evolved into indifference and apathy. On our most recent visit, I wanted to go to Rainbow Drive-In because it had been a few years and I wanted try their mix plate (and ostensibly get my plate lunch mojo back). Rainbow is a Honolulu institution and luckily, my in-laws live right up the street.
Mix plates in Hawaii are a lot more varied than on the mainland, where you tend to get only teri beef, teri chicken and kalbi short rib. At Rainbow, you get some good teri beef, a really nice fried chicken cutlet that was less like katsu and more like a boneless fried chicken breast (a good thing) and a small but good piece of fried mahi mahi. My wife’s beef cutlet was really good…basically it’s a thin breaded steak smothered in gravy. As with traditional plate lunch, rice and mac salad was standard.
If it’s your first time eating Hawaiian plate lunch, then you must order the loco moco (hamburger patty, gravy and fried egg over rice).
The slush floats are another reason to go Rainbow. Basically it’s a strawberry slush with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. These are premade, so best to let this sit for a bit to let the ice cream melt into the slush so you get this cool, fruity and creamy concoction.
Rainbow is not too far from Waikiki, so you tourists can eat like locals if you want to walk.
3308 Kanaina Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815 map
Mitsu-Ken is strictly a take-out operation (and very small, so you might drive right by). There’s always a line and parking sucks, but the service is fast and efficient so you’ll get in and out in no time. Their famous for their garlic chicken and it’s as good as everyone says it is. Small fried chicken pieces are tossed in an amazing garlic sauce that’s subtle and sweet (local food tends to skew sweet).
A mini bento is only $3.50, and you get four pieces of chicken, half a hot dog, and scrambled egg with bits of pickled ginger are served over rice sprinkled with furikake. It was a lot of food, and I can’t really imagine trying to eat a regular-sized order.
If you can find Mitsu-Ken on the always busy School Street, it’s definitely worth a trip. It was our last stop before the airport and flight home, and it was the perfect last meal.
1223 N School St
Honolulu, HI 96817 map