Dineout recap: Our first trip to Hawaii

I just blogged about the Asian meals we had in Honolulu (10 of them) and am slightly shocked that I had 18 more meals or spots to blog about here. Good memories ….

Duke’s Waikiki

Since we got into Honolulu late at night, my only plan for our first full day was to walk along the beach and then have belated birthday dinner and drinks in the evening. But I hadn’t made any plans for lunch. We ended up at the Outrigger Waikiki which houses Hula Grill, Duke’s and Chuck’s and Hula had long since stopped serving breakfast that day. We tried to go to Eggs ‘N Things on Saratoga but it was closed for renovations so we were back for Duke’s. I had planned for us to go there later in the week for a sunset dinner. I like Duke’s lunch menu better anyhow.

During trip planning the macademia-nut crusted chicken katsu caught my attention and so I was stoked to be able to order it. The guava and lilikoi (yellow passionfruit) mustard was really good and we dipped waffle fries and the chicken katsu in it. And the macademia nut crust was nutty and crunchy. NPY’s mahi sandwich was light and tasty.

NPY was a little skeptical about ordering hula pie since I forgot exactly what it was until the server described it: macademia nut ice cream on an Oreo crust, topped with chocolate fudge, whipped cream and macademia nuts. It was a dessert to share and dream about.


Tropics Bar & Grill

We walked all along Waikiki on the first day from Royal Hawaiian Beach through Gray’s Beach and Fort DuRussy Beach Park to end up at the Hilton Hawaiian Village (HHV) where Duke Kahanamoku Beach is found. HHV is a hugely popular Waikiki hotel but I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay there but we could certainly visit and we walked around the grounds.

Getting my bars mixed up, I thought Tropics was the place where Mai Tais were invented but I don’t think it was in Hawaii at all. In any case, we retired for a while at the bar on the beachfront and enjoyed one happy hour drink (NPY’s Hawaii Five-O) and an expensive mai tai.

I consider the cost of the drinks defrayed somewhat when local live entertainment was included with our access to the bar. It was, at NPY put it, the way life should be: outdoors in balmy weather, drinks and music.


Silly me, I was just looking forward so much to visiting McDonald’s in Hawaii because I heard they have a Spam ‘N’ Egg McMuffin that you can’t find anywhere else. Not quite. There is no such concoction and their Egg McMuffin has Canadian bacon that you can sub in Spam. I requested that but felt I hadn’t experience a truly unique menu item, however tasty it all was. Part of me wished I had ordered a Local Deluxe Breakfast with scrambled eggs, steamed white rice, Spam and Portuguese sausage. NPY was somewhat appalled at the presence of rice on the breakfast menu. But then I would have had to order a hashbrown separate and in addition and the Local Deluxe Breakfast sounded a little too heavy before going on a hike.

A few days later, we found reprieve from the sun while walking in the neighbourhood around Ala Moana Center in a McDonald’s and got our bearings using their free wifi. It was a good excuse to order banana pie that is not available at most McDonald’s and NPY reluctantly went along since he would only have to eat half and pie is always somewhat good. I forgot that the pies in the States are fried and not baked and NPY enjoyed it almost as much as his favourite (apple pie) since it is not as sweet. But not what most people would want, he would repeat.


Island Vintage Company

On the second level above Royal Grove where we stopped once to watch a cultural dance demonstrations put on by the Polynesian Cultural Center than to watch the Keiki (Children’s) Halloween Costume Contest, you can find Island Vintage Company’s only location. We both ordered macademia nut and coconut flavoured lattes, mine hot and NPY’s frozen and blended. Naturally.

Paradise Cove

I don’t think I’ve been to luau before and although it has tourist trappings (and I didn’t know to what extent), NPY would get to enjoy his first one with me and on this trip. After some deliberation, I chose Paradise Cove over Polynesian Cultural Center because it is closer and seems to be better rated. A Paradise Cove host entertained us the whole 45 minute drive to and from and tried to generate some “bus spirit”. I was mildly amused. At the location, I got a little worried that I might miss an activity but we were herded from one spot to the next on the fairly small grounds to take in the special events. Then, finally, it was time to eat.

For the price of our ticket which placed us in the potentially worst seating on the wings, we got a mai tai at the entrance and two other drink tickets. The bar was a complicated affair with a big menu and we decided after all the money we gave to Paradise Cove not to get drinks that require paying a surcharge above the drink ticket.

It was a buffet style meal and there was enough food but when we went for our second round, it looked like the buffet was closing already, heating elements removed and all. There are few raves at luau reviews about the quality of the food so I was pretty prepared for it and they didn’t run out of food. The kalua pork was shredded and definitely smoky. The fish with the macademia nut sauce was perfectly awful, dry and solid and cold, congealed sauce. The fried chicken was the crowd favourite, such tender meat and lightly seasoned skin. The lomi lomi salmon salad tasted quite good but then got fishy so I didn’t want seconds. Poi (watery ground taro) was vile and I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t enjoy it. The dinner roll was tinged purple so I thought it had taro content but didn’t taste it. Finally, for the first plate, the macaroni salad was also a winner being very creamy and buttery.

The second round was desserts (and more macaroni salad and baby corn). The chocolate cake was much lauded and I don’t quite understand why as it was standard and thus more delicious than most of the meal. I got my fill of pineapple slices which weren’t very sweet. And the coconut gelatin was severely lacking in flavour.


Pineapple & Coconut Hut [Yelp]

At a small and unassuming stand in Makai Market (the food court) of Ala Moana, we got a smoothie and I was satisfied that we were buying local (or something) and not just falling back on Starbucks. Faced with a different selection from what he’s used to at Starbucks and Jugo Juice, NPY let me choose and I was all the more excited to be ordering from Pineapple & Coconut Hut because they use Dole Whip in their smoothies! The creation I chose was Ocean Breeze with strawberries, pineapple, orange-pineapple-strawberry juice and Dole Whip. No unwanted ingredients like banana. It was very, very good.

King’s Village Farmers’ Market

On our first walk-around day, I noted that nearby King’s Village has a farmer’s market on Mondays and Fridays from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. It sounds so very local to go to a farmer’s market so I was glad we had the time to visit on Monday. Meanwhile, I planned to ask the hotel for a sharp knife to cut the fresh fruit we would pick up. When in Hawaii, eat the local fruit.

But it’s smack dab in Waikiki so while fresh whole fruit was sold, so were containers of pre-cut fruit and we picked up one with the widest fruit selection I could see.

The pineapple was really sweet and juicy and I found myself actually enjoying papaya that was more firm than that here that I hate. The strawberries were not sweet and the orange tasted funny. The grapes were sweet.

On Friday, we returned to the farmer’s market in the evening but were headed to the airport and couldn’t bring fruit. Instead, we picked up a masalada from one of the stands with many baked goods.

Honolulu Coffee Company

I didn’t really look into staying at the Moana Surfrider although it being a Westin makes it a preferred hotel for me. The hotel is the oldest in the area but also the most beautiful. So many 70s era buildings boast of being resorts and are surely newer on the inside but Moana Surfrider is (1) an awesome name (2) really beautiful outside and (3) a Westin. They have a long veranda with rocking chairs lined up so you can sit with a glass of wine from the Beach Bar and people-watch on Kalakaua.

Honolulu Coffee Company is the coffee shop attached to the hotel and there is also some good people watching from an angle slightly higher than street level and closer to the sidewalk than the veranda.

NPY ordered the Nutty Hawaiian frozen blended coffee made with Kona beans and I did one better in terms of price and ordered the acai bowl that I saw some customers enjoying when we were at Island Vintage Company. It is a bowl of strawberries and acai blended then topped with granola and a whole banana. So healthy, so refreshing, so yummy.

Hank’s Haute Dogs

So we had seen the line-ups every night outside Marukame Udon and since I thought we might not eat for a while yet and I was getting weakened legs from hunger, we visited International Marketplace for the first time and made a bee-line for the food stalls. Namely, Hank’s Haute Dogs that was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

I assumed the hot dog made with lobster sausage was sold out and so I was happy to have to order the Hawaiian with Portuguese sausage, mango mustard and pineapple relish. I also really wanted double-fried crispy duck fat fries with garlic aioli but NPY urged me to be conservative. The ‘dog was perfect size for pre-meal to share and the unique condiments were delightful, cutting the weight of the sausage with a touch of sweetness.

The Beach Bar at Moana Surfrider

After our first visit to Moana Surfrider, I was a little obsessed with eating there, spending time there, so I dragged NPY there after stand-up paddleboarding. It really was perfect to sit along the beach after spending some time in (rather, on) the water with lunch looking out at the dreamy clear blue water.

Since we had been out on the water, we did not have our phones so I have no pictures, alas. I ordered an arugula salad that we duck into with great relish and NPY ordered the loco moco with a good meat patty topped with red wine gravy and a poached egg. I cringed a little at the cost of the comfort food at the hotel but it was really good.

Sam’s Kitchen [Yelp]

On the morning we went to Pearl Harbor and needed to set out as early as possible, so while NPY was getting ready, I walked a block down the street to the authentic-looking Sam’s Kitchen stand on the corner, next to an alleyway of outdoor kiosks selling souvenirs. It was the garlic plate lunches that caught my eye but I was there to pick up breakfast and got an omelette.

It really wasn’t so fabulous or I just don’t pick great toppings having selected green pepper, mushroom and Spam. Nothing tied the egg and vegetables together like cheese. I selected a croissant side over store bought and packaged muffins and a “Hawaiian bagel” that the server confessed is just a normal bagel. It was not a satisfying breakfast in the least but was filling enough for a big day ahead.

Spada Bar & Restaurant [Facebook]

It turns out that the air conditioner in our room shared a compressor with the air con unit in the room below us and if one of us opened the balcony door and closed it quickly, both air con units would shut down. That happened three times in as many days and when NPY mentioned this at the desk in person, we were given breakfast vouchers to the hotel restaurant. That was perfect for our road trip day when we wanted food but did not want to go far out of the way relative to the car rental location.

NPY ordered a traditional breakfast with sausage since my French toast came with bacon. I was hungry but the French toast was also really good. The menu did not provide a description of the otherwise prosaic breakfast item but I’m wondering now, after seeing another menu, if a Hawaiian sweet bread hadn’t been use that made the French toast to sweet and tasty.


Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck

Given we had breakfast by 8:30 and drove halfway around the island in the morning, Giovanni’s was like an oasis and I marveled at the other businesses that are riding on its coat-tails, setting up shop next door to create a mini food truck hub on the North Shore. But we were there for one thing only.

Given the three shrimp choices, we were down to two because one was super spicy. I was glad NPY gave me free reign and I didn’t have to order the lemon butter that sounds tasty but not pop like garlicky shrimp scampi. I really should have ordered a scoop of macaroni salad to make a complete plate lunch but as it was, the lunch was so very good. The shrimp was fresh and half peeled to make our lives easier. The garlic sauce was rich and pungent and I smothered it over the rice.

I also like who a half plate was offered with exactly half the amount of shrimp and rice and for exactly half the price. That is nice and fair.

Plantation Grille at Dole Plantation

NPY should be used to it by now how I plan a trip around food destinations! Our third food stop on our trip around the island was to the Dole Plantation, one of the few (and purportedly best) places to serve Dole Whip which I only recently learned about. You tell me it’s pretty exclusive and I will wholeheartedly want to try it!

I wasn’t so very hungry by the time we had driven to the plantation and walk around the grounds but you always have room for something like ice cream right?? We ordered the Dole Whip in a cup with pineapple topping. My first impression, which lasted until the last drop, was Dole Whip on its own tastes like a cream candy version of pineapple, that is, not like fresh pineapple like a sorbet. I just don’t favour creamy candy like Campino.

Leonard’s Jr.’s

One of my most anticipated food stops of the day (our fourth) was Leonard’s which we we located at Waikele Shopping Center. The best part is that NPY didn’t even see the goodness coming, eyeing the solo food truck with skepticism, not embracing a food item he’s never before heard of.

I deliberated for a while before deciding on one cinnamon sugar and one filled masalada. And of the choices of three fillings (chocolate, custard and haupia [coconut]) I chose coconut. The donuts were fresh and warm even though we moved the car to be closer to the Starbucks and their free wifi. NPY enjoyed his and wanted another one the next day but I had been conservative and did not get a box of half a dozen. The coconut filled was not quite as good as I would have liked but it was interesting to see how a coconut filling was executed.

Hula Grill Waikiki

We had one day left to get to Hula Grill and we had to pack up and check out before we could head out. They actually stopped serving breakfast early at 10:45, two minutes after we arrived but they extended breakfast that day to 11 and we were seated at a table overlooking the beach, Royal Hawaiian Beach stretch.

From my first glance at the menu I thought we would order pancakes with Hawaiian ingredients such as coconut and macademia nut and an eggs Benedict with Hollandaise containing macademia nuts. I was wrong and NPY ordered a loco moco while I went for a wild eggs Benedict with seared ahi tuna and wasabi Hollandaise. Where would you be able to find that?

Expectations exceeded reality and I should have been wary that we were dining at a tourist spot with generally older clientele. The wasabi Hollandaise was wild but I tired quickly of the weird and too-raw combination of poached egg and lightly seared tuna. I liked the seasoned hash browns and learned that I can enjoy hash brown potatoes if I’ve sprinkled Tabasco sauce over it. The loco moco sounded good on paper but the patty was markedly worse than the Beach Bar’s and the shiitake gravy was more creamy than I could handle in the morning. I like the crispy fried onion topping though.



After walking the rest of Waikiki towards Diamond Head, we wanted a reprieve from the sun and ducked into a Yogurtland which is currently partnering with Sanrio in designing cups and spoons. It was really cute.

Our three yogurts were strawberry, tart guava-pineapple and Kona coffee. I topped the fruit yogurt with fruit and tapioca beads and the coffee yogurt with Reese’s peanut butter cup (I thought it was Skor bits) and chopped macademia nuts.

The best yogurt by far was the tart yogurt while the strawberry yogurt tasted off by comparison but truly only just tasted like inferior strawberry ice cream. So next time I create frozen yogurt at one of these shops, one of the flavours will be tart vanilla, something we know will be good. The biggest disappointment was the mango which was over-ripe.

Yard House

What to do during our last afternoon when everything we really wanted to do we had done? The Yard House is a happening spot but not quite as busy at the beginning of Happy Hour so we went in, particularly lured by their claim to have the largest selection of draft beer anywhere.

It was our best opportunity to finally try local beers. Altogether we ordered three “short” beers for under $3 each at happy hour prices. We ordered Maui Brewing Coconut Porter, Kona Wailua Wheat and Kona Big Wave Golden. The last one was the best and NPY is wondering if he can buy it after he gets home.

On this day..


  1. Verdell Kata says:

    Asian cuisine styles can be broken down into several tiny regional styles that have rooted the peoples and cultures of those regions. The major types can be roughly defined as East Asian with its origins in Imperial China and now encompassing modern Japan and the Korean peninsula; Southeast Asian which encompasses Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Viet Nam, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines; South Asian states that are made up of India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan as well as several other countries in this region of the continent.*

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