Oahu, HI: Local Kine

There are certain limitations to that ‘Stream life and one of the most annoying is that there are no roads to the Hawaiian Islands. And since Boat isn’t an actual boat, we had to settle for the more traditional, airplane route for our recent family vacation. After several reassurances (from those in the know) that our “house” would be just fine parked in a very reputable neighborhood (tldr, we almost got towed); we set off for Oahu and a week of hiking, family festivities, and plate lunches. The hiking was inspiring, the family was great, but the food (per usual) was the standout.

Here are the highlights:

The Pig and the Lady:

Whether it’s just a three hour layover or a full fledged food tour, there is one constant when we’re on Oahu: The Pig and the Lady. What started out as a food truck has turned into Oahu’s go-to spot for new twists on traditional pho, French Dip, and fusion-inspired awesomeness. It’s usually packed, but rolling in 30 minutes before they ended lunch service scored us a two top and we were off and running. Sam rocked the Saimin and I went with the traditional pho--per usual, Sam won and I had to ask our server for a side bowl and permission from my wife to sample her soup. I don’t know if it’s the water, the climate, or just superb cookery, but both dishes hit all the high notes. Hearty broth that stands up by itself, but isn’t too heavy? Check. Perfectly cooked noodles? Check. No need for hoisin or sriracha, because it’s just that good? Check. High Life in a can? Check. If you’re on Oahu, go here.

Ko’Olina Hawaiian BBQ:

We have an ongoing debate over what chicken is the best chicken in Hawaii. Sam says katsu (curry or otherwise). I say mochiko. Fortunately for us, this plate lunch joint across the street from Aulani has both. One shouldn’t drive here all the way from Honolulu, but it’s a pleasant alternative to burgers and fries and we happily grinded plenty mac salad with our respective favorites.

Pioneer Saloon:

During one of our adventures, we found ourselves in the shadow of Diamond Head and also very hungry. We went to the right place. It opens at 11am, we arrived at 11:03 and there was already a line. And for good reason. With a menu too robust to document, we effectively threw two darts and hit three bullseyes. Sam rocked the garlic thin sliced pork bowl and I had the spareribs. While the latter was great, the former was unreal--there seems to be a theme here...damn it… Seriously, I don’t know how they can shave pork so thinly and evoke so much umami. While the name is misleading (they don’t serve booze) it’s worth the wait and community tables.

Fresh Catch:

Fresh off hiking the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail (pun intended) we planned on hitting up Koko Head Cafe, but they only had street parking and we didn’t have any coins. The parking meter’s loss was our gain because we ended up at this half fishmonger/half plate lunch spot. When we pulled into the parking lot, we weren’t sure if everyone was there for the food or the adjacent recycling center. Spoiler: They were there for the food. In addition to the usual suspects, they offered ALL of the poke, entire slabs of tuna, and dishes we’ve never heard of. After taking a number and hemming and hawing; we settled on tako poke, smoked meat fried rice, and pastele stew. The first two were great; the last one was off the chain. If you haven’t had pastele stew, change that. Built on the foundation of pork belly and butt, this Puerto Rican inspired dish is the new black.

Giovanni’s Aloha Shrimp:

This was the second family vacation we took on Oahu and one of the our favorite days from the first trip was “hiking” Waimea Falls and then rolling to up to this food truck. So, obviously, we had to run it back. Unlike our first visit when we tried to get fancy and order something special, we went with the fan favorite, Shrimp Scampi--”A dozen shrimp marinated in olive oil, fresh chopped garlic, and lemon butter, served with two scoops of rice all drizzled with garlic lemon butter and caramelized chunks of tasty garlic.” Two orders worth. It’s messy. It’s cash only. But, boy howdy...That’s some good shrimp. If you’re on the North Shore, skip Haleiwa and get your hands dirty.

Leonard’s Malasadas:

As the only couple without kids, one of our responsibilities during vacation is to bring good foodstuffs back to the family at large. And a staple of good foodstuffs is Leonard’s Malasadas. The brick and mortar location is a decent clip from Aulani which means that supplying the fam’ with piping hot, Portuguese deliciousness is near impossible. Fortunately for all those involved, Leonard’s opened a food truck a mere 10 minutes down the road. Same quality. Extra hotness. Arriving with two dozen perfectly baked and sugared malasadas has endeared me to the in-laws for years to come.

Kailua Safeway:

No joke. There are very few things that give me the willies like grocery store food counters do. Seriously, the food is just sitting there. There aren’t any thermometers letting me know that the conditions are sanitary. And I, for sure, do not know if the person behind the glass has obeyed the, “Employees must wash hands before returning to work,” rules. That said, the poke selection at this Safeway was a game changer. Not that I’m changing my tune just yet, but if every Safeway had eight different types of tuna and tako poke, served at the proper temperature, I might be a convert.

The Hos:

Arguably the best meal of the trip wasn’t a plate lunch, but it was Local. Sandy and Dennis Ho, who we consider family, invited us to their home in Kailua and it was amazing. We spent the evening talking story about our travels, sipping wine, enjoying pupus, and dining on the Ho family’s signature surf and turf. As Martha says, “It was a good thing.”

Hawaii will always be a special place for us. We spent our first vacation together on Kauai, celebrated our engagement there, witnessed dear friends get married there, spent the most quality of quality time with family there, and, obviously, can’t get enough of the food.

Can’t wait to go back.

Pete