Friday, 29 March 2013

Eating on Oahu: Meals

I did an adequate amount of foodie homework before flying to Honolulu for a family vacation. Here is where my research brought me.

Blue Water Shrimp & Seafood Market
Pink Snapper at Blue Water Shrimp & Seafood Market

Inside the International Marketplace in Waikiki is a food court with plenty of good eats to be found. This was our first meal in Hawaii and we ordered two plates of pink snapper as I have seen many people review this dish online. Another contributing factor was the $2 off coupon I discovered in one of those tourist booklets. 

It is delicious and well worth the $12 we paid; one and a half large pieces of snapper perfectly deep fried topped with a pineapple salsa with accompanying corn niblets and a green salad. My mom had low expectations for a food court dish and was pleasantly surprised at the good quality. She also appreciated how it was served on a hard plastic plate as opposed to styrofoam. 

Breakfast is served until 11am, and the menu looks tasty and cheap! I would recommend this place for some quality fish dishes. 

Blue Water Shrimp & Seafood Market on Urbanspoon

Pioneer Saloon

Cajun Ahi, Eel, Miso Butterfish, Pork Katsu
Two visits later, I have established another favourite restaurant. Pioneer Saloon is a small shop minutes away from Waikiki near Diamond Head. The interior has a rustic western feel that contrasts the Japanese plate lunches being served. Plate lunches are very popular in Hawaii. They include some sort of entree, choice of rice, and usually a salad or some sort, whether it be greens or pasta. 

My goal was to eat their miso butterfish (aka sablefish or black cod) since it's only $12 or $13 compared to the $30+ I would have to pay at home or at a fancy restaurant. To my despair, on my first visit they had sold out for the day. I suppose you can expect that for coming at 3pm. My heart sank when the lady said "awhhhhh sorry!" I dragged our group back to Pioneer Saloon to make sure I could try the butterfish, even calling to place a pre-order.

Ahi is best eaten rare, so make sure you order it rare! Medium makes it taste like lean pork. My mom ordered the Eel Bowl, and they give you a very large piece of eel with bits of avocado on top of rice. The Miso Butterfish is a small portion but its very delicious; super oily and smooth, just watch out for a few bones. My brother ordered katsu egg bowl on both visits, but the pork tastes better than the chicken. As seen in the photo , the katsu lunches contains an entire box of rice topped with a huuuuuge piece of very hot fried meat. Very well fried. A good choice for those who don't like to eat fish. Not pictured above is the Mango Fried Shrimp (because my hungry family devoured it before a photo could be taken). Large, juicy, and plump shrimp that is also perfectly fried with a mango dipping sauce on the side. That was shrimp just as good as the famous shrimp trucks in Kahuku, just a lot closer to Waikiki.

Everything we tried were fabulously prepared and of good quality. Fresh ingredients and made to order, pipping hot when served. The people working there are very kind and smiling, making even us super touristy tourists feel welcomed. Prices range from about $8 to $13 with many customers ordering take out or enjoying their meals at the few wooden tables inside. Definitely a must-go when in Honolulu. 

Pioneer Saloon on Urbanspoon  


Guava Pancakes, Kona Style Mahi Mahi, Hawaiian Plate
After a hike up Diamond Head, we drove to the Windward side of Oahu, passing by the Nu Uanu Pali Lookout before stopping for lunch in Kailua. Cinnamon's is a family friendly breakfast & lunch restaurant, famous for their fluffy pancakes. There is covered outdoor seating as well as indoor seating. It was a sunny day so I'm glad we got to sit outdoor. It is a popular restaurant so expect a wait; we waited about 20 minutes on a Tuesday at about 1pm. There is ample meter parking in the back. 

Cinnamon's guava pancakes was on my list of must-trys in Hawaii, and they did not disappoint. I ordered a full stack (4 big pancakes), enough to share with 3 other family members. Super fluffy and the guava syrup was full of guava flavour, worth the hype. Just a little disappointed the whipped cream slid off the hot syrup before I could get a pretty photo. Kona style means 'egg dipped then grilled'; my dad quite enjoyed this dish. My friends grandpa ordered mahi mahi in a stir fry and did not like it as it was in small pieces. So go with Kona style! It was our first time trying a 'Hawaiian' plate so it was quite exciting. There was kalua pork and pork laulau; we described it as Hawaiian pulled pork and 糯米雞 (but with pork, no rice, and edible leaves). 

I would recommend this restaurant for a good breakfast, brunch, or lunch on the east coast of Oahu; I'd return myself! Take note that it closes at 2pm. 

Cinnamon's on Urbanspoon  

Nico's at Pier 38

Furikake Ahi, Fried Ahi Belly, Swordfish with Lobster Sauce, Poke Bowl
Voted as the best place for seafood in 2013, and also appeared on Drive-Ins, Diners, and Dives, you can't go wrong with a lunch at Nico's at Pier 38. I say lunch because dinner is the same food but with a higher price, so might as well go for lunch right? Pier 38 is where the fish auction takes place every morning at 5:30am; it is open to the public to visit too! However I did not get to witness the amazing fish auction this time, too early even for early risers like me. The fish served at Nico's is the fish sold at the auction in the morning, very fresh indeed!

Ahi tuna is served just about everywhere in Hawaii, and its a solid choice. Again, just remember to order it rare. There are three pieces of fried ahi belly in one order, topped with a slightly spicy tomato salad and some type of light sauce. Very smooth and tender, no bones at all! Everyday there is at least one 'Special of the Day', and on both my visits, it was swordfish, just with a different sauce. We ordered the one with a lobster cream sauce on our first visit. It is a dense white fish with a lighter flavour, a good choice too. It was served with a lemon caper sauce on our second visit, but we did not order it. All the entrees are large in size and come with your choice of rice and macaroni salad or green salad.

The last photo, the poke bowl. (pronounced poh-kay) is only available in their small market on the left side of the restaurant. For only $9 you get to choose up to 3 different types of poke (raw cubes of marinated fish, usually ahi tuna) on top of a big bowl of rice. You can also ask for a sample before making your final decision. I chose ahi limu (seaweed), ahi onion, and spicy marlin with fish eggs. This was my second time eating poke and I have confirmed that spicy poke tastes the best. So I recommend any fish in spicy poke form. Two things we tried, but not pictured, is the 16 oz. clam chowder sold in the market for only $5 and a seared ahi salad. Can't say it was the best clam chowder I've ever eaten, but it's a pretty good one; creamy, thick, and chunky with enough clams that you can see it. The ahi salad is a good choice if you're sick of eating so much rice and starch, the plum vinaigrette is famous too!

Food is served cafeteria style; you place your order at the cashier and receive a buzzer.Your order is ready for pick up when the buzzer lights up and vibrates. Water is free but sodas cost money. As a side note, they also sell desserts in both the restaurant and the market.

My mom loved the ahi belly so much she made us go once more before we left. Too bad to say the ahi belly was not as good the second time; she said it was just a bit too overcooked, therefore loosing some tenderness. Nevertheless, make a stop at Nico's when you're in Honolulu and craving some fresh fish.

Nico's at Pier 38 on Urbanspoon  

Forty Niner

Banana Macadamia Nut Pancakes with Hot Haupia Sauce
The afternoon after we visited Pearl Harbor was the one day where I did not really prepare a place for lunch. I did not do much research for that area but thankfully my friend's mom asked a employee as to where locals eat. She listed off a few names, all within a 2 mile distance from Pearl Harbor. 

Forty Niner was our second stop when finding lunch that day. On the outside, it looks sketchy, like an old one story building in Hong Kong, brown with rusty metal. There is just a gravel parking area on the right hand side. But once entering, I saw many people in the small restaurant having their meals. The menu looked good (and even had Japanese for tourists) so I gave the 'okay'! 

My group chose to sit in the back outside on the covered picnic benches to enjoy the breeze and sunshine. There's a tangerine tree and a mango tree out there too! 

I had my second pancake meal of the day (my first being breakfast at the Kapiolani Community College Saturday Farmer's Market), as if I needed more sugar. But I do not regret this as it was a good alternative to my craving for the mac nut pancakes at Boots & Kimo's in Kailua that I never got to visit. Haupia is coconut, and that sauce was made for Coconut Crumpet. Too bad there wasnt much macadamia nut flavour or bits, but caramelized bananas made up for it. The pancakes themselves were fluffy and very large, my family helped me eat at least half of it. 

I can not review the other dishes friends and family ordered as I never tasted them. Forty Niner is famous for pancakes and saimin (which is noodles). However after hearing my mom's comments, it seems like Hong Kong style wonton noodles are better than the Hawaiian comfort food, saimin. 

There are breakfast and lunch foods on the menu, of which many things appealed to me. Most dishes are well under $10, making it a very affordable meal. Forty Niner is, as the employee described it, a hole-in-the-wall; good food, quality, quantity, and value. Definitely recommend this place. 

Forty Niner on Urbanspoon

Duke's Waikiki 

Our visit to Duke's Waikiki inside the Outrigger Hotel was more of a tourist activity than to find a good value meal. I made a reservation for 8 people about a week in advance, mainly to eat a 'fancy' meal while watching the Hawaiian sunset. Reservations are recommended, at least 1 week in advance. I didn't get the first date I preferred and had to go with the day after that. Sunset is around 6:30pm in March. But go at 5pm or 6pm because the sun had pretty much set by the time we were seated at around 6:40pm. Also, keep in mind the actual beach side is the Barefoot Bar (serving casual food); the Dinning Restaurant can see most of the beach but you're not right next to it.
Taro Rolls and a few salads at the Duke's Waikiki Buffet
All entrees come with the salad buffet; various types of pasta or couscous salads, dinner rolls, mini muffins, already tossed salads, and build-your-own salads. It is $16 if you have the buffet as your meal. The buffet area is in a corner of the restaurant, small but with good quality salads. The taro rolls were interesting, worth using a bit of stomach room. I enjoyed the couscous and kale salads. Skip the muffins, they are sticky, dense, and short... The 'banana macadamia nut muffins' just have 1 or 2 nuts on the top.

Baby Back Pork Ribs & Huli Huli Chicken, Opah baked Duke's style, Seafood Luau, Hula Pie
The entrees came shortly, and I was eager to try the 'special fish of the day'. Many people order the macnut crusted fish, and I think that would've been a better idea. Duke's style is good, but a bit bland and simple. Opah is nothing special, and I would not recommend it. I was let down after the description of it being like sea bass or halibut. My brother's mahi mahi baked Duke's style (not pictured, but looks exactly the same as the opah) tasted richer. My dad ordered the seafood luau, which is all 3 fish of the day in a very rich coconut broth (Warning: very tasty, but very filling!) with some veggies and rice. That's a good dish if you want something a bit different. In the end, the baby back ribs and chicken were flavours we all remember best. Fall off the bone ribs and sweet & spicy juicy chicken, mmmm~ The side dishes were either a rice pilaf (I actually finished it all, quite good), green beans, or garlic mashed potatoes (of which my potato-loving friend approves of).

My main reason in coming here was to eat the famous hula pie. It is a macadamia nut ice cream pie on an oreo crust topped with hot fudge and macadamia nuts. Very sad to say it wasn't as amazing as I imaged it to be, but its something you got to eat at least once in your life. It was so large 8 people could have at least a hearty tasting of it. 

There is live entertainment, and good service. However I was slightly disappointed they forgot my note that we were celebrating 2 birthdays, 2 graduations, and an anniversary as well. Ok, maybe that's quite a load of events but still. 

Duke's Waikiki is, hands down, a tourist destination. Dinner is expensive, about $30+ per person, but you do get a lot of food. The fish is not 5-star amazing; better fish can be found elsewhere for a cheaper price. My family didn't get to try, but the lunch buffet is only $15 with a Hawaiian-style menu, worth a try. Duke's isn't terrible, but one dinner visit is enough.

Duke's Waikiki on Urbanspoon  

Marukame Udon

Burukake Udon with a Salmon Musubi and Sweet Potato Tempura
A 30 minute wait later, my family arrived at the first ordering stage of Marukame Udon. We just had to figure out what all the hype was about. 

Udon is made fresh, you can watch them roll out the dough and then slice it! There are just about six different udon 'bases' you can choose from; plain, cold, clear broth, sauce broth, curry, or dipping sauce. Burukake is the sauce broth and Kake is clear broth. I would stick with those two, curry would be tasty if you don't mind it taking over the other flavours. 

In the first stage you choose the size and base of your udon. Then you wait for it to be made and then pick out your 'toppings', aka tempura. Prices are about $1.50 per piece of tempura. There's a big nest of shredded veggies, entire eggs, shrimp, chicken, squid etc. There is also a few varieties of musubi in the last station if you just need a bit more starch. The total for my family of four, each with our own regular sized bowl and 1 or 2 sides, came to a total of under $25. A great deal! 

My entire family really enjoyed the meal. The udon is very chewy and , tempura is well fried, portions are plentiful, and price is really cheap! They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, also opened until late at night. A very good choice for a meal in the heart of Waikiki, just don't go when you have little time to eat as the line up can get quite long (but it goes by fast thanks to the cafeteria style ordering!) Thumbs up from Coconut Crumpet!

Marukame Udon on Urbanspoon  

Love from Coconut Crumpet's Corner ♡

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