Update 2021: Sadly Li’l Soul Cafe is no longer in business.
I’m back in Hawaii, my one and only true home. After recent events it’s great to be in a place where I can hug the ones I love whenever I want. Although I’ve been living away for some time, everything here has a familiarity and comfort I can find no where else. And yes, food plays a large part of it. Let me share some of the places I’ve been to this week – in no particular order.
3660 on the Rise
One of my very favorite restaurants in Honolulu is 3660 on the Rise. There are a lot of restaurants here that do Hawaiian regional cuisine and I enjoy them all but this by far is my favorite and I try to go at least once each visit home. Some highlights of our meal include the Ahi Katsu as a starter and the Lemon Pudding and Chocolate Symphony for dessert (a trio of desserts which includes a brownie sundae, a molten lava cake, and a harlequin creme brulee).
Another favorite is Zippy’s – a local chain of fast food restaurants primarily found on Oahu with one location on Maui. They are best known for their chili which most purists would turn their noses up at but in the islands it’s popular. I often get the chili and fried chicken mixed plate but this time we got a couple of different dishes. Korean fried chicken – fried pieces of boneless chicken dipped in a slightly spicy shoyu sauce – and Spicy Karaage (Japanese boneless fried chicken with a spicy sauce) and tempura (shrimp and vegetable) donburi.
Tanioka’s Seafood & Catering
A more recent favorite is Tanioka’s Seafood & Catering in Waipahu. The experience can be a little overwhelming if you’ve never been there before and don’t know what you want to order. Especially during the holidays, New Year’s in particular, the line can be out the door and you need to move through there quickly. There’s very little time for browsing and asking questions.
The first main section is a selection of different poke made from ahi, tako (octopus), mussels, opihi, etc. We usually get at least a half pound each of 2-3 different ones to share. The next section is all the prepared foods – fried chicken, different types of musubi (Japanese rice balls), fish cakes, salmon cakes, taro mochi (sweet desserts made with rice and taro) or taro andagi (Japanese doughnuts). One of my favorite things to get – and they were sold out on the day we went there – is the spicy ahi poke over sushi rice. We’re going to make another trip there just to get that.
KCC Farmer’s Market
A place that’s become very popular – especially with tourists – is the Saturday KCC Farmers’ Market. One of the great things about Hawaii is getting fresh locally grown produce year round. On the day we were there we found sweet corn, all sorts of greens (lettuce, kale, chard, braising greens), fruit (pineapples, avocados, papayas), tomatoes, and more.
But the other draw to the market is the food vendors. You can find local foods like fried rice or shaved ice or locally grown corn fresh roasted on site. There are vendors selling chili and grilled steak, local coffee growers getting you your morning caffeine fix, paniolo popcorn (a local version of kettle corn), fresh squeezed juices, even fried green tomatoes.
It’s worth the visit but definitely get there early before things sell out. Expect lots of people, don’t get run over by strollers, and bring an empty stomach.
L’il Soul Cafe
A new discovery for me is Li’l Soul Cafe in downtown Honolulu. A month or so ago I was watching an episode of Eat Street on the Cooking Channel which featured a food truck called Soul Patrol. You know my love of food trucks so it definitely got my attention. Then hearing the description of the food which took traditional southern dishes and added a local twist, well you know I had to try it. Of course my sister, who seems to know all the good places to eat, knew exactly what truck I was talking about and took me to their restaurant instead (easier than tracking down the truck).
The folks there are great. They greet you with cups of ice and an invitation to have their complimentary sweet tea. We got an order of the garlic shrimp and cheesy grits with bacon dressing – rich and delicious – and the chicken and waffles. There are no words to describe how good the chicken and waffles were so I’ll have to let the picture speak for me. They also gave us a slice of their homemade sweet potato pie. There are lots more things on the menu I want to try and I bet they’re all as good as what we had. We also saw the Li’l Soul crew at the KCC Farmers’ Market so we have more opportunities to eat their delicious food.
Jun Bo Chinese Restaurant
The last thing I’ll share is a style of noodle only found in Hawaii and one of the things I miss more than anything – the cake noodle. This article in Midweek describes it best and to my surprise, one of my favorite cake noodles was made at a restaurant that claims to have created this unique style of noodle – On On Chinese restaurant. Sadly this restaurant is gone and I can no longer have their delicious Oyster Sauce Cake Noodles.
My sister introduced me to a hole-in-the wall restaurant in downtown Honolulu called Jun Bo Chinese Restaurant. Literally down an alley where you’d never expect to find a restaurant, it’s nothing fancy but the food is tasty.