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Liliha Bakery (Honolulu, HI)

The next stop on the food tour was Liliha Bakery. Located in Kalihi, which is one of the older and distinctly less touristy parts of town, Liliha is one of those places known for three things in particular: coco puffs (no, not the cereal, we’ll get back to that), great pancakes, and being open 24 hours a day (except for Mondays, when they take a day off). Indeed, when I was getting recommendations for places to check out for “local eats” in Honolulu, several people all gave me the suggestion “Get some coco puffs from Liliha Bakery”. So when our Hawaii Food Tours van pulled up and stopped at Liliha, I had an inkling as to why we were there.

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Royal Kitchen (Honolulu, HI)

After attending my friend’s wedding, we had several more days on Oahu wandering about and exploring. However, the splendid, sunny weather that had greeted us upon arrival turned primarily into… rain. Now, several tourism guides on the internet will tell you that it doesn’t really “rain” per se in Honolulu, just “drizzle and trickle”… but if that’s the case, we got almost 8” of “drizzle and trickle” our last few days there. So that left us with a lot of non-beach activities to do, and one of those was taking a food tour. In our case, we went with Hawaii Food Tours, who offer several highly-rated tours on Oahu. In our case, we opted for their “Hole-in-the-wall” tour focusing on “local” food for the Honolulu scene. So our first stop with them was in Chinatown Cultural Center at the edge of Chinatown, in a place called Royal Kitchen. While Royal Kitchen does serve up a lot of standard Hawaiian fare like plate lunches and saimin, what they are really known for is manapua, the Hawaiian version of char siu bao, those Chinese soft buns filled with meat. As I mentioned in my previous review of 7-Eleven, those little buns are available almost everywhere on the island, in a variety of flavors. But Royal Kitchen stands out, since most places steam their manapua, while Royal Kitchen bakes theirs.

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7-Eleven (Haleiwa, HI)

Okay, I’m sure most you are are going “Did I just read that right? Is Rich reviewing 7-Eleven, the convenience store?” Indeed, I am. I’ve mentioned before that Hawaiian culture and Asian culinary traditions have influenced each other making a fairly distinct Hawaiian culinary tradition, but one of the more interesting things to me is that this culinary tradition is strong enough to influence chains imported from the mainland. Sure, that 7-Eleven you wander into in New Jersey is probably nearly identical to a 7-Eleven in, say, Southern California, that’s not quite the case in Hawaii. In Hawaii, 7-Eleven fully embraces Hawaiian cuisine, in that every single one on the island has, in addition to the standard 7-Eleven items (like Slurpee and chips), a substantial amount of counter space at the front dedicated to serving up a selection of Hawaiian items, with the notable items being Spam musubi (in several varieties) and Manapua (also in several flavors), pork hash, and several other island treats. Seriously, you can even check out their menu.

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Ted’s Bakery (Haleiwa, HI)

While the island of Oahu is one of the bigger, and the most populated, of the Hawaiian islands, at times it is a very small place. Indeed, once you get up to the North Shore, there’s not a whole lot of different dining options, and of the existing ones, there are just a few places that consistently get recommended, such as various Kahuku shrimp trucks. One place that gets an awful lot of North Shore recommendations is Ted’s Bakery, and it’s one of the more obvious stops on the Kamehameha Highway, so we decided to stop and give them a try.

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Kim Chee Restaurant Enchanted Lake (Kailua, HI)

As I’ve mentioned before, Hawaii has an influence from many Asian cuisines, and one of the more prominent ones is Korean. Indeed, Kalbi (marinated and grilled beef short rib) and Meat Jun (egg-battered and fried meat slices) are two of the more popular options in the classic Hawaiian “Plate Lunch” (which I’ll probably mention in a post dedicated to the topic). But in addition to the many “Drive Ins”, takeout joints, and the like, proper Korean restaurants are also rather common on Oahu, and one night we decided to do a Korean dinner. One of the better options, especially on the Windward side of the island, is Kim Chee, a local chain with about four locations around Oahu. We decided to check out their Kailua location, in the Enchanted Lake strip mall.

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Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (Honolulu, HI)

The next day in Hawaii, we decided that it was time to go on a hike, and ended up settling on the Kuli`ou`ou Ridge Trail in the Eastern part of the island. It’s a pleasant hike, climbing from a residential neighborhod through some tropical forest, then pines, and then above tree line up to a pleasant ridge overlooking Waimanalo. It was a thoroughly enjoyable hike, and it left us craving a cold, refreshing snack. That’s exactly what shave ice was invented for. Looking up shave ice places on the internet, there’s one clearly popular place (Waiola Shave Ice), but there was another places nearby with particularly good reviews on several sites, the rather cool-named Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (HOPA).

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Rai Rai Ramen (Kailua, HI)

One of the great things about the very multicultural nature of Hawaii’s population is that it has quite the assortment of Asian restaurants to choose from, with a good variety of Chinese (including Americanized and Hawaiianized versions), Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese restaurants. The state has a rather long history of loving noodle shops in particular; historically a lot of these were saimin shops, serving up a product that’s basically the fusion of Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino noodle traditions. But more recently, there’s been quite an upwelling of ramen noodle joints of both Japanese and Korean influence. Indeed, as we were wandering around Kailua on the windward side of the island (our original choice for dinner turned out to be closed on Sundays), we found a nice, modest ramen shop just off of Highway 61 in Kailua: Rai Rai Ramen.

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Fumi’s Shrimp Stand (Kohuku, HI)

The North Shore of Oahu is known for several things. The primary one is surfing; during the winter months, the beaches of the North Shore such as Ehukai Beach (better known as “Banzai Pipeline”) and Sunset Beach feature large smooth swells. The area is also known for natural beauty (like Waimea Bay and Waimea Valley). But a single drive through the region will also show you that the area, particularly around Kahuku, is well known for another thing: Shrimp stands. Between Punaluʻu and Sunset Beach are a quite a few stands and trucks selling you shrimp. Some of these have quite the following, such as Shrimp Shack (Punaluʻu), Giovanni’s, Fumi’s, and Romy’s (the last three of these all in Kahuku, and the style is often called “Kahuku shrimp”). Thus, stopping for shrimp is a popular pastime in both the surfer and tourist communities. For our visit, we decided to give Fumi’s a try.

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Joe’s Grill Express (Honolulu, HI)

So, one of my former coworkers invited me to his wedding in Waikiki, and we decided it would be a good opportunity to go explore Oahu and its sights and cuisine. However, that means getting there from NH. There aren’t a lot of great ways to do that, with most every option involving either a long layover, multiple hops, or red-eye flights. Or a combination of these. Between that, and an actual snowstorm in Seattle (requiring us to wait almost an hour for what is apparently just the one deicing truck at SEA), we pulled into HNL at almost midnight. Luckily, we had known that our flight would be getting in relatively late, so that we decided that the easiest way to handle things would be to get a hotel room near the airport. However, the area around the airport is not exactly a culinary hotbed of activity (and, quite frankly, most anything else, unless you have access to the nearby military bases). And that entire area seems to be filled with former restaurants all boarded up. But amongst the few options available, we did find one gem of a place: Joe’s Grill Express.

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