Tag Archives: travel

Ono O’ahu

7 Nov

A month ago, on October 7, we left for Hawai’i where we stayed in the Big Island for four nights then left for O’ahu on the 11th. Now, here’s the finale of my ono Hawai’i two-part series. We had the fortune to stay with relatives while in the Big Island, but for our O’ahu trip, we stayed in Aqua Bamboo and Spa at Waikiki. We were in the heart of Waikiki action, only a couple of blocks from the beach and surrounded by tourist traps incognito as shops. We arrived in O’ahu around eight in the morning, and as most hotels go, check-in is not until early afternoon and in our case, 3:00 PM. There was no choice but to take our luggage with us as we went sight-seeing. We stopped by a Safeway for necessities such as water, another bottle of sunblock, bananas, and yakult. For those of you not in the know, yakult is a probiotic liquid yogurt. The drink is popular among Asians and it’s one that my sisters and I grew up with. Yakult is useful when traveling, especially with all the foods we’ve encountered, our gut flora could use some assistance. First in our itinerary is a drive around the island. By the time we were done sight-seeing on wheels, it was about time to check-in.

Because we didn’t stay with relatives, we found ourselves eating out daily, even though we did have dinner over at an aunt’s place, the packed left-overs we were given were only enough to tide us for about a day. But no mattter. O’ahu has plenty to offer in terms of sights and foods. Since it isn’t our first time visiting, we already had a few ideas of where to go and explore. Also, I have a secret weapon that won’t be a secret anymore after I reveal it. When we find ourselves drowning in all of the options of where to eat or feeling clueless, we check out Aku Eats. Aku is a local who has done his homework with the dining out and food scene of O’ahu. His site contains a wealth of information and definitely worth checking out than the egocentric chatter in Yelp. Now, now, don’t get me wrong, I like Yelp and I’ve used it many times, I just find Aku superior to Yelpers when it comes to discussing the food scene in O’ahu.

And so here goes a photographic journey of places that put a smile on our faces and/or made our tummies incredulously happy.
October 11, 2010
Grass Skirt Grill Restaurant: 66-214 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712
Great place for lunch in North Shore! The restaurant known for its fish burgers can be found in Hale’iwa. Like many restaurants in Hawai’i, seafood is a serious business and the best places will boast that they only serve the freshest catch of the day, and Grass Skirt Grill serve fresh fish dishes. And they are true to their word. The Hubz ordered an ebi burger which we shared along with a beautiful salad called “Luau Salad” and two orders of fries. I don’t want to use this word to describe what I thought of the fries but I’m going to anyway… those fries are da bomb! That’s right! They are finger-lickin’-licious good. Just thinking about them is making my mouth water.


October 12, 2010

Mai Groceries: 1120 Maunakea St., #187, Honolulu, Hawaii 96817
Chinatown Honolulu is fifteen blocks of grocery stores offering exotic and tropical produce, popular and mom-and-pop Asian restaurants, and stores selling knick-knacks from the usual to the bizarre. While driving around looking for parking, we spotted a couple of stores that caught our attention. That first store was Mai. At Mai’s we found bright and colorful tropical fruits and had the best bubble drink smoothie ever. Since the Hubz and I originally hail from California and quite familiar with the Bay Area, bubble drinks are a well-known warm (even cold) weather potion for us. So when I say it’s the best bubble drink smoothie ever it is. The bubble smoothie we ordered was a blend of fresh lychee and mango. No powdered stuff for the store. The result was not suffocatingly sweet like others I’ve had before (no particular San Jose and Seattle cafés will be named) and the fruit flavors are well-balanced. A refreshing drink, perfect for 80degF weather!


Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery: 1027 Maunakea Street Honolulu, HI 96817
And this is store number two. It was the moon cake promotion that made me cooed, “Oooh, moon cakes.” While we were at Mai’s, we met Darrell, a fellow Californian on a business trip in Hawaii and who has been using his downtime exploring the various eats. We got to chatting with him and discovered that he has kept tracked of the many eateries he has patronized. A friendly guy, he shared info on the best eateries for saimin, chili loco moco, and sweets. For sweets, he recommended Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery. After the recommendation, how could we pass up the bakery. Aside from moon cakes, they had baked and steamed manapuas, cookies, and tons of dried fruits. We were there for the moon cakes but we left with manapuas, moon cakes, and a bag of coconut macadamia brittle. Scrumptious!

Triple One Chinese, Singaporean, & Malaysian Food: Maunakea Marketplace, 1120 Maunakea St., Honolulu, Hawaii 96817
If it weren’t for the menacing looking statues manning the entrance of Maunakea Marketplace, we wouldn’t have explored it. And we’re glad we did. Inside the marketplace is a food court lined with stalls where vendors of various Asian descents promote their nation’s cuisine. I consider the food stalls gems in the rough. And one particular gem that we’re glad to have discovered is the Triple One Chinese food stall that offers humble but satisfying dishes. The Hubz and I both ordered a meat and vegetable noodle dish. Out-of-this-world tasty.

Kincaid’s Fish, Chop & Steak House: 1050 Ala Moana Blvd #2100, Honolulu, HI 96814
Arthur wanted a simple pub restaurant to dine in; instead he got a chic restaurant tucked in the corner of Ward Centers in Honolulu. The only complaint about the place was that it was not easy to find. Funny, really, since they used their GPS devices… In any case, we all eventually found it and we all were impressed by the fancy delivery of pupus and ordinary pub foods. Take a look at the ahi poke garnished with dill and sour cream, served with gherkins on the side. Great food but parsimonious serving sizes.

October 13, 2010

Zippy’s Restaurants: 666 North Nimitz Highway, Honolulu 96817
Although the Hubz has been to the island before, he has never been to a Zippy’s. To fill that void in his previous aloha experience, I gave in and went to one. I was unfavorable at first because the Zippy’s I’ve been to in my previous visits were their fast-food venues and I remember the food being greasy. But the Zippy’s we went to at Nimitz felt like a Hawaiian Red Robin’s. Ryan got the chili loco moco and I got what I thought was the best marriage in soup heaven…wun tun min! It’s wonton soup and saimin with goodies galore. We also got a side of teri beef that was melt-in-your-mouth good. So for the first time, I look at Zippy’s with hungry eyes.  

Yard House: 226 Lewers St., Honolulu, HI 96815
Someone just can’t get enough of pub food. Second evening hanging out with Arthur & Co. and we found ourselves in a pub that is also popular in LA… where Arthur hails. We were told that the Yard House was chosen not so much for the food but for its “largest selection of draft beer”. Fine. But I was really hungry at the time and I needed some form of sugar in my bloodstream. It was a long wait. So what did I end up getting? A macadamia and lilikoi (passion fruit) cheese cake. Sweet? Yes, very. But good. The service was excellent. We were a party of eleven and I noticed similar large-sized groups. Thumbs up to the staff.


October 14, 2010


 L & L Hawaiian Barbecue: 55-510 Kamehameha Hwy., Laie, HI 96762
L & L has franchises in California, Washington State, and a few other mainland states, but for some reason I have not been to one. Well curious little me was a bit timid about trying but the Hubz easily persuaded me. So we did go to one and oh my goddess! After a couple of hours of ocean swimming, the lunch plates we got were devoured in minutes. There’s nothing like eating al fresco good fried food, just a few feet from the ocean.

Seafood Village, Hyatt Regency Waikiki: 2424 Kalakaua Avenue, Suite 103, Honolulu HI 96815
The rehearsal dinner took place in what is considered to be one of the best Chinese restaurants in Hawai’i. That’s Seafood Village’s claim not mine since I haven’t tried all the Chinese restaurants in O’ahu to be able to confirm that, but the restaurant has a proof in the form of an ambiguous award. Not the best proof. At any rate, the food is relatively better than other contemporary Chinese eateries we’ve eaten at. Being Asian and having lived in New York, the Bay Area, and Seattle region, I’ve eaten at more Chinese restaurants than the average joe’s. Although, to be fair, it was a private party so maybe there was more care put into the food preparation.


October 15, 2010

Ryoko and Arthur’s beautiful wedding at Ko’olina Resort. Great food, first-class scenery, and fabulous company. Simply said, it was a wonderful event. Congratulations to the newlyweds!


October 16, 2010

Sorabol Korean Restaurant: 805 Keeaumoku St, Honolulu, HI 96814
The young ones wanted to hang out and continue the festivities after the wedding so a troupe consisting of the bride and groom and their friends and family went to Sorabol. A restaurant discovered by the groom’s friends a couple of nights before when they hunted for a late-night venue. What they found is a 24-hour restaurant that serves unbelievably good Korean dishes. The restaurant has been awarded with Honolulu Magazine’s Hale Aina Gold Award three years in a row starting 2007. We arrived at our hotel about 4AM feeling stuffed but wanting more.

Ted’s Bakery: 59-024 Kamehameha Highway, Sunset Beach, Hawaii 96712
We wanted malasadas. An aunt who lives in Honolulu recommended Leonard’s but since we were going to be in North Shore, we wanted to try a bakery there. Thanks to the internets, the Hubz found Ted’s Bakery. We arrived there just after lunch time and their bread trays were practically empty. When I asked for malasadas, the lovely lady at the register apologized because they were out. I sniffed and a tear ran down my cheek. But they had pies and cakes so I smiled again. The Hubz can’t pass coconut so he got a chocolate haupia cream pie while I got a pineapple mac nut cheese cake. Yum, yum.

Macky’s Shrimp Truck: 66-632 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712
I’ve heard of the shrimp truck “wars” going on in North Shore, but since we didn’t make the time to try both Giovanni’s and Macky’s, we went to Macky’s. The name was mentioned a lot, primarily by Arthur, so of course we went for that. I’ll describe the experience with this one made up word that I’ve used once before: finger-lickin’-‘licious.

Aoki’s Shave Ice: 66-117 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa, HI. 96712
After our shrimp fest, Arthur & Ryoko, Ryohei & Stacy, and Ryan & I drove south to get shave ice. The newlyweds and I patronized Aoki’s while the other half of our company stood in line at Matsumoto’s. Verdict for the best shave ice in the North Shore… Aoki’s and Matsumoto. It’s a tie for me. What I like about Aoki’s is that the line is shorter. As for taste, there wasn’t any obvious difference with the syrups both shave ice houses used.

Matsumoto Shave Ice: 66-087 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, Hawaii 96712
An old favorite. But this time around I went to Aoki’s instead while Hubz went to Matsumoto. We got similar flavors of shave ice so we can test and compare and as my verdict goes, they’re both equally good. So let’s put an end to these food wars. Make food not war!


October 17, 2010

The night before, we spent time with my O’ahu relatives at an aunt’s house in Waipahu. The aunties prepared a dinner of Filipino cuisines with a local touch. There were a lot of leftovers and so my great aunt packed us what she thought of enough food to last us for the rest of our stay, but given our appetite it was only enough to last us for two breakfasts and a lunch. By the by, we were thankful for the home-cooked meals and appreciated their warm hospitality and thought of putting a dinner together for us.

Leonard’s Bakery: 933 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI
Another place that receives a lot of hype. Does Leonard live up to the hype? Yes. Fried greasy dough balls sweetened with sugar and filled with flavored cream. According to locals, Leonard’s is the place to go for malasadas. For me though, nothing beats the malasadas from Tex Drive In at Honokaa in the Big Island. Sorry Leonard’s but my heart has already been won over. But the Hubz’ is in love with their haupia-filled donuts. So much that we stopped by the bakery again before driving to the airport on our last day.

Sansei Seafood & Steak House: Waikiki Beach Marriot Resort and Spa, 2552 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
Lesson 1: Choose where to eat in advance, that way, your stomach is not the one doing the thinking. Lesson 2: Avoid hotel restaurants. You can get the same dishes for less than the inflated price of what hotel restaurants offer. Lesson 3: Eat at Sansei Seafood & Steak House if you really must.

To sum up the experience, the service is friendly and fast, and the food is good, but it is your typical Japanese and local fare, which means that we could have had the same dishes we ordered in Sansei at other eateries in the island and find them priced lower.


October 18, 2010

Kona Brewing Co. and Brew Pub: 7192 Kalanianaole Hwy Bldg I, Honolulu, HI
After a day of surfing and snorkeling, Kona Brew Pub was the place to we chose to kick back and get grub. It also helped that I had a coupon for a free pupu platter with a purchase of a beer sampler. The restaurant serves typical pub fare but with an island twist. The Hubz ordered a shrimp and cheese sandwich while I chose a chicken bbq sandwich. The sandwiches hit the spot but the side dishes of fresh kettle chips and papaya slaw are excellent. I’m a big fan of potato chips (ever tried potato chips and champagne, that’s a story for another day…) and so we ended up getting another order of it.

Costco Hawai’i: 333 Keahole St Bldg A, Honolulu, HI
When we travel and discover that the state or country we’re in happen to have a Costco, we usually make a trip there for kicks. Since Costco carries local goods, it’s a good indicator of what is popular with the locals. Like when we were in England, that pang of “it’s greener on the other side” hit us. Check this out: mochi by the platter, kalua pork by the tub, and oysters by the dozens. And that’s not all, think macadamia nut chocolates, Portuguese sausages, and other local favorites. Harrrumph. Yes, I’m jealous.


October 19, 2010

And so we say aloha oe to the beautiful islands of Hawai’i, and as the song goes, “until we meet again…”


Ono Big Island

29 Oct

In the Hawaiian language, ono means delicious, and it’s the perfect word to describe Hawai’i nei.  Ryan and I have traveled to Hawai’i separately during our youth, but this is our first trip to the island together.  The motivation for our trip was a friend’s wedding.  Arthur, Ryan’s college buddy, gave us the honor of being a groomsman at our wedding, and Ryan returned the honor by being a groomsman at his wedding.  Suffice it to say that now, we’re all equally honored. 

Ryan and I began our island vacation at the Big Island and stayed in Hilo with my Dad’s very welcoming cousins.  The “aloha spirit” is genuine and contagious.  It’s indeed world-class, top-notch hospitality.  I suppose when one lives in a tropical island surrounded by beautiful vistas and beaches, filled with colorful flora and fauna, where the residents are relaxed and laid-back, and where good food abounds, it’s hard not to feel good. 

Speaking of good food there are a few people worth thanking whose ono cooking and/or ono local food and eatery suggestions were a godsend.  My Hilo relatives: Aunt Betty, “ate” Beth, Aunt Jocelyn, “Lola” Levry, “Lola” Nita, Aunt Tina along with Aunt Evelyn, and Aunt Marisol are all great home cooks.  Then there’s Uncle Pepe who harvested ‘opihi for us.  I should also mention two Washington State resident friends, LeAnne and Bryce, who are both Big Island locals whose food stories of their hometown subconsciously influenced our own opinion of Hawaiian cuisine – not that we didn’t love it already.  Then there’s my O’ahu relatives: Aunt Lisa, Lola Carr, and Aunt Digna who put together a dinner for us and gave a tip for a good malasadas joint.  As for eatery suggestions, our sources are: our friend Chris T., an O’ahu local  living in Seattle; Derek, a Californian foodie on a business trip in Hawai’i, who we met in Chinatown while we were food window shopping; and our friend, Arthur, who talked about Macky’s at North Shore as if it’s the best shrimp truck.  And it is.  I’d be remiss if I don’t mention Aku of Aku Eats.  If there’s a guy who knows O’ahu’s food scene, he’s definitely the kaneMahalo nui everyone!

Hawaiian local cuisine is wonderful and diverse, just like the people of Hawaii.  It is indigenous Hawaiian foods happily intermingling with Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Portuguese foods.  Incredibly ono.

So… Aloha and explore the diverse gastronomy of the Big Island and O’ahu with my relatives and friends.

October 7, 2010

Our food exploration of local cuisine started at Aunt Betty’s and Uncle Jeffer’s home, where my father’s relatives put together a welcome dinner for us.  We had an early afternoon arrival, with a flight from Seattle to Honolulu then to Hilo, and not getting a chance to eat a proper lunch, we were starving when dinnertime came around .  Dinner for the night consisted of: Meat and Vegetable Chow Mein, Fried Chicken, Chop Suey, Beef and Broccoli, Beef Stew, and fresh-from-my-aunt-and-uncle’s-garden Papaya.  Most of the dishes were take-out except for the beef stew and the papaya. 

The food was delicious.  But the shining star was the papaya.  Hrmm, how to explain its rich, sweet, buttery, fruity goodness…  Excellent.  I just did.

October 8, 2010

Yet another family dinner.  But who’s complaining, eh.  The dinner was held at Aunt Marisol and Uncle Randy’s place.  After a day touring Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and the Macadamia Nut Factory, we were ready for a serious sit-down meal.  My relatives do not disappoint.  With Aunt Marisol at the helm, another local eats feast was prepared.  On the table were:  Lumpia, Grilled Mackerel, Milkfish, and Tilapia, Chicken Stew with Green Papaya and Bitter Melon Leaves, Pansit, Seafood Stew, and Steamed ‘Opihi seasoned with shoyu.    

All were delicious and I’d have gone for a third plate were it not for feeling full from eating too fast.  I normally eat slowly, except when I’m really hungry.  The dishes that moved me were the chicken stew (because I love bitter melon leaves!) and the ‘opihi.  Harvesting the simple-shelled mollusks takes some skill since it can get quite dangerous.  ‘Opihi can be found on the underside of rocks along the shore where the waves crash and pound.  You can only imagine how able-footed and careful one has to be when gathering the tasty limpets.

Coolest activities ever: Touring National Volcanoes Park and walking through a lava tunnel. 

October 9, 2010

The way to Kona from Hilo takes about two hours.  For the locals, that is a pretty long drive.  On the day that we planned to visit with Aunt Tina (who is also my younger sister’s godmother), Ironman Hawaii was happening.  Traffic was diverted and getting to Kona was next to impossible.  Eventually, we did arrive at our destination, but along the way we stopped by breathtaking scenic points, visited Akaka Falls State Park and Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, purchased a cup o’ joe at Royal Kona Museum and Coffee Mill, got inspired by the Ironman athletes, and had a light lunch of Saimin, Loco Moco, and Malasadas at Tex Drive In, the only eatery Ryan and I checked out in the Big Island. 

Tex Drive In and Restaurant: 45-690 Pakalana St Highway 19, Honokaa, HI 96727
Why eat out when the relatives kept preparing ono meals for us.  Though we had to try Tex Drive In since it happens to be a big hit with the relatives and a popular restaurant with the locals.  I got a saimin and the Hubz got a loco moco; both hit the spot.  But it’s the malasadas that got my attention.  Delicious, fluffy goodness.  Plain or filled, it is a heavenly bread.  I do believe the archangel was over my shoulder wishing and hoping I’d share.  Get your own, Gabriel.  Not sharing my malasadas is worth going to hell for. 

Aunt Tina, with the help of her niece, Evelyn and her husband, prepared Lumpia, Sautéed Shrimp, Filipino style Grilled Eggplant and Tomato warm salad, Grilled Beef, Kare Kare (a Filipino beef curry stew),and Pinakbet (a stew made with okra, squash, bitter melon, and long beans flavored with garlic and fish sauce).  Suman, which are sticky rice cakes steamed in banana leaves, were brought by Aunt Betty.  We were tired by the time we arrived at Aunt Tina’s but the food was good and gave us second wind.

Coolest activity ever: Watching Ironman.

October 10, 2010

On our last night at Hilo, my relatives pulled out all the stops and cooked a feast of Filipino dishes that nearly made me cry.  The women are such fabulous cooks and Ryan and I are honored to have been the center of attention and be the reason behind the yummy spread that they put together. 

During the day, ate (pronounced ah-te which means older sister in Tagalog) Beth took us to the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center at University of Hawaii – Hilo.  From October 5th until the 10th, ‘Imiloa showcased 50 digital planetarium films for their first Fulldome Film Festival.  We were lucky to catch the tail-end of the event and to watch a film called “We Are Astronomers”,  narrated by the talented David Tennant and also a collaboration of respected British universities (UCL, my recent alma mater, among them) provided content for the film.  Thanks to ate Beth’s membership, we got to watch three films which we chose from a list of 8-10.  After ‘Imiloa, we went to a small open market at downtown Hilo where tables and tables of beautiful produce attracted our attention.  We then parted ways with ate Beth, but her husband, son, and Aunt Betty’s daughter, Jebe, took over the duty of showing us around.  We all ended up going to a grocery to buy sandwiches, ahi poke, and a six-pack of (wait for it) a Northwestern brewed blueberry-infused beer.  Ironic?  You betcha.  We should have picked up a Kona Brewing Company beer, but noooo.  Instead we opted for the one with a slutty-looking blue hippo on the packaging.  We had lunch at 4 Mile Beach and after we downed the goods, we changed to our swimsuits and went for a swim.  That’s right superstitious folks, we violated that fundamental rule of “never swim after eating”.  Some rules are meant to be broken.  Because we smelled of food, we attracted the sea turtles and they ventured towards the shore and swam along us.  I joke about the reason why the sea turtles came towards the shore, but no joke about swimming with the sea turtles.  And no, we did not touch them.  The sea turtles are protected under Hawai’i law and touching them is forbidden.  Consider it kapu.  Swimming with the honu was such an amazing experience.  To think that we had an unexpected meeting while others pay to swim with aquatic animals at marine parks – it makes our experience even more awe-inspiring. 

The evening began with an amazing dinner of Mung Beans with Greens, Chicken Stew with Green Papaya and Bitter Melon Leaves, Fish Stew, Kare Kare, Miki (a noodle dish reminiscent of curried udon), Katuday Salad (which are flowers from scarlet wisteria a.ka. S. grandiflora with tomatoes and seasoned with fish sauce), and Achara which is a pickled salad made with grated green papaya, carrots, and onion).  On the side was Karyoka/Karkason, which is deep-fried rice flour dough dusted with sugar.  Dinner was followed by a couple of fun hours of karaoke and then packing.  At an ungodly hour the following day, we left for O’ahu.

Coolest activities ever: Watching the planetarium films and swimming with the honu.


Stay tuned for our O’ahu sojourn stories…