Hungry for good values, we combed through the Islands in pursuit of delicious meals for $20 or less. We lunched, we brunched, we wined, we dined. And we found you can eat well, accompanied only by a minted portrait of Andrew Jackson. The secret is not just knowing where to go, but what to order. So grab your wallet, and follow us.
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Ramen noodles—like these from Goma Tei Ramen—are a Japanese favorite, but were originally imported from China.
photo by Olivier Koning
Goma Tei RamenWard Centre, 591-9188.
CHEAP EAT Wakame Shoyu Ramen ($7.50), Pork Gyoza ($6.25) and Kirin Draft ($1.88). $15.63.
With icy cold Kirin Ichiban flowing at 50 percent off all day, we amended the “no drinking before 5 p.m.” rule during a lunch at Goma Tei Ramen. Shortly after ordering, a steaming bowl of chewy ramen noodles, heaped with wakame (seaweed), half a hard-boiled egg and stocks of choi sum arrived alongside an order of gyoza. As gyoza is generally an afterthought at most ramen shops, we were glad that our server recommended Goma Tei’s plumper, juicier version, stuffed with pork and veggies. We rolled out of the Ward Center noodle shop with a barely dented wallet, a tiny beer buzz and a full stomach. Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Govinda’s Vegetarian Cuisine1118 Fort Street Mall; 271-4780.
CHEAP EAT Miniplate and Ginger Drink, $6.60
Vegetarians, vegans and those sick to death of katsu were all thrilled when Govinda’s opened a downtown satellite branch of its UH Manoa restaurant. The ginger drink ($1.80 for a large), is freshly squeezed each morning, and, alone, is worth the stop. It seems to conquer hangovers and raise a sword to colds. Add a mini plate ($4.70), and you’ve got a healthy, but not ascetic, lunch. We had barats (split-pea dumplings) with green peas and cauliflower in a tomato sauce; rice, which we doused with Govinda’s exemplary cilantro hot sauce; heaps of fresh greens; and a small, nondairy sweet cake. “Mini” is an understatement; it’s plenty of food, if not for a Hindu deity, at least for an office warrior. Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Green TimeManoa Market Place, 988-0588.
CHEAP EAT “Green Time” Tea Party, complete tea service, $15.95
Green Time would have all the trappings of a tranquil afternoon tea, including a spectacular view of the Koolau range and soft bossa nova music, were it not for the large number of Precious Moments figurines and Beanie Babies displayed for sale. The tea service began with a lightly scented rose green tea prepared at the table (a 3-minute timer signaled optimum steep time). Tasty, tea-sized ham and apple sandwiches appeared next, with crunchy cornflake cookies and green-tea biscuits, while an enormous slice of cheesecake dripping with homemade strawberry sauce waited in the wings. A bowlful of bright purple sweet-potato ice cream served as a finale, Beanie Babies be damned. Open Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Jimbo1936 S. King St., Suite 103, 947-2211.
CHEAP EAT Udon feast ($10.60)
Jimbo knows udon. This small McCully restaurant makes its own homemade noodles daily, cooks them to perfection and pairs them with a deeply flavorful broth. There is a full range of toppings from which to choose, from curry to grilled mochi; we’re partial to the kakiage (chopped vegetable and shrimp) tempura bowl ($10.60). The udon is hot and filling on its own, but you really should make room for a side order of agedashi (deep-fried tofu served in a hot tentsuyu broth of dashi, mirin and shoyu and topped with negi), which Jimbo makes delicately flavored and melt-in-your-mouth smooth ($4.60). For dessert, a scoop of green tea ice cream topped with azuki beans ($2.80). Simplicity never tasted so good. Sunday through Thursday, lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:50 p.m., and dinner 5 to 9:50 p.m. Friday and Saturday, lunch from 11 a.m. 2:50, and dinner from 5 to 10:50 p.m.
Pasta & Basta by DonatoRestaurant Row, 523-9999.
CHEAP EAT Risotto Frutti di Mare, $15
After Chef Donato Loperfido closed his M-anoa restaurant last year, we were ecstatic to hear he was back with a new eatery, Pasta & Basta by Donato. It’s strictly no-frills—you’ll have to order at the counter, bring your own booze and eat with plastic utensils. In return, you get the high-quality dishes you’d expect from Loperfido at prices you wouldn’t. Crusty panini, house-made pastas and thin-crust pizzas typically run between $9 and $15. Try the risotto frutti di mare, with its generous helpings of calamari, shrimp, fish and fresh manila clams—all slow-cooked in a slightly peppery seafood broth. Trust us, you’ve never eaten food this good from a Styrofoam box. Lunch Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner Monday to Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.