Drivin' to Drive In
Looking for Hawaii’s culinary history? You can drive right up to it.
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The whole drive-in thing kind of snuck up on me.
First, Barack Obama came to the Islands on vacation last August, claiming he wanted to go to Rainbow Drive-In.
He doesn’t mean it, I thought, he’s playing to the hometown crowd. But then it occurred to me, a guy who was a Punahou jock in the ’70s probably consumed his share of mixed plates at Rainbow’s, even if Mariposa and Alan Wong’s are more his speed these days.
Later, I went to the (remarkably well-done) Raiatea Helm concert at the Hawaii Theatre. Afterwards, I ended up at a long table at the back of Like Like Drive Inn, having a post-concert bite with Helm’s extended family, most of them flown over from Molokai.
When you’re on Molokai, apparently, Like Like Drive Inn is where you dream of eating in the big city. They were connoisseurs. They knew the menu cold.
Finally, a friend of mine said he was going to take me to his favorite restaurant, the one he ate at two or three times a week. He picked me up downtown, and we cruised into the heart of Kalihi, to the corner of Dillingham and Waiakamilo Road.
“Here?” I asked, as we pulled into the cramped parking lot of Bob’s Bar-B-Que. “It’s a drive in.”
“Duh,” said my friend.
1366 Dillingham Blvd. // 842-3663 // Monday through Saturday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday through Saturday until 11 p.m.; Sunday 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. // Free parking, major credit cards
Bob’s was humming. It’s the sort of place where you stand in line to order, time best spent surveying the pictures of food arrayed above the window or trying to work your way through the dozens upon dozens of items on the letter-board menu.
In a quandary about what to order, I did what any sensible person would do and ordered the mixed plate ($7.85). Bob’s is basic—two scoops white rice, a scoop of heavily mayo’d macaroni salad, not a vegetable in sight except the bed of chopped raw cabbage under the mound of teriyaki chicken, kal bi and teri beef.
Bob’s is not a kitchen into which you want to spend a long time staring. But whatever state the grill is in, it does a remarkable job, especially on the teri beef, which comes out almost crispy on the edges.
My friend ordered a hibachi chicken combo, the chicken glistening with a slightly too-sweet barbecue sauce ($7.85). It also included, inexplicably, fried shrimp.
We ate happily under the awning at the remarkably thick wooden slab tables, the veneer and even the graffiti worn away by the ravages of time and weather.
On the window, a hand-lettered sign read El Paso Steak, $9.95. On the way out, I asked the gentleman behind the counter just what an El Paso steak might be.
“A New York steak but bigger,” he said. I had to have one, and it’s the best $10 steak in town, maybe a little gristly and fatty around the margins, but seasoned simply but emphatically (salt, pepper, garlic salt?), cut up pupu style, great grilled flavors. Yay, Bob’s!