Drivin' to Drive In

Looking for Hawaii’s culinary history? You can drive right up to it.


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The Grill at Diamond Head Market
3158 Monsarrat Ave.  // 732-0077 // Daily 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.  // Free parking, major credit cards  // www.diamondheadmarket.com


The Grill at Diamond Head Market may be a new-style drive in, but its teri beef is classic.

Photo by: Linny Morris

“I’m doing drive ins,” I told the friend I was taking to lunch.

“You’re kidding,” she said. “You’re going to take me to a drive in?”

We compromised, heading for the Grill at Diamond Head Market. By the standing definition, the Grill at Diamond Head Market is, in fact, a drive in. It was the former Burgerland. You order at a window, get handed your food through a window, and can eat at one of the few tables scattered about in the sun.
But it’s perhaps a Drive In Nouveau, since it’s owned by the considerably accomplished chef Kelvin Ro, who brought over such items as his Portobello mushroom in balsamic jus.

My drive-in-dubious friend ordered an eggplant and chicken in marinara plate, with not mac but green salad and brown rice ($9.25).

I was not about to lose my resolve, however, and ordered a Hawaii Drive In classic, the teri beef plate ($9.50).

Instead of slathered in a teri sauce after cooking, Diamond Head Market’s teri beef is thoroughly marinated, so it’s tender, full of flavor, able to stand up to teri beef anywhere. It came with a mesclun of chopped lettuce, won bok and assorted greens in a honey-mustard dressing.

However, wanting the full drive-in experience, I ordered a side of mac salad—full of green onion, hard-boiled egg, olives, potatoes and that fake crab called surimi.

I did better than my high-end friend. The grilled eggplant, the tomato ragout, with pesto and feta cheese were flat-out delicious, but the chicken breast was a little tired and dry. She did, however, go nuts on her side of fries, proving that drive ins get to everyone.

Outside of the Green River, I’d been drinking a lot of diet soda with my meals, a large diet soda now being the size of a small bucket. At Diamond Head Market, however, let me recommend the Hawaiian honey lemonade, which actually tastes of lemons and honey.


Forty Niner Restaurant
98-110 Honomanu St., Aiea  // 484-1940 // Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.  // Free parking (limited), cash only

That was enough culinary innovation—I wanted to get back to history.

For years, I’ve passed the Forty Niner Restaurant on the way to Pearlridge, each time feeling a pang that I’d never eaten at a place established in 1947 and named for the hopes, I always assumed, that Hawaii would become the 49th state. (It wasn’t. Like the football team, it was named after the prospectors of the California Gold Rush.)

I was, in a sense, too late. The original owners had closed the place in 2006, and it had been painted and cleaned up a little and reopened by new owners. Still, it has that nostalgic look—though, admittedly, it’s actually more of a fountain, with counter and tables, than a drive in.

Still, you had to love the metal chairs with the red Naugahyde upholstery tacked down with round brass-headed tacks.

We loved the place, but the food, many dishes of which are from the original menu, reminded you that food in Hawaii in 1947 was not always terrific.
I’d maintained a no-burger policy through the month. I was doing drive ins, not drive-throughs. But the friend I was with insisted it was heresy to come here and not have a teri burger deluxe. It used to crack me up when I moved to Hawaii that “deluxe” meant your burger came with one slice of tomato, maybe a pickle slice or two and a lonely lettuce leaf. That’s deluxe?

The small burger with a characterless teri sauce disappointed him, though you have to wonder what you could expect for $3.25, french fries $2.75 extra. I was about to say I told you so, when I tasted my bland fried saimin with overbattered, hard and greasy garlic chicken.

“So much for nostalgia,” said my friend.

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