We spent a month eating our way through Honolulu’s burger joints, putting our cholesterol levels on the line in the pursuit of the Island’s best burger. We weren’t looking for towering, fork-and-knife restaurant concoctions, we wanted a burger burger. After repeated comparisons (just to be sure), Teddy’s Bigger Burger emerged as the best in a crowded field. It marries a hand-formed, 100-percent ground chuck patty with a soft potato bun, photogenic toppings and a secret sauce that’s so good it should really be bottled. Partners Rich Stula and Teddy Tsakiris founded Teddy’s in 1998, because no one in Hawaii was making a burger they really loved. “A lot of businesses are started based on the bottom line. Rich and I simply created a burger joint from our stomachs, selling a burger exactly how we liked it,” says Tsakiris. They’ve since expanded to four locations, each consistently great. 134 Kapahulu Ave., Waikiki, 735-9411; Koko Marina Center, 7192 Kalanianaole Highway, 394-9100; 801 Alakea St., downtown. 599-8770; 539 Kailua Road, Kailua, 262-0820.
Supermarkets have been gussying up their displays and adding specialty foods to entice shoppers looking for such items as cheeses, pates, pastas and olives. But what about us local gourmets, looking for foods and flavors produced by businesses here in Hawaii? For variety and depth in local food products, shop at Times. Bought by California-based PAQ Inc. three years ago, Times has focused on buying from local producers. “It’s part strategy, part necessity,” explained Times president Roger Godfrey. “Our original base of customers demand these products. We started in the produce section and we looked for more products because we think it’s good business.” We couldn’t agree more. Various locations.
In a blind taste test, Young’s Fish Market blew all of its competition away. Even after we warmed up the container of kalua pig we picked up from the Kalihi shop, we could’ve sworn it had come straight from the imu. We were pretty darn close. “We make real imu pig,” says owner Alan Young, whose family founded Young’s 54 years ago. “We have somebody who kaluas the pig for us in an underground stone pit, wrapped in banana leaves and everything. Once it’s delivered to us, we package it in containers for retail.” City Square, 1286 Kalani St., Suite 101. 841-4885.
It’s not hard to find a good chocolate chip cookie on Oahu. But we wanted ours to be awesome. We didn’t care if it was crispy or chewy, nutty or plain, bite-size or gigantic. It simply needed to make us want to fall to our knees and thank the dessert deities for their generosity. We found exactly what we were looking for at the front desk of the Alana Doubletree Hotel. For years, guests at any Doubletree Hotel in the country have enjoyed these cookies upon check-in, and customers can even order them from its bakery in Nashville (1-800-916-0097). But nothing beats buying them directly from the hotel itself, where cookies are baked daily every afternoon. When we first tasted this chewy, walnut-filled, Ghiradelli-chocolate-chip-laden delight, we couldn’t have asked for more. Except maybe a giant glass of milk. 1956 Ala Moana Blvd, 941-7275. Order at least 24 hours in advance.
The best haupia ice cream isn’t even ice cream. It’s a sorbet. But one taste of Tropilicious’ Haupialani sorbet, and we could’ve sworn someone had simply frozen a batch of the Hawaiian dessert and packed it into pint-size cartons. “We use as few ingredients as possible, so it’s as pure as it can be,” says Tropilicious general manager Christopher Mattei. “We make all of our ice cream and sorbets by hand. They’re made in small batches, about nine gallons at a time. It maintains the integrity of the flavor.” Available at most local supermarkets and at Tropilicious’ factory at 206 Mokauea St., Kalihi, 847-1750, www.tropilicious.com.
HPC Foods’ Taro Brand may be better known for producing the most poi in the Islands, but it’s their lomi lomi salmon we’re ono for. We picked up our Taro Brand lomi lomi salmon from the supermarket, but the tomatoes were fresh, crisp. The onions didn’t overpower. And the amount of salmon was perfect. “Each container has a strict shelf life of 10 days, so it’s as fresh as possible,” says HPC’s sales and marketing director, Charin Tomomitsu. “The best part about it is the recipe for the lomi salmon came from one of the aunties in the Tottori family, which still runs the company today. So it had already proven successful over many family dinners before we started to sell it.” Available at most local supermarkets.
Krispy Kreme took Hawaii by storm last year, filling the cabins of interisland flights from Maui with doughnut boxes. It’s a fad, we think, because the best doughnut on Maui since the 1950s been the one made by Komoda Store and Bakery, in Makawao. They’re huge, fried to dark-brown perfection and glazed to within an inch of their lives. General manager Calvin Shibuya says the store’s sales have actually increased since Krispy Kreme opened. “For some reason, when people started comparing doughnuts, ours became the basis on which others are judged,” he says. If you’re picking some up, it’s a good idea to call ahead to reserve an order; Komoda’s hand-made treats generally sell out by lunchtime, sometimes by 10 a.m. 3674 Baldwin Ave. 572-7261.
After sampling nine different brands of locally produced kim chee—and downing countless cups of water, mind you—we found the best: Joe Kim’s Kim Chee. Fresh, crisp cabbage with a delicate balance of salty, sour and spice. Founded in 1938, Joe Kim’s was the first kim chee factory in Hawaii. "One thing my father taught me—and it might sound corny—was to make the kim chee with love," Kim says. "My grandmother also taught me not to measure things out with a measuring cup. You gotta feel it by hand." Kim uses the same basic recipe his grandfather developed more than 60 years ago. He uses only fresh cabbage. He doesn’t add preservatives, relying only on a natural two-day fermentation process instead. With a family legacy like that to uphold, Kim wouldn’t have it any other way. Available at most local supermarkets.
Tofu is a subtle thing. You could be forgiven for thinking that all bean curd is interchangeable. But when pitted head to head against four other local brands, Mrs. Cheng’s tofu emerges as a cut above the rest. The texture is smooth and firm, the taste is clean and full, with an aftertaste of spring water. It’s a joy to eat even plain, dipped in a bit of shoyu. Such a delicate product requires careful preparation: Owner Mao Tzeng pays obsessive attention to the little details, such as how long the soybeans soak before they are cooked. “If the soaking time is too long, the flavor will not be good,” Tzeng says. “Same thing if it’s too short.” He has become so precise that the soaking time varies slightly from winter to summer, because of the temperature change. Available at most local supermarkets.
We’ve never met a Portuguese sausage we didn’t like. If we had to choose a favorite, though, Rego’s Purity sausage has the best mix of garlic and spices, and fries up beautifully. One measure of the company’s popularity: Rego’s supplies the sausage used by Zippy’s and Jack in the Box restaurants in Hawaii. Rego’s Purity Foods recently moved its production from the Mainland back to Palama Meat Co.’s Kapolei facility. By the time you read this, the Purity sausage on local store shelves will all be locally made. Available at most local supermarkets. 947-9005, www.regospurity.com.
Great tomatoes should have a little acidity, a dollop of sweetness and genuine tomato-y flavor—encased in bright red flesh. Hamakua Springs Country Farms, a new variety that surfaced in Oahu supermarkets last year, fits the bill to a tee. Richard Ha, a longtime banana farmer on the Big Island, harvests about 5,000 pounds of these tomatoes weekly. Packaged in clear plastic boxes, these tasty cocktail tomatoes—larger than cherry tomatoes, but smaller than beefsteaks—are grown hydroponically in sterile media under plastic at Ha’s farm in Hamakua. Ha is proud that Alan Wong now serves his tomatoes, dressed up in li hing mui vinaigrette. We like them peeled, spiked in vodka and lemon zest. Or, just plain, straight from the carton. Available at Foodland and Safeway.
Our favorite mochi comes from Kansai Yamoto. The chichidango is wonderfully tender and just sweet enough. The azuki filling in the daifuku is chunky, and retains more bean flavor than the candylike pastes in the other daifuku we tried. Owner Hidemi Matsukawa learned to make mochi in Japan from his mother, who owned a small noodle shop. When he moved to Oahu in 1993, he concocted a secret recipe in an attempt to match his childhood memories. He succeeded, and now sells more than 2,600 pieces a day of both traditional favorites and more new-wave creations. Strawberry and chocolate with fruit are favorites, but Matsukawa also sells such novel delicacies as Oreo cookie mochi and Coca-cola mochi. You can pick up Kansai Yamato mochi at Costco, Sam’s Club, Longs, and most supermarkets, as well as its main location next to Ala Moana Center. 1471 Kapiolani Blvd., 955-9588.
After sampling nine different Korean plate lunches (all including barbecue chicken, kalbi, rice and various sides), we picked Peppa’s Korean BBQ in Makiki. It contained two pieces of tasty kalbi, one mandoo, one freshly fried zucchini, rice and four sides—we especially liked their mac salad, which had a nice, slightly pickle-y taste. But it was their savory, perfectly cooked, ginger-flavored chicken that clinched it for us. Just so happened that Peppa’s also made the biggest plate lunch of the bunch, with its combination plate weighing in at 2 pounds and 12 ounces. All for just $6.95. 1249 Wilder Ave. 528-4988. Although Dong Yang’s didn’t win our overall Korean plate lunch test, we’d be remiss in not recognizing this Wahiawa- establishment’s incredible kalbi. We’re talking giant, chuck rib steak kalbi—not your typical Korean short rib variety—grilled to perfection, still slightly rare on the inside. Trust us, you’ve never seen kalbi like this. 546 Olive Ave. 621-5031.
For a good time, call Leonard’s Bakery. They don’t advertise this particular service. They didn’t even want to talk to us about it. But should there ever be an occasion where you need a naughty cake—you know, a bachelorette party, a buddy’s birthday or a lackluster Tuesday afternoon—Leonard’s is the place to go. If you visit the store, don’t just ask for their cake catalog. You’ll need to ask specifically about their adult cakes. Trust us, this Kapahulu malasada-maker can do anything. And we mean an-y-thaaang. 933 Kapahulu Ave., 737-5591.
Sure, you like to eat well, but items from the gourmet section can add up to a pretty penny. However, if you’re willing to make the drive and dodge the trucks in the parking lot, Y. Hata, food wholesaler, has a Value Store at its Sand Island headquarters. There you can buy 64-ounce cans of roasted peppers and 48-packs of frozen precooked omelets. The real bargains, though, come from the wood racks of high-end products like Italian olive oils, Spanish olives and Dijon mustard that’s really from Dijon, instead of New Jersey. 285 Sand Island Access Road, 845-4492.