11 Hawai‘i General Stores You Must Visit
Hole-in-the-wall general stores dishing up their own eats— even if it’s just one ‘ono item—are a beloved part of Island life. Here are a few of Hawai‘i’s best.
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Photos: Steve Czerniak, Graphic: Kristin Lipman
Butter mochi and spam musubi on the counter, still warm in the plastic wrapper. Fresh poke mixed before your eyes. Curious house specialties, local products of wit and whimsy … You’ve got to love Hawai‘i’s hole-in-the-wall general stores.
Humble to the point of ramshackle, they’ve earned a place in our hearts for all those drive-around-the-island days of our youth, when we were starving and pooled damp dollar bills for a picnic spread on the overheated hood of a Toyota.
Sometimes, though, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” as Joni Mitchell reminded us. So when’s the last time you hugged Fort Ruger Market, Ching’s or Kahuku Superette? Isn’t it time you went back?
With that in mind—and hoping you can go home again—the HONOLULU team hit the road for a tasting tour. Our criteria were strict: groceries with grinds (aka no TP, no rating); some kind of food special that earned the hype; and, of course, local to the max. Some of our old favorites no longer exist; perhaps, overwhelmed by competition, they threw in the towel. But jewels in the rough abound, as you’ll see in these pages:
Open Since 1949
Alicia’s Market is still a family-run favorite. Leonard Kam, president and manager, with sons Chris and Brad, who both work there alongside other family members.
left Photo: Steve Czerniak, Right Photo: Olivier Koning
Hawai‘i’s general stores achieve greatness by quietly upending the conventional convenience-store approach. Sure, they offer the same things people need right now and don’t want to brave traffic to get—drinks, snacks, smokes, a roll of TP or breath mints. But the great ones tweak the formula by listening to the customers until the menu tastes of genius.
No one does it better than Alicia’s, many would say. Since its birth as a small wooden hut in 1949, started by Alicia and Raymond Kam, the menu mix has gradually grown to more than most stores could handle. That’s Leonard Kam, the president and son of the founders, standing behind the famous poke bar. It has up to 30 varieties of seafood and salads, thanks to continual experimentation that yields poke delights such as smoked tako, spicy scallop, clam and mussel.
The newest is lomi ‘ō‘io, which Chris Kam, the 28-year-old grandson of the founders, describes as “deconstructed fishcake” —the ‘ō‘io meat is de-boned, then mixed with limu, onions and a bit of salmon for flavor.
But what probably first catches the eye is the store’s classic Chinese meat shop: The hanging roast pigs and chickens join char siu ribs, roast beef, steak and those funky turkey tails. Chris Kam sees its increased popularity among his age cohort. “Friends come in because they can’t find char siu or roast pork. They take it home and cook it up with choi sum or kimchee.”
Indeed, though built on the appetites of the blue-collar workforce of the surrounding neighborhood, Alicia’s has found new followers all over town, including the CrossFit gym members down the road. Might the Old General Store Diet supplant the Paleo Diet?
“They come in for salads and poke bowls and roast beef salads,” Chris Kam says with a laugh. “Because I’m younger, I see how people my age want to eat. We’re getting back to the local foods. When we go out to eat, we don’t look for the modern stuff, we look for classics that have been reinvented, that have a twist to them.”
One thing that won’t change is the marketing plan. “My dad always said go by word of mouth,” says Chris Kam. “You can always trust what a person tells you.” That and your nose, in the case of the roast pork as the aroma fills the room.
267 Mokauea St., Honolulu, 841-1921
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