5 Restaurants to Satisfy Your Craving for An Old-School Burger on O‘ahu
When all you want is beef, bun and a few simple toppings to take you back to your hanabata days.
Ordering a burger can get a little overwhelming nowadays with countless blends of organic, grass-fed meat for your patty and condiments that consist of garlic-sriracha aioli and tomato-bacon jam. Even cheese can get complicated (the choice between chèvre and Gouda can make or break your flavor profile). And of course, you’ll need a fork and knife to cut into your myriad toppings and that glistening brioche bun.
Some days, you just want simple. Enter the old-school burger: a wafer-thin beef patty in a plain, soft bun with mayonnaise and mustard. The toppings are fresh and simple—lettuce, tomato, onion. You can hold it in one hand and take a bite without straining your jaw.
Fortunately, many places across the island still serve up that bite of nostalgia, though time (and stomach) constraints kept this post to five. We can’t guarantee that they’ll transport you back to your middle-school cafeteria.
But they’ll likely come close.
This longtime Windward Mall eatery serves the quintessential cafeteria-style burger. Its most popular menu item, according to loyal customers and employees alike, is the teri burger combo meal. Here, a hamburger patty is bathed in sweet teriyaki sauce and accompanied by iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato. The fries are thin and perfectly crisp, unless you do as the locals do and get teri sauce over everything. If you don’t go through at least 20 napkins, you’re not doing it right.
$8.59, Windward Mall, Kāne‘ohe
While Forty Niner remains a steadfast vestige of Honolulu’s past, its menu is anything but stale. The cheeseburger deluxe with tomato, lettuce, onion and pickles is a satisfying combination of flavors and textures. Beef is mixed with bread and onion for a lighter patty that still offers a nice char. The bun is toasted—a unique touch in this roundup—and accented with a dab of mustard. Next time, we’ll order our burger “dirty” with battered fried pickles, grilled onions and special sauce. Forgo the fries for a bowl of saimin and pancakes to create the ultimate comfort meal.
$6.10, 98-110 Honomanū St., ‘Aiea
Rainbow Drive-In might be famous for its loco moco plate lunch, but the Rainbow Royal burger is mighty popular too. A slice of cheese is tucked between two thin patties with lettuce, onion, tomato and “special yellow sauce,” a mix of mayonnaise, mustard and relish. It’s the perfect grab-and-go snack for beach-bound customers.
$4.50, 3308 Kanaʻina Ave., Kapahulu
St. Louis Drive In
The Autumn Winter Spring Summer combination consists of a barbecue cheeseburger deluxe, a large drink and crinkle-cut fries. The barbecue sauce adds a nice sweetness and moisture to the burger (though unlike H&T, its consistency is more of a coat than a douse). Mayonnaise is thinned for a subtle, creamy note and smartly drizzled between patty and tomato for minimal sogginess. Wash it down with Green River for yet another layer of nostalgia.
$6.15, 3145 Waiʻalae Ave., Kaimukī
W&M Bar-B-Q Burgers
W&M’s steady stream of customers will tell you the burgers here are worth the 30-minute wait. Our pick: the Royal hamburger, which comes with lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese. A tangy balance of savory and sweet appears imbued in the burger itself without much discernible sauce. This patty has a bit more heft than your typical old-school burger and carries a nice char. There’s a thin mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup, but the star condiment here is the relish, which adds a pleasant punch of sweetened tang to every bite.
$5.25, 3104 Waiʻalae Ave., Kaimukī