67 Fun and Delicious Meals You Can Afford to Eat Every Day in Honolulu
HONOLULU Magazine’s tour of 67 cheap eats, from burgers to soft-shell crab to frugal finds with a view.
LEODA’S KITCHEN AND PIE SHOP OFFERS A MEAT ‘N’ POTATOES POT PIE—SOFT CHUNKS OF BRAISED SHORT RIB BENEATH AN HERB AND CHEESE CRUST.
PHOTO: NINA KUNA
It isn’t hard to eat cheap. After all, Hawaii is packed with plate-lunch places that serve up heaping clamshells of meat and rice. But what if you want to eat well? For you, here’s HONOLULU Magazine’s tour of 67 cheap eats, from burgers to soft-shell crab to frugal finds with a view: fun and delicious meals you can afford to eat every day of the week (and would want to).
Maui: Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop
At this new, rustically-styled eatery, everything is under $15. Sandwiches can be simple and perfect, like the pastrami sandwich ($10.75), housemade rye bread piled high with pastrami. But you must also have pie—both savory and sweet. Try the meat ’n’ potatoes pot pie ($12.75), and to finish, the sweet berry hand-held pie ($5.25), which will remind you of childhood Hostess fruit pies, but so much better, with blackberries, strawberries and blueberries encased in a sugar-crusted flaky pie dough.
820 Olowalu Village Road, Maui, (808) 662-3600, leodas.com.
Try the Egyptian baked chicken, saffron rice and Greek salad as part of a ridiculously un-mini plate ($6). There are also plenty of other options here: vegetarians and meat lovers alike will find sustenance in an Egyptian veggie curry or Moroccan chicken, for instance. For an extra $1.50, upgrade your salad to mango or a vegan Egyptian potato salad, to name just a few. Pair it all with a smoothie, such as the Pineapple Craze ($3), pineapple and peach blended with lychee sorbet, and don’t forget dessert: freshly baked baklava ($1.50).
2469 S. King St., (808) 941-1313.
YOU’LL BE BOWLED OVER AT LUCKY BELLY.
PHOTO: MARK ARBEIT
This new, stylish restaurant in Chinatown has old Chinese ladies dining side by side with the plaid and tattooed set. They come to slurp up ramen in bowls big enough to wash your face in. Both the Lucky Bowl ($8), with a perfect soft-boiled egg, green onion and fresh ginger, and the Shrimp Kimchee Bowl ($12), adorned with tempura shrimp, have a rich, porky, almost milky broth. Lucky belly, indeed.
50 N. Hotel St., (808) 531-1888.
Dew Drop Inn
Drop in? Don’t mind if we do, especially for the vegetarian bean skin ball on choy sum ($9.95), plump packages of shiitake and bamboo shoots wrapped in paper-thin tofu skin. Or order the ground pork and tofu in sesame shao bing ($12.95), and stuff the crumbly, hoisin-flavored mix into shao bing, somewhere between bread and pie crust.
1088 S. Beretania St., (808) 526-9522.
Pork katsu at Ginza Bairin is not your $7 greasy plate-lunch affair. Here, kurobota pork loin katsu can run you $36, making the pork tenderloin katsu sandwich ($10) a deal. Juicy pork, fried light and crispy, is swiped with a plummy tonkatsu sauce and sandwiched between white bread (with the crusts cut off). It’s served alongside a bottomless chiffonade of cabbage salad, with a choice of dressings, including a shiso ume vinaigrette that endows this homely vegetable with a delicacy we never knew it had.
255 Beach Walk, (808) 926-8082.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food
Helena’s famous pipikaula short ribs are gratifying in their crunchy, chewy, beef jerkylike exterior, providing contrast to their thick, meaty insides. Dip them in chili-pepper water and round out the meal with smoky kalua pig and salty lomi salmon, all part of “Menu C” ($14.95). Fixin’s also include poi, onions, coarse Hawaiian salt and haupia.
1240 N. School St., (808) 845-8044, helenashawaiianfood.com.
Hiroshi Eurasian Tapas
Be ready and waiting when Hiroshi Eurasian Tapas opens its doors at 5:30 p.m. to grab one of the 15 seats at the bar, then reward your taste buds with an hour of half-off regular menu prices. Not to be missed: the sizzling hamachi carpaccio ($6.25), paper-thin slices of fish, diced tomatoes and tofu in a pool of truffled ponzu. Bonus: Order off Vino’s menu when both restaurants are open—we recommend the oven-roasted Maine lobster ($9.50) with risotto, porcini mushrooms and smoked trout caviar bathed in a creamy tarragon buerre blanc.
Restaurant Row, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., (808) 533-4476.
GOLDEN RIVER’S BANH HOI.
PHOTO: MARTHA CHENG
Golden River Restaurant
Skip the line at Pho to Chau next door and ignore Golden River’s unfortunate name (lost in translation perhaps?). Have fun assembling your own rice-paper spring rolls with the banh hoi ($13.50), a big-enough-for-two plate of sugar-cane shrimp, pork meatballs, grilled pork and pressed, thin vermicelli. Take a round of rice paper and stuff it with meat, some vermicelli, mint and Thai basil, roll it up, and dunk it into a fish sauce and lime dip. It’s also easy to gorge on banh xeo ($9.75), a crispy, chewy rice-flour crepe overflowing with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts.
198 N. King St., (808) 531-1185.
Nabe and hot pot are everywhere these days, but one of the original and best places to go is Ichiriki, where all of the soup bases are tasty (in particular, though, we like the pirikara, a spicy shoyu base). The lunchtime nabe ($11.95) comes with your choice of thinly sliced chicken, pork or beef, and a heaping plate of enoki and shiitake mushrooms, abura age (deep-fried tofu that soaks up all the broth like a sponge) and meatballs made with ground pork and chicken. After all that good stuff has helped enrich the soup, order ramen ($1.50) to throw in the pot and absorb what’s left. (Prices for late-night nabe, from 9:30 p.m. to closing, are also under $15.)
510 Piikoi St., (808) 589-2299, ichirikinabe.com.
In the spicy kimchi sujebi ($9.95), the homemade sesame noodles arrive as wide, chewy shards, green and herby from sesame leaves, in a kimchi broth with plenty of vegetables. Make sure to finish with pat bing soo ($4.95), Korean-style shave-ice loaded with azuki beans, fresh fruit and mochi, with a bit of roasted sesame powder hidden in the powdery-soft ice.
911 Keeaumoku St., (808) 943-6000.
Jawaiian Irie Jerk Restaurant
Chef Cassie’s restaurant in Kaimuki resembles his old lunch truck with vibrant colors, reggae music and a relaxed vibe. His delicious Jamaican food hasn’t changed much either: Jamaican Jerk Chicken ($13.95) is fall-off-the-bone tender, infused with Cassie’s overnight jerk marinade. For vegetarians, the Jamaican ital stew ($10.95), a Rastafarian dish, has a variety of root veggies in curry coconut sauce.
1137 11th Ave., (808) 388-2917, jawaiianiriejerk.com.
KISS MY GRITS’ FRIED CHICKEN PLATE, CAT HEAD BISCUITS AND SWEETENED ICE TEA.
PHOTO: MARK ARBEIT
Kiss My Grits
From the darlin’ blue interior to the welcoming “Y’all take a seat” sign, this small dining room fully embraces its local niche as a Southern-style restaurant. Dive right into crunchy, crusty goodness with the two-piece fried chicken plate ($8.95), which comes with hush puppies, coleslaw and a deviled egg. Pair your entrée with a buttery, moist cat head biscuit ($2.95) and slather on the homemade apple butter or jam. Down your morsels with sweetened ice tea ($2.50), served in a Mason jar. The Cape Fear crab-cake plate ($15.95) is also stellar—two large, deep-fried patties that go down as easy as pie . . . or, in this case, chunky bread pudding ($4.50) with bourbon sauce.
1035 University Ave., (808) 348-0626, kissmygritsyall.com.
La Cucina Ristorante Italiana
In this new little eatery, there are many hearty pasta dishes $15 and under. One of our favorites is the trenette Bolognese ($15), in which the slow-cooked ground veal, pork and beef sauce works its way into all the crevices of the long, wide, slightly kinky noodles.
Imperial Plaza, 725 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite C112, (808) 593-2626.
You could call this fast-food udon—bowls are cheap (from $3.75 to $6.25), assembled via assembly line and come out fast. But there’s no denying each bowl’s long-lasting comfort. Noodles are made from scratch daily, topped with plenty of crunchy tempura bits and green onion, and dipping sauces come with fresh grated ginger. You won’t find a better bowl of udon at this price on the island.
2310 Kuhio Ave., (808) 931-6000.
Ming’s Chinese Restaurant
People come here just for the xiao long bao ($6.95), dumplings filled with ground pork and all their juices, one of the most perfect bites of food ever invented. You won’t go wrong with those, but sheng jian bao ($6.95) are also good, like mini, pan-fried manapua. Carbo-load further on the mantou ($6.95), slightly sweet, fluffy buns. There are 12 to an order, half are steamed, the others fried. Dip them in the sweetened, condensed milk they come with, and you’ve got dessert.
1414 Dillingham Blvd., Suite 101, (808) 841-8889.
CAFE JULIA’S VIETNAMESE-INSPIRED SALAD, $12.
PHOTO: COURTESY CAFE JULIA
Salad as a meal
Vegetables and greens don’t usually fall in the realm of cheap eats; it’s far easier to find inexpensive fried chicken and burgers than salads. Here, we give you five delicious reasons to eat your vegetables.
The Vietnamese-inspired salad ($12) is a traditional Vietnamese vermicelli bowl dressed up with impeccable ingredients (MAO Farms organic greens and pickled, thinly sliced radishes and carrots, tender, grilled pork) while maintaining all the flavors that make it great: fresh cilantro, mint and a chili-lime dressing to add vibrancy and bite.
In the Downtown YWCA, 1040 Richards St., (808) 533-3334, cafejuliahawaii.com.
We’re guessing Sorabol wants to keep this salad a secret to non-Koreans. How else to explain the hae dupbap’s ($14.99) demure translation as “rice topped with vegetables” when it’s actually a thrilling raw ahi rice salad? A giant bowl holds chunks of ahi, shredded seaweed and daikon, tobiko, and chopped green leaf lettuce. Mix in the spicy, tangy, sweet dressing, fragrant with sesame oil, and the bowl of rice that comes on the side. What you get: a simultaneously warm and cold salad, crisp and soft, and incredibly filling, especially when you take into account the banchan and soup included.
805 Keeaumoku St., (808) 947-3113, sorabolhawaii.com.
Beet Box Café
Tucked in the back of Celestial Natural Foods, this little café (and its cooks) groove to their own beat. Any of the items on its menu will fulfill your veggie lust, but for your salad fix, get the Greektown salad with falafel ($14.50), crunchy balls of herby goodness.
66-443 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, (808) 637-3000.
The Macro Plate ($9.50) changes almost daily, delivering a vivid salad of diverse flavors and textures. Ginger miso slaw is heaped with a grain salad (miso barley and soybean one day, hoisin quinoa with jicama the next), roasted red beets and orange kabocha, and homemade pickles (anything Kale’s cooks can get their hands on—daikon, green papaya, or apple).
Inside Kale’s Natural Foods, Hawaii Kai Shopping Center, 377 Keahole St. #A-1, (808) 396-6993.
California Pizza Kitchen
New on the menu at the ever-popular eatery is the caramelized peach salad ($13.15). You won’t go hungry after its mix of cool field greens, spinach, dried cranberries, red onions, toasted pecans and Gorgonzola cheese, capped with hot, sweet peaches. We tried it with bacon ($2 more), because … bacon! But we have to say we’ve learned that bacon does not, in fact, go with everything. Go with chicken ($4 extra) or shrimp or salmon ($4.50 each) instead.
Multiple locations on Oahu, cpk.com.
The chef probably won’t let you order, preferring you leave the choices up to him. But if you do get a chance to pick your own menu items, don’t miss the fried, firm tofu ($7.75) with garlic sauce, topped with fried basil leaves, or crab stir-fried noodles ($11.95), both dishes an addictive blend of salty, sweet, hot and sour.
66-460 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, (808) 381-8091.
At what other Thai place can you get soft-shell crab on drunken noodles ($13), with deep-fried, crunchy and succulent crab, bedded with saucy wide rice noodles? Other deviations from the Thai curry and pad thai routine include crispy, battered fish dressed with yellow curry ($12).
95-390 Kuahelani St., Suite 3C, Mililani, (808) 853-4724.
Serg’s Mexican Kitchen
Take a cue from the sign boasting “home of the famous flautas,” and order the flautas plate ($9.95). It’s one of the most popular dishes at the small Manoa eatery for good reason: the beef is well-seasoned, the tortilla perfectly fried and crispy, all topped with avocado salsa, fresh, diced onions, cilantro and cheese. A side of black beans and rice go along with the flauta’s fried goodness. Finish dinner with a fresh-made churro ($1.50). Even better, Serg’s is BYOB.
2740 E. Manoa Road, 988-8118. There’s also a location in Waimanalo: 41-865 Kalanianaole Highway, (808) 259-7374.
GRAPEFRUIT BREAD PUDDING AT OASIS.
PHOTO: KICKA WITTE
Kauai: Oasis on the Beach
The restaurant’s name lives up to its setting on the water. For Sunday brunch, soak in the sun and salt air while filling up on biscuits and gravy chock full of pork sausage ($12). Or answer the siren call of dessert-for-breakfast with grapefruit bread pudding topped with hibiscus anglaise and white chocolate-lavender gelato ($8, fruit varies depending on the season).
4-820 Kuhio Highway, Kapaa, Kauai, (808) 822-9332, oasiskauai.com.
Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar
The words “$12 steak” may not inspire confidence, but fear not—roughly twice a month, usually on a Thursday, Vino slashes the price of its $25 steak down to a mere dozen dollars. You get an 8-oz. New York-cut of antibiotic- and hormone-free, organic steak from Vintage Natural Meats, in a roasted shallot red wine demi glace, with broccolini and Tuscan mashed potatoes. Worth every penny at full price, twice as nice at half the price. Call or check the website for availability.
Restaurant Row, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., (808) 524-8466, www.vinohawaii.com.
SHOCHAN HIROSHIMAYAKI’S PORK OKONOMIYAKI.
photo: rae huo
Shochan’s Hiroshima-style pork okonomiyaki ($7.80) is the ultimate Japanese comfort food of hearty proportions at a reasonable price. It’s all about the layers. Watch the chef cook at his griddle as he piles on the batter, soba noodles, cabbage, pork, egg and, finally, a hefty slather of okonomiyaki sauce with mayonnaise and bonito flakes. So oishii!
449 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 225-0603.
On the farm
Everyone’s touting local these days—what better place to get farm-fresh than on the farm?
KAHUKU FARMS’ VEGETABLE PANINI.
PHOTO: MATT MALLAMS
Give the shrimp trucks a rest and sink your teeth into Kahuku Farms’ vegetable panini ($9.50) at the Farm Café. It’s stuffed with grilled eggplant, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes and fresh-pulled mozzarella, all dressed in a creamy, herby sauce and pressed between fresh bread. For dessert, indulge in the hot, grilled banana bread (bananas from the farm, naturally), doused in caramel and vanilla-haupia sauce ($5.50). Almost everything, even the vanilla, is grown and made on the farm.
56-800 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku, (808) 628-0639, kahukufarms.com.
Sweet Home Waimanalo
Here, you’re not so much dining on the farm as you are under it. Sample baby greens growing on the rooftop garden in the FarmRoof superfoods salad ($12), loaded with avocado and tomatoes, dusted with hemp seeds and served with a raw coconut vinegar and mac nut dressing. For those needing meat, go with the combo plate ($13) and choose from the pulled BBQ pork, beef brisket, or honey-citrus chicken, which you’ll want to smother with one of the homemade sauces: smoky-sweet guava chipotle or beer barbecue sauce. Each plate comes with sweet, tender cornbread and choice of sides, which should absolutely include the bok choy slaw, a refreshing, crunchy change from the usual. Desserts are fabulous, whether a moist and chewy coconut butter mochi ($4.25) or fruit tart ($4.25), which might be a zingy ginger and mango tart or lilikoi.
41-1025 Kalanianaole Highway, Waimanalo, (808) 259-5737, sweethomewaimanalo.com.
A stop at Kahumana Organic Farm and Café rounds out a perfect, sun-kissed day playing at westside beaches. Head toward the Waianae mountains and sit in the café’s shaded lanai, from where you can overlook mango trees, rows of taro and other vegetables that might end up on your plate. The daily special ($12-$15) utilizes much of the produce from the farm: The last time we went, a fresh, juicy mango salsa topped sautéed ono, rounded out by okra and a heap of stir-fried tatsoi.
86-660 Lualualei Homestead Road, Waianae, (808) 696-8844, kahumana.org.
These aren’t fast food burgers. The attention to detail and techniques borrowed from high-end kitchens make these burgers worth the price.
The Whole Ox Deli
A burger for $11 may seem pricey, but The Whole Ox’s dry-aged, twice-ground, half-pound burger is certainly hearty. The dry-aging intensifies the beef flavor, which is left to shine with just a bit of caper aioli and grilled onions between thick buns. Pair the burger with the amazing fried potatoes ($4), craggy, crispy edges giving way to fluffy, starchy bliss.
327 Keawe St., (808) 699-6328, wholeoxdeli.com.
THE FERAL PIG’S FERAL BURGER.
PHOTO: KICKA WITTE
Kauai: The Feral Pig
The Feral Burger ($12) is worthy of its title. It’s an aggressive burger, with a patty made of Kauai ground beef and house-smoked, ground pork, topped with thick slices of pork belly, sautéed onions, cheddar and aioli. Get it as sliders or a full sandwich. Either way, it’s a show (and heart) stopper.
3501 Rice St., Lihue, Kauai, (808) 246-1100.
Don’t think of Morning Glass just for individually-brewed Stumptown and house-roasted coffees. Our order here always includes the Better Burger ($10.50) when available (Fridays and Saturdays). The highlights: freshly ground grass-fed, local beef and rotating selection of toppings like melted Gouda, crispy bacon, shimeji mushrooms and peppery baby arugula, served on a grilled ciabatta roll.
2955 E. Manoa Rd., (808) 673-0065.
Maui: Sure Thing Burger
Nowhere else in the state can you get a burger as envisioned by a two-Michelin-starred chef. Josiah Citrin of Melisse in Los Angeles has opened what his chef Josh Blain calls “a chef-driven burger joint.” What that means: 100 percent Maui beef for the thin, hand-pressed patty between a soft, toasted bun. Everything, from the buns to the sauces and spice blends, are Sure Thing’s own recipe. But it’s not so much a gourmet burger as a classic one done well. There’s also a spiced pork burger ground in-house from pork shoulder and belly, topped with Kona barbecue sauce, slaw and grilled onions, and a juicy, flavorful turkey burger ground from whole turkeys, punched up with a basil-apple sauce. All burgers are $6.70 for kamaaina.
790 Front St., Lahaina, Maui, Suite I270, (808) 214-6982.
’50S HIGHWAY FOUNTAIN.
PHOTO: DAVID CROXFORD
Big Island: ’50s Highway Fountain
Pay your respects to the King in the Elvis Room, then sink into a booth and order some food. More authentic diners along Route 66 would have a hard time beating the freshness of Highway Fountain’s fish and chips ($10.95), ono encased in a light and crispy beer batter. For something more diner-esque, Big Island beef hamburgers ($6.95) have just the right amount of char, and a malted vanilla milk shake ($4.35) completes the picture.
35-2704 Old Mamalahoa Highway, Laupahoehoe, Hawaii Island, (808) 962-0808.
Big Island: Big Island Brewhaus
While you could easily drink your dinner here, sampling the 13 house-brewed beers on tap, your night (and morning) will go much smoother if you get something to eat. Try the Baja fish tacos ($12.95), crispy battered fish on flour tortillas, topped with a creamy cilantro sauce, guacamole and fresh, bright salsa.
64-1066 Mamalahoa Hwy. #A, Waimea, Hawaii Island, (808) 887-1717, bigislandbrewhaus.com.
Big Island: Puka Puka Kitchen
In Hilo, Puka Puka Kitchen’s falafel, lamb and ahi plates all hit the spot, but nothing satisfies there—or anywhere, really—quite like the fried oysters ($13.33). They come breaded in panko and served on a bed of garlic fried rice beside a mountain of mixed greens, with a delightful goat-cheese balsamic dressing. For your BYOB convenience, there’s a KTA supermarket just around the corner, because nothing goes with fried oysters quite as well as cold beer (price varies).
270 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, Hawaii Island, (808) 933-2121.
LOTUS CAFE’S INDIAN CURRY IN A COCONUT RICE CREPE.
PHOTO: JOSH FLETCHER
Big Island: Lotus Café
Southeast Asian and Indian food meet a natural foods restaurant in Lotus Café. The restaurant runs solely on solar energy, and the six-page menu touts its GMO-, dairy and gluten-free fare. Vegans and carnivores can dine side by side here, on spice-spiked meat and veggie dishes. A favorite is the Indian curry in a coconut rice crepe ($14.95), a spongy crepe folded over veggies cooked in Malabar curry, jammed with cumin, turmeric, tamarind, ginger and chili in a tomato base. A side of cucumber raita soothes the palate.
73-5617 Maiau St., Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Island, (808) 327-3270.
Start the day off right by keeping your belly and wallet full.
SWEET E’S KALUA PORK EGGS BENEDICT.
PHOTO: MONTE COSTA
Try Sweet E’s stuffed French toast ($8.95), in which three fat slices of French toast envelop blueberries and cream cheese, for a dish that can’t make up its mind if it’s dessert or breakfast. If you’re not up for a sugary morning, the kalua pork eggs Benedict ($12.95) is a savory alternative. Paired with a perfectly poached egg, the English muffin holds up well, and the shredded, smoky meat melds beautifully with the hollandaise sauce. Use your choice of starch—rice, hash browns, potatoes or fried rice ($1.50)—to mop up the last of the runny egg off your plate.
1016 Kapahulu Ave., Suite 185, (808) 737-7771.
East Oahuans know to ask for the special biscuit ($1.35), a fluffy, softball-size pastry, to be split, lightly grilled and slathered in whipped honey butter. Everything else, from the 11 different omelettes to the onion-and-gravy-smothered hamburger steak and eggs (all for less than $10), is, well, gravy. Our pick: “Jack’s Breakfast” ($6.75), which comes with two eggs, choice of meat (ham, bacon, sausage or corned beef hash) and, of course, a biscuit. Live a little and shell out for a side of fried rice ($.95).
Aina Haina Shopping Center, 820 W. Hind Drive, (808) 373-4034.
You’ll need a fork, knife and hearty appetite to cut through the Santa Monica Benedict ($10.95), two poached eggs perched on a mound of sautéed spinach, crisp asparagus, thick slices of ham and toasted bolilo bread, covered in a creamy garlic-basil hollandaise. Or find divine inspiration in the hurricane rice bowl ($12.95), a brunch-inspired bibimbap with heaps of shredded daikon, lettuce, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, cucumbers, and bean and radish sprouts. Mix in flavorful strips of prime rib, eggs and (oh, no, they didn’t) bacon kim chee fried rice, then top with a generous helping of chili paste.
815 Keeaumoku St., (808) 942-0505.
We admit, this restaurant isn’t known for its cheap eats, but come brunch-time on Sundays, all entrées include an all-you-can eat mini pancake bar. We only wish those tiny addictive rounds, studded with blueberries, macadamia nuts or chocolate chips, were cooked faster. Instead, we savor our bites of smoked ham and cheese omelette or juicy kiawe-grilled chicken panini with salty notes of crisp fried capers (both $14.95), then sit back, soak in the restaurant’s view of the marina, and wait for the next batch.
Hawaii Kai Shopping Center, 377 Keahole St., (808) 395-6224.