Ramen Ezogiku – Honolulu, HI


Ramen Ezogiku
2420 Koa Avenue
Honolulu, HI
Tel: (808) 922-2473‎

I admit, curiosity got to me when I saw the distinctive logo hanging from the banner outside this front entrance.  For our readers familiar with Vancouver, yes, this is the same chain that operates the two outlets in the Canadian city, both on Robson Street, going by the name of  Ezogiku Noodle Cafe.

Some more background…  The Tokyo honten (main branch) of Ezogiku is a tiny ten-person counter joint, located in the college-saturated station area of Takadanobaba, and competes with many ramen-ya and inexpensive eateries for the tight student wallet.  Offering a Sapporo-style miso ramen, Ezogiku has been around for over thirty-years and claims to be one of the first to bring true Sapporo miso ramen to the Kanto region.  Forgive me, but my first and only bowl there was way back in 1997, but I can faintly recall that it was pretty decent, a mid-thickness crinkly noodle and a miso soup that was on the heavier side on the fat meter.

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Waiola Bakery & Shave Ice – Honolulu, HI


Waiola Bakery & Shave Ice
525 Kapahulu Ave
Honolulu, HI
(808) 735-8884

One of the several pre-trip, researched spots on my food adventures in Hawaii was Waiola.  It was also noted by someone I know who has a residence in Honolulu that it was along the same road as some others I’d asked him about, so as far as location went, it was perfect.

In a pretty run down looking building, complete with some garish plastic banners and graffiti, Waiola is mainly about the shave ice desserts.  Nothing more refreshing on a hot summer Hawaiian day.  A few other customers came in while we were there, along with a delivery guy who brought in huge cubes of solid ice.

Stepping inside does nothing to improve the sense of it having a dated and in need of a refresh design.  But this is part of the appeal of the place, knowing that despite its popularity and well known name, they haven’t plugged the money into expensive furnishings or makeovers.  At the same time, they’re not avert to plastering the joint with pages from various media publications that have reviewed or profiled the place.

With anywhere from thirty to forty toppings and flavors, Waiola can probably meet any craving you have for a tasty shave ice.  With its distinct soft, fine shavings, I tell you they are addictive.  And you get none of that dreaded “brain freeze” from say a more liquidly-ice concoction.  We tried a trio of flavors.  Pictured above, the adzuki (Japanese sweet bean) and mochi (Japanese rice cake balls) combination.  Easily the version among the three we ordered with the most interesting textures with each bite, and the sweetness was not too strong.

In comparison, this pineapple-flavored very basic shave ice was cleaner in taste profile and probably more refreshing as there was less to have to chew.  The fine shavings once again proved to be excellent – and I enjoyed this one more than the one I had at Island Freeze days earlier, thus confirming that Waiola is one of the best shave ice joints on the island.

Lastly, another Japanese-influenced flavoring in the matcha with mochi provided yet another twist.  Almost like a blended coffee-like drink as the flavoring was “heavier” than just the pineapple syrup of the other dish above.

So as you can see, this was just a sample of a few varieties of shave ice to be had at Waiola.  I’m sure there are many more interesting combinations to choose from, and perhaps if you make a visit, you can try them out for yourself.  If there are any readers who have any recommendations, please do leave them in our comment box for this post!

Waiola Bakery & Shave Ice on Urbanspoon

Rainbow Drive-In – Honolulu, HI


Rainbow Drive-In
3308 Kanaina Ave
Honolulu, HI
Tel: (808) 737-0177

With two of my friends who I managed to rustle out of bed after a busy previous day of driving around the island’s north shore, we took this walking tour up busy Kapahulu Avenue in our quest to find a few local eateries that I had previously researched and been told of by someone I know who has lived on the island.

But it was by pure luck that we also came across the Rainbow Drive-In, as it was not originally on my hit list.  The lineup at the counter as we passed it while traveling northbound made us think we needed to come back for a visit and a brief inquiry about this place to a man in line resulted in him telling us enthusiastically how “amazing the food is here and that we had to try it out”!

After we completed our intended stops up the road, we did just that.

By then, about an hour and a half had passed and the massive lineup had subsided – in hindsight it was probably the lunch hour rush that we’d seen before.  But all of the available tables nearby were still all taken and a few people were in line ahead of us and awaiting their orders at the window on the other side.  A popular place is a popular place regardless of time of day.

Prices across the menu board were very reasonable.  Mixed plates (barbecue, fried chicken, pork cutlets, hamburg steak, sausages, etc.) with sides of rice and salad came in generally at under $7.  Hamburgers, hotdogs and sandwiches were also well represented and nothing was over $4.  A few local tastes such as Mahi Mahi, Loco Moco and what they called a “bento”, were also available.

I found the naming of some dishes that were using Japanese descriptors such as the Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Chicken interesting, until I found out the long time proprietors of the business were Japanese-American.

Given that I’d already had a big bowl of shave ice, and a trio of Malasadas, and an ice coffee within the last ninety minutes, even I had to admit I was quite full already.  But I had to make good on the promise to that man in the line that I would come back and at least try something on the menu.  Pictured above is the Rainbow Special burger ($3.30).  A cute little package, with the beef patties charbroiled, and sandwiched between a nice soft bun.  Quite tasty too for what it was, a low priced basic burger.  Throw in the aura surrounding this popular eatery and the generally good mood I was in on vacation, and it probably elevated my impression of the food.

If I hadn’t eaten as much as I had by that point, I probably would have gone for a mixed plate as well.  There’s always next time, as I am sure I will be back in Hawaii again.

Rainbow Drive-in on Urbanspoon

Vit’s Hawaiian Steak House – Honolulu, HI


Vit’s Hawaiian Steak House
2058 Kuhio Ave
Honolulu, HI
(808) 983-7275

I’ve learned that I sometimes don’t make the best decisions when I am wandering around with no real intentions on my own in a new city.  After a long lazy day spent at the beach, I decided to go for a walk after sunset and stumbled upon Vit’s Hawaiian Steak House, deciding that I should get something to eat for dinner before my other travel mates arrived at the airport later that same evening.

Adjacent to a hotel on the far west end of the Kuhio Avenue before it merges into Kalakaua Avenue, Vit’s has both a decent sized bar and dining area.  A few of the tables and booths were taken by larger groups, and if not for the solo drinkers at the bar, I would have felt more out of place dining alone.  As I was within ear shot of the bar, I overheard a few conversations that suggested to me they were regulars and knew the female bartender quite well.

Recognizing the surf and turf focus on the rather standard menu, I decided to take my chances and ordered the top listed entree, the signature Ono Steak, being Vit’s was proclaiming itself to be a steakhouse after all.  As the above picture depicts, what came out on the plate looked like an oddly shaped/cut slab of beef, that was so-so tender.

Supposedly marinated in an Asian base of soy, ginger, etc. overnight, the flavour was just not as strong as I hoped it would be, and I almost regretted declining the offer of A-1 Sauce (which I despise and which seems so “American” to me).  The accompanying slices of carrots were cooked but still too raw for my tastes, and the mound of mashed potato with gravy ended up being the best part of what was on my plate.

If not for the two tall pints of Kona Longboard Island Lager I had, I think I could have easily walked out of there disappointed and with an empty stomach.

Guess that makes it a double “ono” (oh no!) for me when it comes to meals with the Hawaiian word for “delicious” in the title.

Vit's Hawaiian Steak House on Urbanspoon

Leonard’s Bakery – Honolulu, HI


Leonard’s Bakery
933 Kapahulu Avenue
Honolulu, HI
(808) 737-5591

The story of this local Hawaiian icon weaves through a touching tale of immigration from far away lands in the late-19th century, family ties, hard work, and the origins of how this popular Portuguese confection came to the Islands. I always love hearing the background of ethnic foods/restaurants transplanted to other countries.

Leonard’s bake shop required a larger sized, modern facility in the late 1950’s, and has been in their current location on Kapahulu Avenue ever since.  It clearly has that era’s old school feel to it, from the moment you see the overhanging rafter with a pair of benches to sit on to enjoy your purchases inside, if you’re lucky.  The parking lot can get busy as well, and I even witnessed a fender bender between two cars that were jostling to use one spot.

The L-shaped counter where you place your order with the staff is filled with various baked goods, but I think most people are here for the Malasadas.   These deep fried, doughy balls of goodness coated in sugar are obviously not for the health conscious among us.

In general, Malasadas don’t have that distinct hole in the middle like doughnuts do, but some do have fillings (at Leonard’s they had custard, chocolate and coconut).  As pictured in one of the signs on the counter, this month’s special was Lilikoi (a tart-tasting grapefruit/passion fruit native to many parts of Latin America, areas in the Pacific and even Africa).

As they are freshly made in the back, once you give your order, they come out boxed and ready to go.  I’d recommend you get a few of each type, those dusted with white sugar, cinnamon sugar, and some with the fillings, to get a taste of each type available.

I think this is a growing trend, mainly to increase revenues from other sources when a food brand establishes itself, and Leonard’s also had peripheral goods for sale, including t-shirts.  There was one design my friend liked, but unfortunately they were out of his size.

Without a space to enjoy our bounty, our group walked down the street back towards Waikiki, and found the air conditioned comforts of a seating area within a Safeway store.  The aroma emerging from the open boxes flooded the space and we got the attention of several neighbors, who no doubt knew what we had.

The light but slightly crispy exterior and the fluffy inside was still quite warm when I bit into my first plain Malasada.  The texture was not as dense as I thought, which made for eating more than one in a single sitting quite easy.  I found the custard-filled variety equally as pleasing, and the slight coolness of the filling provided a contrast to the warmth of the dough.  Oh, and the Lilikoi one we sampled, was pretty good too.  I think combined with my tasting of Lilikoi mustard at Puka Dog, I’ve become quite the fan of this exotic fruit.

Leonard's Bakery on Urbanspoon

Todai Restaurant – Honolulu, HI


Todai Restaurant
1910 Ala Moana Blvd # 5
Honolulu, HI
Tel: (808) 947-1000

I debated even bothering with this particular post since it was such a disappointment in terms of both the food and service, but in the interests of not only writing about those places I’ve enjoyed and the incredibly bizarre episode in just getting seated, I thought I should mix in the bad when it does happen…

Out of shear desperation and fatigue after searching with inaccurate information for a seafood restaurant apparently in the same general area, our group stumbled upon the bright lights of Todai.   Having resigned to the fact we would not find what we were looking for, we approached the entrance of this restaurant.  Todai, whenever I hear this word, I immediately associate it with Tokyo University, as that’s its popular shorthand name.  We even joked, heck, maybe the cafeteria at that storied institution was so good, they’d gone the franchise route. 🙂

With about an hour before closing, several diners were making their way to the cash register at the main entrance.  I ducked in and nabbed one of the servers and asked for a table for four.  She said to wait outside for a five minutes, which I obliged, given the apparent rush at the counter of departing customers.

Five minutes soon passed and became ten.  I had enough and stepped back inside and stood face-to-face with the same server I had initially interacted with.  She looked right at me and asked how she could help me.  Clearly this blonde haired, Swedish-accented English speaking girl (you can catch a glimpse of her in the above picture) did not recognize me at all.  So I reiterated that we had spoken just a few minutes before and she’d asked us to wait.

No apology given, she grabbed some menus and led us to some tables and offered us the choice.  As one of them had yet to be cleared from previous diners, we took the obvious clean one.  As we settled into scanning the menus, some others came to clear the other table away, at which point Ms. Genius came back and asked if we wanted the other table now, despite us not having given any indication that we wanted that particular table.  A shake of the head, more so in my disbelief and she was gone never to be seen near our table again, much to our relief.

I’ve heard of poor service due to labor shortages, but this was ridiculous.

Todai is all about the buffet.  An extensive one yes, featuring various seafood and cooked items, as well as desserts.  The place is massive with each food section located in different parts of the restaurant.  Some are staffed by people creating the items (e.g. sushi) but you have no direct interaction with them, and most are self-service (e.g. take as much of whatever you like).

The nigiri, if you can call it that, was absolutely tiny.  I am not sure if the image above gives the full indication of just how small each piece was.  I’ve read more than a few reviews on other sites and comment boards that people enjoy the sushi here, and all I can say is that they have no clue what they are talking about.

The main exception to this rule was the snow crab legs.  Here, a lady behind the glass barrier would give you one set of legs (3 pieces).  Not wanting to keep going back and forth from my table a good 40 feet away, I asked her to give me more.  Reluctantly she did, but I knew not to press my luck by doing it again.  Instead, other members of our group went up there to her and got as many as she was willing to dish out, for the benefit of our table.

Again, not top quality by any means as there was more dead air space in the shell than actual meat, but I’d say it was the only half decent food item in the whole place, and I ended up eating only these.

I can’t begin to describe the wretched mess of cooked items.  Dried out, overcooked shrimp, mushy grilled veggies, and bland tasting noodle concoctions were some of the big lowlights.

A place like Todai just reinforced the stereotype of quantity-over-quality preferring Americans.  So it did not surprise me to learn that this chain originated in California, but was shocked to learn that it had made its way into more food conscious locales such as Hong Kong, Beijing and Seoul.   For about USD30 per person, I can away thinking I got majorly ripped off.

Todai on Urbanspoon

Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck – Kahuku, HI


Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
56-505 Kamehameha Highway
Kahuku, HI 96731
Tel: (808) 221-1518

No trip along with windward side of Oahu up to the North Shore would be complete without a stop at one of the many shrimp trucks conveniently parked roadside for passing hungry travelers.

And probably the first one you’ll see, and the most famous, is Giovanni’s.  Their prominent signage situated on the flatbed of the above white pickup truck is one you cannot miss as you drive along Kamehameha Highway.

The general eating area is a basic setup of picnic tables covered by a large tent tarp, perhaps to ward off any unexpected rainfall that can hit this part of the island, especially in the fall/winter months.  As you’ll noticed when you get closer to the shrimp truck itself, graffiti is everywhere, even on the white fence surrounding the compound.  I figure its a way for tourists and die hard fans to leave their mark and stake their claim to have eaten the shrimp at Giovanni’s.  Without a marker handy, I had to pass on this tradition.

By the time we arrived at the truck it was already 6pm, so we just missed their cutoff of 6:30pm.  Despite the end of day timing, people were still lined up and coming into the parking area behind us as we stood in line.  I wondered why they didn’t stay open even later as the demand is clearly there and the sun did not set til past 8pm (which we caught later on at the amazing Sunset Beach, a short ten minute ride away).

With four of us in our party, we thought we’d try out all four types on the menu and share, including the garlic hot dog.  Unfortunately, we were told that only item #1 was available this late in the day.  Not sure if it was due to running out of ingredients or plain laziness.  Part of me feels it was the latter.

But no matter, as I’d heard the scampi was their best offering.  For a dozen shrimp, two heapings of rice, it priced out at $13, which I’d also heard had gone up from $10 in just a few years.  A ten minute or so wait, and our number was called and two of us returned to the window to pick up our plates.

Our individual reactions to the shrimp scampi was a mixed bag.  I was of the opinion that it was just so-so.  It was heavily loaded with garlic, which I don’t mind, but was doused in lemon butter, making for a really soggy task to try and eat by picking apart the meat from the shells.  The shrimp were in my opinion, a touch on the overdone side – which made me wonder if coming so late in the day I ran into a cook who was rushing through the last couple of orders on higher heat than normal.

The rice itself was very moist and I didn’t really eat any of it.  Part of me wished there was a side salad instead, with a sharp, tart dressing to cut through the heaviness of the plate, as even the rice was slathered with the same oily, garlicky sauce.

As mentioned earlier, the doors to the shrimp truck closed promptly at 6:30pm, with a last call announcement from the window asking if anyone needed any napkins.  This strict compliance with the recognized closing time caught me by a surprise, as its usually not the case in laid back Hawaii.

A washroom built in a structure behind the eating area provided some facilities to get the oiliness off of one’s hands, so don’t despair if you run out of paper napkins to wipe the mess and the truck is long gone.

Also, situated perpendicular to the shrimp truck was another vehicle that served up other drinks and desserts.  As we waited for our order to be prepared, we got a half pineapple to act as an appetizer (seems this is the fruit of choice for pre-meal munchies, as we found out later that week at a luau).

One side of the quarter-cut pineapple was covered in a fine powder called li hing mui, which tasted like plum and had a unique sweet, sour, and salty profile.  I can’t say I really liked it and would rather prefer to have the delicious, sweet Hawaiian pineapple on its own.

For the relative price, I’d say you could probably get the same shrimp scampi dish in a restaurant in the middle of Honolulu.  Some places down in Waikiki are also known to have it, and you can also come across the odd street vendor selling the same.  So I thought the price point was high, given it was in such a secluded place and quite the drive from the main part of the island.

I suppose the real value is the scenery you take in as you make your way up to the North Shore, and to say you had shrimp off the trucks there, thus checking off one item from the general Hawaii tourist list.

Giovanni's Shrimp Truck on Urbanspoon