Island Freeze – Honolulu, HI


Island Freeze
International Market Place
2330 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, Hawaii
Tel: (808) 971-2080
Open Daily 10:00am-10:30pm

Smack dab in the middle of the tourist and hotel district of Waikiki, is an outdoor shopping centre called the International Market Place that has its own little food court area.

It is a reprieve price-wise, from all of the other eateries and restaurants that market to out-of-towners milling around on the nearby streets.  This eating area is no different in setup from any standard food court you find in a North American mall – only that the food tenants are all mom-and-pop and represent a wide variety of cultures.  Surprisingly, no commercialized McDonald’s or Starbucks inside.  Just rattling a few off from memory, I recall seeing food offerings that were Chinese, Korean, Greek, Mexican, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Hawaiian, and a few others.

As reported earlier, I was already in the area and wanted something cool and refreshing as the summer heat was still bearing down hard and I needed to rehydrate some more after my quick meal at Ono. The photo above was taken after the sun went down, facing the main entrance of the International Market Place.

Now I’d heard of Hawaiian-style Shave Ice before coming to the islands (and got some recommendations from my Honolulu-based friends of some of the best ones to try during my stay – look for future posts), and I headed straight to the Island Freeze.  I wanted to get a quick introduction to the various types and flavours that are part of this ice cold treat.

Here is a bare bones shave ice, undecorated by any other ingredients aside from some liquid flavourings.  Island Freeze allows you to choose up to three flavours to add, and I went with strawberry, lychee and pineapple.  As you can see, it came served in this flower-shaped, light plastic cup container, with a spoon and straw to help you eat it.

Now I realize its just ice, but the texture of it was different from say a 7-11 Slurpee or if you were to slash off fine layers of ice with a sharp blade.  Its neither too flaky so the flavourings aren’t absorbed, or too soft such as in a Slurpee where the liquid dominates.  I think its a combination of the way its shaved and the temperature of the ice that keeps it just so.  The trio of tastes made eating this interesting, as you could just shuffle the cup around to another section and scoop up a new flavour sensation.

All in all, a very refreshing treat!

Island Freeze on Urbanspoon

Ono Cheese Steak – Honolulu, HI


Ono Cheese Steak
2310 Kuhio Ave
Honolulu, HI
Tel: (808) 923 8080

Taking in something from far away and making it one of their own seemingly is done many times over when it comes to food on the Hawaiian Islands. I suppose it makes sense given how remotely situated the lands are geographically from just about every other society on the planet. And of course, the reach of mainland America (e.g. military) and the influx of so many immigrants the world over that have infiltrated so many aspects of Hawaiian life, especially the food scene are also to “blame”.  Finding cheese steak sandwiches in Honolulu was just another example of this phenomenon.

After doing a completely touristy activity by travelin out of Waikiki to do the hike at Diamond Head and checking out some beaches further west on Oahu island, the return bus dropped me off on busy Kuhio Avenue right in front of this establishment.  Having not eaten yet that day (it was already the afternoon) and discovering that “ono” means “delicious” in the Hawaiian language and not the surname of an ethnic Japanese resident proprietor, I figured it was worth checking out.

Immediately at the entrance, there was a large board hanging overhead that listed the variations available.  About a dozen choices were listed, split between those based on steak or chicken as the main protein.  The standard toppings such as sauteed onions, garlic, cheese, etc. and my personal favorite mushrooms were all on hand.  Heck, you could even choose to drop the meat and swap in spinach and have a vegetarian version.  But from my recollection, nothing particularly Hawaiian in nature or a local taste twist.  I believe there were three sizes as well, of which I elected to get the smallest one (7″), knowing I was going to venture across the street to get some dessert (more on that in a future post).

Apologies for the section missing from this image of my small mushroom cheese steak, but I had a difficult time snapping a shot without one of the employees who was working directly in front of me noticing.  So I waited a while until another customer came in and she was distracted, but by then I had to take a bite.  The bread had been lightly toasted, and the ingredients clearly fresh and hot as it was made-to-order.  I could have used more cheese in the mix and perhaps more seasoning of the meat itself.  [I understand that Ono’s does have some that are pre-made and available for sale in other locations such as convenience outlets next to gasoline stands.]

I’m not sure though if it was the really hot weather or the fact that I was more dehydrated than hungry but I didn’t come away thinking that this was a fantastic representation of a philly cheese steak. Not that I’ve had the real deal in the City of Brotherly Love, but I’ve had pretty good ones in other places in continental North America.

And compared to the earlier reviewed and tasted Puka Dog, this meat in a bun was a far-back second place finisher, and had none of the unique, local taste combinations.

Ono Cheese Steak on Urbanspoon

Puka Dog – Honolulu, HI


Puka Dog
Waikiki Town Center
2301 Kuhio Avenue #2
Honolulu, HI 96815
Tel: (808) 924-7887
Hours: Monday – Sunday, 10AM to 10PM

Refreshing twists to orthodox food or dishes is a delicate balancing act when it comes to yours truly…

For some things, I am a devout traditionalist and really appreciate those who respect the “old way” and cringe at words like fusion, or “east meets west”.  At other times, I am much more lenient with a chef’s creative inspirations and open minded to trying something “different” from the classic interpretation.

I can’t say I have a hard and fast rule to describe where this fine line exists, but it could be that it rests with just how “common” a food item may be.  The more “everyday man” food it is, the greater the probability that I will accept a variation that is above and beyond the standard image I hold of it in my mind.  Dear readers, would you say you hold a similar or contradictory mentality when it comes to “new ways of doing food”?

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It was by just sheer chance that I came across Puka Dog while strolling along Kuhio Avenue.  Previous to me stepping in front of the doors, I had never heard anything about this place and thus was unaware that it had a cult following and had received some press from the likes of the Travel Channel (as the manager of the store keenly mentioned to me when he asked what brought me to his counter).

I responding that the lettering on the glass window facing the street suggested to me it was something unique and thus curiosity got to me.  The influence of Japadog in Vancouver probably got me thinking this way –  another way of presenting and flavouring simple hot dogs?  That’s something I just had to try.

The ordering process is your basic conveyor line approach.  Walk inside and the cashier takes your order.  Step one, choose either the Polish sausage or Veggie dog –  the latter being a much thinner wiener from what I saw (and apparently harder to get cooked right in their grill).  Next, select the heat level of the “garlic lemon secret sauce”: Mild Original, Spicy Jalepeno, Hot Chili Pepper, or Hot Hot Habanero.

Then the flavouring choices diverts into two paths: Tropical Relishes or Traditional (ketchup, mustard, regular relish).  Not sure why you’d want to go with the latter, as that doesn’t really make the whole experience happen, but some in line I heard did.  The Hawaii-influenced relishes include Mango, Pineapple, Papaya, Coconut, Banana, and Star Fruit.   I elected to try the Mango relish and added a side that came in a small cup of the Hawaiian Lilikoi mustard, as recommended to me, and it indeed was a good match when pasted in with the small ice cream cup wooden spoon.

Watching the construction of the dogs is interesting.  As seen from the above image, the buns first of all, are not your regular hot dog type.  The soft texture reminded me of the delicious Filipino bread rolls better known as Pan De Sal.  Each long single bun is wrapped in paper and literally pierced on one side down the middle (with “puka” meaning hole in Hawaiian) by placing it on this rack of hot steel tubes that look like mini missiles that heat and toast the core.  The sausages are placed in a grilling deck that shoots them out once they are fully cooked in a nearby resting tray.  The key here that really surprised me was just how evenly crispy the sausage was, even at both ends.  Taking that first bite, it was like a cap tearing off the tip of the dog – great for crispy food lovers.

Once the bun is ready, some squirts of the garlic lemon sauce (from plastic bottles) and the relish (from the multiple relish taps that line the counter much like beer taps in a bar) is deposited in the bottom of the bun.  Next, the wiener is inserted with some tongs, and then more of the sauces are added in from the top. With multiple orders, I could see how painstaking a process this is, in making sure you are putting in the right type of garlic lemon sauce and relish into each dog.  Nothing worse than expecting a mild tone and finding an erroneous inclusion of hot Habanero sauce!  Eating it feels very much like consuming a donair or Shawarma as you work your way down the bun trying to keep all the insides from dripping out of the paper envelope.

As much as I enjoy your standard fare hotdog with ketchup, mustard and relish, this Puka Dog was so unique not only in its flavoring combinations but the texture and cut of the bun and the all-around crispy wiener, that makes me proclaim that perhaps its my new favourite type of hot dog.  I only wish they had an outlet on the west coast of Canada.  If you are ever on Oahu, or Kauai (their first branch), I recommend you give it a try as the hype is well deserved!  Oh, and don’t forget the fresh squeezed lemonade.

Puka Dog (Waikiki Town Center) on Urbanspoon