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Best Local Food Restaurants On Oahu

Kelli Shiroma |
April 22, 2014 | 9:54 a.m. PDT

Food Editor

The “Really, Really Loco Moco” is a hot commodity at Big City Diner (Kelli Shiroma / Neon Tommy).
The “Really, Really Loco Moco” is a hot commodity at Big City Diner (Kelli Shiroma / Neon Tommy).
When it comes to local food in Hawaii, two words often come to mind — “plate lunch.” 

“Plate lunch” is considered traditional island fare, consisting of some type of meat (mahi mahi, ribs, fish, steak, chicken … you name it), two scoops of rice, and macaroni salad (soft, boiled macaroni, heavy on the mayonnaise). Numerous O‘ahu eateries have various plate lunch entrees available … but often, these local hotspots carry more than plate lunches. Whether it’s the best garlic shrimp you’ll find on the island to homemade loco moco (hamburger patty over a bed of rice and topped with an egg—any style—caramelized onions and brown gravy), O‘ahu boasts some of the best when it comes to comfort food … Hawaiian style.  


This diner features many local favorites, some of the most popular being “Mamasan’s Meatloaf” and the ever-famous “Really, Really Loco Moco.” The former comes with sautéed fresh spinach and a brown marsala mushroom sauce, while the latter features hot rice topped with a homemade hamburger patty and a fresh farm egg covered with caramelized onions and brown gravy. And the best part? This local hotspot has many locations all around the island. 


The historic Rainbow Drive-In, featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on The Food Network, has been serving some of the cheapest and most delicious plate lunches to Hawaii and the world for more than 50 years. Some of the local favorites on the menu include “Loco Moco Plate,” “Chili Plate,” “Boneless Chicken with Gravy,” “Mahi Mahi with Tartar Sauce” and “Hamburger Steak with Gravy.”


Prepare to indulge in a Hawaiian feast at Helena’s Hawaiian Food. All sorts of authentic Hawaiian cuisine are on the menu, such as “Lau Lau,” “Kalua Pig & Cabbage,” “Beef Stew” and “Lomi Salmon.” This family-bred business started in 1946 (founded by Helen Chock) and is currently run by Chock’s grandson, Craig Katsuyoshi. 


Local delights abound at Kaka’ako Kitchen. This eatery features something for everyone, whether it’s sandwiches, salads or mixed plates. Some of the best sellers include: “Mixed Plate I”—customers can choose from “Old Fashioned Beef Stew,” “Chinese 5-Spice Shoyu Chicken” and “Furikake Tempura Catfish”—“Tempura Mahi Sandwich,” complete with tartar sauce and a taro bun; “Kalua Moco,” featuring slow oven-roasted kalua pork that’s shredded and served over a bed of rice and topped with caramelized onion gravy and two eggs (served any style); “Boneless Deep Fried Pork Chops,” including breaded deep fried pork chops served over Portuguese sausage stuffing topped with homemade caramelized onion brown gravy; and “Hamburger Steak,” a hand-formed, local beef patty seasoned Hawaiian style and topped with caramelized onion gravy and crispy fried onions. 

“Choke (big) portions, ono (delicious) food.” That’s the motto of family-owned Gina’s B-B-Q, which is known for their yummy plate lunches and large selection of catering options. All of the plate lunches at Gina’s includes a choice of four sides and three scoops of rice. Some popular requests are the “Gina’s Special,” “Kalbi B-B-Q,” “B-B-Q Chicken,” “Meat Jun” and “Bi Bim Bap.” Catering trays include choices like “Meat Jun,” “Chicken Katsu” and “Long Rice.”

Sugoi Hawaii is the place to go if you want to build your own bento (a traditional Japanese box lunch). Customers can choose their entrée (salmon, mahi mahi, tonkatsu, etc.), sides and can customize their bentos just the way they like. Those who want to stick with plate lunches also won’t be disappointed at Sugoi. The plate lunch menu includes dishes like “Pork Chops and Mushrooms,” “Teri Beef,” “Curry Loco Moco” and “Chicken Katsu Curry.” There’s even an extensive noodle selection (“Yaki with Beef,” “Yaki with Tonkatsu,” etc.).

Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck is home to some of the largest, most succulent shrimp you’ve ever seen (Kelli Shiroma / Neon Tommy).
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck is home to some of the largest, most succulent shrimp you’ve ever seen (Kelli Shiroma / Neon Tommy).

If you’re taking a trip to the North Shore, making a lunch stop at Giovanni’s is a must. This ain’t no ordinary shrimp. The shrimp entrees featured at Giovanni’s are large, succulent and bursting with flavor. The menu is limited but sure to please everyone. Entrées include “Lemon Butter Shrimp”—sautéed generously in lemon sauce and butter and served with two scoops of rice—and “Shrimp Scampi,” which consists of a dozen shrimp marinated in olive oil and topped with freshly chopped garlic, lemon butter, garlic lemon butter and is served with two scoops of rice. 


Zippy’s Restaurant is a staple for Hawaii locals. Well known for items (retail items included) like “Zippy’s Famous Original Chili," this eatery also sports a variety of local cuisine, ranging from the “Zippy’s Chili and Chicken Mixed Plate” and “Zip Pac”—fried chicken, teri beef, Spam and fish filet served with rice topped with nori furikake—to “Breaded Mahi Mahi” and “Garlic Rib Steak.”


When going to Aiea Bowl—whether it’s for bowling and eating or just eating—you can’t go wrong with the famous “Tasty Chicken” served at The Alley, Aiea Bowl’s in-house restaurant. The award-winning dish features chicken thighs that are lightly dusted and deep fried, after being dipped in the eatery’s secret sauce along with chili flakes, garlic and sweet soy sauce. Other popular dishes at The Alley include: “Handmade Hamburger Steak Plate,” comprising homemade hamburger patties covered with housemade brown gravy; “Boneless Marinated Kalbi,” made with sterling silver boneless short ribs marinated with the eatery’s homemade kalbi sauce and finished on the char broiler; and “Pan-Seared Furikake Ahi,” featuring fresh ahi that’s sliced and crusted generously with sesame nori furikake and served with a complementary, creamy spicy Thai sauce. 


Highway Inn would be another go-to spot for authentic, Hawaiian food. Islander favorites include “Kalua Pig and Cabbage,” “Old Fashioned Hamburger Steak” served with onions, “Koala Moa”—chicken with rice and stir-fried veggies—and the “Beef Stew Plate,” served with rice and potato or mac salad. 


Side Street Inn is a great gathering place for families or if you have a larger party, as entrees are served in huge portions, designed to be shared family style … so you can try a little bit of everything. “Da’ Famous Pan Fried Island Pork Chops”—fresh-cut island pork chops, seasoned and pan-fried to a golden brown—are a customer favorite, as are the “Furikake Crusted Ahi Filet” served on a bed of island-fresh Nalo greens, and “Da’ Signature Side Style Fried Rice,” a savory combination of bacon, Portuguese sausage, char siu, green onions, peas and carrots. The menu possibilities are endless … other islander recommendations would be the “Side Street Inn’s Boneless Fried Chicken,” “Chef Colin’s Homemade Oxtail Soup” and “Hawaiian-Style Pulehu Short Ribs,” which are grilled with local flavor and basted with shoyu chili water. 


Liliha Bakery has been serving Hawaii residents since 1950 and its neighborhood diner-feel still exists to this day. Guests sit at a counter to eat, and there’s also an adjacent bakery known for its famous coco puffs, cakes (Chantilly and Banana Royale, to name a few) and other baked goods. Customer favorites at Liliha Bakery include the “Hamburger Steak Plate,” “Mahi Plate,” “Teri Chicken Sticks” and much more. 


Like Like Drive In (pronounced Lee-keh, Lee-keh) started in 1953 and has since become a local landmark on O‘ahu (the place was actually officially designated by the State of Hawaii as a place of historic interest). Popular for both its late-night hours (open 24 hours/day from Thursday thru Saturday) and delicious cuisine, Like Like Drive In has something for everyone to enjoy. Popular entrées include the “Deep-Fried Honey-Dipped Chicken,” “Loco Moco with Fried Rice,” “Hamburger Steak” with sautéed onions and brown gravy and “Pork Chops.”

Reach Kelli Shiroma here or follow her on Twitter



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