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I am a Denver-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

The Food of Hawaii

I’m a pretty easy guy when it comes to food. I don’t need anything fancy or trendy, just give me a good plate of hot wings, a beer, and a smile in a nice, casual environment. That is why I haven’t written much about food in my travels in the past. Yet, despite that, food is an essential part of the traveling experience and I wanted to talk a little about what I enjoyed during my visit to Hawaii.
 
My first experience with food in Hawaii came during a visit a couple of years before when I had the unforutnate displeasure of tasting poi. It pretty well tasted like the purplish-gray clay that it looks like – or at least it did at the Polynesian Cultural Center. After that, although with hiccups of adventureousness and bravery, I decided to stick to the basics of what I know and like in regards to food.

 
Here are the Hawaiian results:
 
 
Side Street Inn on Da Strip
 
I met two of the organizers for my sponsored trip at the Side Street Inn on Da Strip shortly after my arrival. It took some doing to get me there, since the limo driver offered by the Holiday Inn Beachcomber (at the same cost as a cab driver) took me to the original, more hidden, location in a side street alley; he did this after getting lost and even dropping me off at the incorrect location. It was all worth it, though, since I was able to enjoy a lively atmosphere with great service.
 
The ladies had several pupu (appetizers) platters waiting for me and a nice, cold beer quickly followed. And from there we dug into the family-style dishes of spicy garlic chicken and sliced pork chops. Both items were flavorful and wonderfully prepared, definitely leaving me impressed and hungry for more.
 
With so many other restaurants in the area, though, particularly around Waikiki Beach, I had to move on and give something else a chance. But, for the rest of my trip, The Side Street Inn was the standard to which I held every other restaurant. It wasn’t an easy measuring stick, either, since I really enjoyed everything about the place and will consider it a must-stop for any future trips to Oahu.
 
 
The Hula Grill
 
I ate twice – once for breakfast and once for dinner – at the Hula Grill and loved it both times. The food, albeit more than a little over-priced, was excellent and the service was just as good. I was amazed with how prompt and friendly everything was delivered, especially considering my particularness when it comes to having certain things, like eggs, cooked a very specific way.
Despite the high quality service I received on both of my visits, of which the breakfast was hosted, anything I ate could not compare to the view. And the only way it could have been better was if that had been the view of my hotel room, too. Sadly, though, it was not and instead I had to daydream out to the ocean from my stunning second floor perch overlooking Waikiki Beach at the Hula Grill.
 
 
Duke’s Waikiki
 
Duke’s on Waikiki is named for legendary surfer and swimmer Duke Paoa Kahanamoku. I was recommended to stop there by someone on Twitter, having spoke very highly of it, so I thought I’d give it a try due to its convenience to the beach. While spending an afternoon strolling along Waikiki Beach and doing some shopping, I popped in and instantly fell in love with the fun atmosphere and vibe coming off the beach – Duke’s sits right on Waikiki, directly under The Hula Grill, looking out on the Pacific Ocean.
Unfortunately, that is about where it ended. I received incredibly slow service and was underwhelmed by my hamburger and their self-proclaimed famous seasoned French fries. Maybe that is my fault, though, and I should have been more adventurous with my order. But, it was what I wanted at that time; the small portion and lack of flavor left my unsatisfied and wanting something more.
In all due fairness, though, I did not visit Duke’s at night. And, by all accounts, that is the time to stop in, since it was named by Zagat Survey as Hawaii’s Most Popular Nightlife Venue. So when I return to Waikiki Beach once again, I shall make it a point to return to Duke’s and see what all of the hype is about; a return visit for lunch will not be made, though.
 
 
Haleiwa Joe’s Seafood Grill
 
A friend of mine who lives on the other side of Oahu in Kaneohe took me to get a Bob-a-saurs rib on my previous visit. The thing was absolutely monstrous and fantastic in every possible respect. I could not get enough of it or Bob’s BBQ. Sadly, due to an unfortunate string of events, Bob’s is under new management and, so I’m told, no longer as good as it was once. Thankfully, my friend who grew up on the island knows all of the good spots – like Haleiwa Joe’s Seafood Grill.
Now, in truth, I’m not a seafood fan. As a matter of fact, I can’t stand it. But, if any seafood restaurant can do a prime rib like Haleiwa Joe’s did, you’ve gotta be damn sure their seafood will be spectacular; the prime rib with mashed potatoes and veggies was amazing, as were the teriyaki beef ribs and pork belly appetizers.
The view from the restaurant, although not out to a beach, was fantastic as well. You have to expect that, though, when you’re eating on the side of an old volcano that is now covered in lush jungle vegetation. It truly sets the atmosphere for the restaurant, giving it that fantastic exotic feeling that is sought after in Hawaii, although missed many times, while also preserving a classy, and even romantic, atmosphere that can be good for any occasion.
 
 
Diamond Head Plate Lunch
 
Plate lunches and drive-ins are an institution in Hawaii. It is like the local version of a modern chain restaurant, only with better food and friendlier service. We visited a few of them on my previous visit to Oahu, including the Rainbow Drive-in in Honolulu, and I loved it all. So, when I saw my chance to eat at a food truck at the end of my hike to Diamond Head, I pounced on the opportunity.
 
Sure, I only grabbed a double hamburger and a soda, but it was one of the most enjoyable meals I had while I was on the islands. So, while sitting down at a nice restaurant can be a good experience, I highly recommend stopping off at any of the food trucks or drive-ins you’ll find in Hawaii for a fantastic locally-cooked lunch that will be hard pressed to disappoint. This one surely didn’t as I strolled back under the beautiful late-morning sun to my car with tasty juices sliding down my hand and arm.
 
 
I flew to the Big Island from Oahu, excited for a new adventure and ready to try some different restaurants. I was unsure of what to expect, since I had heard the Big Island was so much more laid back. I noticed that almost instantly, particularly in the service I received at my restaurants of choice. But, it was all part of the experience!
 
 
Cronies Bar and Grill
 
By the time I arrived in Hilo, I was hungry and ready for a filling lunch. I passed a few restaurants in downtown, all of them sounding interesting, but was set on eating at Cronies Bar and Grill. It looked like a fun sports bar, which is something I had not yet visited while in Hawaii. And since bar food is generally a favorite of mine, I had little doubt it would hit the spot.
 
The atmosphere was subdued, despite all of the sports paraphenalia hanging on the walls, but there were no games airing during my visit. Instead, people – obviously locals stopping in for lunch – were relaxing over a quick sandwhich or an afternoon beer. I was in the mood for a burger and fries, once again, and I could not have been more pleased; it was far superior to Duke’s on Waikiki Beach, in both portion size and taste; I definitely left feeling content and happy in my decision.
 
The service at Cronies, although more laid back than Honolulu, was prompt and friendly. I definitely enjoyed it and my brief experience in the restaurant. My only regret upon leaving was that I would not be able to return for another bite during a game – there was so much to see and do and my stay on the Big Island was only beginning!
 
 
Cafe Pesto
 
I had a hosted dinner at Cafe Pesto, right in the surfer village meets 1940s Mainstreet downtown Hilo. By the look of it inside, I assumed it would be like any other mediocre Italian-style restaurant I’ve eaten at in the past. Sure, it would be better than a chain, I assumed, because it was a local restaurant, but I knew it wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as I had hoped.
 
Then I took my first bite of the chicken and pepperoni pizza I ordered. I was instantly wowed and happy with my hostesses decision to meet and dine there that evening. The service and atmosphere were also commendable; many times they can both be lacking when the food is good, but not at Cafe Pesto. I left feeling impressed all around, but it’s easy to be that way with a full tummy.
 
 
Kona Brewery
 
I had such high expectations for my lunch at the Kona Brewing Company; it was the second experience, just after a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, that I requested be set up for my sponsored trip by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. And I could not have been more excited when I saw it on my itinerary.
I arrived expecting to meet a brewery representative for a hosted lunch, since it was listed as such on my itineary. Instead, I was informed by restaurant staff that my contact was not even on the island – she was on Kauai! This bothered me, but I understand miscommunications can happen; I was still willing to give the restaurant a fair shake, since I had really looked forward to visiting.
 
Almost instantly after sitting down, I could tell my time at the Kona Brewing Company was not going to live up to expectations. For starters, the ever-present ocean view that is always offered was not there, since the restaurant sits a few blocks up near a small strip mall. And secondly, my waitress, a middle-aged woman who probably had even less desire to be there than I did, began arguing with me over a coupon.
 
I presented my waitress with a coupon I found in a toursim magazine for a free appetizer. She argued with me over what I was actually to receive, saying that was not what the coupon was supposed to be for. So, after our small debate and being hot and tired, I told her I didn’t care what I received – I just wanted a comparable complimentary appetizer with the four five-ounce glass beer sampler I purchased.

 
I found both the appetizer and the pizza I ordered for lunch – an item I understood the restaurant to be known for – rather mediocre. They both tasted good, but were no better than what I’d order at any local pizzeria around Denver. The same could be said for the beer; I’ve had the Longboard Lager in the past and enjoyed it, but the other brews I sampled seemed rather flat and watery.
Despite being stood up for my hosted lunch, I was happy I had dined at the Kona Brewing Company. Had I not gone I would have always wondered what I missed. Well, that was the case until I received change from the $40 I left for a bill just over $24 – the waitress gave me back only fives, forcing me to either tip her $5, well over 25% of my bill, or stiff her altogether. It wasn’t a lot of money, only a dollar or two in the end, but it was a matter of the principle that left a sour taste in my mouth that not even their lager could clense.

 
And as I pulled out of their parking lot into the hot afternoon, I questioned whether or not I made the correct decision regarding the tip – all $5 of it.
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