Food Finds: East Oahu

1) Ono Seafood

Don't blink or you'll miss this little shop situated on the ground level of a blue apartment building along Kapahulu Avenue. Few eateries in Hawai‘i live up to their name quite like Ono Seafood - a manini (mah-nee-nee or small) mom and pop store slicing up some of the most ono (delicious) cubes of poke (poh-keh) and fresh-from-the-sea delicacies around O‘ahu.

For a quick bite on the run, nothing hits the spot and is as quintessentially "Hawai‘i" as poke - or fresh, raw, cubed fish, seasoned with either Hawaiian salt, soy sauce or other type of seasoning. We regularly crave Ono Seafood's mouthwatering $7 poke bowls (seasoned cubed raw fish over a bowl or rice), which makes for a perfect snack or light meal any time of day. The only downside of Ono Seafood is the lack of seating - there is just one bench in front of the shop, which is typically packed if you stop by mid-day.

At Ono Seafood, the poke is made to order (unlike other places which prepare the dish in advance) and invites customers to select from their choice of fresh ingredients including white and green onion, ogo (seaweed), chili pepper, Hawaiian salt, shoyu (soy sauce), sesame oil or kukui nut. Though the price (market price typically ranges around $12 a pound) may cause sticker shock to some, this is one Hawai‘i seafood dish worth every penny.

 

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2) Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha

The perfect spot to chill out after a day sunning and snorkeling at Hanauma (hah-nah-ooh-mah) Bay or hiking Makapu‘u Light House, Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha (HOPA) at Aina Haina Shopping Center is a must-visit to get a taste of O‘ahu's aloha spirit. If you're lucky Uncle Clay (the proprietor which the shop is named after) will be in, taking the time to share his warm-your-soul customer service which will melt your heart (and the Hawai‘i heat) with his cool cups of homemade shave ice showered with fresh, all-natural local syrups. Be prepared to wait your turn though - Uncle takes the time to speak to each and every one of his customers!

A treat as characteristically cool as it is Hawai‘i, shave ice is a dish enjoyed around the world, but has a special place in the hearts and opus (oh-poohs or stomachs) of Hawai‘i residents who have shoveled up cups of the cold dish since small kid time.

At HOPA order your shave ice (in Hawai‘i they've shaved the "d" off shaved ice) with one of their cutting-edge culinary syrups - kale, sweet potato or green tea anyone? -- made to share the aloha spirit and magic of the islands one cup at a time. To top it off throw in a scoop of Tropical Dreams ice cream, HOPA's homemade mochi, fresh pineapple or strawberry, or their special Dream Sauce -- a dressing so good we literally drool about it in our sleep.

If you can't decide, take a walk on the wild side and experiment with one of their "special creations" like the Hawaiian Superman, a concoction named for the late local performer Israel Kamakawiwoole (Braddah Iz) the original Hawaiian Superman. This super-sized dish consists of a bowl of shave ice with half strawberry, half li hing syrups, soaked with dream sauce, and topped with all-natural li hing powder and seed.

 

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3) Your Kitchen

An off-the-beaten-path find, Your Kitchen is a hidden gem tucked away in Palolo Valley dishing up contemporary Hawaii plate lunch favorites so good you wish you could cook them at home.

The husband-and-wife team that run Your Kitchen, Yasuyuki and Yukiko Asakura, are typically the only people behind the counter and distinguishable by their matching red caps, quiet kindness and warm aloha spirit. Here, regulars pig out -- alongside afterschool keiki (children) and the Kaimuki business crowd - on local favorites like grilled pork spareribs and Japanese beef stew.

Waikiki Parc's Todd T. recommends calling in advance to make sure they're open but when they are, he goes loco for Your Kitchen's loco moco and broiled pork bowl. The pork bowl features a fatty cut of beef braised in ginger soy sauce so delicate and melt-in-your-mouth good it pairs deliciously with the soft-boiled egg it comes with.

The limited seating inside - a single table and bench -- makes the perfect excuse to escape the Hawai‘i heat and take your lunch outside to enjoy on a bench, while taking in Palolo's colorful characters. For dessert scoop up a bowl of Your Kitchen's shave ice - their mango syrup is pulpy and tastes of real mango. If you go for the azuki bowl - a dish overflowing with shaved ice, green tea ice cream, azuki beans and condensed milk, make sure to get your own. It's so good we can never bring ourselves to share.

 

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4) Leonard's Bakery

Serving up (arguably) the best malasadas in the islands since 1952, Leonard's Bakery's storefront along Kapahulu Avenue, just outside of Waikiki, is a Honolulu staple for potlucks, family gatherings, a Saturday afternoon snack and everything in between.

Queue up behind long lines of other donut devotees and grab a dozen (or more) fresh-from-the-kitchen malasadas at a price that won't burn through your wallet. ($1 a malasada? Yes please!)

If you're a malasada newbie, malasadas are Portuguese donuts - fried dough pastry dipped in granulated sugar. When Portuguese laborers immigrated to Hawai‘i in the 1800s to work on the plantations they brought their favorite traditional treat, which became known in the islands as malasadas. Leonard's mind-blowing malasadas are generous balls of golden dough, crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

Waikiki Parc's Todd. T's favorite is the cinnamon malasada. But you can't go wrong with Leonard's original (plain sugar), or if you feel like mixing it up, grab some with fillings like custard, dobash (chocolate) or haupia (coconut). And don't forget to drop a dozen off at our house afterward.

 

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5) Kona Brewing Company

If you're sailing over to O‘ahu's east side, set your course for Kona Brewing Company, one of the best places to grab a cold pint (or two) after a long day surfing Sandy's or sunning at Hanauma Bay.

This dining spot has anchored itself at Koko Marina Center in Hawai‘i Kai since 2003 and offers more than 24 beers on tap in addition to its tasty menu of pupu (appetizers), piping hot pizzas and fresh fish entrees. Here, diners can drink in lush views of the Ko‘olau Mountain Range and feast their ears on live local entertainment including traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music, blues and jazz every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening.

If you're a craft beer enthusiast, you'll want to order one of Kona Brewing Company's award-winning brews to pair with your meal. Year-round beers on tap include the Longboard Island Lager, Big Wave Golden Ale and Fire Rock Pale Ale. If you're in town between March and September sample one of their seasonal brews like the Waialua Wheat -- a light, tangy beer evoking bright citrus notes with a crisp hoppy finish.

 

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6) Bubbies

Anytime someone screams for ice cream, Bubbies is always at the top of the list. On a hot Hawaiian night this quintessentially cool ice cream parlor is whipping up a frenzy of creamy concoctions with unforgettable names and unthinkable decadence (take for instance, their Total Insanity - a vanilla ice cream sandwich, sandwiched between two fudge brownies and dipped in chocolate -- twice).

Opened in 1985 Bubbies is a staple for University of Hawai‘i college students cramming in for a double scoop and Honolulu residents with a late-night sweet-tooth craving (they're open till 12 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and 11:30 p.m. on Sundays). If you're moo-ved by mochi you need to try Bubbies mochi ice cream, which comes in more than 20 flavors including azuki bean, chocolate espresso, raspberry white chocolate, pistachio, passion fruit and more.

But if mochi isn't your thing Bubbies has a long menu of unmentionable desserts more delicious than they sound - such as Hair By Daniel or Eat My Balls. Honestly though, we do think of Bubbies as frozen balls of heaven.

 

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7) Karai Crab

Karai crab is taking it up a notch, reinventing Hawai‘i's seafood scene offering fresh seafood with an Asian-inspired twist. A great spot for groups, you and your school of seafood-loving friends can dip in and get your hands dirty scooping up shell after shell.

In a sea of new seafood eateries, The Willows' Karai Crab stands out with a wide selection of more than nine seafood choices and one vegetarian option. But for seasoned locals, their selection of sauces including the Karai Combo (a wave of garlic butter and Cajun sauces) and tropical habanero (a spicy swirl of Hawaii flavors) has Karai Crab swimming away with from the competition.

If you can't decide, nothing makes Waikiki Parc's Liane V. happier than a clam than Karai Crab's Karai Combo with king crab and miso sake clams. Get it with French bread, which makes the perfect vessel to dip into Karai's sea of buttery sauces.

 

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8) Crack Seed Store

Once an island institution, the crack seed shops that once peppered neighborhoods throughout the island are quickly going the way of the dinosaur. But if you know where to find them a few nostalgic remnants of “small kid time” remain, like Waialae Crack Seed Store, which has been scooping up pounds of sweet, spicy, salty and sour treats for decades.

The term “crack seed” comes from the dehydrated and preserved fruits that can be found in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavors. Lined with glass jars overflowing with favorites from li hing mui (a sweet and salty dried plum candy) and mochi crunch (a Japanese cracker also known as kakimochi) to dried squid and cuttlefish, the Waialae Crack Seed Store transports the senses to a simpler time. Can’t figure out what to get? Be sure to ask for a sample (or two) from longtime owner Mr. Young, who is always happy to make sure you’re mui happy with your li hing.

 

If you’re looking to cool off, nothing puts the icing on a hot day like an “old school” icee. In fact, this shop whips up Waikiki Parc’s Todd. T’s favorite icy treat -- li hing mui vanilla icee – which features a scoop of wet li hing mui powder sandwiched between your favorite icee flavor!

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9) Agu Ramen

If you ask around, Agu Ramen is sure to boil to the top with rah-mazing reviews. This ramen hot spot has distinguished themselves from other O‘ahu noodle shops with their specialty soups and thin, Fukuoka-style noodles.

Inside, Agu's dramatic and fiery design features red accents and dark wood, which pairs perfectly with their standout spicy broth. Trust us, when they say spicy they mean spicy. Sweat on your brow, burning mouth spicy. They invite guests to choose the spiciness level from one to five (each level is an additional teaspoon of chili pepper). We recommend starting with level two - even level one can pique a sensitive palate.

If you can't decide from among the bevy of broths we promise you'll be bowled over by their Tonkotsu ramen, a soup prepared by boiling pork bones for 18 hours. And don't be embarrassed to pork out on their chashu - the premium-grade pork from Okinawa for which Agu Ramen is named. They're open till midnight on Fridays and Saturdays so after a long night on the town, their soupy, starchy bowls hit the spot! Here, you'll enjoy a meal that's good to the last drop.

 

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