From the archives, How to Eat and Drink in Hawaii (especially on Oahu). Five Slaíntes rating system.
Ales: Two of note. Kona Brewing Company’s Fire Rock Pale Ale is crisp and refreshing. Highly pleasant on a warm Hawaiian day. By the second pint, you forget it needs more hops. Better: Maui Brewing Company’s Big Swell IPA. Plenty of hops with the right amount of “you’re on the beach now” tang. (No worries, it’s a clean tang. Also, I could have inserted a pun here about it having just the right amount of Hawaiian Punch. But I didn’t, so I, myself, get at least 3 Slaíntes for that.) Fire Rock receives 4 Slaíntes .☘☘☘☘ Big Swell earns a full 5 Slaíntes ☘☘☘☘☘, as well as a spot in my personal list of Top Five Beers (in reverse order: Mad Hatter, Goose Island, Big Swell, Gnawbone, and Bell’s Two-Hearted. For further reference, Gnawbone is 5 Slaíntes, and Two-Hearted is, like, a million Slaíntes.)
Cheeseburger in Paradise. (Important: Not the Jimmy Buffet Franchise.) Out of timing, crowds, and convenience, Greenwood Red and I went to this place three times (once just for drinks and someone else picked, so don’t judge). Twice, the service was superior. The last time, we got a server who was a little twitchy. Well, every restaurant’s gotta have one, right? The food was good. Red deeply enjoyed the kahlua pig sandwich and the black and blue burger. I had a mushroom-swiss burger on the first visit (solid, satisfying, better than Chili’s but not, say, life-changing). But on the second? I had the world’s best-seasoned turkey burger. Seriously, good enough to make you almost forget beef. It’s served with spring mix, the bitterness of which couples with the peppered patty to make you want to write a sonnet to it. Really great, though more cheese never hurt anyone. The seasoned fries were also good (a lot like Rally’s– again, don’t judge). Best? The decoration is all vintage Hawaiian: old hula girl lamps (the “old” is key: wooden, cracked things; many of them; fantastic), vintage souvenir plates and cards, murals showing “Princess Kahmahnaiwanna Cheeseburger.” And the windows open onto a vista of the Pacific Ocean. It’s so open, tiny finches walk the floors hunting for crumbs. And two people can order beers, burgers, look at the ocean, and still walk out right around $25. 5 very easy Slaíntes ☘☘☘☘☘
Dole Whip. Sure, you can get this highly-addictive, heavenly pineapple soft-serve confection at the state fair or Disneyland/World. Not the same. Get it in Hawaii. Every single time you have the chance. Get it at the Dole Plantation ($4.50 without the topping but with the landscaping and the photo ops — a fiberglas pineapple big enough to stand in!) or the Sheraton on Waikiki Beach ($3.50 for a small, so it’s cheaper there). Dole Whip, like Two-Hearted, is sorta off the charts. A thousand Slaíntes. Plus.
Longhi’s. This place is on the second story of the biggest mall in the world (not a literal fact). It opens through arched windows on a loggia onto the Pacific Ocean. It has classic black and white tiled floors. The wood of the tables has a diamond-hard gleam and striations that could make you weep with the beauty possible when expert wood-working is invoked. Eating at Longhi’s is like eating in a fairy tale castle built out of a wedding cake (those sanded, icing-white arches overlooking the ocean!). The meat is melt-in-your-mouth good; the selections are all salmon, scallops, lobster, veal, and filet mignon. Well-prepared. And yet: the menu makes this elegant, formidable, luxe place look skin-flinty and cheap. It’s ala carte. And it’s so expensive. Two people cannot order an entrée and a drink a piece and walk out for under $60. Granted, there’s the view, but seriously, this place needs to lop a couple ounces off the meat, add a salad and a side of vegetables, and up the price of the meal by $10. There’s no justification I can find for forcing people to order a $50 hunk of dead animal and then charging them an additional $12 to $16 if they would also like a stalk of broccoli or some sweet peas. And then another $9 to $15 if they would like a salad. And the service? Not good. (Read for that: one watery diet Coke over 2 1/2 hours. No refill.) In short? No Slaíntes. The view and the smooth, sugary walls, the tables, and the impeccable tile cannot overcome the insufferability of this culinary equivalent of an epicurean egotist.
McDonald’s. Back before the world went all healthy; back when smoking happened indoors and no one ever uttered the phrases “trans-fat,” “gluten-free,” and “obesity epidemic,” the fruit pies of McDonald’s were encased in a crispy, buttery, bubbly shell that was so delicious it was magical. On the mainland, those shells have been replaced with a doughy, pale, completely sub-standard pie crust that has all the appeal of kindergarten paste, only with less flavor. In Hawaii, oh my god, they totally still have the old, mesmerizing, bubbly-fantastic crust. Sometimes, they stick banana filling in it. I never thought I’d get to taste again that pie crust that my inner kid-self remembers so well. Eight million McSlaíntes (Pie plus bubbles plus nostalgia plus Hawaii. WIN).
Pineapple. When in Rome, eat pasta. When on Hawaii, eat pineapple. The texture is actually creamy; the front edge of the taste carries a hint of vanilla and banana. I don’t know what the hell the stuff called “pineapple” I’ve been eating all my life actually is, but it isn’t delicious Hawaiian pineapple. It’s really not. 5 Slaíntes ☘☘☘☘☘.
Poi. The color of a bruised elephant. The texture of gritty, over-watered cake batter. The taste of a really bad day. Avoid at all costs. Negative twenty (-20) Slaíntes.
Seaside Bar and Grill. They have omelets. Really decent omelets. They’re not Sophia’s House of Pancakes good. They’re not Four Seasons good. These are not My-Big-Fat-Greek-Omelet good. But they’re totally decent, accompanied with rock-star breakfast potatoes (like eating hashed browns wrapped around a deeply comforting baked potato center; really nice), and non-stop, highly-energetic coffee refills. Service is impeccable: rapid to take orders, rapid to place food on the table, aggressive with the coffee, but slow to pick up the check. The atmosphere is slightly dingy but in the absolute best way; the classic breakfast-house, diner experience where the naugahyde is torn but the cook knows his eggs, god love him/her. Love it. Plus, this place had a nice mix of locals with tourists and the tables should have been sticky but totally weren’t. I’m giving it 4 Very Secure and Affectionate Slaíntes ☘☘☘☘.
Zippy’s Chili. Zippy’s is an Hawaiian chain, famous for its chili. A local will tell you that’s ’cause the chili is good. I will tell you the chili is not chili. The recipe for Zippy’s chili is as follows: one can of Heinz gravy (beef, turkey, doesn’t matter). Add one can of generic coney sauce, the generic-est the better. If you grab what school cafeterias serve, that will have too much flavor, so water it down good. Add beans. Then add poi. Voilà, Zippy’s chili. Serve over rice. Make sure the temperature never rises above tepid. The rest of Zippy’s food (judging from a flat and depressed omelet and a turkey manhattan that makes Banquet or Swanson t.v. turkey dinner look Michelin-ready) is also sub-par and ice-cold. Service minimal. All the atmosphere of a residence hall dining room or a hospital cafeteria. Eat at Zippy’s just because it’s (a) open and (b) offers pudding as a dessert option. You’re better off with a Hula Dog. 1 Measly Slaínte ☘.