Aug 25 2009

Oahu’s Best Local Foods and Where To Find Them – Windward Side

Published by at 5:50 am under Hawaiian,Pork,Recipes,Republished,Vegetarian

I recently had the extremely good fortune to be invited to work for a month on a film on the famous and beautiful island of Oahu, home to Honolulu, Waikiki and Pearl Harbor.  Interestingly enough, I never even set foot in any of these three towns as I spent all my time in a rented home on the windward side of the island in a lovely area called Kaneohe Bay.

chinaman's hat - oahu

Chinaman's Hat - Windward Side - Oahu

Kaneohe is only an easy half hour’s drive from the famous North Shore where beaches like Sunset and Waimea made dozens of surfers famous.  To the south are the smaller towns of Kailua and Waimanalo – the former playing host to two of the most beautiful beaches I have had the good fortune to visit including Kailua and Lanikai beaches, respectively.  Lanikai, incidentally, is where President Barack Obama went to relax shortly after he was elected president in 2008.

I wanted to create a little outsider/insider’s guide to some of my favorite local food discoveries in Oahu in hopes that the next lucky people to visit the windward side have a heads up on what to look for and enjoy.

Pork Lau Lau

Pork Lau Lau can be found hot and fresh at roadside vendors.  I found one at a food truck parked beside the Hygienic Store on the Kahekili Hwy just across from the 7-Eleven gas station.  Traditionally cooked in a pot in the ground, the succulent soft pork comes wrapped in a Taro leaf.

A traditional Hawai'ian plate lunch featuring Pork Lau Lau (bottom right)

A traditional Hawai'ian plate lunch featuring Pork Lau Lau (bottom right)

NOTE: Taro contains a lot of Vitamin A, C and B2, but be sure that the leaf is well cooked if you choose to eat it along with the goodies inside – taro must be properly cooked (never steamed, only boiled or baked thoroughly) to break down tiny crystals of a substance called calcium oxalate [source] that can otherwise cause itchiness and in some cases asphyxiation.  Don’t let this deter you – but be watchful when eating taro root or its parts.


Malasadas come to Hawai’i via the Portuguese population, and Leonard’s bakery (which we met in the form of a white truck in the parking lot of the mall in Kailua) delivers them freshly made (in the truck) in either puff form or with one of three fillings – chocolate, custard or coconut pudding (also known as Haipua – see recipe below).

There is the additional option of coating them in sugar, cinnamon or Li Hing Mui (a popular salted plum flavor in Hawai’i also found as a syrup flavor in Shave Ice).  At seventy cents a piece, this is a gift that can’t be missed.  But be warned – Malasadas are both highly addictive and scarfing down three of these rich devils in a row is guaranteed to give you a bellyache.  Moderation is a virtue in this case!

Leonard's Bakery Malasadas, Hawai'i

Leonard's Bakery Malasadas, Hawai'i

Malasadas - Hot and crispy on the outside, rich and gooey on the inside

Malasadas - Hot and crispy on the outside, rich and gooey on the inside


One of the most interesting effects of the war and Oahu is the leftover canned goods integrating into the culture at large, and in the case of food this is nowhere better reflected than the cultural collision of canned meat, better known as SPAM, and sushi – the result being a surprisingly delicious layer cake of sushi rice, seaweed, scrambled egg and warm fried SPAM known as Musubi.  You can find it at any sushi restaurant, but you will find it is equally good at the 7-Eleven or other variety stores.  Try to buy it when it’s still warm for the full effect.

SPAM Sushi anyone?  Musubi is available almost anywhere on the Windward side of Oahu.

SPAM Sushi anyone? Musubi is available almost anywhere on the Windward side of Oahu.

Shave Ice with Snow cap

Shave Ice at Island Snow - Kailua Beach, Oahu

Shave Ice at Island Snow - Kailua Beach, Oahu

With a huge variety of delicious flavors (we are not talking those old Snoopy Sno-Cones with the colored sugar) a tall shave ice over a scoop of vanilla ice cream with Li Hing Mui, Lychee and Liliko’i (aka Passion Fruit) syrup on top from Island Snow is an amazing thing to savor.  The Sno Cap for an extra fifty cents tastes like condensed milk but put together with the rest of it, tastes a little more like heaven.   On a sweltering, hot, humid day this rich mix of flavors can’t be beat as the ultimate accompaniment to hanging around at Kailua beach or the very beautiful, white-sanded Lanikai beach less than five minutes away.

While you’re there, do yourself a favor and check out Bob’s Pizza next door.  Huge slices, delicious tangy homemade tomato sauce and thin gooey crust are the perfect takeout for a day on the white-powder sand.

View a map for Island Snow, Kailua.

Some other favorites for Shave Ice on Oahu not necessarily found on the windward side:

John’s Grocery
2426 Liliha St

Jung Shaved Ice
1738 S. King St

Shimazu Store
330 N. School St

Waiola Store
2135 Waiola St



Ahi Poke

The best fresh ahi poke I found (directed by friends who live on the Windward side) came from a little grocery mart called Superette which just happens to be less than twenty yards south of Giovanni’s shrimp truck (see blow).  Never, stringy or chewy, just perfectly light, succulent and rich but slightly translucent red, this poke is so good we even ran into a pickup truck filled with some of our friends who had driven up all the way from Kailua to pick some up of the $9.99 lb. goodness stuff for themselves.

Roadside ahi poke - found in Kaneohe, Hawai'i

Roadside ahi poke - found in Kaneohe, Hawai'i

Hot Kimchee Mussel Poke

This rare little treat I discovered at the Tastes chain of grocery stores in the fresh fish section, and at a bargain price.  Spicy hot but flavorful, chewy but with a nice crunch from the fresh green onions, I kept a constant supply of these throughout my month long stay and they have been consistently fresh and delicious.  Totally addictive.

Hot Kim Chee Mussel Poke from Tastes grocery

Hot Kim Chee Mussel Poke from Tastes grocery

Boiled Peanuts

Counter to my assumption that they must be a local creation, boiled peanuts in fact seem to originate in the Southern US States among the Confederate soldiers who often complained of a lack of access to bread or meat during the US Civil War [source]. They eventually made their way to Hawai’i and have taken on some local touches, and like SPAM in Musubi, now seem as natural a part of the diet as anything else.

Boiled peanuts do not taste much like peanuts at all, in fact, they have a slightly flowery, sweet, smoky and salty taste all at once. It is a taste you must savor, to understand.

Boiled peanuts can be found alongside plate lunches or sushi rolls in any of the local supermarkets.

boiled peanuts - photo Copyright 2009

Boiled Peanuts are a ubiquitous and delicious, unusual snack.

Try out a great, simple recipe for Hawai’ian style Boiled Peanuts at Recipe Goldmine.

Fresh Cooked Garlic and Spicy Shrimp

Giovanni’s roadside Garlic and lemon butter shrimp

Giovanni's famous garlic lemon shrimp

Giovanni's famous garlic lemon shrimp

Giovanni’s roadside garlic and lemon butter shrimp can be found along the North Shore of Oahu where a small armada of roadside trucks and shacks serve up shrimp so fresh you can see the shrimp ponds behind them. They also feature a hot dog boiled in the garlic and although delicious, you may want to save your appetite for the other culinary wonders you may encounter along the road to the North Shore.

Giovanni's roadside hot pepper shrimp - Oahu

Giovanni's roadside hot pepper shrimp - Oahu

While Giovanni’s is perhaps the most famous, slightly further North, along the Kam Hwy you will find another small village of these roadside shrimp stands.  We enjoyed the ginger shrimp at Fumi’s truck for about $12.  According to the Honolulu AdvisorMacky’s is the best of the shrimp trucks, and Famous has the best garlic/butter shrimp of the bunch.  They opine that Giovanni’s has the best PR.  I say – try them all you can’t go wrong with any of these plump, sweet and succulent choices.

Pancakes with Macadamia Sauce

Oh lordy me, there goes the diet.  You know, the reason so many beach types in Oahu have ripped bodies is not as a result of the diet.  Sure there are a lot of fresh fruit and so on, but it’s because they out in the sun and rain, jogging, surfing, biking, walking, skateboarding, fishing, oaring, parasailing and so on.

Which brings me to the point of pancakes, stacked three high, smothered in rich, creamy macadamia nut sauce.  Look, if you are in Hawai’i and reading this, it’s likely that you are going on vacation.  That means you have got to loosen your belt (wait – why are you even wearing a belt?  Where is your swimsuit?) put on some slippers (the local term for “flip flops”) and go have some fun.

The most popular place for breakfast on the windward side, that is the kind that serves this decadent favorite, is unquestionably Boots & Kimo’s Homestyle Kitchen in Kailua.  Be warned – if you go there at regular breakfast hours, almost any day, you will meet a line out the door and maybe even around the corner.  Some people love the “cozy” busy atmosphere.  Others prefer to just order in advance and get the pancakes to go.  Remember its the pancakes and the mac sauce you are coming for.  Otherwise go find some eggs somewhere where it’s easier to get seated.

Haupia (coconut pudding)

“Be grateful you don’t have to make this Haupia the old way, using Polynesian arrowroot that had to be grated, soaked, strained, reduced to a paste, and dried, then pounded into a powder. A lot of work for coconut pudding. These days we have cornstarch, which makes everything easier.”

yield: 16 pieces

What you need:
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/1 cups coconut milk

What you need to do:
Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt; stir in coconut milk.
Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.
Pour into an 8-inch quare pan; let cool; refrigerate until firm.
Cut into 2×2 inch pieces and serve on ti leaves, if desired.

(Recipe from “What Hawai’i Likes To Eat” by Muriel Miura and Betty Shimabukuro. Mutual Publishing,

By the way we also found some delicious all-natural Haipua ice Cream at Tastes grocery from a Hawai’ian company. Delicious.

Plate Lunch photo by hellochris under Creative Commons license.

SPAM Musubi photo by klyphord under Creative Commons license.
Special thanks to my friend John Riccardi who traveled with me for help with this guide.

I look forward to updating this guide as I hear from you and your eating experiences in Oahu. There are always new places and foods to discover and with your input I am sure we can create an even better tribute to all the delicious flavors found there. Please post any suggestions, comments and anecdotes! I would especially love to hear about your story if you visit any of the locations I visited myself. Happy travels and aloha!

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5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Oahu’s Best Local Foods and Where To Find Them – Windward Side”

  1. roadfoodieon 25 Aug 2009 at 5:54 pm

    Malasadas look similar to beignets, oh so delicious I bet. Is the filling a vanilla custard?

  2. KMSon 25 Aug 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Yes a little like the experience of a fresh hot beignet. The filling can be a vanilla custard, or chocolate or coconut pudding. I didn’t like the coconut as much – was a little weak flavored and light and the custard didn’t meet my expectations like the old eggy custards from England, but the dough was perfect. You can order them filled or without filling.

    Thanks for your question!

  3. muralimanoharon 03 Oct 2009 at 4:30 am

    I can’t eat most of that, so won’t comment about them, but will say, Island Snow is a ripoff; I can’t believe what they charge for such teeny cones! My favorite place is in Haleiwa, down back of some shops..def not the crowded, “popular” ones on the main strip.

    Oh, and Bob is a jerk…go to his uncle’s place, Bostons…better pizza, anyway! And I am betting the Haupia ice cream you had was Roselani. I missed it so much while in Sydney…was one of the first things we bought we came back. :p

  4. KMSon 03 Oct 2009 at 4:41 am

    Teeny cones? Good lord how much can you eat? They seemed enormous!

    Bob was never a jerk to us. In fact we hung out with him on several occasions. Maybe some of the local kids that worked there were a little crabby from time to time, but overall, we thought they were great.

  5. muralimanoharon 03 Oct 2009 at 4:51 am

    Look here: The cup is about 4 inches tall, not counting the skirt part, and then the shave ice sticks up about 5 inches above that. :p

    Bob always acts very friendly, and he’s been around a long time (used to run Boston’s), and by now, he has left a sour taste in the mouth of a lot of locals. Unless we are skint broke, we will pay the little more for Boston’s…and like I said, anyway, Boston’s is def a better pizza. :p

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