Leonard’s (Honolulu)


Custard-filled malasada

Custard-filled malasada

Among the island’s favorite pastries are Portuguese malasadas. Leonard’s is generally regarded as Oahu’s best, and for good reason. Our visit here last year hooked us. My favorite malasadas are those filled with custard. Why are they so good? First of all, they are served warm out of the oven. Their yeasty shell is slightly crispy on the outside, achingly tender and slightly doughy inside. One bite will release the creamy and not-too-sweet custard filling, available in a variety of flavors. The flavor of the month was lilikoi. We ordered it and coconut. Wow!

Leonard’s is a bakery, so it actually does sell other pastries as well as a few savory items, including pao doce, which looks like a sausage with a wrap.

Pao doce

Pao doce

Leonard’s Bakery
933 Kapahulu Ave
808.737.5591
 

Sweet Home Cafe (Honolulu, HI)


sweet-home-cafe
Sweet Home Cafe is another restaurant that specializes in one thing, and one thing only–Taiwanese hot pot. There is no shortage of patrons. By the time we arrived at the restaurant at 5:30pm, there was already a waiting list. We didn’t get seated until after 6:30, and I’ll say it right now, the wait was worth it.

If the visit is your first, you will be given detailed instructions on how the operation works. First, you select a broth from among many. Then, you choose one or more meats (beef, pork, lamb, or beef tongue). If you’re on the waiting list, the maitre d’ will ask you to make your selections right away so that when you get seated, the broth and meat(s) will immediately be brought to your table. You may be told that the three most popular are the house special, spicy and healthy herb broths. Every patron is not required to order a meat (we selected a single serving of beef). If you want two broths (to try different ones), you will be charged for two broths, which will be served in a divided vessel. The container is placed on top of an electric hot plate. We selected the spicy and house special broths.

Once you get seated, you then select however many wrapped plates of ingredients as you wish from the coolers along the back wall. Each plate is color-coded: $2.75 for white or green; $3.75 for yellow or orange; $4.75 for blue. There is a bewildering selection of vegetables, seafood, organ meats, noodles, and several kinds of tofu from which to choose. I can’t even provide a complete list. We chose soft tofu, watercress, sliced squashes, nappa, lobster balls, and fresh shiitake.

Extras

Extras

As if selecting ingredients weren’t enough, you can choose one or more of fourteen different dipping sauces: homemade*, sesame, Chinese-style shabu shabu, hoisin, sweet honey mustard, Chinese-style steamed soy sauce with chili pepper, chili garlic, oyster chili*, homemade spicy, miso*, Thai-style sweet and sour, black bean*, tomato chili* and hot bean curd*, all of them prepared in-house. Every single one we tried (asterisked above) was delicious.

Dipping sauces

Dipping sauces

At first, you may be intimidated by this whole process, aggravated by the tight spaces, mostly community-shared tables, and human traffic to and from the coolers, but you’ll quickly get settled and concentrate on the task at hand.

Steamed white rice is also provided.

Once the meal is over, you will be given a dessert gratis. Finely crushed ice (not as fine as shave ice) was surrounded by scoops of green tea and pineapple tapioca pearls, coffee mochi cubes, soft tofu, with the whole works drizzled with condensed milk and almond cream, and topped with an espresso mousse. Despite the fact that the tapioca flavors were artificial and the ice clumped in several places, the mousse, mochi balls and almond flavor were absolutely delicious. If you stuffed yourself with the main meal, you’ll still find the room to (mostly) finish this stellar dessert. It’s possible that the dessert might change periodically.

From start to finish, the dining experience was extraordinary. Not only was the meal fantastic, the entire wait staff was very friendly. Sweet Home Cafe aims to make you feel at home and is on our list of must-return places.

Sweet Home Cafe
2334 S. King St (McCully/Moiliili)
808.947.3707
 

Honolulu Saturday Market


IMG_2228
The Honolulu Saturday Market is, without doubt, one of the best farmers markets in the country for foodies. It has its share of produce stalls; they mainly benefit the locals who come here for fresh fruits and vegetables. But, I’ll wager that the vast majority of visitors come here for the incredible selection of prepared foods. We’re talking about food beloved on the islands. The merging of cooking influences (mostly from Asia) is reflected in the offerings. While the food may not be the best examples, it is still good. The variety alone in an open-air market setting is exciting.

After contemplating for a while, at approximately 10:15 am (45 minutes before the market closed) we decided on a salmon fried rice and grilled kasu cod, grilled corn flavored with shoyu butter and furikake, and a mango and ginger drink. Our plan was also to get grilled abalone that were selling for $5 a small pair, but they had all sold out. It was amazing that this hard-to-get shellfish was being sold at all. We almost lost out on the corn; I managed to get one of the last ones. I did get the last fried rice combination, too. The moral of the story is that it’s best to get what you want early, even if it isn’t quite the lunch hour.

As for the food itself, the kasu cod was delicious, though somewhat overly charred. The salmon fried rice tasted less interesting than it sounded, though it wasn’t bad. The corn was over-grilled to the point of getting dried out and the furikake made it too salty. Any drink from the PacifiCool booth is always refreshing, although the large amounts of ice cubes tend to dilute the drink if left too long. The ginger syrup they sell is really good stuff. For dessert, we snagged a couple of shave ices, one topped with lilikoi syrup, the other with ginger syrup which was also sprinkled with dried ginger flakes.

Kasu cod

Kasu cod

Furikake corn

Furikake corn

PacifiKool ginger drink with mango

PacifiKool ginger drink with mango

Shave ice

Shave ice

Saturday Farmers Market
Kapiolani Community College
Hours: Saturdays, 7:30-11am
 

Waiola Shave Ice (Honolulu, HI)


waiola-shave-ice
The subject of the best shave ice is a hot topic in Hawaii. For years on Oahu, the faithful have been heading to the North Shore to Matsumoto’s (and Aoki’s next door). Even busloads of Japanese tourists stop by there to pay homage. We went there last year and made it a point to stop in Haleiwa. But, there have been those who make the claim that Waiola Shave Ice in Honolulu, within walking distance of Waikiki, makes a superior product, mainly because of the very fine, powdery shave ice. Matsumoto’s has a slightly grainier ice. So, in the interest of the debate, we headed over to Waiola to decide for ourselves. We didn’t know it at the time, but we also made it over to Matsumoto’s later in our trip.

My wife’s ice was topped with lychee and guava syrups and condensed milk, mine with POG (passion fruit, orange and guava) and vanilla ice cream underneath. (As at most shave ice places, you can also add kintoki and mochi balls.) The problem with ice this fine is the melting factor–things will get pretty slushy and sloppy if the weather is too warm, or the syrups aren’t cold enough. Sure enough, as quickly as the syrup was poured, the cone of ice began to slump  slightly (see photo above). The verdict was that I liked Waiola better than Matsumoto’s; today my wife liked them both as being equally superior in their own right, but later (after going to Matsumoto’s) agreed that Waiola is better. The ice is indeed finer, softer, almost fluffy in texture. Because ice cream is so cold, the shave ice closest to the ice cream will solidify and create these crunchy granules at the bottom, so the faster you eat the shave ice, mo betta.

A few other comparisons. Waiola has a few more toppings–li hing mui powder, lilikoi cream, Hershey’s chocolate, all 50 cents extra. You can also order (for 50 cents) li hing mui seeds. Other variations at Waiola include an azuki bowl (shave ice on ice cream, topped with condensed milk, mochi balls and kintoki), ice cream bowl (a bowl of shave ice with three scoops of ice cream on the side and one on top), sundae shave ice (ice cream topped with shave ice, then poured over with Hershey’s chocolate syrup), custard bowl (shave ice topped with flan), mocha bowl (shave ice topped with what might be Starbuck’s mocha mix), each at $4.50. To me, these are excesses that detract from the main event–plain and simple shave ice.

Waiola Shave Ice
2135 Waiola Street, Honolulu, HI
808.949.2269

Jimbo (Honolulu, HI)


Honolulu has several excellent Japanese noodle shops. Ramen and saimin garner the lion’s share of devotion. But udon deserves as much attention, especially those served at Jimbo. Made in the Hokkaido style (according to the waiter), the broth is rich, luscious, slightly smoky from specially imported katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). We were told that one chef makes the broth and another, the udon; one in the evening, the other in the morning. The noodles have a soft, velvety exterior over a firmer, chewier middle. Though there are other Japanese entrées on the menu, the udon is likely the star of the restaurant.

The nabeyaki udon ($14.70), served in a traditional nabe, comes piping hot. I burnt the palate of my mouth. The tempura consisted of a single prawn and a Japanese eggplant, both wonderfully flavorful. The batters retain their crispiness unless you let them sit in the dashi too long. Thoughtfully, an empty bowl is provided if you decide to rescue the tempura. Rounding out the ingredients is a single piece of kamaboko, sliced baby bok choy and negi, snow peas, spinach, napa, dried shiitake, raw egg and fuki. As good as these additions are, you could argue that they almost take your attention away from noodles and broth.

Nabeyaki

Nabeyaki

The ume wakame udon ($11.40) is an impressive combination. The ume flesh, which the restaurant bothers to scrape from whole umeboshi and mince, lends an interesting tartness to the dashi and provides a nice contrast to the rich broth. A few slices of negi onion are sprinkled on top.

Ume wakame udon

Ume wakame udon

For an extra charge, you can order different sizes of udon, large or skinny. Also for extra, you can substitute soba. The skinny noodles in my wife’s order were very good, though they didn’t have quite the same texture as the regular. All these variations are handmade at the restaurant.  On hot summer days, you can also order many of the udon dishes cold.

A popular dish for slime fans is natto bukkake udon. It comes in a dark broth with the ultimate combination of natto, okra, daikon oroshi and nori. I’m surprised grated satoimo wasn’t included. The waiter said that the natto is particularly odoriferous, a big asset for natto lovers. Hmm, maybe on another visit.

Jimbo is another restaurant that is dedicated to offering an unparalleled experience by making everything from scratch and using the best ingredients. The waiter also indicated that most of the ingredients are flown in directly from Japan. The udon prices are definitely higher than you’d normally pay elsewhere, but with udon this good, you don’t really care.

Jimbo
1936 S King St # 103
Honolulu
808.947.2211
 

Poke Stop (Waipahu, HI)


Sweet onion ahi poke

Sweet onion ahi poke

The Waipahu Poke Stop is in the middle of an enormous shopping center, those maddening strip mall/village hybrids that meander over acres, making it almost impossible to find any particular store. What an odd place to set up shop for a chef who trained under Alan Wong, Emeril Lagasse and Sam Choy. But, it’s a seafood restaurant Elmer Guzman wanted, one where he could serve locals the freshest seafood available.

The poke is what caught the fancy of the locals. Depending on what’s fresh, you’re going to find a wide variety of poke, all of it displayed behind glass cases and all of it available for sampling. The menu lists the following: limu ahi, shoyu ahi, sweet onion ahi*, creamy ahi, blackened ahi, Kapakahi ahi and opihi, garlic edamame ahi, seafood wasabi ahi, sesame tako, kim chee tako, creamy tako, furikake salmon*, ginger scallion shrimp*, limu mussel, kim chee mussel, Inamona white crab, kim chee Kona crab, “Da Works” oio*, hamachi poke, and tofu poke. The asterisked ones are menu-listed as “must try” signature pokes. The price is $10.95/pound (hamachi and Kapakahi are $12.95).

We ordered the sweet onion ahi (top photo), crispy chicken chunks (third photo) and seared ahi bowl over furikake rice (second photo). The ahi was very fresh and sweet, lightly seasoned with salt and sesame oil, sprinkled with green onions and chile flakes. The onions were sharp and biting; Maui sweet onions in season would definitely improve things. The seared ahi was also nicely done. The chicken is prepared Korean-style. Chicken thigh nuggets are lightly battered and fried, then tossed with taegu sauce.

One dish I regret not having ordered were the eggplant fries. I kick myself for forgetting. This has been mentioned several times by internet posters as a “must try.” It’s served with remoulade.

While the poke is excellent, it might not be worth the trip out to Waipahu or Mililani Town just to try it. If, like us, you’re on your way to leeward Oahu (Hawaii’s Plantation Museum or Ka’ena Point), it’s worth a stop in Waipahu. For closer-in poke, the word is that Ono’s Seafood (not Ono’s Hawaiian, but across and up the street from it) in Kapahulu has an excellent version.

Poke Stop
94-050 Farrington Hwy # E4
Waipahu, HI 96797
808.676.8100
Menu
 

Hawaii Plantation Village


Hawaii’s Plantation Village showcases the restored living quarters of the sugar cane workers who worked on Oahu’s last sugar mill. Laborers came from all over: China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Portugal and Puerto Rico. Many of the buildings that housed the workers are on display, complete with furniture pieces, articles of everyday living and other artifacts. It’s very interesting to see how differently the ethnic groups set up their homes. Despite the sugar mill’s deliberate strategy to segregate the communities, much intermingling and sharing of food took place, which might be a clue to explain what evolved into island cuisine. Plants, trees and vegetables important to the diets of each group are also on the grounds.

The association trying to keep the village on-going is obviously having a difficult time, despite some government help to pay for restoration. Much vandalism and theft continue to take place.

Volunteer docents lead very informative tours. Depending on the interests of the visitors, they can last upward of 2 hours or more, like ours did. Our guide Amy (who works only on Thursdays) led a fun and fact-filled tour. Having grown up in the area, she recalls things that happened when she was a child.

Hawaii’s Plantation Village is a must-see.

Hawaii’s Plantation Village
94-695 Waipahu Street
Waipahu, HI 96797
808.677.0110