Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail (Honolulu, HI)


makapuu

To walk off the big breakfast (Rainbow Drive-In and Leonard’s) we had this Easter morning, we took the bus to Ka Iwi State Scenic Shoreline to hike the 3/4-mile trail to Makapu’u Summit. We were told about this hike by a couple we met at the Eat the Streets event. The bus doesn’t drop you off directly at the parking lot but at Sea Life Park, about a half-mile past to the northwest. As we were walking along Kalanianaole Highway to the trailhead, to our left were spectacular views of the beaches, rugged shoreline and islets out at sea. This being Hawaii, the waters were beautiful combinations of deep blue and turquoise.

Makapu’u Head is a remnant of an enormous caldera that partially collapsed into the sea about 1.8 million years ago and is the eastern end of the Ko’olau mountain range that is really the rim of the surviving caldera. The hike itself, a climb of over 450 feet in elevation over a paved surface, was nice on a cloudless day that was hot enough to make me a shade darker. This is a fairly easy hike, though some preparation is advisable; there are no water and toilet facilities on the trail or parking lot. On this Easter Sunday, there were lots of people on the trail, including families with children. It’s my understanding that some locals make this hike a regular routine. The vegetation along the way was interesting, suggestive of a dry, hot and windswept environment with succulents and cacti unexpectedly growing here. We missed the peak cactus flowering season as the blossoms were already spent. A good view of the lighthouse, still in operation by the U.S. Coast Guard, can be had from several vantage points. When we reached the summit, there were sweeping, spectacular views of the ocean and of southeastern Oahu. The wind up here is always strong, enough so that my wife had to remove her wide-brimmed sun hat that would have sailed away. This is also a prime spot for watching migrating humpback whales. We weren’t so lucky. A hiker we talked to told us friends on the day before had seen an entire pod.

The lighthouse is still operational and off-limits to the public

The lighthouse is still operational and off-limits to the public

Rather than returning to Sea Life to catch the bus, we walked in the opposite direction along the highway to another bus top at the Hawaii Kai Golf Course, which turned out to be about the same distance from the trailhead but our tired legs and hunger made it seem further away. Cold beers and a tasty kalua pork taco salad at the restaurant renewed our energy before boarding the bus back to Waikiki.

Along the trail, you can see the highway and Koko Head

Along the trail, you can see the highway. Hawaii Kai Golf Course appears in front of Koko Crater.

Kalua pork taco salad

Kalua pork taco salad at Hawaii Kai Golf Course

Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail
Ka Iwi State Scenic Shoreline
Kalanianaole Hwy
Honolulu, HI 96825
 

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Breakfast at Rainbow Drive-In (Honolulu, HI)


One of the island’s favorite foods is loco moco, a fried ground beef patty served over two scoops of rice, all smothered in brown gravy and topped with two fried eggs. Personally, I find very little to get excited about basically a hamburger without the bun, even with gravy and rice. But, we were standing in front of Rainbow Drive-In which fans say serves a legendary loco moco. Speaking of legends, President Obama was supposed to have frequented Rainbow in his youth. Not one to let food prejudices get in the way of possible enlightenment—once in a while anyway—I ordered a first-time-ever loco moco plate. A single bite was enough to confirm that I was still underwhelmed. Let’s just say it’s a dish that doesn’t appeal to me, regardless of how well it might be made.

Loco moco plate

Loco moco plate

On the other hand, my wife’s fried rice was pretty good, studded with bits of Portuguese sausage and green onions. Some of the rice was nicely crusted from a hot pan—what Japanese call koge—adding to the appeal.

Fried rice with eggs

Fried rice with eggs

We topped off breakfast by walking up a few blocks to Leonard’s to have their heavenly haupia malasadas.

Rainbow Drive-In
3308 Kanaina Ave
Honolulu, HI
808.737.0177 ‎
 

Happy Hour at Taormina and Afterward (Honolulu, HI) **No Longer Observed**


An Italian restaurant doesn’t immediately come to mind when trying to decide where to have a happy hour drink in Honolulu. Along the short stretch of Lewers Street south of Kalakaua, several cafes, restaurants and bars compete for your happy dollar. We intended to get a drink at Yard House known for its plethora of cocktails, drinks and entertainment. But, today was Saturday when the happy hour menu is put away for the weekend. Minor disappointment. A sandwich board close by plugged Taormina, a Sicilian restaurant across the street. More than that, happy hour was happily being observed.

Taormina doesn’t have the flamboyance of Yard House or P. F. Chang where diners and imbibers are in full view from their huge open-air spaces. There is an immediate atmosphere of formality when you walk in: tablecloths, cloth napkins, dressy waiters. You wonder if you’re properly attired to dine here, but I figured that the restaurant wouldn’t be so naive not to expect shorts and sandals in Waikiki. Sure enough, the wait staff didn’t batt an eyelash when we asked to be seated.

Peach prosecco bellini and Limoncello thyme cocktails at Taormina

Peach prosecco bellini and Limoncello thyme cocktails at Taormina

Of the two cocktails we ordered, the other a peach prosecco bellini, the limoncello thyme was a standout, so much so that we ordered another round before leaving for dinner. A big sprig of thyme floated like kelp in a tall glass filled with limoncello, citron, squeeze of lemon, simple syrup, and a splash of Chartreuse to add to the herbal and citrus flavors. At $5, it’s a great bargain for something this good. Outside of happy hour, it is more than twice that much ($14). The bellini was disappointingly weak on peach flavor.

From Taormina, we walked a few blocks to Eggs ‘n Things to split an ahi steak that had a nice furikake-macadamia nut crust. Cut at 1/2″ thick, the cooked tuna was predictably dry, but it was really tasty, served with wasabi mayonnaise served on the side. To top off everything, we got seated almost immediately, which is an impossibility for breakfast!

Ahi steak with furikake-macadamia crust and wasabi mayonnaise

Ahi steak with furikake-macadamia crust and wasabi mayonnaise at Eggs ‘n Things

Note: We returned to Taormina for a full dinner on our last night on Oahu. I mention this because, not only did we have the limoncello cocktail again, but had their outstanding bolognese alla classica, a recommendation made by a couple sitting next to us at happy hour (see above). It was surprising to see this Northern Italian entrée on a Sicilian menu; Taormina distinguishes it from its bolognese alla Siciliana. Regardless, we’ve never had better freshly made pasta (pappardelle, in this case) nor a finer ragù (made with beef, pork, chicken and foie gras), a dish made in Hawaiian paradise.

Bolognese alla classica

Update (9-10-14): We discovered that Taormina’s no longer observes happy hour.

 Taormina Sicilian Cuisine
227 Lewers St.
Honolulu HI 96815
808.926.5050
 

Barbecued Abalone at the Saturday Farmers’ Market (Honolulu, HI)


abalone_banner
Last time, we missed out on the grilled abalone at the Saturday Farmers’ Market. How is it that a mollusk long banned from fishing can make an appearance here in Hawaii? It turns out they are farmed off the coast by Big Island Abalone, which cultivates a Japanese species primarily for export. I was (am) a big fan of abalone, having had it as a kid at family meals (sliced and dipped in soy sauce) and later as an adult in the form of abalone steaks that used to be sold in Southern California restaurants, but its disappearance from the market left me longing for it. So, by the time I discovered that they were selling it at the Saturday Market back in 2010, they were already sold out. This year, I was bent on not missing out. My wife and I headed to the booth as soon as we got to the market. There were only a half dozen people in front of us, so it didn’t take long. We ordered one apiece, setting us back $6 each and sized almost 3 inches long, not very big by California abalone standards back in the day. Several sauces were offered for flavoring, including shoyu-ponzu, lemon juice, and butter spray.

bbq_abalone

Grilled abalone

While the abalone was not without merit, we were both disappointed with the flavor, or lack thereof. It was too mild, not having the signature assertive abalone taste that I remembered from years ago. It’s like the difference between eating a steamer clam and a Northwest razor clam, both are good but the razor is unique and extraordinary. Today’s was a case of an expectation unfulfilled.

Meanwhile, the rest of the market experience was as great as ever—so much food and so little time.

Eat the Streets (Honolulu, HI)


You could make a case that the biggest development in American dining trends in the last few years has been the explosion of food trucks. Literally, an explosion. Maybe the weak economy has been somewhat responsible. For a business, it kind of makes sense because you don’t have huge capital expenses, can “move” your restaurant to suit customer demand, don’t have to hire much help and offer only a handful of specialties. My home town of Seattle is experiencing the national craze and seemingly greets a new truck almost weekly.

A related and more recent development is the food truck jamboree where several trucks gather in one spot to sell their stuff in a festival atmosphere. On the last Friday of every month, downtown Honolulu holds one, called Eat the Streets, in the late afternoon on a large parking lot, corner of South and Halekauwila Streets, just blocks from King Kamehameha’s statue. I counted about 40 trucks, an amazing number by any standard. There were easily a thousand hungry fans here. In my limited experience, the only other food festival to have an equal impact was the Richmond Night Market in British Columbia, just south of Vancouver, where the sheer variety and unique offerings were just as staggering. I went gawking as I walked from one end of the lot to the other and back again in a big loop. With words inadequate to describe the scene, the gallery below does a better job.

Portuguese Sausage and Eggs at Eggs ‘N Things (Honolulu, HI)


portuguese_sausage_and_eggs

One of our favorite breakfast spots in Waikiki is Eggs ‘n Things. It also happens to be hugely popular with Japanese tourists who easily could make up over 75 percent of the clientele. Last time, we got seated within 15 minutes after we arrived just before 8. Thinking I had discovered the secret, my wife and I were disappointed instead by a much longer wait. This time, we got into the restaurant almost an hour later. Regardless of when you arrive, a long wait is virtually guaranteed, except when the doors first open at 6am, according to the person taking names. By 6:30, lines already gather. It seems that not even the addition of two branches, one on Kalakaua near Kuhio Beach and another in Ala Moana Shopping Center (open since last October), has eased the situation.

We really like their Portuguese sausage. Our waitress revealed to us that it is specially made for them, a simple enough answer that we didn’t get from two separate waiters on our last visit, who pretended ignorance. We come here for the Portuguese sausage with fried eggs and one (big) scoop of rice. Another possibility for a future visit is Minced Meat (including Portuguese sausage) with Green Onions and Scrambled Eggs, one of my favorite ways that Holiday Bowl in LA used to make it. A large number of customers seem to order the so-called whip pancakes piled with fruit and an obscene amount of whipped cream that sits on top like Marge Simpson’s hair. It was enough for me to sample one of their very good regular pancakes with coconut syrup, which was cloyingly sweet.

Eggs ‘N Things would easily be our go-to breakfast place if it weren’t for the crowds. Is any breakfast worth an hour’s wait? If we really had to, we could always eat breakfast later in the day when the human onslaught is not nearly so bad.

Eggs ‘n Things
343 Saratoga Road
Honolulu, HI 96815
808.923.3447
 

International Market Place Farmers Market (Honolulu, HI)—CLOSED


Tourists buy inexpensive souvenirs (and lots of crappy stuff) at the International Market Place, strategically situated in Waikiki on Kalakaua. The most enduring sight here is the giant 100-year-old banyan tree that seems to cover the entire open-air market like an enormous umbrella. Every time we’re in Waikiki, we find ourselves walking through here, not because it’s a destination, but because it’s along the way on several of our walks in the area. We’ve never purchased anything here, but we did have cocktails and snacks at a restaurant bar back in 2009.

Late this afternoon, as we were making our way past the vendors’ carts and tourist shops, we noticed a roped-off area that seemed to be preparing for some kind of food bazaar. Then, it occurred to me that this must be the Thursday afternoon farmers market. Sure enough, it was.

The usual island fruits made their appearance: papayas, mangoes, bananas, pineapples. One man was skillfully slicing up pineapples into chunks that were packaged into plastic tubs. Some containers had the fruit sprinkled with li hing mui powder. The foods were of a different sort than you would find at the KCC Farmers Market—snack foods, mostly deep-fried, and many that are comfort food to the locals, who seemed to make up most of the shoppers. A people’s market. Instead of going out to dinner somewhere, we made a decision to purchase a few snacks here to take back to the condo, including li hing pineapples. All of it was pretty good food, but ones that you don’t want to make a habit of eating often.


Update: The International Market Place has been demolished to make way for yet another shopping mall, this one with Sak’s Fifth Avenue and Macy’s. Eh what? Despite how tourists may have seen it as an open-air market of trinket shops and stalls, it was too valuable a piece of property not to be claimed by developers eager to cash in on the big-spending Asians (Japan, Korea and China) who are ever desirous of labels that can be bought cheaper in Honolulu than back at home. These small shops were at least owned and operated by locals. Gone, too, is the Farmers Market with all its ethnic food.