Day 2: Monday
Breakfast: Leonard's Bakery of Quality
Among the earliest European settlers of the Hawaiian Islands were the Portuguese, who came in the mid to late nineteenth century. Their culinary legacy survives primarily in two forms. One is the ubiquitous breakfast sausage linguica, which you can even find on the breakfast menu at local McDonalds. The other is the malassada (alt. spelling malasada), a puffy, spherical doughnut served warm and dusted with sugar. Leonard's is probably the most popular malassada bakery. A few years ago I did a side by side comparison with their nearby rival Champion Malasadas. Leonard's have a nice chewy texture where the Champion are more cake-like; I prefer Leonard's, but it's a different style. (Later in the trip, I'll try to make it to Agnes' Portuguese Bake Shop in Kailua, which makes my very favorite of all malassadas). So, grab a dozen of these and munch them down while warm. Would you expect anything less than greatness from a "Bakery of Quality"?
Leonard's Bakery of Quality
933 Kapahulu Ave.
Honolulu, HI 96816
Waimanalo is an economically depressed little town set against one of the world's most gorgeous backdrops. It is sandwiched between some of Hawaii's most beautiful beaches and the sheer, majestic, ridged mountains which rise up behind it. Since the mid-1980s, Keneke's Waimanalo lunch stand has been doling out some of the best plate lunch in the Island. Plate lunch, of course, is the fast food staple of Hawaii, the combination of one to three greasy or fried meats or sides with an ice cream scooper full of rice and another of macaroni salad.
Keneke's is aggressively Christian, complete with bible verses scribbled on the wall, Jesus fish, psalms on the cups and posters touting their very successful Fear God Powerlifting Team sharing wall-space with anti-meth slogans. They clearly have a sense of humor about it with their slogan, "Divine Grinds."
I've been going to Keneke's for many years. I've had Kalua pig there, the salty luau style shredded pork similar to a non-fried version of carnitas, that is among the best I've had anywhere. Today, though, the Kalua pig wasn't as good as the pork adobo, the garlicky Filipino pork dish. The adobo has the feel of one of those age-old, passed down recipes, perfectly spiced, succulent and juicy. Also excellent was the lau lau, the traditional Hawaiian dish of pork wrapped in taro leaves, bundled inside of ti leaves like a Hawaiian tamale. The pork emerges tender and juicy and flavors the Taro leaves which come out with the texture and taste of a slightly bitter version of spinach. Lest you think they are a pork-only type of establishment, they make an excellent shoyu chicken and a good fried mahi mahi.
Take your plate lunch and continue a mile or so up the coast to Waimanalo Bay Beach Park (not to be confused with the more residential Waimanalo Beach Park) to enjoy your pork products on one of Oahu's most amazing beaches.
41-857 Kalanianaole Highway
Waimanalo, HI 96795
Dessert: Waiola Bakery & Shave Ice
There are few desserts I enjoy more than Hawaiian style shave ice. Served in a cup or paper cone, it misleads people into thinking it's a snow cone, but it is so much more. Instead of the unpleasant icy crunch, it has the melt in your mouth quality of fresh snow, doused in sweet syrup foisted on a scoop of ice cream and sweet, black azuki beans. I'll take it any day over any snow cone, and enjoy the Hawaiian style more than the Korean bingsu I can get at home.
There is a strong disagreement in our family about the best shave ice on the islands. I give the edge to Matsumoto's or one of the other excellent North Shore purveyors, whereas my significant other holds that Waiola is the best.
Waiola, located on Kapahulu, just up from the zoo, makes a very fine ice, smoother than Northshore ice, and it has some of the best syrups around. The lilikoi (passionfruit) is tart, the lychee is specked with fruit pulp and the strawberries with cream is divine. But my favorite part of a shave ice is after you've eaten the top layer, and the bottom combines with the melted ice cream and beans to make a flavored sweet bean milkshake. This is where the North Shore excels. The chewy, not sufficiently sweet beans are Waiola's downfall, making the shake less than it should be. Still, the ice and the flavors are the best, and it's a whole lot closer to us than Matsumoto's.
Waiola Bakery & Shave Ice II
525 Kapahulu Avenue
Dinner: Mekong II
The first place I ever had Thai food, in the early 1980s, was Keo's in Honolulu. The same Lao family that owns the now several Keo's had first opened the more modest but similar Mekong and Mekong II. The Thai offerings, largely unchanged since the '80s, are pretty tame by today's standards. Overall, I felt that Mekong had dropped a notch on this trip. Someone who eats regularly in LA's Thai Town will be unimpressed by the noodle dishes and the papaya salad which used to be quite good but seemed lackluster. The crispy, rice paper spring rolls, once a favorite, seemed a bit over fried and came with a much smaller medley of vegetable condiments than previously. Still excellent, however, are the curries made with island fresh coconut. It is something you simply can't replicate in LA or any other place that doesn't grow fresh coconut. The thick, creamy mouthfeel, the ability to temper spicier ingredients and that pure, rich coconut flavor makes you understand what Thai curry is all about. I'm hoping my experience at Mekong this year represents only an unfortunate blip and not a more serious decline, but if nothing else, we'll always have coconut curry.
1295 S. Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96814
1726 S. King Street
Tomorrow: Loco Moco, Burgers, Scones-To-Die-For, and Tropical Fruit