The Girl Who Ate Everything

Blogging about food and whatever since 2004.

Honolulu, Day 3: Five-Location Plate Lunch Tour, Plus Desserts

I visited Honolulu with Kathy from May 9-16. Yup, that was about a month ago. Thank god for digital photography or else I wouldn't remember enough to write about anything. ENJOY.

I got my malasada breakfast. I conquered a mountain of shave ice. The only major Hawaiian foodstuff left for me to gorge on? Plate lunch.

When I first heard of plate lunch—basically consisting of an Asian-influenced entrée, scoop of white rice, and scoop of macaroni salad—I thought, "That is what I want to eat every day." Okay, maybe not the mac salad as much (not that I'm against it; it's just not something I ever crave), but the Asian entrée? Yup. And the rice? Yes. A thousand times yes. Rice is my favorite starch. You know that moment when you open the lid of a rice cooker full of just-cooked rice and it releases a fresh poof of rice steam? I love that part—I take a giant whiff. And then relish my nutrient-barren rice.

The key to our plate lunch success was Stephanie Miwa. Stephanie is our friend Shannon's mom. Shannon wasn't actually in Hawaii—she's one of Kathy's roommates back in New York City and longtime friends from Honolulu—but Stephanie is so sweet that she didn't mind hanging out with us in her daughter's absence and being our tour guide for a few hours while driving us around the city.

Let the gorging begin.

FRIED GOODNESS Monarch Seafoods seafoooooods
Monarch Seafoods.

Our first stop, Monarch Seafoods, ended up being my favorite of the day. I wanted to try everything on the menu—ahi sashimi salad, spicy firecracker chicken, garlic butter sauteed tiger prawns, pan fried butterfish, and garlic roast pork, just to name a few options—but considering we had hours of eating ahead of us and limited space in our digestive systems, we started with a mixed plate of deep fried poke and mochiko chicken served with scoops of white rice and macaroni salad. Only $8.45 for this heaping pile of food.

Poke is raw fish salad, usually made of Ahi tuna. Monarch Seafoods' deep fried poke consisted of huge Ahi tuna chunks, breaded and deep fried. Not much like a fish salad—just lightly crispy, meaty goodness. Mochiko chicken is made of garlic and soy sauce-flavored chicken strips coated in a glutinous rice flour-based batter and deep fried. The crust around the moist chicken nubbins wasn't all that crispy, but appealingly light and puffy with a hint of chewiness.

And with that, deep fried poke and mochiko chicken were added to my "FAVORITE FOODS" list.

banana cream pie
Banana cream pie.

We also tried a slice of homemade banana cream pie ($2.50), their only dessert. And they make that one dessert count: tender crust filled with creamy banana pudding topped with banana slices and a layer of whipped cream. WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE? (I've met people who don't like bananas. I guess...I guess I can accept that.)

short ribs, mac salad, and brown rice Pongo'smenu

Next up was Pongo's Kitchen. Their menu also got the salivary glands flowing, although perhaps not as much as Monarch's. Options included grilled ahi, grilled salmon, grilled shrimp, grilled tofu, fried chicken, sesame chicken, roasted chicken, and penne pasta in tomato pesto with different meat toppings. I quite liked their steps to ordering:


Step number five: CHOOSE A SEASONED BUTTER. Any step that involves choosing a butter is a good step.

We didn't get seasoned butter on our mini grilled short ribs plate lunch with brown rice (brown!—we wanted to mix things up) and macaroni salad ($5.75), but I think there's some creamy garlic sauce on top. While certainly not a bad combination, there was no way the short ribs could beat fried fish and mochiko chicken. And I think I was distracted while eating this because I still had fried fish and mochiko chicken on the brain. Oops. If I could go back, I'd want to try the guava chicken. Drizzled in spicy butter.

Ethel's Grill more menu stuff
Ethel's Grill.

The next stop, Ethel's Grill, wasn't a take out lunch place like Monarch or Pongo's, but more like a greasy spoon diner—one whose menu includes sashimi, saimin, chicken katsu, garlic pork chops, teriyaki burgers, and other dishes that I'll never find all under the same roof in New York City. I weep. I like that their "Morning Special" dish is miso soup simmered with vegetables, tofu, and egg, served with rice. That kind of breakfast would make me so much happier than bacon, eggs, and pancakes—a combination that may be satisfying for the first few bites, but by the end turn me into this cat:

...With less fur.

teriburger nom nom
Teri burger.

To preserve stomach space, we went the snacky route with a teriyaki burger (only $1.50—whoa). The teriyaki sauce-slathered patty was hot (temperature-wise; there was no spiciness) as hell, and methinks the burger being wrapped in a plastic baggie accelerated the lettuce wilting process and increased the area of sauce slick-age over the bottom half of the soft white bun. I mostly remember the patty being quite mushy and hot (it just didn't want to let go of its heat). Enjoyable, but surely not an optimal teri burger experience.

Looking back, I don't know why I didn't try their tataki sashimi: lightly seared tuna on a bed of bean sprouts, drizzled in sesame oil and garlic-shoyu sauce. SWEET JESUS IWANTTHATNOW.

garlic chicken garlic chicken

Next up: Mitsu-Ken, a take-out window which, after reading Ono Kine Grindz's review, I learned is called an okazu-ya based on the local dishes they serve. (I'm going to stop there—a Hawaiian could describe it way better than I could.) Their menu includes a breakfast pack with rice, omelet, and Portuguese sausage for just $2.75. And for $6 you can get a bento with garlic chicken, teri beef, hot dog, omelet, and rice with furikake. Such meal possibilities, as simple as they may sound, make happy rainbow fireworks explode in the part of my mind that controls hunger. And since I don't know how to express the feeling I get when I read these sorts of menus (that is, the menus I had been reading all day) in real words, I'll go the the onomatopoeic route: "Aarrhrhh ahrhr mraraargh maaan arrrehgge [fidget] mraarahh wuuh grurgle blarghr waaaant."

We got an order of their famous garlic chicken, fame that became clear about halfway through my first bite: Mouth, meet this incredibly crispy crust infused with sweet garlic sauce. Instant love. The chicken wasn't especially moist, but it didn't really matter seeing as the crust was the main draw.


Stephanie took us to Mitsuba across the street to try their sweet potato crumble, but they had sold out by then. Sad face. Never underestimate the popularity of sweet potato crumble.


Akyth isn't a place you'd stop by for a bento box—but 50 bento boxes, yes. They've been in the catering business since the 1970s, making all the kinds of Hawaiian-Japanese dishes I wish I had grown up with: sushi, bento, musubi, etc. Stephanie suggested going there because she was familiar with co-owner Kiyomi Morishige, and because they make the mochiko chicken bento Kathy ate while attending Punahou School. For a great profile of Akyth, check out this feature in The Honolulu Adviser.

mochiko chicken and rice andagi
Mochiko chicken bento.

I'm not sure they'd sell you one mochiko chicken bento if you stopped by, but after we chatted with the the super sweet owners Owen and Kiyomi Morishige, they gave us a box to try. It came with a nori-wrapped patty of rice, a couple of pieces of mochiko chicken, a slice of spam, a mini fork, and somewhere tucked beneath the meat, an andagi (Okinawan doughnut ball). Much more appealing than the Aramark lunches I got in my high school cafeteria. (At some point I think I stopped buying lunch in the cafeteria, instead bringing a snack with me and opting to eat my real lunch at home after school around 3 p.m.)

maki rolls sweet pickled cucumber

Kiyomi wouldn't let us leave without a few mode goodies: a maki roll and container of sweet pickled cucumber slices. I was too full to try the sushi, but I ate some of the cucumber and it instantly made me think of the kind of Chinese pickled cucumber I loved as a kid. Mostly sweet, not that tart.

Akyth doesn't do any advertising; they get their business through word-of-mouth. Which seems to have served them well for the past few decades. If you're throwing a party, make sure to get food from Akyth!

Liliha Bakery interior Pound Cake mm, shiny
Liliha Bakery.

After finishing the savory part of our food tour and deeming our stomachs still shy of exploding, we moved on to the next stage: desserts. We stopped by Liliha Bakery, purveyor of "sensational" pound cakes and other pastries, most notably coco puffs.

Coco puff innards
Mm, chocolate cream puff!

Coco puffs are one of Kathy's favorite desserts, so I'll just let her describe them: "Cool chocolate pudding, choux pastry and the world's most wonderful chantilly: yolky, creamy and sweet with just the right hand of salt." In a rare exercise of restraint, Kathy and I split one of these pudding-filled nubs. Although I'm not a big fan of choux pastry, I am a big fan of pudding and creamy goo. The pastry is an edible receptacle for both. Mmm.

menu Shimazu Store interior

For dessert #2, we went to Shimazu Store, primarily a shave ice joint, but they also sell popcorn snacks. They have over 60 shave ice flavors, and judging from the categories of "NEW FLAVORS" and "NEWER FLAVORS," it's hard to keep up.

The Extras.

They also sell cute t-shirts featuring your favorite shave ice extras: ice cream, azuki beans, mochi, and condensed milk.

large shave ice
Large shave ice.

We didn't get any extras in our large shave ice flavored with ginger ale, milk tea, and li hing pickle mango ($3.75). Because when you have a nearly football-sized mound of flavored ice, that's...that's enough. Especially when you're already full.

The ice wasn't as finely shaved as Waiola's, but that's actually why I liked it more. Shimazu's had more texture to it—still super-fine with no crunchy bits, but not so fine it instantly melted upon contact with human skin. One isn't necessarily better than the other—it just depends what your preference is. I guess I like a bit of chew. Out of the three flavors we got, the li hing pickle mango was my favorite. I heard their red velvet creme is especially popular, though.


And we were finally full. For realz. Stephanie drove us to the East West Center so we could check out their lovely little garden and koi-filled pond in the back before driving to Iolani to pick up Kathy's sister Tiffany from school, and bringing the three of us back to Kathy's house.

In summary, Stephanie did a crapload for us, way more than we were expecting, and introduced us to some memorably great eats we wouldn't think of visiting on our own. While may people may be as well informed about food as she is, I doubt many are as sweet and mega-adorable. I'm quite sure I will never be that cool as a mom. I will just not be a mom ever. (Side note: My mom is awesome too! And I don't think I'll be as awesome as her either.)

Kay's Crackseed
Kay's Crackseed. Nice name.

We spent the late afternoon at Manoa Marketplace, where we used the wifi at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (not optimal since it's code activated and you have a one-hour limit, which will inevitably run out just as you're about to send an important email) and shopped for dinner ingredients at Safeway. I took a photo of Kay's Crackseed just because...I liked the name Kay's Crackseed.

time to cook in the huge kitchen steaks! Mmmm garlic spinach.

Kathy's plan was to make use of her family's new and ridiculously beautiful kitchen by cooking steaks for everyone and giving her mom a break, but as we attempted to prep the steaks and sautéed spinach, her mom—in true mom-like form—took over and basically cooked the meal herself. I couldn't even wash spinach correctly—fail. Ah well, can't blame her mom for wanting to make sure everything came out good, which it did.

some trees!
Ah. Foliage.

To finish off, here's a view looking up from Kathy's driveway at twilight. Nice, eh? Yeaaah. Too bad Kathy is seemingly allergic to Hawaii—she had eye crust, snot-laden allergies all week (and during most of her childhood), as did I, but not as bad as hers. Which is saying something since I'm known for being perpetually allergy-ridden.


Monarch Seafoods
515 Kalihi Street, Honolulu, HI 96819 (map)

Pongo's Kitchen
414 Mokauea Street, Honolulu, HI 96819 (map)
808- 845-6008

Ethel's Grill
232 Kalihi Street, Honolulu, HI 96819 (map)

1223 North School Street, Honolulu, HI 96817 (map)

979 Robello Lane, Honolulu, HI 96817 (map)

Liliha Bakery
515 North Kuakini Street, Honolulu, HI 96817 (map)

Shimazu Store
330 N School St, Honolulu, HI 96817 (map)

Manoa Marketplace
2851 E Manoa Rd, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822 (map)


Marvo / June 14, 2010 3:55 AM

Oh, Pongo's. How I miss you? And the Korean convenience store next to you.

Guava Chicken is the best thing on Pongo's menu. They were originally boneless, then they switched to boned pieces of chicken and then went back to boneless because people complained. Second best thing -- Baked Ahi (a casserole dish with mayo, ahi and, I think, imitation crab). I also ate a lot of grilled salmon with garlic drizzle. Also, their turkey with stuffing mini plate maybe small, but it's super filling.

roboppy / June 14, 2010 4:05 AM


Crap, that baked ahi sounds awesome. Warrhghgfuug.

Nicholas / June 14, 2010 6:57 AM

I wrote this somewhere else, but the other day I had one of those nirvana moments where I thought about how awesome it was that some dude, for some reason, decided to pick a bunch of rice seeds, throw them into a pot of really hot water, and wait for like... 25 minutes. Genius.

I would also like to meet the man who came up with Japanese hamburger steak. Whatever it is. It sounds delicious.

Btdubs, does that adzuki, marshmallow thing come on a shirt perchance? I would buy it, regardless of the cost.

Reid / June 14, 2010 9:16 AM


You can get the food at Ethel's to go. You won't get any tataki sashimi, but you'll still get the miso soup & tossed salad with the parsley/Dijon dressing which is sooooo good.

The sweet potato crumbles at Mitsuba are hard to score unless you go early in the am (think 6:00am or thereabouts) or pre-order.

Next time you're here, I hope you get to try the shave ice at Yummy Ice Garden in downtown or Jung's in McCully. Both are pretty good as well.

Margaret / June 14, 2010 10:21 AM

O-M-G ... What a super delicious-sounding outing!!! Never ceases to amaze me how much you and Kathy can eat -- what a couple of pros! Just reading your post made me feel stuffed. I've never felt a strong desire to visit Hawaii, but you've changed that for sure.

Julie / June 14, 2010 11:59 AM

Hawaii, land of beautiful landscapes and comfort food. I just ate breakfast, and now I'm hungry again. We have a couple of Hawaiian BBQs here, and macaroni salad tastes best with a plate lunch.

The sign at the Shimazu Store that says "Halo halo sold out today!" makes me sad, though.

michelle / June 14, 2010 1:59 PM

looooove this post. btw though, the maki and the sweet cucumber are Korean. the maki is called kimbap and I can't remember the name of the cucumber pickles, which are made with soy sauce and sugar and sesame oil, etc.... :)

roboppy / June 14, 2010 4:16 PM

Nicholas: I'm also thankful for the person who took sweetened milk goo and froze it. MMMMM.

And yes, that is a shirt!

Reid: 6AM?! Good lord. I shall never get my hands on those crumbles. Sob. It's more likely I could stay up until 6 than wake up that early, heh.

Margaret: YESSS I shall increase Hawaii's tourism with the power of plate lunch! Not that they need more tourists..but...maybe get em away from the beach for a while. :)

Julie: Yeah, even though we weren't going to get halo halo, I felt sad knowing I couldn't order it. It's probably AWESOOOME.

Michelle: I eat kimbap a lot (there's a kimbap place around the corner from my office), so're right (slaps forehead), that is totally..kimbap-y. Hehe. I just read this in Wikipedia:

"In Hawaii, there is a predominant style of maki sushi that includes shoyu tuna (canned not fresh), tamago, kanpyō, kamaboko, and the distinctive red and green hana ebi (shrimp powder)."

So I guess it's a Hawaiian thing! I wish I hadn't been so full, I would've eaten more.

I dunno what the name of the sweet cucumber thing is either. D'oh.

egeria: YAY COMA!

Donny / June 14, 2010 10:35 PM

I used to not care about visiting Hawaii but THANKS TO YOU, I wanna visit! And who doesn't like bananas?

gtrine / June 14, 2010 11:59 PM

Gah! The title alone "Plate Lunch Tour" was enough to start off the salivating. I can't help but laugh at the mish-mash of signs at Ethel's Grill.

The garlic chicken sounds so good! How you don't order the entire menu everywhere you go is astounding to me. Thanks for sharing!

Mahar / June 15, 2010 3:34 AM

You didn't try the halo-halo at the Shimazu Store?

As for plate lunch, sans the macaroni, that's what I've been having practically everyday for my whole life.

White rice + yummy viand = My DAILY NOMS. I guess the Philippines is pretty much like Hawaii in that regard.

roboppy / June 15, 2010 3:49 AM


I have a friend who is opposed to banana texture. But I feel like I've also had a friend who wasn't into the flavor. ...Or maybe that person just didn't like bananas in any way. Hm.

gtrine: I love those signs! BEST MISH MASH!

Mahar: They were sold out! It's in the photo. But even if they weren't, I wouldn't have gotten it cos..I just wanted ice.

I gotta get to the Philippiiiinnnesss. :(

bionicgrrrl / June 15, 2010 11:46 AM

Regarding the pickles, I went to a BBQ recently and a Chinese person, Japanese person, and a Korean person (me) all claimed the pickles were from their country. Haha. All I know is that they're good and we all have good taste. :)

Yuzuman83 / June 15, 2010 11:48 AM

Please tell me that you got to try apple bananas, aka the best bananas ever, while on your trip. I will make me very sad if you didn't get to try them. SO GOOD.

And Shimazu's = amazing! Did you also get to try Ice Garden?

shannon / June 15, 2010 12:01 PM


...and plate lunch. Wish I could have been there with you guys!

gtrine / June 15, 2010 2:07 PM

Ok. If you do plan to go to the philippines, let us know in advance and I am sure we can suggest tons - i mean T.O.N.S. - of worthwhile eats for your visit!

Missy / June 15, 2010 2:38 PM

The day before I left for my trip to Honolulu you had just put up Day 2. I was super bummed I couldnt see all your yummy eats before hand but it was my mission to make it to Leonards for Malasadas! SO GOOD. I love Hawaii for oh so many reasons...=)

roboppy / June 17, 2010 7:03 PM


Yuzuman83: I did get to try them once, thanks to Kathy's grandmother! Woot! I didn't necessarily prefer them over regular bananas, but they were very good. Different. I don't eat bananas that often.

Nope, didn't get to try Ice Garden. Put it on the list for next time?

Shann: YOUR MOM OMGGG she is so fun. Someday we will all eat in Hawaii TOGETHER.

gtrine: I'm almost afraid to go to the Philippines cos you guys will feed me so well. I WILL DIE. Not a bad way to die, I think.

Missy: Oh noes! My posts will only be useful for people go to Hawaii in..uh...August, hehe. Glad you got malasadas though!

Tamarindball / June 25, 2010 1:13 PM

At this moment, I am pretty sure that if I ever make it to Honolulu, I will be able to float home after ballooning up from eating everything in sight.

Those menus with the blend of Asian and Western food in a *single combo plate* are like holy scriptures!

roboppy / June 29, 2010 8:16 PM

Joanne: I tried ahi poke on my last day...SO GOOD! I wish I could've eaten more. ;_;

Tamarindball: Yesss those menus are awesome, eh? HAWAII, what a magical land.

Something random from the archives