Hawaii Gastronomic Journey Part 5
Sketchy, but Awesome! Street Vendors, Bar Food & Fast Food
Whenever I travel I seek out street vendors and shacks that truly provide a taste of the local culture and an opportunity to interact with locals. Dining at Street Food vendors is part dining experience and part social supper club. In Southern California, we have a thriving gourmet food truck scene where the emphasis is on social interaction with the food truck operators and your fellow diners in an outdoor setting. In these mobile food venues, you have the opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life, joined together by a love of good food. I sometimes think world peace can be negotiated while huddled around the back of a food truck, while noshing on a Kimchee Quesadilla.
KronDogs was my most colorful food experience on The Big Island, Hawaii. After a night of partying like Mick Jagger at the only real club in Kona, Lulu’s, I needed to get some food in my belly. The only problem is that Taco bell is several miles up the Ali road and not easily assessable by foot, especially after several “sneaky tikki” drinks. All the “mom and pop” restaurants are closed and the word “Denny’s” draws blanks with the locals.
What does that leave a drunken foodie to do?
Look for mobile food cuisine staking out the bar scene — every city has them. Walking out the door of LuLu’s, what did I find? KronDogs! This mobile food vendor uses a push-cart grill and a blowtorch to cook hot dogs to the hungry drunken masses. The owner is a blonde surfer-looking guy with sleeve tattoos. We chatted and discovered that he is a fellow Orange County, California native, who moved to Hawaii several years ago.
All kidding aside, the hot dog was pretty darn good and KronDogs definitely added some color and excitement to the Kona culinary scene. Good food doesn’t have to be haute and white-tablecloth-style to be good; sometimes the renegade food vendors shine the brightest on the culinary scene of a city. We enjoyed our hot dog in the goof company of the local revelers. If you visit KronDogs in Kona, I highly encourage you to eat it on the streets with the locals. Street food is all about developing a fellowship with other customers. I met some of the most interesting people in Hawaii by striking up a conversation about the food we were eating.
Ray’s Kiawe Broiled Chicken
Another piece of roadside awesomeness was spotted by a friend who visited the Big Island, Hawaii a month before I made my trip. This account is based on an interview with Nachelle Corey, who says this place provided the “best chicken ever!” This roadside vendor sells freshly-broiled chicken from a large BBQ pit attached to the back of a trailer. Ray, the owner, racks whole chickens on metal skewers and slowly broils them over low heat, ensuring each rack of chicken is perfectly cooked.
The result of his love-making to the chicken is a seriously juicy and wonderfully seasoned white meat. One of the locals, Billy, told me the best way to find Ray’s is to look for the smoke from the road. Ray’s is located on the northside of the island closer to Waipo in Haleiwa Town. This roadside chicken broiler is only open Saturdays and Sundays. If you really have a craving for this chicken, you might want to coordinate your visit to the northern coast so that you can try it. As I have been told by several other food bloggers,
“This is great chicken, but don’t base an entire trip to the north shore just for Ray’s, but if you are there….you HAVE to stop!
Did I mention this is the BEST DEAL IN TOWN? A lunch plate costs around $7 and includes almost a half chicken and two sides (including rice, pineapple slaw, macaroni or potato salad). A whole chicken is around $9 and if you want it chopped up, then add 50 cents. Apparently the advice I received on this place is to order your food,
1) Take plenty of napkins,
2) Ask for extra sauces,
3) Eat your meal at Haleiwa Beach Park overlooking the bay. They view is better than a parking lot and there are no flies. Apparently humans and flies like the smell of cooking chicken.
Ray’s Kiawe Broiled Chicken
66-160 Kamehameha Highway
Haleiwa, HI 96712
Fast Food, Hawaiian Style
I know many of you are sneering at the title of this section right now. I know talking about fast food on a food blog is sometimes considered uncool. Despite the lack of love for fast food, I find regional difference in National fast food chains interesting. Admit it, foodies — you have personally made the drive of shame through the drive-through of your favorite fast food joint. With that public service announcement, I will carry on with my post.
This is a popular “Hawaiian BBQ” chain in California that is known for serving fatty meat dishes. Sorry folks, I know that we “have this chain at home”, but hell man…I went to eat Hawaiian BBQ in Hawaii and I am not going to apologize. Plus last time I checked, the L&L BBQ didn’t serve Oxtail Soup….So There!
All jocularity aside, I had just come out of the jungle near Captain Cook and was looking for something quick and convenient before heading north. Like an oasis, L&L BBQ appeared on the side of the road. I was in luck: they served Oxtail soup, one of my favorites. In fact, this was the only place that I saw oxtail soup on the island. Even some of the locals looked at me with an approving nod as they saw me rip the meat of the tail bone with my teeth, fat and all.
For those of you who have not eaten oxtail soup, it is extremely flavorful, rich and has deliciously tender meat (if cooked properly). L&L’s version has a nice rich broth flavored with the bone marrow, onions, ginger, and herbs. Even though this soup was L&L, the recipe was made by locals who cooked it with love. I would say that it even beat the legendary version made by Hop Phan on the Dos Chinos truck in Orange County, California.
Taco Bell’s Kalua Pork
Yes, my fellow foodie snobs, I did go to Taco Bell in Hawaii! Again, don’t judge, I visited for the sole purpose of investigating their regional variations 😉 I was rewarded for my visit by finding their Kalua pork burrito and quesadilla. Obviously the Taco Bell version is not as good as freshly made kalua pork that you will find in a backyard Luau, but not bad for a Taco Bell.
In addition, the pork is raised and cooked on the Hawaii Islands. I will be covering Kalua pork in my post about Luaus.
Tourist Traps But Decent Food Pub Grub
Kona Brewing Company
Awesome beers, limited menu. If you are okay with soup, salad, pizza, sandwiches, and fish tacos, then this is your place. Apparently they do not have a stove top in their kitchen, so everything has to be cooked in the pizza oven or deep fryer. We ordered the garlic flat bread, chicken tacos and the ahi tuna salad. Flatbread seemed to be their specialty and it was delicious, creamy and balanced. The tacos were good, but the overcooked ahi tuna salad was just wrong.
On the positive side, I sampled 5 of their beers, including the Longboard Island Lager, Fire Rock Ale, Wailua Wheat Koko Brown Nut Ale, and Pipeline Porter. This isn’t a place where you go for great food, but perfect for sampling each of their beers over a light meal.
Here you are able to try all the beers they produce, especially several that are not available on the mainland. I drank Kona beer most of the trip and recently purchased a case at TotalWine when I returned home. The Kona Brewing company offers brewery tours at 10:30am and 2:00pm; I highly encourage you to go on these tours and try the beer sampler in the bar.
Another beach bar style restaurant/bar. This restaurant sells food that most resembles that of a county fair. The best way I can describe LuLu’s food is “local dishes, prepared in an unhealthy way.” With that said, the food was pretty delicious for bar food. Their Moco Loco was calling my name like a siren to the rocks, although I fought my urges and ordered some items just slightly healthier.
Our table ordered a triple sized Kalua pork nachos, pulled Kalua pork sandwich, and the coconut deep-fried shrimp (homage to my childhood experiences). The one item I wished I had tried was the “deep fried hamburger”, perhaps next time I will indulge and suffer the consequences known as “pregnant-belly syndrome.”
My Final Thoughts
Based on this blog post, I hope you have learned one the of the greatest lessons in gastronomic travel, sketchy is usually good and many times sketchy food is awesome. I highly encourage you to seek out the mobile cuisine, shacks, dives and pop-up restaurants in Hawaii. I guarantee that these will be some of the more colorful, tasty and interesting experiences while you visit the Island. If you are traveling off the beaten path, you may be fortunate to find locals selling food from a tent, back for their house, possibly from the back of a truck! In Hawaii, bonds are made over meals; if you have the opportunity to share a sketchy meal from a push cart, do so and mingle with the locals who are also enjoying the same food. You are no longer strangers after you share a meal together.
Link to the other Hawaii Gastromic Journey Posts
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 2 – Hole in the Walls, Mom & Pop’s
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 3 – Big Island, Hawaii Farmer’s Markets and CoOps
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 4 – Wine, Honey and Coffee, Hawaii’s Artisanal Farmers
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 5 – Sketchy, But Awesome! Carts, Shacks, Dives
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 7 – While Visiting Volcano Park, Awesome Things to Eat
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 6 – Fine Dining (coming Nov, 2012)