After a dreamy week in Hawaii, I have a slew of recommendations to share with you, which will be a multi-part series. This time around, I focus on street food and the KCC farmers market in Honolulu, then food on Oahu’s fabulous North Shore, surfing capitol of the world.
HONOLULU Street Carts & Farmers Market
KCC Farmers Market – The KCC farmers market is held near Diamond Head, the touristy but absolutely breathtaking hike overlooking Honolulu. I’d call the farmers market a must for any foodie: passionate purveyors, memorable, local eats and a bustling crowd.
Start with taro dips from Tom Purdy of Taro Delight (I like red chili & coconut milk and Thai green curry taro dips; I found taronaise, a taro root substitute for mayo, an interesting alternative). Move on to Korean-influenced sausages on a stick from Kukui Sausage Co. (love kimchee and pineapple sausages). Savor an excellent, ultra-salty salmon fried rice from Ohana Seafoods, being cooked on woks in front of you. Order 2-6 pieces of Kona Coast Abalone. Wash it all down with refreshing kalamansi lime, ginger, seltzer drink using PacifiKool’s award-winning ginger syrup.
ONO POPS (at Saturday’s KCC farmers market, Whole Foods Kahala and these locations) was one of my favorite tastes the entire trip. Ono Pops would be a massive hit in San Francisco. Ultra-fresh ingredients in unique flavor combos (like Ume Thai Basil or Kalamansi Coriander) and the sweetest staff make this cart a must stop. Lilikoi 50-50 combines passion fruit with cream, while a tart Kumquat pop is loaded with candied kumquat rinds. You cannot lose.
SOUL – With a restaurant, Soul, and a food truck, Soul Patrol, Chef Sean Priester is overtaking Honolulu with authentic Southern soul food, something you don’t find much of on the islands. Though it felt wrong ordering chicken and waffles($12) in Hawaii when surrounded by foods unique to the region, I was pleased to taste Priester’s authentic soul food, which felt right at home on the islands.
NORTH SHORE/HALEIWA, HAWAII
Driving from Honolulu along Oahu’s Eastern side to the North Shore was one of the most delightful experiences in my time on Oahu. Unforgettable vistas and quiet beach towns unfolded before us, waving their gentle, aloha welcome as we passed through or stopped for multiple beach strolls along the way.
The famed North Shore, also known as surfing capitol of the world, is certainly crowded. It’s a bit of a kill joy to suddenly be in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a two-laned road through such a relaxed setting. But the beach town vibe of Haleiwa permeates nonetheless. Shrimp trucks and shave ice make it all better.
We trekked to a nearly private beach further West of Haleiwa, tromping through fields of flowers and horses to get to the beach, swim in solitude and lay on the sand watching sky divers jump out of a plane above.
Oahu spirit is exemplified in the East Shore’s wild radiance, the North Shore’s magnificent swells and Honolulu’s vibrant buzz. Some have called it touristy, but I found myself taken with this friendly, laid-back island.
GIOVANNI’S ORIGINAL WHITE SHRIMP TRUCK, Kahuku – Look for the ghetto, white truck covered in scribbles that would be lucky to even be deemed graffiti and you’ll be rewarded with kick-ass shrimp.
The oldest and first shrimp truck on the North Shore, Giovanni’s launched the shrimp truck craze that took over the North Shore.
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As you sit under a large, covered patio drinking juice from a coconut purchased at a juice truck, surrounded by local families, you catch the spirit of this part of Oahu: laid back, funky… and delicious.
ROMY’S, Kahuku – The joy of Romy’s, besides more winning shrimp (sweet and spicy!) is that they farm all their own shrimp in a pond behind the bright red storefront.
Shrimp trucks abound in these parts but few actually farm all their shrimp locally as Romy’s does. Red picnic tables dot the grounds, both near the pond and under awnings next to their shrimp shack.
Waits for a mere plate of shrimp can be agonizing at mealtimes so plan accordingly: come early or late.
MATSUMOTO’S SHAVE ICE, Haleiwa – No matter the correct English, don’t call it “shaved” ice. Shave ice is a North Shore invention, Matsumoto’s being the originator of this snow cone-like treat back in 1951. The humble little shop has a perpetual line out the door, movie star clientele, and tons of touristy merchandise surrounding their shop.
More finely shaved than a snow cone, and reminiscent of (but not quite as beloved for me) sno balls in New Orleans, shave ice is ideal on balmy, island days.
Shave ice colors are unnaturally neon bright, which gave me cause for concern. But I chose flavors carefully: a mix of lilikoi (passion fruit), coconut, and Chinese sour plum, with azuki (red) beans on the bottom. You can also get condensed milk poured on top, though I choose vanilla ice cream instead, which melted creamy over the beans and ice. It’s oddly addictive.
A quintessential North Shore experience.
(Note: Aoki’s Shave Ice is a popular alternative a few doors down).
KUA ‘AINA Sandwich, Haleiwa (also in Honolulu and Tokyo) – Kua ‘Aina actually disappointed. I had heard from countless locals both on North Shore and in Honolulu that these burgers and fries were about the best anywhere in Hawaii.
An Avocado Burger ($8 for 1/3 lb., $8.40 for 1/2 lb.) was piled high with buttery avocado grown on the North Shore. But from over-cooked beef to dry, bland bun, even merely decent fries, it was a letdown.
In my experience, there’s many a better burger in the world. Stick to shrimp on the North Shore.
TED’S BAKERY, Haleiwa – Another North Shore classic, there’s one reason to go to Ted’s: chocolate haupia pie.
I’m not a cream pie fan and this old school pie has grocery store-like crust and thick pudding texture. But for a couple dollars, it’s worth trying a slice, the haupia exuding a coconut-rich essence, contrasting nicely with chocolate.