A final entry about our trip to Oahu, then we’ll be done!
Saturday morning after breakfast, we set out for a drive around the island. We headed southeast from the hotel, past Diamond Head and onto Highway 72. It is a beautiful drive with lots of points where you can pull off the road and take in the magnificent views.
Despite the barriers and warning signs, nearly everybody (including Tawn) decided they needed to climb down the rocks and get closer to the waves that were crashing ashore. I stayed back and caught some pictures of Tawn trying to protect himself from the spray.
After you drive around the easternmost point of the island, the spectacular views continue. We ended up driving all the way around the north shore to Waialua, then drove straight down the middle of the island back to Honolulu. Honestly, I think we would have been fine to have turned back at Kailua, seeing only the southeastern quadrant of the island. The views north of that point were nice, but most of the time you couldn’t see much from the main road.
There’s lots of free culture available in Honolulu. Every Friday night at 6:00 you can enjoy classical Hawaiian music performed at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in the heart of Waikiki. There’s also a free torch lighting ceremony and hula shows four nights a week at nearby Kuhio Beach Park.
On Monday and Friday evenings, browse the farmer’s market at King’s Village shopping center, also in Waikiki. While the selection of produce is limited, there is still a lot to see.
Among the attractions are fresh baked goods including (left hand side) malasadas filled with a variety of flavors. Feeling peckish before dinner? A stop here will tide you over!
Sunday morning we headed to the outdoor restaurant at the New Otani hotel, where we stayed. With a view of the beach just beyond, it is a enjoyable place to start your day.
Special item from the menu: macadamia nut French toast. Seemed like the right way to end our trip.
One last picture of the two of us at the tail end of our ten days in Hawai’i. I hope you’ve enjoyed the many entries about our time on the islands. Now we’ll get back to the mainland and, eventually, back to Bangkok (where I’ve actually been for more than two weeks now!)
One corner of Honolulu that we found ourselves returning to throughout our two-day visit was Kapahulu Avenue. This neighborhood runs from the north side of the Honolulu Zoo (which is at the south end of Waikiki) to the H1 freeway near Chaminade University of Honolulu. The approximately two-kilometer distance is gentrifying nicely, with lots of long-time shops rubbing shoulders with a new Safeway supermarket. On our visits there, we ate a breakfast and a dinner.
Breakfast: Sweet E’s Cafe
Located in a small shopping complex kind of hidden off Kapahulu Avenue near the H1 freeway, Sweet E’s Cafe is one of the higher-rated breakfast places on Yelp.com. To be certain, I take Yelp reviews with a few large grains of salt. That said, it looked like a good bet for a decent Saturday breakfast before we started driving around the island.
Arriving early, we found the dining room less than half full. From the reviews, I get the impression that the restaurant is very crowded later in the morning. The interior is pleasant and the servers were helpful, if not exactly warm.
Poached eggs with Kalua pork. My big beef with lots of places is that their poached eggs are overcooked. This time, the problem was that the eggs were undercooked. In my mind, the perfect poached egg has solid but not rubbery whites, with runny yolks. When I cut into the first egg, the whites were still watery inside. It was right on the line between “worth sending them back” and “not worth sending them back,” so I didn’t. As the watery whites soaked my English muffins, though, I regretted my decision. The pork and the sauce were tasty, so points there, but the potatoes were bland and would have benefitted from some herbs or spices.
Tawn ordered a basic waffle with maple syrup. It was pleasantly crisp, cooked to just the right point.
We also ordered French toast stuffed with cream cheese and blueberries. The toast itself was nicely done but the blueberries inside the toast were tough, leading me to conclude that they use frozen blueberries for the stuffing and only place fresh berries as garnish for the plate.
Overall conclusion: Sweet E’s didn’t show such a sweet face for us, at least as far as quality. It has the potential to be very good and if we lived there, we would give it another chance to redeem itself. But if you are just visiting, I would suggest you search out Boot’s & Kimo’s in Kailua.
Dinner: Sam’s Kitchen
On Friday evening, we found ourselves looking for a tasty dinner that didn’t involve a lot of expense or effort on our part. Turning to Yelp.com, I searched for “cheap seafood dinner” in Honolulu. Sure, that’s probably the last place you want to eat – somewhere serving cheap seafood – but we got a result whose high ratings were accompanied by thoughtful reviews: Sam’s Kitchen.
Located on Kapahulu Avenue right across from a new Safeway shopping center, Sam’s has a slightly retro dive bar appearance. When we arrived about 8:00, we were charmed by its exterior but baffled (and slightly worried) by its almost vacant state.
We entered and found only a half-dozen customers (if that) listening to live Hawaiian music. I felt a little conspicuous walking in during their performance – after all, it wasn’t like we could sneak in unnoticed. The lady behind the counter was welcoming, though, so we figured out the menu and placed our order.
Sam’s is about as “Hawaiian” as you can get, a fusion of flavors that represent the different cultures that make up the local population. There is a heavy Japanese bent (and it seems that their original Waikiki location is wildly popular with Japanese guide books), but other cultures are represented, too. Dishes are mostly either rice bowls or bento boxes and their garlic sauce is apparently “famous.”
Tawn tried the spicy garlic shrimp rice plate, which came with a salad and a half-ear of corn. This was good food – the shrimp is tender and sweet and the garlic packed a punch – and stayed with us for the next day.
I had the fried mahi mahi with macadamia nuts. The fish was very fresh, lightly breaded, and the sauce was tasty. Both dishes were simple, inexpensive, huge, and excellent. So much so that on Saturday night, our second and final night on Oahu, we decided to visit Sam’s again.
This time we stopped at the original location on Royal Hawaiian Avenue in Waikiki. This location is take-out only, although it does offer some self-service tables if you can’t wait to get back home to eat. The menu is the same and the customers were mostly Japanese.
Tawn ordered a combo plate (left) with the same two items we had the night before, but half a portion each. On the right, I ordered a garlic steak plate. The steak was tasty, although pretty tough.
With two small bottles of wine from the convenience store downstairs, we celebrated our last night on Oahu with a sunset dinner on our balcony.
While in Honolulu, we stayed at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel. Located close to Diamond Head on the south end of Waikiki, the New Otani is situated across from Kapiolani Park. It is a good value for many reasons. Its biggest selling point for me, was the view.
Sunrise from our balcony.
This position is ideal because the hotel is quiet, set apart from the touristy, shopping mall busyness of Waikiki. Plus, you look back at the entire beach and skyline and take it all in. If you were staying in Waikiki proper, you wouldn’t have so broad a perspective. Here are some of the pictures I shot during our two nights at the hotel.
Kapiolani Park with Diamond Head in the background.
Graceful palm trees backlit by the setting sun.
Other visitors stop to capture a picture of the sunset.
A trio of pictures from our balcony at different times of the day:
Just after sunset, I spotted the moon above the palm trees.
Since we missed our flight out of Lihue, we also missed the opportunity to have dinner with Michael. But he sent a few suggestions of places we could catch a decent bite later in the evening. The suggestion we took was Mac 24/7, a restaurant featuring modern American cooking, located in the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel, a few short blocks away from our less ritzy hotel.
After five days of eating mostly local fare, it was nice to order a cosmo and tuck into somewhat more conventional American food.
The interior was pretty much a modern take on the classic American diner, ESPN playing on the flat screen TVs and just a few customers scattered throughout the place. Service was friendly and the kitchen had our food to us in about fifteen minutes.
Well, despite the more conventional menu, Tawn didn’t order too far off what we had enjoyed the past few days. More seared ahi tuna served with kim chi fried rice.
I decided to go traditional and get a pork chop and mashed potatoes, which were very tasty.
We returned to the Aqua Waikiki Wave, which describes itself as a boutique hotel but which is nothing more than a standard tourist grade hotel. In fact, Waikiki seems to be positively bursting with these three-star (or less) hotels. The place was clean and looked like it had seen a remodel within the past few years, but it was still a pretty standard accommodation.
One thing I’ll give them credit for, though: the hotel is located right on the main boulevard where there is a lot of action well into the night, including a nightclub just outside the hotel’s entrance. In the room was a pack of foam earplugs with a tactfully phrased note explaining that the hotel is located in “an energetic and vibrant neighborhood” and suggesting that “if you are a light sleeper, you may wish to make use of these complimentary earplugs” and helpfully explaining that more are available by calling room service. These were the best earplugs I’ve ever used and they really did muffle the noise from outside.
Above, me horsing around on Waikiki Beach at sunrise. We were up early and walked the block from the hotel to the beach, which had a surprising number of people who were also out to see the sunrise, catch the surf, or secure a primo lounge chair in front of their hotel.
Here’s a short video of the beach during sunrise.
We then stopped for coffee at the branch of Honolulu Coffee located on the ground floor of the Westin Hotel. It was a beautiful morning and we enjoyed a pot of French Press coffee before stopping to buy some boxes of chocolate covered macadamia nuts to bring back to Thailand. Ignore, for a moment, the fact that macadamias are grown in Thailand. It’s what people expect you to bring back from Hawaii, right?
While we had missed the opportunity to dine with Michael the night before, we had thankfully also been pencilled in for breakfast. Braving the commute into town from the west end of the island, Michael then drove us through the tunnel to the east side of the island so we could visit a popular breakfast place called Boots & Kimo’s in Kailua.
Boots & Kimo’s is a kind of random place located in a small strip mall and decorated like a sporting goods store. For whatever reason, it has gained notoriety with Japanese tourists and it seemed like a large portion of the diners were Japanese families. As Michael explained it, it has kind of reached the point where locals don’t come as often because it is too crowded with tourists. I felt a little guilty about contributing to the problem.
We had to wait about a half-hour to be seated, but once inside the service was quick and our food showed up in no time. Tawn enjoyed the eggs benedict, which were done just like the textbook shows. You can tell they poach the eggs in molds, though, and not free-form.
Here we are with our food. That blue Hawaiian shirt got a lot of mileage this trip, didn’t it?
Michael and I ordered the same thing: beef short ribs which they hang above the grill in the kitchen so it picks up the smoky flavor as other orders are being prepared. Then, when your order is placed the necessary ribs are cut off and finished on the flame. These were really tasty with a nice beefy flavor.
The thing Boots & Kimo’s is known for, though, are their macadamia nut cream pancakes. Per Michael’s suggestion, we ordered a stack to share. Good call because while they are really yummy, eating an entire order by yourself would be overwhelming. We discussed how they manage to get so much macadamia nut flavor into the cream sauce. The thing with macadamias is, they don’t give off a lot of flavor once cooked, so the process of extracting the flavor into the sauce must be done with some sort of “low and slow” steeping of the nuts in the cream. Anyhow, they were a really tasty end to our trip!
Finally, before heading out the door, we got a picture of the three of us. Why it didn’t occur to me to have Michael take off his sunglasses, I don’t know. Perhaps it is best he remains somewhat anonymous so as to lend to the air of mystery that surrounds this long-absent Xangan. We’ll see if my subtle needling will be enough to get him to write again.
A gracious host, Michael drove us to the airport, dropping us off just the right amount of time before our flight back to Guam and Hong Kong. Just enough ahead of time so we wouldn’t miss this flight!