Thursday, November 26, 2009

Much Mahalos: Part I - Local Lunch Favorites

Everyone has their own Thanksgiving traditions.   While cooking a fantastic Thanksgiving feast is wonderful, it's actually a LOT of work, and there are many families that would just prefer to go out to eat, just so that they can enjoy the day without slaving away in the kitchen.   So there are quite a number of places around island that will cook and prepare an entire Thanksgiving meal for you, and all you have to do is go to pick it up.  Although Thanksgiving turkey is a classic mainland dish, each place that makes it usually has an ever so slight local spin on the flavors.  Golden Coin Bake Shop, the defacto standard for Filipino fast food on the island, offers a complete Thanksgiving meal, which presumably has a little bit of Filipino flavor to it.   My favorite little plate lunch place, Regal Diner, also offers a complete Thanksgiving meal, and being a Chinese owned place presumably has just a touch of Chinese flavor to it.   You can go to a fancier place, like Pacific Beach Hotel or the Willows, both of whom make elegant dinners with creative and haute side dishes to accompany the standard Thanksgiving fare.   Or you can to go a more simple local place like Zippy's, to pick up your Thanksgiving dinner.

For my wife's family, the tradition was to always get their Thanksgiving dinner from Kenny's Restaurant in the the Kamehameha Shopping Center.  The line on Thanksgiving to pick up a complete Thanksgiving dinner from Kenny's is always ridiculously long.  It usually extends all the way to the other end of that side of the shopping center.  If long lines are any indication of quality, the loyal following at Kenny's would be the equivalent of 3 Michelin stars.  My wife's family would always brave those long lines to pick up their turkey dinner and head up to her Goong Goong's house for Thanksgiving.  For her Goong Goong, no dinner was ever complete without having a bowl of soup as well.   Regardless of what kind of meal they were having, Thanksgiving or otherwise, he would always supplement it with a pot of soup, either Knorr or Noh.   A lover of pies, her Goong Goong would also make sure that there were at least 3 different pies for desert afterwards.  For what Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without 3 slices of pie?  

Ever since we've been married, and her Goong Goong passed away, traditions have been a little different for her family.  Originally, we faced the dreaded connundrum that all newlywed couples face of which family to spend major holidays with.   After much experimentation, negotiations, and sore tempers we finally achieved a delicate balance between families for most of the major holidays.   Thanksgiving is one of the tougher ones because while with Christmas and New Years you can split between the Eve's and the Day's, there is only 1 Thanksgiving dinner.  However, often times her parents would find themselves visiting her siblings on the mainland, with of course the requisite stop for all Hawaii seniors in Las Vegas.  For those years when they are home, they usually have dinner with her Aunty, and we have been having Thanksgiving lunches with them. 

Anticipating a rather large turkey feast for dinner, we usually opt to go to a more simple and casual place for lunch.   We would generally pick an old school local favorite, where just sitting in the booths is like wearing a pair of really old comfortable shoes.  The most frequent of these places would naturally be Kenny's, but we would also visit Like Like Drive-Inn or Zippys as well.   Although each of these places would offer a worthy turkey plate, with mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce, I would rarely get the turkey as I know I will be having turkey again for dinner.   So I would try to go for a nice local favorite instead.

Pork Chops at Kenny's Restaurant
At Kenny's, I asked the waitress what she recommended as her favorite dish.   The two that she said were most popular, where the stuffed cabbage, and the pork chops (although I have been curious to try their local boy stew).   Admitedly their pork chops are tasty, if not as tender as other places.  They are actually pretty salty, but the salt brings out the pork flavor a lot.  The mashed potatoes, however, aren't something I'm really fond of, as they have the texture of reconsituted mashed potoates from a box.   My aunty makes the most fantastic mashed potatoes (with REAL potatoes of course), so I'm kind of spoiled and just can't eat mashed potatoes from a box.  I am also not really fond of (and never have been) the frozen corn, diced carrot, and green bean mixture you get at most diners.  In my mind, it is that awful frozen vegetable medley that makes kids not like vegetables in the first place.  At Gyotaku for example, they serve a corn and edamame mix, where both the corn and edamame are fresh and crisp, and kids actually want to eat them.   But in any typical diner, the frozen vegetable medley is par for the course I suppose.

Saimin and a Cheeseburger at Like Like Drive Inn
The bright neon sign outside of Like Like Drive Inn is as icon is as the rotating "A" atop Arnold's Drive Inn at Happy Days.  Named after the royal Hawaiian princess (and pronounced "li-ke li-ke" NOT "like like" as tourists are prone to doing), the old time diner is another of my wife's family's favorites.  Rather than try my luck with boxed mashed potatoes and frozen vegetable medley, the last time I was at Like Like I decided to try a classic Hawaii lunch of saimin and a burger.  The saimin being advertised on their bright neon sign outside, sadly isn't nearly as good as the awesome saimin at Hamura's on Kauai.   It is however the standard local style saimin that you get at most places, and you just can't go wrong with a bowl of saimin.   Their noodles are the nice curly saimin noodles, but their broth is somewhat ordinary and a tad on the salty side.  Their cheeseburger is quite taste.   The meat is extremely soft, almost too soft in fact.  There is hardly any texture difference between the bun and the burger itself, which isn't quite meaty enough for my taste.   But it is quite flavorful, and with the melted cheese makes for one of those wonderful small kid time favorites.   The classic combination of a bowl of saimin and a cheeseburger that teenagers have been eating for over half a century just can't be beat.

Fried Chicken & Chili Plate at Zippy's
This year, we opted to go to Zippy's (the sit down side, not the fast food side) for lunch.   I just had to have my absolute favorite thing at Zippy's, their fried chicken and chili plate.   Whoever dreamed up this little mixed plate was pure genius, because they simply combined 2 of Zippy's most popular items on a single dish.  Normally I don't like chili.  I don't like the beans in chili, as they usually have a crumbly or powdery texture I just don't like.  Chili is also a widely varied dish.   On the mainland, especially in the Southwest, chili is meant to be a spicy dish.  It is typically filled with typical Southwestern spices like chipotle, which gives it a spicy, almost burned, taste.  Filipino chili on the other hand, has a very sweet taste.   For many people, the sweetness is a little disconcerting and unappetizing.  Zippy's chili is neither of those.  It has a very mild meaty taste.  It is so mild, that it wouldn't even be considered chili in the Southwest.  For locals however, it is one of the most popular foods in the State.  Their mild, yet completely irresistable chili, is paired perfectly with my favorite fried chicken in the world.   While I do love the greasy, finger lickin good, original recipe at KFC, and the spicy crunchy chicken from Popeye's, neither of them can compare with the totally non-oily, crispy, oh so delicious chicken thighs from Zippy's.   Possibly because it is a difference of Southern flavors vs. Japanese flavors, but the okazu style chicken from Zippy's is what I grew up with and my absolute favorite fried chicken anywhere.  The two of them make an irresistable combination.

None of these places are what anyone would consider haute cuisine.  But for locals, they are not just comfort food, but comfort places.   They are just the kind of easy, casual, lunch favorites that are prefectly satisfying before having a gut busting Thanksgiving feast later on.   Most of all they are the relaxed, comfortable times spent with family that embody the spirit of the holiday.  

1 comment:

  1. you should be having salad in prep for mommy's turkey dinner.