On the island of Oahu in the Aloha State, besides Waikiki, the North Shore is the next most popular place to visit. Known to locals for its variety of beaches and to tourists who have seen this side of the island’s shoreline in TV shows such as Hawaii Five-O, and in movies from the Descendants to Soul Surfer, to 50 First Dates to Pearl Harbor, from Elvis in Blue Hawaii to the classic From Here to Eternity, and, of course, from Jurassic Park to, what else, North Shore, this is worth the trip to the “other side” of the island.
But on the journey there, there is a little town that cars and buses pass through called Wahiawa. You have to cross two bridges over a fresh water reservoir named Lake Wilson through the town and on your way to the North Shore. So, if you don’t pay attention as you traverse through the four quick traffic lights, you may miss one of the best little secrets to stop at for a foodie break… not to mention they have a great jungle-like Botanical Gardens here – well worth a visit in its own right. But let’s stick to the food for now.
Chimichangas & Burrito Plate with a Taco for good measure
Very soon after you cross the bridge into Wahiawa on the left-hand side of the road is the tiniest restaurant of them all – El Palenque… look for the big colorful rooster painted on the building’s wall. The parking lot is tiny, too. There are only 6 tables with 4 chairs each for dining in, and they are never at a lack for customers. Some come to eat in and enjoy the Mexican music playing in the background, while some come to pick up and take out. The food here is authentic Mexican, and the portions are generous while the prices are low. Whether you choose Carne Asada or Menudo, or Huevos Rancheros or Chimichangas, their food is sure to satisfy with tortillas made fresh in-house along with their salsa that is divinely spicy.
Meat Jun & Kim Chee
Dong Yang Inn
Next stop is a Korean restaurant worthy of Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” TV show. Just off Kamehameha Highway with a right turn onto Olive Avenue, is Dong Yang Inn. Here, they have meat jun so delectable, locals will drive miles to get their Korean food fix. Most patrons get a plate lunch that comes standard with a ton of white rice and Korean crunchy vegetable sides known as namul – beansprouts, cucumber, cabbage – and what no Korean meal would be complete without – kim chi. And then you pick your star of the meal (or combination thereof) – meat jun, grilled local-style chicken, mandu, and kalbi, just to name a few.
Surfers Coffee Bar
Surfing the Nations
This isn’t the actual name of a place to eat, it’s a fairly recently-renovated town block that the Surfing the Nations organization took over and made, well, completely inviting and fun! Surfing the Nations is a non-profit humanitarian organization run entirely by volunteers who live by the motto of “Surfers Giving Back.” In what used to be a somewhat seedy section with an old bar and strip club, is now a cute place for a little time out for a cup of java. On the left side of Kamehameha Highway, this small block has The Vintage shop with changing treasures from Vivienne Westwood shoes to Hawaiiana memorabilia and so much more. In the same block (and between an alley that was turned into a delightful al fresco café), is the Surfers Coffee Bar. Think “Friends” with comfy places to sit, coffee, tea, Acai Bowls, and Smoothies.
Pancakes & Eggs Benedict
Koa Pancake House
Going a bit further up Kam Highway, make a right onto California Avenue, and just a hop, skip, and a jump away on the right is Koa Pancake House. They have received numerous awards for their pancakes – they are fluffy and huge… try the macadamia nut pancakes with coconut syrup. But that’s not all they serve along with standard breakfast fare and plate lunches. There’s also local favorites, like loco moco (fried eggs on a hamburger patty on… what else… a mound of white rice, and all doused in “broke da mouth” brown gravy); an omelet stuffed with Vinha D’alhos – savory Portuguese pork cooked until it’s melt in your mouth tangy delicious; a mahi benedict; and don’t forget to have macaroni salad on the side. You’ll want to make sure you get there in time for a normal breakfast or lunch schedule, because they open at 6:30 am and faithfully close at 2:00 pm every day.
Sizzling Hamburger Steak & Japanese Tempura and Butterfish
This mom and pop restaurant has been around since 1935 when the Harada family opened Sukiyaki Inn. It grew as the years went by, becoming Dot’s Drive Inn, and eventually into what it is today – a dining room simply known as Dot’s with separate party rooms and a cocktail lounge. The décor has changed a little – fortunately not much – as it is still the wonderful old-school diner that it always was. The most famous – and dramatic – dish on the menu is the Sizzling Hamburger Steak. You can hear it sputtering from the kitchen as it gets delivered to your table, and when your server puts it down in front of you and pulls away the waxed paper cover, a cloud of steam erupts like a volcano as you watch the gravy bubbling away on the black cast iron skillet. They have everything from appetizers to desserts, local favorites, and even a Japanese menu section. And here, you can dive into some things that are hard to come by in a restaurant these days, like liver, beef stew, or how about a Spam sandwich? Mmm, Spam… but that’s a whole other story in itself.