I’ve since learnt that the zoo is only a hop, skip, away from Kapahulu street, which houses many a Hawaiian institution, including The Rainbow Drive-In, where the price of a hamburger was just $0.25 back in 1961. Prices haven’t changed much after 50 years, and you can still get a hamburger for $2. It’s also touted as an old haunt of President Obama’s student days. Further along the strip, you’ll come across Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts, an authentic Hawaiian shirt shop, where you will find vintage styles for $3000 dollars, or modern replicas for $3.99 and everything in between. Its walls are packed with rails and rails of Hawaiian shirts. Anthony Bourdain featured the shop on his show No Reservations, and was corralled into purchasing a $800 vintage Hawaiian number.
Tucked away on a side street is one of the best original shaved ice stands, Waiolas. You will be greeted by multiple flavours of syrup drizzled over a generous mountain of shaved ice. Just the thing on a hot day, and pretty hard to resist when topped with condensed milk. A few blocks down you’ll hit Leonard’s, a Portuguese bakery, where they are famous for their malasadas, which is described as “a donut without the hole”. Best savoured when fresh and piping hot, either sprinkled with lillikoi or plain sugar, or stuffed with guava and coconut custards.
Rounding your way back on the other side of Kapahulu street, a pit stop at Ono’s is a must. A little mom and pop shop, it serves up traditional Hawaiian comfort food. The combination plate will give you a generous portion of pork lau lau, pork wrapped in taro leaf and slow cooked for hours, served with a side of rice, a dash of sea salt, raw onion, taro paste and hot chili sauce. Dead simple food, but deliciously comforting.
Because the locals have had to endure so many tourists, they may initially appear a little weary, but greeted with a smile and curious conversation they open up easily. We found Art behind the bar at the Side Street Inn, a local dive where chefs frequent after their long shifts, a place to shoot the shit over a beer. Spicy Chicken (battered, marinated boneless chicken, deep-fried then dipped in the house spicy sauce), fresh Ahi Tuna Poke and “Side Style Fried Rice” (a salivating concoction of char sui, portuguese sausage, bacon, peas, carrots and green onion) are must-haves amongst other local pub fare.
Surging with adrenaline after our flight, my friend and I decided to walk all the way to the famed Side Street Inn, on a quiet Monday night from the main strip. A little ambitious to say the least, we made it there just before midnight. Finding the place hidden in an alley, we walked in to see a bunch of guys just staring at two girls who were clearly out of place. A little hesitant, we took a seat at the bar, where we were greeted by Art, who found humour in two lost tourists, and after warning us not to make the ‘Long March” back, he helped us successfully navigate the late night menu. I decided to consult Art with my list of researched restaurants, with every name I threw out, he chuckled unabashedly. Apparently my research was filled with tourist traps, he mocked my “taco Tuesday” joint and shrimp trucks. In pity, he offered up a few of his favourites, amongst them, the aforementioned Ono’s before sending us safely on our way in a cab.