Where da locals go for da kine onolicious . . .

by Carolyn Lee
Special to Stars and Stripes

If you only had one chance to visit the gastronomical paradise once known as the Sandwich Islands, here is what I would recommend for your trip to Hawai’i. No, I am not suggesting a sandwich.

I am going to let you in on two special restaurants, where predominantly, the customers are local residents, with hardly a tourist in sight: Tsukiji’s Fish Market and Restaurant, on the top floor of Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu, and Hawaiian Style Cafe, in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawai’i.

My third suggestion is a world-famous bakery of deep-fried puffs of pastry, malasadas, for which long lines of Japanese tourists queue up constantly, but hey, it’s well worth the wait to get the fresh-made ono treats at Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu. “Ono” is Hawaiian for delicious, sometimes rendered as onolicious, smooshing Hawaiian and English elements into one.

My fourth recommendation is one of the many free festivals that blossom in the Aloha State year-round, often revolving around ethnic themes in this place of many cultures. This year, the 13th annual Korean Festival in Hawai’i will be held on just one day, instead of a weekend, July 12, Saturday, at a new venue, Magic Island, near Ala Moana Shopping Center.

Hawai’i has a lot of free festivals, and this one is typical. You buy scrip, which is then used to purchase food, T-shirts, food, craft items and more food. Musical performances are free. You bring fold-up chairs or blankets, sit in the fresh air, and enjoy.

The Korean Festival usually features a K-pop star, local Korean fan dancers and other performers, even Hawaiian hula dancers.

For amateurs, there are a karaoke contest and a kimchee-eating competition! Last year the karaoke grand prize winner got a roundtrip to Korea. The runner-up got a roundtrip to Las Vegas.

Some 30 Korean community and local groups, under the auspices of the Hawai’i Korean Chamber of Commerce, are organizing this festival. In the past, it was held at Kapiolani Park, in the Waikiki area, the typical site for festivals, with shuttle buses provided at low or no cost, from a nearby parking lot at Kapiolani Community College.

The Korean Festival, @KoreaFestivalHi, is already gearing up its publicity campaign, with informative Facebook postings on Korean culture and the festival itself.

One place that NEVER advertises, and which had been totally unknown to me, is Tsukiji’s. My hometown is Hilo, on a neighboring island, not O’ahu, and it took me four years of living here before I found out about Tsukiji’s, which serves lunch and dinner buffets of extraordinary variety and quality.

No reservations are accepted. Meal service opens at 11 a.m., and if you wander by the restaurant, on the fourth and top floor of Ala Moana Shopping Center, you’ll see a crowd, milling about, about 15 minutes or longer, before the opening hour.

Seniors and local residents get discounted prices. The lunch and dinner buffets cost more on the weekends, and the price per person is $22.95 or $24.95 for lunch and $35.95 or $38.95 for dinner.

The food is out-of-this-world. Even the homely miso soup possesses exceptional flavor, and that standard of excellence is applied to everything served at Tsukiji’s.

In Hilo, Hawaiian Style Café also experiences long lines of local residents, especially on Sundays, when the restaurant closes in the early afternoon.

The café serves huge portions of everyday food. Breakfast choices include mountains of fluffy scrambled eggs and indescribably heavenly French toast, the sight and taste of which will make your tummy rejoice.

It’s appropriate to end this gustatory tour with dessert … from Leonard’s Bakery. A word of caution: If you arrive in a car, be careful to park in a legal space. On one of my many visits to this bakery in the Kapahulu neighborhood of Honolulu, on the fringe of Waikiki, I parked at the curb, under a “No Parking” sign, thinking that I would be away for just a few minutes. At Leonard’s, you might hit it lucky and find a short line, but generally, there will be at least a half-dozen or more people ahead of you.

By the time I got back to my car, with three cream-filled malasadas, called malasada puffs, I had been ticketed, a $35 fine. Auwe! (Hawaiian for aw-shucks!)

But anyone would agree that the malasada puffs were worth the parking ticket. You can buy them in various flavors of fillings, such as custard, haupia (coconut), chocolate, and two fruit flavors, which are seasonal, guava and lilikoi.

Carolyn Lee is a freelance journalist based in Hawai’i. Her family has lived in the 50th State for four generations.

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