Issue 9.3: June/July 2006

Mixed Plate

story by Roland Gilmor
photo by Dana Edmunds


The story of Honolulu’s multicultural landscape is written on the walls—on menu boards in restaurants and daily special signs in markets: aburaage and adobo; carnitas and chow fun; lau lau, lavosh and loco moco. Foods brought by successive waves of immigrants mix with those indigenous to the Islands, mirroring settlement patterns and the blending of different ethnicities into myriad new social combinations—our local cuisine, our common ground. Somehow, it all—food and cultures alike—mixes just fine, but even the most seasoned bento boxer can occasionally use a translator, which is where Joan Namkoong’s Food Lover’s Guide to Honolulu comes in.

A former food editor for the Honolulu Advertiser, Namkoong’s previous book credits include Go Home, Cook Rice (a guide to buying and cooking Island foods) and Family Traditions in Hawai‘i (a guide to pretty much everything else). The Food Lover’s Guide falls somewhere in-between: Focusing solely on the slice of southeast O‘ahu from Kalihi to Hawai‘i Kai, the book still manages to cover everything from Alan Wong’s to Zippy’s, Ace Market to Yummy Korean Bar-B-Q. Tips on how to judge the best sashimi-grade ‘ahi at auction (“firm but oily, not too fishy”) share a chapter with poke recipes and the skinny on various seafood restaurants. Listings for high-end Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine spots are followed up by places offering “everyday fare” (burritos to sushi and more). Along the way, there are detours into culinary history, tips on what to do with day-old rice (fry it, of course), and stops at outdoor markets and ethnic
groceries, food festivals and cooking schools.

In the end, this mixed plate approach perfectly mirrors modern Honolulu, where glass-and-steel high-rises can still make way for plate lunch shops and cramped mom-and-pops. Put another way, this Food Lover’s Guide to Honolulu is as much a manual on being local as it is a guide to eating that way.

Food Lover’s Guide to Honolulu
Bess Press (