Delicious Hawaiian dishes at Honolulu’s Side Street Inn
The second location of Honolulu’s Side Street Inn opened in 2010 and sits on the far edge of Waikiki.
The second location opened in 2010 and is larger and more decoratively finished than the original. It seats close to 200.
Food at the Side Street Inn is served family-style. This combo of spicy garlic fried chicken and fried rice is a classic.
Fried rice is the signature dish at the Side Street Inn, served in mountainous portions and laden with meat. This is the “The Works” version and it has four different kinds of pork, plus kimchee.
A closer look at the famous fried rice, with bacon, char siu Chinese roast pork, Portuguese sausage and Chinese sausage, plus spicy kimchee, peas, carrots and green onions.
The “Famous Pan-Fried Island Pork Chops” are the must-have entrée here, addictively tasty with salty, crunchy breading and perfectly cooked juicy interiors.
The spicy garlic chicken is boneless and lightly sauced with three kinds of Korean, Vietnamese and Thai peppers.
Side Street’s pocho clams. “Pocho” is slang for Portuguese, and the clams are surrounded by grilled slabs of Portuguese sausage.
The ahi tuna poke is a popular starter, and like everything else here, good for sharing, with big chunks of fresh fish, well sauced and spiced.
Most of the food has Hawaiian roots, but they specialize in other large grilled meat plates, such as this perfectly cooked prime rib.
Because food is served in big portions for sharing, the Side Street Inn is very popular with Honolulu locals for family gatherings.
A typical family-style spread at Honolulu’s famous Side Street Inn.
The two iconic dishes at the Side Street Inn are the “Famous Pan-Fried Island Pork Chops” and the “Signature Fried Rice.” They even have their own custom Rogue beer label.
The bar area at the Kapahulu location is very popular for football, and during the NFL season they open at 7:30 a.m. on Sundays.
The scene: In much of the country, mid-February is the coldest time of the entire year, and we’ve just been through the polar vortex. But not in Hawaii, where it is solidly in the high 70s. It is completely understandable if you want to pack up and head for the islands right now. If you do, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to eat than the Side Street Inn.
I first discovered Side Street years ago on the advice of folks in Honolulu’s restaurant industry, as it has long been a popular after-work spot for chefs and industry types, always a good sign (a 1999 Honolulu Star Bulletin column describes legendary Hawaiian chefs Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi visiting for vodka-fueled karaoke and pork chops). But pretty much everyone who lives in Honolulu comes here (there are two locations), along with plenty of tourists, though it skews more local with all kinds of group and family gatherings. Side Street Inn lends itself to family-style dining because the portions are big – sometimes crazy big. It’s a tougher spot to eat at as a couple, but the food is so good it’s worth the restraint and tough choices you’ll have to limit yourself to.
The original Side Street Inn lives up to its name and is tucked on small, two-block-long Hopaka Street, which is hidden in the heart of downtown Waikiki between the parallel main drags of Ala Moana and Kapiolani boulevards. The newer Kapahulu location opened in 2010 and sits on the far edge of Waikiki, towards Diamond Head. Both are very well-located for the majority of Honolulu visitors.
Both are simple and cavernous spaces with lots of big tables, and both have old-school bars. The newer location is set within an office building, very nondescript from outside. It has a far more polished interior with a paneled wood ceiling, upholstered booths along the side walls, and a marble top on its long bar. It is long and deep and goes on and on, seating close to 200. The original is simpler, with a suspended ceiling, painted walls and very basic furniture, and holds about 130. The same great food is served at both, but if you are on vacation and want more of a traditional “nice” restaurant atmosphere, head to the newer one (but in either case, make reservations).
Google it, and you will see Side Street Inn described as a “local hangout for drinks & comfort grub,” and that’s true but only part of the picture. The late Anthony Bourdain and CNN popped in for an episode of “No Reservations,” and the restaurants have won numerous awards and accolades from magazines and newspapers worldwide. Both technically serve dinner only, though they open at 2 or 3 p.m. and as early as 1 p.m. on Sundays for sort of a dinner-as-brunch. Due to the time difference, the Kapahulu spot opens at 7:30 a.m. on Sundays during the NFL season.
Hawaii in 50 postcard-perfect images
The first thing that comes to mind when you think Hawaii — the 50th state to join the Union — is likely its beaches, like beautiful Waimea Beach on Oahu’s North Shore.
This beautiful U.S. state – far out in the Pacific Ocean – is also known for surfing, volcanoes, pineapple, hula dancing and perfect weather.
The Hawaiian archipelago was formed by volcanic activity, and many of the state’s volcanoes remain active. The Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island glows under a starry sky.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of seven national parks in the state and one of the most popular. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can witness volcanic action firsthand.
Hawaii’s volcanic geology means that many of the island’s beaches are covered in black sand. Punaluu Black Sand Beach on Hawaii’s Kua coast is one of the most famous.
Retrace the flow of Hawaii Island’s lava by taking a walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, a 500-year-old formation that once held a river of lava.
Hawaii’s volcanic past (and present) is evident all over the Big Island. Some of the island’s roads have even been rendered impassable by lava flows.
Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui is home to the island’s highest peak of the same name, jutting 10,023 feet above sea level. Many visitors wake up early to catch a sunset from the summit of the volcanic peak.
East of Waikiki Beach sits Diamond Head Crater, and perched on its cliffs is the Diamond Head Lighthouse, built in the late nineteenth century.
Kauai, the oldest of Hawaii’s main islands, is a land of lush valleys, soaring cliffs and cascading waterfalls. Manawaiopuna Falls, one of the most spectacular, is typically reached by helicopter.
Hawaii isn’t typically associated with snow, but when you head to the top of Mauna Kea — the world’s tallest mountain if measured from the ocean floor — you might find some. It’s home to the world’s biggest telescope and is a favorite locale among star gazers.
The island of Lanai remains one of Hawaii’s most pristine inhabited islands — home to some of the state’s best beaches and natural scenery, like the Kaholo Cliffs.
Hawaii’s largest metropolitan area is on Oahu. The capital city, Honolulu blends Hawaii’s natural beauty with all the modern luxuries of a city.
At the heart of Honolulu sits Waikiki Beach, former playground to Hawaiian royalty and home of a beautiful beach and some of the state’s best nightlife.
One of Hawaii’s most renowned cultural pastimes is that of hula dancing — a uniquely Hawaiian dance you can learn (or just watch) on many of the islands.
Not all of Hawaii’s activities involve the water. The Kalalau trail on Kauai often ranks among the world’s most beautiful hiking trails, but it’s also one of the most dangerous.
Those who brave the 11-mile Kalalau trail beginning at Kee Beach (pictured), with its crumbly trail bed and sheer drop-offs, are rewarded with the chance to experience one of the state’s most remote stretches of sand, Kalalua Beach.
Hawaii is one of the nation’s most multicultural states. The state’s Asian heritage can be seen at The Great Buddha statue at Lahaina on Maui — the largest Buddha statue of its kind outside of Japan.
Kohola is the Hawaiian word for humpback whale, and an estimated two thirds of the Northern Pacific humpback whale population come to the waters of Hawaii to breed and raise their young.
Even when it’s not whale season, the waters off Hawaii’s islands teem with life. Some of the state’s best diving and snorkeling can be found in Molokini crater, a crescent-shaped marine sanctuary off the coast of Maui.
The clear, blue waters of Hawaii make the perfect playground for divers and snorkelers of all levels.
In the biologically rich waters off the coast of Hawaii, it’s possible to spot Hawaiian green sea turtles, manta rays and dolphins.
The seven-mile-long stretch of sand known as Polihale sits within Polihale State Park on the island of Kauai. Journeying to the beach via a bumpy dirt road is worth it for the sunset views alone.
For leisurely hiking on the Big Island, head to Akaka Falls State Park, where it’s possible to see two waterfalls on the short half-mile hike.
Hawaii Island, also called the Big Island, is the state’s youngest, largest and still-growing island. On this island, you can laze on a beach and walk through the snow in a single day.
Hawaii is a veritable playground for water sports enthusiasts. Each year, the world’s best windsurfers come to Hookipa Beach Park on Maui to compete.
It’s hard to beat a Hawaiian sunset, and it’s equally hard deciding which island (or part of an island) enjoys the best ones.
The 17-mile stretch of emerald cliffs on Kauai’s coast has become one of Hawaii’s most famous sights. The Napali Coast can only be accessed on land by the Kalalau Trail.
Anyone who’s seen the hit TV series “Lost” will recognize Mokuleia Beach Park in North Shore, Oahu. The beaches here are remote enough that you could easily spend a day without seeing another human being.
Hike to Rainbow Falls in Wailuku River State Park on the Big Island on a sunny day, and you’ll quickly see how the falls got its name.
For a road trip, island-style, hop in the car, turn on some tunes and drive the road to Hana — a three hour drive from from Lahaina or Kihei with plenty to see and do along the way.
One of the many stops on the scenic Road to Hana is the Keanae Congregational Church, built from lava rocks and coral mortar in 1860.
Hawaii has long been a favorite destination for honeymooners, and for a romantic sunset, try aptly named Sweetheart Rock on Lanai.
Waimea Canyon on Kauai, nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” stretches for 14 miles and is at points more than 3,600 feet deep.
Waipio Valley, or the Valley of Kings, sits on the northern coast of Hawaii Island and has one of the state’s most breathtaking scenic overlooks.
Life on Oahu’s North Shore, famed the world over for its excellent surfing, centers on the charming town of Haleiwa, the artistic and cultural hub of the area.
Surfing is believed to have originated in Polynesia and was once a sport of only Hawaiian royalty. Today, surfers from around the globe come to catch Hawaii’s world-class waves.
Along Hawaii’s Hamakua Coast, visitors will find lush jungles, waterfalls and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
Hawaii’s cultural history dates back centuries, and you can learn about it at sites like Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site, a once sacred place of worship for native Hawaiians.
The Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park was the site of first significant contact between native Hawaiians and Westerners. Here, visitors can see kii, sacred carvings of deities or ancestral spirits.
Saint Peter’s By-the-Sea Catholic Church sits right on the water on the island of Hawaii’s Kona coast.
Hawaii is a golfer’s heaven, with more than 70 courses to choose from.
Kapaa, on the east side of Kauai, is a great destination for shopping, biking and water sports of all kinds.
Drive through Central Oahu, and you’ll likely see vast expanses of pineapple fields. Visit the Dole Plantation to brave the 1.7-mile pineapple maze.
The Dole Plantation in Hawaii is one of the world’s largest pineapple producers. Visitors can sample juicy fruits at markets throughout the islands.
Hawaii’s biodiversity is astounding, and one of the more unusual species is the painted eucalyptus, which sheds its bark to reveal a rainbow of color underneath.
Kii pohaku — Hawaiian petroglyphs — can be found at more than 100 sites scattered throughout the islands.
Visiting Molokai is like stepping back in time. One of the island’s most charming experiences occurs each Friday night when the island’s elders gather for an evening of live music and hula at Hotel Molokai.
Built in 1923 by James Dole, Hotel Lanai was the first hotel on Lanai Island and remains one of the most intimate, with only 11 guest rooms.
Parts of Lanai Island, like Keahiakawelo, have an almost lunar landscape, in contrast to Hawaii’s typically lush terrain. Which picture most makes you want to travel to Hawaii?
Reason to visit: Famous fried pork chops and signature fried rice
The food: Food here is big and comforting Asian-inspired Hawaiian, served on platters. The menu is large but the two things everyone comes for, and the two things you should try if you are a smaller group and can’t justify ordering more, are the “Famous Pan-Fried Island Pork Chops” and the “Signature Fried Rice.”
The former is big plate of succulent breaded and fried pork chops that are cut into big slabs, apparently with a cleaver, and they are perfect: crispy and salty on the outside with just the right amount of fat, and very juicy inside. They start with half-pound bone-in chops over an inch thick, and each is whacked into four or five almost bite-sized sections, making for something you can eat with a knife or fork but also perfect finger food. A printed recipe from the restaurant notes to serve the pieces over shredded cabbage and “include bones for gnawing.” The breading is a mix of flour and corn starch seasoned with garlic salt. The pork chops are highly addictive.
The fried rice comes a few different ways. The signature version adds both bacon and chopped Portuguese sausage, a beloved breakfast item in Hawaii, to the more common chopped Chinese-style char siu roast pork. The firmer sausage gives it a different texture and a lot more meatiness, with three takes on pork. This is enough if you are having the dish as a side with something sauced, like the popular spicy garlic chicken. But if it’s more of an entree, or just with the pork chops, I would go for the version called “The Works,” which adds both kimchee (spicy Korean cabbage) for heat and lup cheong (Chinese-style sausage) for a whopping fourth take on pork. It is like a spicy fried rice spin on a meat lovers pizza, and it is a mountain of awesomeness, maybe the best fried rice ever, though I could have used more kimchee.
If you can manage more than two huge platters, some of the other standout dishes include the spicy garlic chicken, which is served in similar fashion to the pork chops. Boneless leg and thigh pieces are dredged in a breading that combines Korean red pepper powder and a healthy dose of garlic salt. After deep-frying, the chicken is coated in a soy-based sauce with more red pepper powder, Thai chili flakes and Vietnamese garlic chili sauce. It is not really hot, but rather intensely flavorful, and delicious. The sauce is minimal, so the chicken isn’t swimming in liquid, but you taste it.
The ahi poke, served in big fresh chunks, is one of the most popular appetizers, and a solidly traditional Hawaiian choice. A more unusual option is the pocho clams (“pocho” being local slang for Portuguese). These are cooked and served in a big bowl of broth with lots of Portuguese sausage, onions and red and green bell peppers. There is a lot more tempting stuff to choose, from, including six different styles of chicken wings, Kalua pork sliders, several burger options, and a few other big platters from the grill, such as pork baby back ribs and Hawaiian-style beef short ribs.
Pilgrimage-worthy?: Yes – if you are in Honolulu, this is a classic spot to get delicious versions of the foods locals enjoy.
Rating: OMG! (Scale: Blah, OK, Mmmm, Yum!, OMG!)
Price: $$ ($ cheap, $$ moderate, $$$ expensive)
Details: Original location, 1225 Hopaka Street, Honolulu; 808-591-0523. Second location, 614 Kapahulu Avenue #100; 808-739-3939. sidestreetinn.com
10 can’t-miss things to do in Hawaii
Land a helicopter at Jurassic Falls, Kauai: Imagine sitting in a helicopter that is swooping and darting through the green-velvet valleys of Kauai. Just below you, a flock of plump jewel-toned birds descends to the trees. The seemingly impenetrable jungle parts suddenly like stage curtains to reveal the falls from “Jurassic Park,” 400 feet high and spraying the windshield of the helicopter like rain. Now imagine the epic John Williams score playing in your headset. You land in the thick of the jungle, and your pilot guides you along a misty path to the remarkable and completely remote falls, the rushing water making the only sound in a humanless world.
Visit Pearl Harbor, Oahu: Each year, nearly 2 million people visit this memorial, officially part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. This solemn, gently sloping structure, accessible only by boat, straddles the sunken USS Arizona and memorializes those who were killed in the Pearl Harbor attacks on Dec. 7, 1941. According to Alfred Preis, the memorial’s architect, “The structure sags in the center but stands strong and vigorous at the ends, express[ing] initial defeat and ultimate victory.” Each rising end is a testament to the optimism during times of peace. Eerily — but beautifully — the sunken ship’s oil can still be seen bubbling up from the wreckage and pooling in concentric rainbows on the water’s surface.
Sail the Napali Coast, Kauai: Native islanders say the Napali Coast nourishes the soul. This 17-mile stretch of rain-carved cliffs and emerald valleys is punctuated by thin, ribbonlike waterfalls, secret beaches, and sea caves teeming with aquatic life. With the spectacular Kalalau Trail currently closed to travelers due to flooding, the only way to access the cliffs is by sea. Imagine standing on the deck of a catamaran beneath 4,000-foot cliffs to soak in mana, or spiritual power, before sliding into the water for snorkeling among green sea turtles and schools of eel and angelfish. When the trade winds are smooth, expect your catamaran to cruise around or even through the sea caves, its sails flapping the mast and spinner dolphins leaping at its stern.
Attend an Old Lahaina Luau, Maui: A Hawaiian vacation is hardly complete without a luau, and the Old Lahaina Luau on Maui is oft considered the most authentic of the bunch. Since 1986, the Old Lahaina, with its backdrop of flickering torches, coconut palms and crashing waves, has presented its luau to an adoring public of visitors and kama’aina (Hawaiian residents) alike. An aloha greeting with a cocktail and a colorful lei kicks off the evening, followed by craft-making workshops and the unearthing of the kalua pig from its imu, or underground oven. At sunset, the evening’s entertainment begins: a lineup of traditional Hawaiian music and expressive hula dancing that outlines the islands’ history, from the earliest Polynesian settlers through the arrival of the missionaries.
Stargaze on Mauna Kea, Big Island: Amateur astronomers, rejoice. Fourteen thousand feet up the dormant volcano of Mauna Kea, beneath a bowl-shaped ceiling of sky, sits one of the best places on Earth for inspecting the heavens: the massive Mauna Kea Observatory. Here, high altitude, low humidity and dark skies create perfect stargazing conditions. Acclimatize at the informative Mauna Kea visitors’ center at 9,200 feet before taking a four-wheel-drive vehicle to the summit, where freezing temperatures and high winds cool sunburnt skin. Then scan the night sky: Guides will help you identify clusters of major constellations and other celestial bodies. While you likely won’t be able to peer inside the Observatory itself, tour providers can furnish you with equipment of your own.
Hike to Kaihalulu (Red Sand Beach), Maui: Kaihalulu means “roaring sea” in Hawaiian, but the wild, rolling waves are just one feature of this magical crescent-shaped beach. Almost Martian in appearance, the sand is rich in iron, while the sheer cliffs that abut the beach are uniquely striated with red and russet strokes (the result of an eroding cinder-cone volcano). The red sand leads to relatively choppy waters, so visitors are cautioned against swimming or diving. However, a thrilling hike and the otherworldly setting more than make up for the lack of aquatic activities, and the peace and quiet of a people-free spot can be stunning. (If you should stumble upon another soul, don’t be surprised to find your fellow suntanner in the buff; clothing is decidedly optional at this secret beach.)
Try new flavors, Oahu: Oahu is the very belly of the on-the-rise food-and-wine culture in Hawaii, a place where outsiders’ experiences of “local eats” were once limited to Spam and imported pineapple. These days, Honolulu plays host to the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival — where local chefs highlight the state’s bounty of produce, beef and seafood — as well as a slate of Zagat-approved eateries. Of course, visitors can’t step foot on this island without sinking their teeth into one of Oahu’s sweetest imports, a fluffy malasada. The yeasty Portuguese doughnuts rolled in sugar were traditionally served on Shrove Tuesday but are now available year-round (somewhat misleadingly masquerading as breakfast food).
Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island: The mutable Big Island is still molding itself: Its coastlines continually expand and erode, its mountains come alive, and its topography undergoes perpetual sculpture in a medium of fire and lava. Witness firsthand the birth of a new landscape at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where volcanoes Kilauea (one of the world’s most active) and Mauna Loa (one of the world’s most massive) alter the world in which we live. Eruptions and earthquakes closed the park for several months in 2018, but select hiking trails are now open again for visitors to learn about this fascinating ecosystem.
Have an adventure at Kualoa Ranch, Oahu: Away from the heavily trafficked resorts and shopping malls of Waikiki, the 4,000-some acres of Kualoa Ranch spread from mountain to valley to ocean, with Mokoli’i Island (Chinaman’s Hat) resting on a shelf of distant horizon. The working cattle ranch is a sort of all-inclusive Hawaiian experience, but with few touristy trappings. Knowledgeable guides lead a series of tours — by boat, on horseback, and in various vehicles — focusing on different aspects of this former sugar plantation’s history. Explore the lush Hakipu’u and Ka’a’awa valleys and the latter’s famous filming sites (“Jurassic Park,” “Lost,” and “Hawaii Five-O” all were shot here) and set sail on an ancient Hawaiian fishpond. Then trek to a secret beach with wide-angle views of sacred Mokoli’i to see how Hawaii’s landscape has evolved through innumerable eras, ancient and modern.
Drive the Road to Hana, Maui: There’s road tripping, and then there’s road tripping on this 50-mile highway that unfurls like ribbon through the taro patches and coastlines of Maui. A two-hour journey (or three or four, depending on how many times you pull over to admire the view) brings you to the peaceful, tiny town of Hana, which offers a taste of a historical Hawaiian settlement — complete with its original general store and courthouse — alongside the natural wonders for which Maui is famous. Step into the water at gray-sand, half-moon-shaped Hamoa Beach, and then stay the night in one of the 1940s cottages at luxe Travaasa Hana.