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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 17, 2001

Dining Scene
Taking comfort in fast and affordable meals around town

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Illustration by Greg Taylor • The Honolulu Advertiser
The other day I was telling my friend Keira about how my mother would work her magic while in the snack bar during my Little League days. She'd take a hotdog and roll it up inside a small pizza. Between innings, I'd sprint over and grab my special treat. Mom would say, "Go get 'em, slugger!" and I would munch in the dugout, reflecting on my incentive-laden lifestyle.

This reminded Keira about the corn dogs she'd eat as a kid. "Didja know that there's a place called Hotdog-on-a-Stick at Windward Mall?" she asked. Well, I didn't, but soon I would be familiar with this successful, clean and efficient operation (130 stores in 19 states).

I bee-lined straight over and watched the colorfully outfitted staffers prepare hotdogs, dipped before your eyes into cornbread batter and fried ($2 each), ditto on the cheese on a stick ($2) and the fried zucchini ($3).

The cornbread batter surrounding the hotdog was piping hot, cakey but not too grainy, and a tiny bit sweet. A squeeze of ketchup, a drizzle of mustard, and baby, life is good. Their fresh-squeezed "Muscle Beach" lemonade ($2 regular, $2.50 large, $6.50 per gallon jug) is the perfect foil for these deep-fried foods.

JJ Diner (870 Kapahulu Ave.; 737-8810) makes notable mochiko chicken (regular $4.65, mini $3.35), perhaps the best I have tasted. They're large pieces of chicken, coated with seasoned (mochiko) flour and then cooked to a tender stage. The browned bits of coating and the slightly oily nature of this dish is definitely a big winner. If you make it here between noon and 4 p.m., you can get the large plate for $3.99. Grilled mahimahi and 'ahi ($5.75 and $3.95) also are available if you're in the mood for fish. Last but not least, a worthwhile choice is the garlic shrimp ($5.50, $3.65), which are butterflied and sautÚed with the shell still on for maximum shrimpiness.

King's BBQ (1102 Pensacola St.; 550-4880) does that great Korean barbecue thing with their chicken (large $4.70, small $3.13). Rounding out your plate are choices such as tofu, kim chee, watercress, glass noodle, macaroni salad, bean sprouts and much more.

Gina's Barbecue (Market City Shopping Center, 2919 Kapi'olani Blvd.; 735-7964) makes one of two best spicy pork dishes ($6.50) in town. (The other place is Kensei — 1380 S. King St.; 941-5323 — which makes an eggplant and pork dish). Well, this one has thinly sliced tender pork in a spicy red oil (perhaps colored with annatto seeds or paprika) that will satisfy even the most diehard spice cadets.

Rada's Piroscki (1146 Fort Street Mall; 533-2388), owned by Teodoro Alvarez and his wife for 20-plus years, cranks out three types of piroscki (meat-filled baked or fried dumplings) to hungry folks every day. The choices are beef, cheese and cabbage; beef and mushroom; and chicken, cheese and mushroom. They're $1.50 each and definitely stick to your ribs. Rada's also sells bags of fried squid for $1.30 each.

Grace's Inn (three locations; Beretania, Kapi'olani and Moanalua) always seems to come up when I ask people about fast and good local food. Teri beef ($5.30) and chow fun side orders ($1.50) are quite popular here, along with frequent specials.

My friend Marty loves going to Perry's Smorgy (two Waikiki locations; $6.50 for lunch, $9.50 dinner) at lunchtime to feast on freshly roasted and carved turkey breast. He takes a couple warm rolls and piles them high with the juicy turkey. Sandwich heaven, he says.

And then there's the fabulous Alicia's Market (267 Mokauea St.; 841-1921) mentioned to me by a reader who raves about their food to go. Head for the back of the place, allowing your nose to direct you toward the roasted meats. Try the shoyu-honey glazed chicken (medium $5.95, large $7.95), char siu ($5.50 a pound), roasted duck ($10.95 each), laulau (bag of three for $6.49), raw crab poke ($7.99), plate lunch ($5.75), Hawaiian plate ($6.49), along with all types of meats, noodles and seafood.

Sometimes, nothing satisfies quite like the familiar flavors we have grown to love, especially when coupled with low prices and fast, friendly service. We all have our favorite places around town for our nurturing dose of comfort food. Let me know about yours.

Send comments, questions and suggestions to ChefMatthew@LoveLife.com