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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 24, 2004

What's a drive in the country without shrimp?

Editor's note: Today we introduce our new restaurant critic, Helen Wu, a graduate of the University of Hawai'i (Asian studies) and of the Kapi'olani Community College culinary arts program, where she received outstanding- student and culinary-excellence awards, and also wrote for Kapio, the student journal. Wu wrote for The Advertiser while in school, as well.

By Helen Wu
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

No drive to the North Shore is complete without a meal at one of the shrimp stands that have sprouted along the highway as a result of the development of aquaculture farms here. These are now are some of the most recognized dining spots in an area of the island not known for food.

My mission was to compare and contrast the shrimp shacks, and I brought my mother (a self-professed shrimp fanatic who can suck in a whole shrimp, head and all, and just spit out the shell). During two forays, we tried garlic butter scampi-style shrimp plates at a half-dozen spots. One caution: Shrimp shacks come and go, and hours vary. Be flexible.

At Romy's Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp Hut, after the big crustaceans are put on the plate, a sauce loaded with sautÚed garlic chunks is ladled on. The shrimp and prawns are harvested daily from ponds.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Shrimp Shack
  • Punalu'u, at Kaya's Store
  • (808) 256-5589
  • 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

Bright banana-yellow Shrimp Shack in Punalu'u is the cleanest and quaintest shrimp stop. Owner Irene Theofanis has operated it for six years and was featured on a Food Network special called "Beach Eats." Theofanis uses Kaua'i shrimp and believes they are cleaner because of their special diet and a well-controlled environment in plastic-lined pens with recirculated water.

The quarter-pound of pan-fried garlic shrimp (at $9.75, the least expensive plate) equaled 12 pieces and arrived with rice and a choice of homemade cocktail sauce or garlic butter on the side. The shrimp packed just a bit of spicy heat, tasting as if they had been sautÚed in a dry spice rub and lightly salted. Wash it all down with a liliko'i float ($1.75) or a cold beer from Kaya's next door.

Also on the menu: snow crab legs ($12.75); mussels ($8.25); chili rice ($3.50); hot dog ($2); Kahuku corn on a stick ($2).

Ambience: 11 shaded wooden picnic tables on a manicured lawn. Hawaiian music wafts in the background.

Giovanni's Original White Shrimp Truck

  • Kahuku, near the sugar mill
  • (808) 293-1839
  • 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. daily (last order taken at 6:15 p.m.)

  • Hale'iwa, near McDonald's
  • 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily

  • Both locations closed Christmas

The sign for graffiti-covered Giovanni's Original White Shrimp Truck says it all. Around for 11 years, this institution among North Shore shrimp stops is the oldest and best known, making Saveur magazine's 100 list for 2004. Started by the Aragona family, Giovanni's was sold to current owner Troy Nitsche in 1997. By the time you read this, a new, modernized shrimp truck will have replaced the old one in Kahuku. New graffiti already are beginning to decorate it.

The traditional-style shrimp scampi plate ($11) had 12 de-veined Neighbor Island shrimps swimming in a succulent, mildly spicy sauce. We couldn't help eating all of the sauce-soaked two scoops of rice even though we were starting to feel the effects of the shrimp and butter. Lots of garlic chunks in the sauce and a huge lemon wedge offer extra flavor. It's easy to see why Giovanni's sells an average of 400 plates a day.

Also on the menu: hot and spicy and lemon butter sautÚed shrimp. Half plates, $6.

Ambience: at Kahuku location, six shaded plastic picnic tables set on gravel with requisite Hawaiian music. The Hale'iwa site offers three tables but no shade.

Famous Kahuku Shrimp Truck

  • Kahuku, a few yards from Giovanni's
  • (808) 389-1173
  • 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. daily

The Famous Kahuku Shrimp Truck is nearly a twin of Giovanni's but with an Asian spin. Owner Kyung Ku, in business for 10 years, prepares her Kahuku shrimp dishes ($10) tempura-style and even with western barbecue sauce. This is the only place that advertised a choice of whole, head-on cooked shrimp.

Garlic butter shrimp ($10) came with a scoop of rice and a familiar plate-lunch scoop of macaroni salad. The 15 pieces of shrimp, not deveined, were served on thinly sliced cabbage in a sweet, thick sauce seasoned with a heavy dose of black pepper. This was our least- favorite plate because it was hard to taste the fresh shrimp through the overpowering sauce.

Also on the menu: coconut tempura shrimp with lemon sauce ($10); garlic butter squid ($10); hot and spicy squid ($10); teriyaki beef ($8); steak ($8).

Ambience: four well-shaded wooden picnic tables set on packed dirt, with KSSK radio playing.

Hard to believe anybody needs to be told how, but at the Shrimp Shack in Punalu'u, there's a sign with guidance on eating technique.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Romy's Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp Hut
  • Kahuku, between James Campbell wildlife refuge and Turtle Bay Resort
  • 56-781 Kamehameha Highway
  • (808) 232-2202
  • 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily

Mom and I agreed that Romy's Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp made the best plate, probably because they harvest their prawns and shrimp daily from their own ponds. The Aguinaldo family has run this farm for 12 years and operated the stand for eight.

A sign warns, "Expect a wait." The butter and garlic scampi-style shrimp ($11) was worth every minute. Mom remarked that everything arrived hot, even the rice. The dish was a wonderful balance of garlic, butter, spice and salt that only enhanced the delicate sweetness of the firm and tender shrimp. Extra flavorful was the side of house-made secret sauce that tastes like a blend of soy sauce, vinegar and chili sauce. The 16 pieces of shrimp were cleaned but with a a little of the head left on, juicy and perfect for hassle-free sucking.

Also on the menu: steamed sweet and spicy or deep-fried eggroll plates ($11); 1 pound steamed cocktail prawns, jumbo shrimp or shrimp plates ($14); live shrimp by the pound (prawns, $12 a pound; shrimp and jumbo shrimp, market price); deep-fried sunfish (aka tilapia, $14 a pound), available only on weekends, with either a garlic glaze or sweet and hot sauce.

Ambience: 12 tables on gravel, shade and a sink with soap. The crackly radio is forgivable once you start to dig in.

Macky's Original Shrimp Farm

  • Kahuku, makai, half mile past Romy's
  • (808) 780-1071
  • 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily

Macky's Original Farm Shrimp truck has the most substantial and colorful plates. This spot is 8 months old, but Macky Chen's family has owned and operated Chen-Lu Shrimp Farm six years.

Macky's garlic butter shrimp plate ($11), with a slightly sweet sauce, had a whopping 19 pieces, not deveined but clean. Two scoops of rice are not the end here. There also is a large pineapple slice, a chunk of steamed Okinawan sweet potato, and an ample sweet vinaigrette-dressed iceberg lettuce salad with carrot and purple cabbage.

Also on the menu: three other shrimp plates. Live shrimp are $7 a pound.

Ambience: no shade, so plan to carry out.

Reach Helen Wu at taste@honoluluadvertiser.com.