Lots of plate lunches were had in Honolulu (some good, some bad, all humongous), but my favorite plate lunch was at Monarch Seafoods with Yummy Korean B-B-Q coming in at a close second. Monarch was great for incredibly fresh seafood, and Yummy Korean B-B-Q for surprisingly good galbi (갈비, Korean beef ribs, also spelled kalbi) from a fast food court.
I first read about Monarch on The Girl Who Ate Everything. Luckily, Robyn went to Honolulu a few months before I did, so I was able to take advantage of her foot/stomach work. Thanks Robyn!
Monarch is basically a catering business with a small storefront with lunch service. There’s no eat-in area, and the location is more commercial than scenic, so if you’re looking for ambiance, this isn’t the place to go. It started raining when we got there, so David and I ended up eating in our rental car. I don’t think he was happy with that, but he made do. David had the Ahi Sashimi Salad ($8.95), sliced yellowfin tuna on mixed greens from Nalo Farms with fried crispy noodles and the house creamy garlic dressing. The fish was fresh, but overall it was a bit plain and boring. Poke would have been a better option. Monarch makes an assortment of ahi poke — ahi limu (seaweed), spicy ahi, ahi shoyu, and spicy tako (octopus) — that looked awesome. Too bad we noticed after we ordered.
Fortunately, I ordered the Spicy Thai Calamari Steak ($7.95). It was freaking amazing.
It wasn’t really spicy, in fact, the Thai dipping sauce was reminiscent of supermarket “Oriental” sweet and sour sauce, but the thick slab of breaded squid steak was cooked perfectly, crunchy on the outside and tender to the bite on the inside. It was like calamari on steroids; a lot of crunch and a lot more squid. All lunches at Monarch, besides salads, come with a choice of house Nalo salad, tossed salad, or potato macaroni salad. I got the house salad which was fine, but I wasn’t a fan of the house dressing that seemed to be a hit with all the locals who asked for extra. With the tender greens, I would have preferred a light vinaigrette instead.
Yummy Korean B-B-Q I happen to come upon by accident. The first day in Oahu, David and I were taking a walk near our hotel on Waikiki beach and passed by The International Market Place. It looked like a complete tourist trap so we kept on moving. A few days later, when David was taking a nap, I was bored so I decided to go back and take a gander. Inside, lo and behold, there was a food court with a Korean food stall. I was wary, because it was Korean food in a food court, but I knew I had to try it because, again, it was Korean food in a food court! I mean, when does that ever happen in the the States?! The next day, after a day of surfing, I came back with David in tow. We ordered the Kalbi ($10.75), which comes with rice and four vegetables. I chose kimchi, japchae (잡채, stir-fried glass/cellophane noodles), eggplants, and sautéed greens. The sides weren’t noteworthy except the kimchi which was spicy, ripe, and tasted authentic. Likewise, the galbi tasted homey and delicious, as if a Korean mom made it. Yummy Korean B-B-Q may be a fast food court chain, but it’s not the Korean equivalent of Panda Express (sorry Panda, but we all know your food isn’t authentic). No Americanized BS food here. I was pretty happy.
Happy but not full. I wanted a little more of something else, and that ended up being half a dozen oysters at Blue Water Shrimp & Seafood Market next door. I watched the guys making my plate, and after the oysters were shucked, it took another guy more than five minutes to plate the dish. He was like the zen master of plating. Served with cocktail sauce, pineapple relish, and garnished with lemon slices and a purple orchid, the end result was indeed gorgeous, but I wish the person shucking had taken as much consideration as the person plating. Two of my oysters had a good number of shell bits in it. Crunchy shell shards I do not like in my oysters. The oysters themselves, however were huge and fresh, and I enjoyed the tartness of the pineapple relish with the oysters.
Brunching was tasty in Maui, but I realized I’m more of plate lunch girl, especially when fresh seafood and homey galbi is involved.
515 Kalihi Street (b/n Colburn & Hau St; map)
Honolulu, HI 96819