It is very Hawaiian at Islander's Grill. Inside the 4,000-sqare-foot plate-lunch-style island eatery, a surfboard hangs overhead, colorful chairs tuck under tables, and ukulele chords hula-hoop around booths and sound waves’ waists. All in all, it is a casual place—one that exudes the laid-back vibe of its owner, Keola Hunt. Yet, as cool and convivial as Keola may be, there’s one part of his business he’s decidedly firm about—his father’s recipes. “Dad’s an old chef,” Keola says of his father Kekoa. “He makes us all stick to the older traditions.” One of those traditions is Kekoa’s plate-lunch special—for which cooks marinate thinly sliced beef in a teriyaki sauce, housemade with soy shipped in from Hawaii. Kekoa’s signature dish, the mauna loa chicken, douses grilled chicken with a housemade lava sauce, built to heat levels of mild, medium, hot, or super Hawaiian, which must be suppressed in a leotarded jar. And while the father may have been so confident—or stubborn—with his flavors and recipes that he forbade menu substitutions, the son has given some slack. “I bend,” Keola says, allowing local macaroni salad to hitch a ride and sanctioning electric steam shovels to replace power lunchers’ forks. Every other Friday, a four-piece Hawaiian band sets up just off the dance floor for live sets. The large space accommodates group events and parties on weekends just as comfortably as it handles the downtown lunch crowd’s takeout and delivery orders on weekdays.
Flavor is the focus at El Torito Cafe, whose exterior––like a burrito––is wrapped around a colorful filling. Inside, burgundy booths and a mural depicting a mariachi band contribute to the vibrant ambiance, which is permeated by the scents of tamales stuffed with spiced, shredded beef. Enchiladas come with one of seven fillings, including carne asada and green-chili pork, and sides of rice and beans. To complement each dish, the staff mixes a selection of chilly margaritas.
Cino’s Chicken, a locally owned poultry emporium, perpetuates the tasty American partnerships of tender fried chicken, rich side dishes, and refreshing soft drinks. Combo meals include three-piece and four-piece chicken arrangements featuring Cino’s hand-breaded poultry strips; the burger meal boasts a made-to-order stack of onions, tomatoes, and irrefutable proof that beef naturally grows in the shape of a disk. Cino’s friendly environment makes it easy for eaters to bond with each other while collaborating on paintings of ketchup painted in ketchup.