The Bentos To Bagoong Beat

Susan Sunderland
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Wednesday - July 22, 2009

I ate my way to a column assignment. When one’s a freelancer, life is feast or famine. I chose feast.

My first assignment was in October 2002. Editor Don Chapman asked me to write a feature on roadside grinds, food stalls and vendors offering local delicacies that come out of home kitchens or farms. Humble and ono. That was the criteria.

While other dining reviewers scouted full-service restaurants with maitre d’s and wine lists, I was to dine “a la car” and bypass any place that had a tablecloth.

My first culinary cruise around the island featured Café Haleiwa, Taste of Paradise Surf Grill in Pupukea, Ted’s Bakery at Sunset Beach and various North Shore shrimp trucks. Also, Amy’s by the Green, Waikane Store, Keneke’s Plate Lunch in Waimanalo, Maria Bonita’s Mexican Food served from a parked van, and Da Big Kahuna’s Pizza at Mapunapuna.

Then there was Fat Boy’s Local Drive-In, Flying Hawaiian Dog in Kailua, Matsumoto’s Shave Ice, Ono Loa Hawaiian Food at Waiahole, and roadside vendors along Kahekili, Kamehameha and Kalanianaole Highways.

I was thrilled the story ran three pages inside MidWeek and had a teaser tag on the front cover.

The reader response was positive, and the following year I was given a standing column head and asked to continue to seek out good, cheap roadside eats. We called the column Da ZigZag Guide, a play on Zagat’s. Later it became known as Broke Da Mout’.

Over the years, I’ve written several installments of these hole-in-the-wall dining reviews. I’ve covered many neighborhoods, including Kapolei, Aiea, Fort Street Mall, Kapahulu, North Shore, Kaimuki, Liliha, Kailua, Kaneohe and more. We even checked out local grinds in Las Vegas.

People always ask me what it’s like to stuff my face for a living.

It’s pure joy, folks.

I like being on the street, bumping into local folks on their way to a meal, and finding out what turns on their tastebuds. Aside from one’s own journalistic curiosity and keen sense of observation, one need only to ask “What’s good here?” to get the real scoop.

Each neighborhood has its landmark restaurants or food stalls that offer items found nowhere else. They are so prized by local folks that these places should be marked by HVB Warrior signs.

Local foods give a destination flavor, character and charm. When hosting out-of-town guests, take them out to eat at our own unique diners, drive-ins and dives.

Give them a taste of poke from Tanioka’s in Waipahu, Hawaiian plate lunch from Ono’s on Kapahulu, won ton min from Shige’s Saimin in Wahiawa, banana nut bread at Wally Ho’s Garage & Grill in Aiea, and kalbi beef ribs from Ducky’s Korean BBQ in Manoa.

Memories are made of this. And on MidWeek‘s 25th anniversary, it’s truly broke da mout’!

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