When you are hungry around lunchtime in Hawaii, you want to look for a place to grab a “plate lunch.” Plate lunch is a standard lunch in Hawaii, and it usually consists of a large plate or tray heaped up with white rice, mac salad (macaroni/pasta salad) and/or some other side dish, as well as an entree, usually a meat dish. The entrees range from teriyaki chicken to chicken katsu to kahlua pork, though every place will have their own specialties. Plate lunches aren’t fancy, but they are both delicious and very filling.
You can find plate lunches on the menu at tourists spots, but the best offerings are usually at places frequented by locals and slightly off the beaten path. I had heard great things about Rainbow Drive In, both from locals and from friends who visited Oahu, so I made sure to stop by when I was visiting Honolulu. The restaurant occupies a large corner spot on Kanaina Ave and you can’t miss it when you’re driving by. As a tourist in Waikiki, I didn’t have a car, so I wasn’t able to test out the “drive in” aspect of the Rainbow Drive In. Instead, I simply walked the few blocks from the main beach area and headed straight up to the take out window.
The place smells amazing when you walk up, especially if you are a fan of bbq meats. I asked what one of the most popular dishes was and the woman at the counter told me that their bbq pork was always a favorite, but that lots of people got whatever the daily special was, or opted for a “mixed plate,” which came with more than one entree so they could try two things.
I opted to try the bbq pork and, while it might not look fancy in the picture (I got it to-go), it was delicious. The pork was tender and reminded me of Korean-style barbecued meats, though it was more savory than spicy, and had a nice hint of smoke. It would have made a great sandwich on its own. The mac salad was rich and creamy, thanks to a generous dose of mayo, and it married well with the flavorful pork. The portions are pretty huge, so you will definitely want to bring a friend if you intend to sample more than one dish. The Drive In gets packed with locals at lunch, but the food comes out quickly and you’ll find that you won’t wait too long for a hot, fresh, authentic plate lunch at this spot.
Rainbow Drive-In, Honolulu, HI
3308 Kanaina Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815