Saturday, August 16, 2008


Keneke's of Waimanalo with some local blalah and no t-shirt.

After spending the morning at the KCC Farmer's Market and rousting the hungover Doc Rhee from bed, we were back on the road again to Ka'a'awa. But with such a beautiful day at hand and an open-air jeep at our disposal, it seemed a waste to take the fast way over the Ko'olau mountains. Better to take our time and go around the east side and enjoy the weather.

The far east side of O'ahu is rocky coastline. Rocky and jagged cliffs plunge into rough and deep blue sea. The water is choppy in what is the Moloka'i Channel - the passage of water between O'ahu and Moloka'i through which the entire Pacific Ocean circulates through, making it one of the most dangerous channels in the world.

The Ko'olau Mountains and my Jeep from Alamo.

All of this angry coastline also makes for some great body surfing with famous spots like Makapu'u and Sandy Beach - where I once nearly drowned in 1991.

But past all of this, on the windward side of the island, in the sleepy local town of Waimanalo is a little plate lunch joint called Keneke's. I've been coming to Keneke's since we happened upon it back in May 1988. And while Keneke's has strong Hawaiian roots, for me, it's all about the pork adobo.

Lau Lau Plate Lunch

For the uninitiated, pork adobo is a Filipino specialty. It might as well be the national dish. Take some pork, cut it into cubes, pan fry with garlic and oil, add black pepper and then pan braise with soy sauce and vinegar - and a bay leaf, for good measure. Let it cook off for awhile and voila! Pork adobo.

Truth be told, adobo across the Philippines comes in many variations. There is no one way to make any adobo dish. It's interpretation is a direct representation of the people. That said, Keneke's version suits me fine. The pork is browned and tastes strongly of shoyu, with just a touch of acidity from the vinegar. Of course, the one aspect that draws you to it also repels you at the same time - and that's the oil. Keneke isn't afraid of oil. They embrace it. The pork adobo is coated in it. When they said to pan fry in oil, these guys didn't hold back. They went for the gold.

Pork Adobo Mini Plate

It's a major reason why I only order the mini-plate at Keneke's - not to mention the very generous portion sizes. Remember, this isn't just Hawaii, this is Waimanalo: Home of the Hawaiian. Local people expect their plate lunch to be generous and Keneke's doesn't disappoint. Order the regular plate and you're gonna be taking half of it home with you. Better to just order the mini and a side of fries for texture.

Doc Rhee decides to go for the regular Lau Lau plate. A traditional Hawaiian dish, lau lau is basically some sort of meat (typically pork and/or butterfish) that's wrapped in taro leaf, seasoned with Hawaiian salt, packaged in ti leaves and then steamed in an 'imu (underground oven). The result is soft, moist and sweet meat to go with rice or poi. You eat everything except the outer wrapping of ti leaves.

Yes, Keneke's will cater your funeral too.

Bear in mind, there's nothing fancy or fine dining about Keneke's. Remember, this is Waimanalo. It's just simple, rustic fare in very sparse environs designed to weather the weather. Tables are concrete. Benches are made of cinder block. You're outdoors under the sun. There's no frills but you're loving every minute of it.

Keneke's Divine Grinds
41-857 Kalanianaole Hwy
Waimanalo, HI 96795

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