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Rainbow Drive In

August 14, 2014

A month or so before our Hawaiian vacation, I was watching The Food Network with my husband one evening, as I often do.  There was an episode of “Diners, Drive Ins & Dives” airing, but the TV was just kind of going in the background as neither one of us was really paying attention since we were busy with other things.  At some point, I realized that was airing was an episode I had seen a few years back.  At the time it first aired, I thought it was interesting, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it because one of the places featured on the show was on the island of Oahu and I didn’t have any plans to visit Hawaii at the time.  That particular evening, when the show was on TV again, and I finally realized that they were about to visit a place in Waikiki, it immediately piqued my interest as I knew that we would be in Waikiki in a few short weeks.  Truth be told, as I re-watched this episode, it immediately brought to mind the fact that I had seen this particular eatery highly rated on Trip Advisor, and in fact, a good friend of mine who was passing through Honolulu on an 8-hour layover even made it a point to stop at this place.  At that moment, I was determined to try to find a way to fit this place into our itinerary.


Rainbow Drive In is a Waikiki institution.  Having opened it’s doors in 1961, this Hawaiian hot spot has been serving hordes of locals and tourists alike morning, noon and night.  Founded by Seiju Ifuku and his wife Ayako, the food philosophy of Rainbow Drive In is to provide delicious, hearty and simple Hawaiian plate lunches with generous portions to Waikiki’s working class population as well as the beach crowd who arrive to fuel up after a day surfing in the Pacific Ocean.  Many locals say that when they return home, this is the first and last place they go to eat real Hawaiian food.  Known for their delicious gravy sauce and unique chili, you can find a crowd here from the time the drive in opens until it closes.


On the one day we had a rental car during our stay at the Sheraton Waikiki, we hoped in the car and traveled less than 2 miles, just outside of the main drag of Waikiki, to make our first stop of the day at Rainbow Drive In.  Even though it was just past 8:30 am on a Friday morning, there was already a lineup at the window to order food.  Almost all of the tables at the outdoor seating area were full.  If it’s this busy this early in the morning, I can’t imagine how busy this place must get at lunch time, or better yet in the early evening hours.


My husband and I came to Rainbow Drive In with one item on our minds that we wanted to order, the Loco Moco, a traditional Hawaiian staple food, traditionally eaten in the morning for a filling, hearty breakfast, but really can be eaten any time of the day.  This is what my husband described as quintessential Hawaiian comfort food.  What better place to order a Loco Moco than at an institution such as Rainbow Drive In.  All plate lunches, as their called, at Rainbow Drive in are served with 2 scoops of white rice and 1 scoop of macaroni salad.  The Loco Moco here is 2 hamburger patties grilled and served atop the scoops of rice and then covered in Rainbow’s signature gravy sauce and then topped with 2 eggs any way you choose to have the eggs cooked.  My husband and I both opted for eggs over easy so that we could crack the yolk of the egg and have all that creamy goodness blend together with the savory gravy and rice and hamburger patties.  Within minutes of ordering, our order was up and boy did it look heavenly.  The combination of the rich and flavorful gravy with the creamy eggs really brought the whole dish together.  2 hamburger patties over rice doesn’t seem that filling, but believe me, it was.  Much to my surprise, my husband absolutely loved his Loco Moco dish.  He pretty much shoveled the whole plate in his mouth and within minutes every single grain of rice, macaroni noodle, shred of egg, and all that delicious gravy was gone off his plate.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him more completely devour a plate than I did that morning at Rainbow Drive In.  He said he could see why this was comfort food and it was definitely something he could eat over and over again every day.


To wash this all down, we also ordered another famous Rainbow Drive In item, their slush!  This sweet, cherry slush, half drink-half icee concoction was brilliant.  The sweetness helped cut through the savory, heavy Loco Moco dish.  On a hot morning in Honolulu, though maybe a bit early for a slush, this was quite the refreshing drink.  I actually wish I had ordered another one before I left Rainbow Drive In that morning, just so I could continue drinking this highly addictive slush drink throughout the day.

Believe me, if we had more time in Oahu, and had a car, my husband and I definitely would have been back to Rainbow Drive In, probably at least another 2 or 3 times.  I really wanted to try some of their other plate lunches, and my husband wanted more of the Loco Moco.  It’s easy to see why Rainbow Drive In has been a Hawaiian institution for years.  This is the place that most natives returning to the island make as their first stop after they land at the airport.  Heck, if I grew up around this area, it’d probably be the first place I stop at as well.  You can bet that the next time I find myself in Oahu I’ll be making a stop at Rainbow Drive in, and I suggest that if you find yourself in Honolulu, you do as well!


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