Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
A few months ago when I went to a workplace event with my husband, one of his co-workers and I were chatting about our upcoming trip to Hawaii. When I told her that we would be spending a few days on Oahu, she told me that we had to find the famous North Shore shrimp truck and try some of their food because we would just love it. I knew exactly what she was talking about as Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck is one of the North Shore’s most famous food offerings. After I mentioned to my husband that his co-worker said we should go there, he dismissed the idea as he just wasn’t that interested. Fast forward to a week before we left on vacation, I happened to be watching a TV show where the first episode of the season was set in Oahu. During their time driving around the island and heading up to the North Shore, where should they happen to stop for lunch but Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. That night, as I was about to tell my husband about seeing it on this TV show, he told me that he was talking to his co-worker that very day and she told him that he needed to go to this shrimp truck as he wouldn’t regret it. At that point, I think he was finally convinced that we should give Giovanni’s a try.
For our last full day in O’ahu we had planned to rent a car and drive around the island. Unlike the Big Island, O’ahu is small enough that you can cover most of the island in one day and its so much easier and more convenient to rent a car than try to take public transportation. As my husband and I planned our vacation to the Hawaiian islands one of the things that my husband told me we had to do was visit the North Shore. So, with our rental car, our main goal for the day was to make it to the north side of the island to see the North Shore communities and beaches. This meant that trying to fit Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck into our day would be really easy as we’d naturally drive past it on the main road that goes through the North Shore.
Giovanni’s shrimp truck began operating in 1993 out of a converted 1953 bread truck. The business began with a few simple shrimp recipes which were sold out of the truck as it stopped for a few hours at a time at various locations around the North Shore. At the time, Giovanni’s was the only shrimp truck out there and soon their food and delicious shrimp recipes became well-known with the locals. In fact, Giovanni’s scampi marinade and hot & spicy sauce has actually won culinary awards. In 1997, rather than driving the truck around everywhere, Giovanni’s decided to park their truck and have people come to them. Their first permanent location was in historic Kahuka town. In 1997, they opened a second truck which they parked in the North Shore community of Haleiwa. The popularity of Giovanni’s grew such that in 2006, Giovanni’s purchased the land at Kahuka where the truck parked in 1996 and in 2010 a pavilion was built on that land so that guests could come and enjoy Giovanni’s famous shrimp. That pavilion has drawn other local artisans and food vendors to set up shop and sell their wares to guests who visit Giovanni’s as well.
As you drive along the Kamehameha Highway, it’s hard to miss the large white, painted sign that advertises Giovanni’s Original White Shrimp. Actually, what’s harder to miss are the cars parked in the lot by the pavilion where the truck is permanently parked. Or maybe it’s the truck itself that’s hard to miss as the truck might be as famous as the food it sells. According to various accounts, in 1993 a gentleman visiting the Giovanni’s from El Paso, Texas had a marker in hand and wanted to permanently leave his mark on the truck. It wasn’t until after the truck was closed that the employees noticed the gentleman’s signature. At the time, they decided to just leave it rather than try to scrub it off. On the following day, a few more signatures and pictures appeared on the side of the truck. Since then, it’s just grown, with thousands upon thousands of signatures, sayings and pictures inked on every available inch of the truck.
After having had such a filling breakfast at Rainbow Drive In in the morning, my husband knew that we wouldn’t be able to each finish a plate of food, so we decided to share a plate lunch. The menu at Giovanni’s is pretty basic with almost everything revolving around shrimp. They offer 3 different full plate lunches with shrimp (although everything also comes in half plates) as well as 3 different sides and then various bottled and canned drinks. All of Giovanni’s plate lunches are served with one dozen shrimp and 2 scoops of rice. Your options are the shrimp scampi which is shrimp marinated in olive oil, fresh chopped garlic, lemon/butter and sautéed in a pan; hot & spicy which states that it’s very hot and no refunds are offered for shrimp cooked and covered in Giovanni’s very own special blend of hot sauce; and finally the lemon/butter which is shrimp boiled/steamed in a lemon and butter sauce and served with dipping sauce on the side. The sides are a garlic hot dog which is cooked in the scampi sauce so basically flavored with lots of garlic and lemon and butter, extra rice with or without garlic and homemade mac salad, very popular throughout the islands.
Giovanni’s says that their most popular dish is the shrimp scampi, which I must think is true as almost everyone in line in front of me ordered plate after plate of the shrimp scampi. Who are my husband and I to argue with the dish that’s made Giovanni’s famous throughout the island? So, of course, we order one plate of the shrimp scampi to share. When we arrived at Giovanni’s there was a line of about 7-10 people ahead of us, and a group of people waiting off to the side who had ordered and were just waiting for their plate. Plus, most of the tables inside of the pavilion were full. However, it’s obvious that Giovanni’s has their operation down pat. One person who takes the orders and deals with the payment, and then a couple of people who cook and prepare the food and one person distributing the orders as soon as they are made. Even with the people in line ahead of me and those already waiting for their food, it didn’t take me more than 10 minutes to get our lunch. Just standing there waiting for your food and smelling the garlic and the lemon and the butter is enough to make your mouth salivate. It smells heavenly, especially if you love garlic, as my husband and I clearly do. Finally, when your number is called, you’re handed this paper plate full of huge shrimp, 2 scoops of price covered in their olive oil and garlic sauce and a wedge of lemon. Additionally, you’re given a second paper plate and a healthy portion of napkins. The second paper plate is for your discards as the shrimp are fileted and cooked but with their shells on, so you have to peel and discard the shrimp shells. And of course, the napkins to wipe your fingers afterwards, that is, if you don’t lick your fingers first! You can’t even imagine how unbelievably yummy this dish smelled. It took all of our willpower to peel the shrimp first before just digging into the dish.
To go with our plate lunch, we decided to each get a can of the passion orange juice by Aloha Maid. I can’t say that before I visited Hawaii on this trip that I’d ever had passion orange or passion orange guava juice before, but wow, it’s fantastic. Why can’t we find this on the Mainland? I’d be all over that! On a hot and humid Hawaiian afternoon, while enjoying a plate of garlic shrimp, this drink was absolutely delicious. A little fruity, a little tangy, and full of all of the flavors of the Hawaiian islands, it’s definitely thirst quenching.
About 5 minutes after we dug into our shrimp scampi plate, this was the remains of it. The rice with the drizzle of the garlic oil over it was so full of amazing flavor that we pretty much had to scoop up every last grain of rice. And the shrimp was out of this world. It was cooked beautifully. Super tender and fresh and flavorful. Cooking it with the shell on allowed the flavor of the lemon butter and garlic and oil to infuse and permeate throughout the shrimp, and while it’s a bit of a hassle to have to peel the shrimp, it’s all worth it. I’ve never in my life tasted shrimp as good as the shrimp at Giovanni’s. When my husband and I finished our plate we kind of looked at each other and realized that perhaps we should have each gotten our own plate rather than sharing. We easily could have finished our own plates if we had known just how delicious the shrimp scampi was.
Prior to our trip to Hawaii, I was very skeptical as to how good shrimp from a food truck could be. Really, I live in LA where food trucks are such a fad, this is Hawaii, how great could Hawaiian food truck food be? Now, after having tried Giovanni’s I’m a true believer. Hands down, without having to think twice about it, the shrimp scampi plate that we hate at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck was the best food we had during our week in Hawaii. There is no comparison to how flavorful and delicious this shrimp scampi was. The atmosphere, the surroundings, the food, the life, it’s Hawaii all rolled up into one neat little package. I will forever dream about Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck until I can get myself back to Hawaii to have more of it. In fact, you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve talked about Giovanni’s with my husband since we’ve been back. If you go to Hawaii and only ever have one meal, make it the shrimp scampi plate at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.