The first time my wife wanted to show me the diversity of local Hawaiian food, she took me to Zippy’s. When I sat down to order I felt equal parts comfortable and totally out of my element. Why, you ask? Well, Zippy’s is the all-American diner, but through the Hawaiian lens—think Denny’s, but with a more diverse selection of food. It’s like every greasy spoon diner that you’ve ever wanted to go into in life. It’s exactly like that place where you try your first cheeseburger, or where people go to get an ice cream after a ball game. But one look at the menu will tell you, you’re definitely not in Kansas anymore. When you open it up you expect to find a hot dog, a grilled cheese, and French fries—and you’ll find all of that, but with a healthy dose of white rice and mac(aroni) salad.
Zippy’s has been around since 1966 and there are locations all over the island. Some locations are big and modern with a bakery, a sushi bar, and a sit-down restaurant; other locations are nothing more than small takeaway windows. No matter where you go, though, you’ll be sure to find several of the island’s favorite classics. I call many of the dishes fusion. My wife rolls her eyes and tells me no, that’s just local food. But this isn’t HER blog, so it’s totally fusion. Case and point: the state dish, saimin. This hot noodle soup dish encompasses so many of the different flavors and ingredients from the many immigrant cultures that came to Hawaii during the plantation days. Saimin can only be found in Hawaii and is a staple in Hawaiian food culture (coming soon: Saimin sampling). But, I digress…
What is TOO good?
For breakfast you’ll find your normal breakfast fare—eggs, bacon, potatoes, pancakes, etc—but you’ll also find island favorites such as fried rice, Portuguese sausage (linguiça), spam, and the Loco Moco. The Loco Moco is my wife’s go-to breakfast and includes a hamburger steak and a fried egg on white rice and smothered with brown gravy. It’s great for getting over hangovers and failed diets. Zippy’s regular portion is serious business, but they do offer smaller portions, just in case.
For lunch and dinner, the possibilities are endless. Their signature dish is their chili, which can be ordered with or without beans. Chances are if you live on Oahu you’ll be asked to buy some Zippy’s chili for a fundraiser. The way mainlanders do nachos and popcorn at sporting events, locals do chili and rice. But, you’re probably thinking chili…. with RICE?...huh? I know this, because it’s what my mom (a diehard chili fan) thought the first time my wife made chili for her in St. Louis. She was an IMMEDIATE convert; at no point after that initial tasting did my mom eat chili without white rice. Zippy’s offers their chili as a side, as a meal, and in combos. One of the most popular dishes is Zippy’s fried chicken and chili plate. The fried chicken is juicy and flavorful, and the chili pairs nicely. You can even add some cheese and onions for no extra cost.
One of my favorite dishes from Zippy’s is the Chicken Katsu Curry Saimin. The what now? This dish manages to combine three of my favorites into one bowl and it totally works. The base of the dish is saimin, but instead of the classic dashi (broth), there is a curry broth, and it is garnished with tamago (egg), kamaboko (fishcake), and chicken katsu (panko fried chicken). I was surprised how flavorful the curry broth was without being overwhelming. The Nugget also found this dish to be delicious as she straight up stole my bowl from me. She’s lucky she’s cute. Pro tip: ask for a side of spicy mustard, add shoyu (soy sauce) and mix with saimin, or use as a dipping sauce for your noodles and katsu.
To truly understand the local food culture, you must understand that no meal is complete without a healthy serving of mac salad. At risk of losing my Hawaii street cred, I will say that Zippy’s has had my favorite mac salad. The debate over who has the best mac salad rages on in Hawaii (coming soon: the great mac salad challenge of 2018).
Where can you Try Ono Oahu?
Only a few Zippy’s are open 24 hrs, but all locations are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in some capacity. The quality of the food is pretty consistent among the different locations so there’s no need to drive across the island to get to one that is better than others, but some dishes are only offered when you sit down (like the Chicken Katsu Curry Saimin). Stop by for the full sit-down meal experience, or grab a Zip-pack (fried chicken, fried fish, spam, teriyaki beef, white rice) on your way to or from the beach. According to their website there are 22 locations on Oahu so odds are good that you’ll find one close to you.