I should start by saying that burgers have a very special place in my heart; I’ve always loved cheeseburgers. When I was growing up we didn’t eat out much and even when we did the best bet was usually KFC because it was the only food my grandmother would buy from anybody. Other options included any place involving a buffet because that was my dad’s idea of a good time. But for me, there was nothing better growing up than stopping somewhere—anywhere—and getting a cheeseburger. I remember the first time I came to Hawaii I was hell bent on impressing my then-girlfriend and so I dove head first into all the local delicacies—which basically meant I ate a lot of fish. Fish, particularly ocean fish, is not that easy to come by in Missouri. Outside of the occasional—and I do mean occasional—stop at the sushi restaurant, I didn’t get it that often. So, after 3 or 4 days of nothing but fish, my body started to revolt. I experienced a craving deeper than any craving than anything in my life… for beef. I needed a taste of home. And I needed it on a bun with some cheese.
So, I hinted around at Jacqui for, like, a day but she was having a good time (it had been a few years since she’d been home) and was taking me at my word every time I talked about trying something local. Notice, I’m saying this is my fault. Finally, I just had to corner her and whisper “what if I just want a cheeseburger?” To my total surprise, she just laughed and said, “that’s fine, you can eat a cheeseburger. We have good burgers on the island, too.” Now, this was news to me because so far my whole trip had been centered around raw fish, and taro, and authentic Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Little did I know, burgers were and are a large part of local Hawaiian life.
All that being said, just the other day I had myself another one of those famous beef cravings. I decided it was time to find out what the deal was with these beautiful burgers I’d been seeing on Instagram from Burger Hale (HUH-leh, the Hawaiian word for house): one of the brand new offerings at The Street Food Hall by Michael Mina located in the International Marketplace in Waikiki. Acclaimed chef Michael Mina has partnered up with several great talents to offer a wide variety of and excellent food options. For burgers, he looked to Hawaii locals Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka, James Beard award nominees, and proprietors of the very successful and critically acclaimed MW Restaurant. They’re known for their takes on modern Hawaiian Regional Cuisine and those flavors are definitely present at burger hale.
What is TOO Good?
There are 3 all-beef burgers to choose from: the classic, the sukiyaki (soo-kee-YAH-kee) burger, and the Hawaiian BBQ burger. The classic is exactly what you’d expect if I said “all-American burger” with lettuce, tomato, cheese, and pickles—it’s simple and satisfying. The sukiyaki burger draws from the classic Japanese homestyle dish of the same name and is where we start to venture into some interesting territory. The sukiyaki burger is topped with caramelized onions, thinly sliced beef, and in a modern twist also includes pepper jack cheese. Jacqui and I decided we were going to try the Hawaiian BBQ burger, which is topped with kalua pig (Hawaiian style pulled pork), crispy fried onions, pickles, and a crispy cheddar cheese “hula” skirt. The skirt was definitely an unexpected surprise and is created by allowing the cheese to actually melt out onto the cooktop where it continues to cook into a crispy ring that surrounds the burger. Jacqui and I both really enjoyed the crunchy bits. I opted to break off the skirt and put it back on top of the burger because together with the rest of the ingredients it really made for the perfect bite. The kalua pig was juicy and flavorful and the pickles were the perfect way to cut through the richness of the pork and beef, and the saltiness of the cheese. All 3 of the burgers are served on top of a house-made mochi Portuguese sweet bread which takes the burgers to another level.
I also sampled the cheese fries because I find it hard to not sample the cheese fries wherever we see it on the menu. The fries were hot and crispy and everything fries should be. The cheese sauce was good, but it’s not the typical cheddar or nacho cheese that you find in most mainland restaurants. Instead, the flavor is cream cheese based and, therefore, unexpected, but super creamy and delicious.
Last, but not least, we have to talk about the biggest surprise of our visit to Burger Hale: the Chicken Karaage Sandwich (kah-rah-AH-geh, pro tip: the “rolled r” sound is most easily pronounced as a soft “d” like in “middle”). Chicken karaage is essentially Japanese fried chicken. Jacqui and I have a deep love for fried chicken in its many many forms: we had it at our wedding, and when Jacqui was pregnant with Nugget she ate a chicken sandwich almost every other day. So, when I see that someone has a new chicken sandwich that they’re proud of I feel it necessary to give it a try. I have to say in this instance I think they may have undersold the awesomeness of this sandwich as it was probably the best chicken sandwich I’ve ever had in my life. The chicken itself is marinated dark meat that’s battered and fried, golden and crisp. It’s the stuff my dreams are made of. It comes with furikake (foo-ree-KAH-keh, a Japanese seasoning of dry seaweed, salt, sugar, etc) mayo, an Asian slaw, and is served on one of those heavenly mochi buns. For the first time ever, I wish I lived closer to Waikiki so I could get these things more often. Overall, regardless of whether you’re in the mood for beef, chicken, or even some fish tacos, Burger Hale as being well worth the stop—worst case scenario if someone’s not down for burgers there are a number of other options to choose from at The Street (check back for our other posts on the other food stalls).
Where can you Try Ono Oahu?
Burger Hale is located in The Street at the International Marketplace in Waikiki. If you’re staying in Waikiki it is walking distance from most major resorts and hotels. If you’re staying on the west side of the island (Koolina) or on the North Shore (Turtle Bay) then it’s definitely a drive. Some perspective, it’s a 45 minute drive from where we live on the island, but I think it’s well worth the drive—especially if you’re heading into town for other activities.
International Marketplace has its own parking garage with lots of spaces and tall ceilings (great for bigger vehicles). They do offer validation if you purchase more than $10 from one of the shops or restaurants which then makes parking prices pretty reasonable (0-1hr FREE, then $2/hour through the 4th hour). If you don’t get your ticket validated, it’s $2/20 mins—which is crazy! They also offer valet for $5 plus the applicable parking rates. International Marketplace is located at 2330 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu—but parking is only accessible from the Kuhio Ave side at Kuhio Ave and Walina St. If you’re using GPS device, it’s better to get directions to Saks Fifth Avenue, as the parking entrance is adjacent to SFA (2345 Kuhio Ave, Honolulu).
We found it was easiest to turn into the parking garage if you head east on Kuhio Ave so you can make a right turn in. There is a light at Kuhio Ave and Walina St, but there is no dedicated turning signal for left hand turns so you’re at the mercy of oncoming traffic. If you’re coming from the west side or from the North Shore we like taking H1 to Ala Moana Blvd, then a right onto Kalakaua Ave. Stay in the left 2 lanes, as Kalakaua will split with Kuhio on the left. The destination will then be on your left. There’s been a lot of construction and sometimes people will park in the right lane of Kuhio Ave so just be prepared for some maneuvering around minor obstacles.
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