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Kaimuki Honolulu - Hype vs Reality on Waialae Avenue

January 26, 2014

Crack Seed Store Kaimuki

In the span of about 30 days or so I had read numerous praises for Kaimuki Honolulu's Waialae Avenue as the new go-to destination for dining and boutique shopping on Oahu. It had to be new I thought, because the main drag through Kaimuki that I had known for so many years previous was only worth a visit if you happened to be passing through the neighborhood to Kahala Mall. But there had to be something to these rumors. Notably, Waialae Avenue had been heralded in my most recent subscription arrival of Hawaii Magazine which was coincidentally backed up by the in-flight periodical en-route back to Oahu days later. Then as I slumped my carry-on bag on the coffee table of the condo that I had just checked-in to the visitor guide book I leafed through detailed Kaimuki's Waialea as if it was the SoHo of Oahu. The consistency of the signals had me scribble a quick trip to Kaimuki into my immediate itinerary, to see something I had clearly missed on past passes.

The next day, just as I told the cabbie to keep the change, I asked him if this was indeed the same stretch of Waialea that had Town and Salt on it - two of the most talked about eateries on the row. He shook his head affirmative and I stepped out, perhaps wondering if I should have told him to keep the meter running and wait. With a line of sun rusted blocks that could easily pass for East Main Street in Stockton California, #Waialea_Avenue will not be a popular hashtag on Instagram anytime soon unless represented in the #urbandecay category.

Coffee Talk Kaimuiki

Reviewers of the strip like to mention the old Crack Seed shop that still stands on Koko Head Avenue - a gateway to the neighborhood should you be arriving from the south shore. While it's great to see this old local business survive the years and gain support from visitors for their Li Hing Mui dipped gummies and similarly flavored ICEE slush, it offers little else you can't find at the Whole Foods down the road or in Chinatown, outside of nostalgia. Leaving this landmark munching on a souvenir and onto Waialea I reached Coffee Talk Coffee House, a pop-culture conscious beanery cafe. Their delicious double shot espresso mocha woke me from my post-surf slumber and had me soaking up an atmosphere I only thought existed in the Pacific Northwest. Rejuvenated I continued on my mission to see what all the fuss over the new Kaimuki was about.

Waialae Avenue Eateries Kaimuki

I realized I had already passed the SALT, Kitchen & Tasting Bar, an upscale "all the rage" contemporary eatery from Executive Chef Quinten Frye that defies the scorched landscape of Kaimuki. On a strip of real estate that could be visually improved by the addition of an Arby's it's not only a surprise that a three-course sitting in this neighborhood can consist of pork & lobster pierogi, hearts of palm salad, cast iron roasted jidori chicken and a bottle of $200 Macchiole, it's downright absurd. The same can be said about Owner/Chef Ed Kenney's locally sourced Town a few doors down, where you can open your pocket books and devour an exquisitely prepared leg of lamb, green lentils, mohala escarole, radish, w/mint yogurt for 26 bucks. The accolades of these two restaurants are no urban legend and thus Waialea Avenue deserves your footprints for off-the-grid fine dining on Oahu.

Town Kaimuki

The next hour of exploration however included watching a game of pick-up basketball on the steaming concrete court of Kaimuki Community Park, donating pocket money to a fundraiser outside of Sacred Hearts Academy, grabbing a bottle of water at Times Supermarket, and u-turning on Waialea back towards where I was delivered to this curious neighborhood. "Boutique shopping" by the definition that visitors understand is a myth on Waialea Avenue, unless you count comics and anime collectibles. The pastries, smoothies, and wraps that dominate the remaining food and beverage options on the strip honestly offer nothing you can't find in either direction of the zip code.

The only photographic subject I pondered was the old abandoned Queen Theater decaying on the corner of Center Road, with its rusted yellow broken neon sign indicating a neighborhood that "once was". Eying Salt and Town across the street I couldn't help but think that if restored, the eight decades old Queen Theater could serve as the perfect house to host the Honolulu International Film Festival, with patrons spilling out afterwards for a late night of fine dining and drinks. Perhaps the travel periodicals singing the praises of Kaimuki and Waialea know something I don't? Perhaps Kaimuki is truly on the verge of revitalization and I should be jumping on board to stake my claim now as someone "in the know"? But alas it would be an injustice to send visitors to Waialea Avenue for anything more than coffee, dinner, and crack seed. I will however place it on my "Neighborhoods to Watch" list because I am certain that one day indeed Kaimuki will become exactly what everyone wants it to be. Just not today.

Queen Theater Kaimuki

Note: To show your support for the revitalization of the Queen Theater, and ultimately Waialae Avenue, visit Friends of the Queen Theater.

Wish You Were Here - Marcus Maraih, Editor, YAHglobal.Com

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post by : Editor - YAH Yaps