Kaimuki Eats: W&M Bar-B-Q Burgers

With W&M Bar-B-Q Burgers tracing their history all the way back to 1940 when Wilfred and Mary Kawamura created the concept, that places them at the starting line of the race with the largest fast food burger chain in the universe, McDonald’s, who also had their start that very same year.

Fast forward 2008, the race is more heated than ever as just about everyone under the sun competes for “best burger”.  While the likes of McDonald’s have become corporate megachain giants with executives in private jets deciding how to redefine their burger and brand, generations’-handed-down “mom ‘n pops” burger joints such as W&M continue on without changing a thing or expanding one bit (err, bite).  And don’t need to.

One look at W&M’s menu and you’ll see that. Trends such as, say, a Coffee latte or south beach salad (or Pacific Rim Salad for that matter) need not apply here. While I don’t have the resources at this moment to accurately tell the entire history of W&M, I’ll speculate W&M’s menu today is not much different than it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

Wilfred and Mary Kawamura, The “W&M” of W&M Bar-B-Q Burgers

In fact, the menu today consists of just five items that barely deviate within themselves, save for a few basic topping levels ranging from plain to “royal”.  Almost all of which go between a bun.

W&M only has one kind of burger, and that’s the B.B.Q. Burger. Your only choice to make is to decide what goes on that: plain? deluxe? cheese? royal? From there you can go a bit ala carte and add an extra patty, tomato, onion and cheese.

And like many other burger joints, W&M’s claim to fame is their “secret sauce”. In essence it’s a Teriyaki sauce, yet it does have its own signature taste, and most likely couldn’t fool any W&M regulars if you swapped it out with Mr. Yoshida or Mrs. Aloha’s stuff.

After burgers, there’s W&M’s B.B.Q. Steak, which is essentially a Teri Beef Sandwich.

Then there’s a B.B.Q. Hot Dog.

Finally, there’s fries, a crab salad and drinks, and that’s it. That’s it.

Before we get to the grinds, let’s get to the place. W&M is located at 3104 Waialae avenue, just a driveway Diamond Head-bound (east) of City Mill on the left side (or vice versa if you’re heading Ewa (west-bound) on Waialae…

There’s very limited parking on one side of the establishment’s frontside – I forgot to count, but I’d guess-timate 6-8 stalls max. If all the stalls are taken- which they were during my 11:30am Friday visit – you can double-park on the left until someeone leaves. If that’s taken too, you’ll have to go and shop at City Mill next door, then walk on over from there. He he.

There’s one order window, which you can see where the braddahs are standing in line at the center. The pick-up window is to the right where that wahine is standing. Don’t expect to find daily specials here that aren’t listed on the regular menu, because there aren’t. At least not on my visit. WYSIWYG.

You place your order, pay and are told  (no ticket) a pick-up number, to which I didn’t take note of, to which they had to look me in the eye and say, “brah, this is yo’ order”.  lol

Because everything is cooked-to-order — and there’s only one grill and grill master here — the wait is substantial; it took a good 10  to 15 minutes for my number to be called. This after being behind a number of other folks. A number of folks being a testament to insurance that this place is GOOD. We all know, where there’s a line for food, there’s GOOD food.

If there ‘s one peeve I have with some burger joints is their reliance on cooking on a flat top griddle. That’s basically a fried burger, NOT grilled, and in my humble opinion (IMHO),  not good.  A great burger needs hot iron grates to give it those distinctive, flavorful sear marks, as well as a dancing open flame to char the edges, plus the smoke to, well,  make it “smokey” tasting.  W&M’s got that!…

Flame-grillin’, W&M style

That rectangle stainless steel third pan to the right of the grill master (between the grill and counter with the buns) is where the “W&M Bar-B-Q Burger” stamp is placed on each and every one leaving that take-out window…

Putting the “W&M” in the burger, getting a soak in their secret sauce

After the patties are finished flame-grilling, they’re placed in that pan of W&M’s “secret” sauce and left in there soaking for a few minutes. Keyword: soak.  Then they’re off to the awaiting production line of buns, toppings and sides…

What? Nobody wanted cheeseburgers?

As you see, they use Love’s Bakery’s plain hamburger buns. Not the potato, sesame or onion type, but just your basic bun.

While you stand around and wait (a considerable time during peak lunch hour), there’s not much to do but watch as other folks order, or check out what’s coming up with local live entertainment on their poster bulletin wall to the left of the place…

Hey! Well waddaya know? Paul Ogata’s performing at Pipeline Cafe on Wednesday, December 10th at 8:30pm! If you haven’t seen his stand-up comedy yet, you must. He’s hilarious! I’ll never forget his “Samoan iPod” PA speaker. lol

Well, my order’s been called, so it’s back to the office (a 15 minute drive) with the W&M goods.

As I mentioned earlier, the burger “structure” is quite simple. It begins with the PLAIN B.B.Q. hamburger which is exactly that: plain. No veggies or cheese. Then there’s the DELUXE, which adds lettuce, tomato and onion. A note on the tomato, a sign on the window says the tomatoes they use are LOCAL.  Either they’re pointing that out to note it’s better quality, or,  to reassure folks there’s no hazardous bacteria on it from a strain spread around on mainland produce. They should just call it “Kaimuki Tomatoes”. That sounds kinda’ exotic, doesn’t it?

Next up the W&M burger  ladder is the CHEESE, which adds a slice of good ‘ole glowing orange-yellow American cheese to the patty. Finally standing at the top is the ROYAL, that has all the afformentioned goodies.

Here in all its glory, we have W&M’s ROYAL…

W&M ROYAL B.B.Q. Hamburger and French Fries

The current price of the ROYAL burger is $3.60, up from $3.35 a year ago. The fries are now $1.95, up from $1.75 a year ago. Thank you big oil. That’s my order.

After a few indecisions over what really is the easiest menu in the burger world, Diner E finally came into it and decided to go with the B.B.Q. CHEESE STEAK and French Fries….

W&M’s B.B.Q. CHEESE STEAK ($4.25) and French Fries ($1.95)

As you see, this Cheese Steak  is nothing like the one you’d get in Philly. This is essentially a teriyaki steak burger. In this case being Cheese, it has lettuce and American Cheese, along with mayonnaise. the plain steak with just lettuce is is $4, deluxe with lettuce, tomato and onion $4.15, this cheese steak with lettuce & cheese $4.25, or you can go for the ROYAL steak that has all of the above.

Oh, speaking of mayonnaise, the hamburger, b.b.q. steak and hot dog all offer you the complimentary option of choosing mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup and/or relish (or none at all).

Finally, Diner A decided on the best of both worlds and went with “Hal Special”…


Best of both worlds meaning the Hal Special is made of W&M’s B.B.Q. burger patty, topped with W&M’s B.B.Q. steak in that same Love’s bun. This at a rather whopping (sorry Burger King) $6.10. So if you’re undecided between a burger or steak, obviously get this one.

I’m in the firm belief that a great burger joint is only as good as its fries. The burger can be the ultimate, but if the fries are bad, the burger falls down with it. And eating a burger without fries is like playing baseball with a golfball. It can work, but it just won’t be the same game (and you just might kill a few players!). Ya’ know?

Thankfully, W&M takes great care in deep-frying their fries properly and serving them piping hot, being golden, brown and crispy on the outside, and tender inside. Here’s the fries…

W&M’s French Fries, $1.95 each (only one size available)

As you see, in comparison to those mega-chain franchises that offer super-sizing to help increase your waistline and decrease your coin count, W&M only offers one-size-fits-them-all. And it works.

The only other side item at W&M besides this single size French Fries is their CRAB FLAVORED SALAD…


According to the sign on the window, the CRAB FLAVORED SALAD consists of: Best Food Mayonnaise, Macaroni, Potatoes, Peas and REAL Crab for flavor.

So I’ll start the opinions on taste and all else about what we’re grinding here with this Crab Salad, which was purchased out of pure curiosity. Heck, “crab-flavored” sounds good! Well, with the three of us trying it, we really couldn’t detect much crabbyness to it. Whatever of that there was, we thought may just as well have been of the red-colored imitation variety. There were these specs of red “something” in there, that we thought was imitation crab meat, which as you might know, isn’t even made with crab, but is actually a Surimi paste made from white flesh fish such as Pollock or Hake. All in all, it was a decent potato-mac salad, but nothing I’d fly from New York to Hawaii just for that.

Well, that was just a side thing that we wanted to try, and has nothing to do with our main order.

Now let’s take a closer look and have a taste of Diner E’s B.B.Q. CHEESE STEAK…

W&M’s B.B.Q. Cheese Steak

Aaahhh. Nothin’ like the sloppy look of ooey, gooey mayonnaise and melting cheese over savory grilled meat, just the way a good Cheese Steak Sandwich should be! You know you just wanna’ grab that between both hands, spread your feet apart a bit while standing, tuck down a bit, and bite right into that as the goo drips to the floor and your dog licks up the mess. lol O’right!

W&M’s Cheese Steak

Diner E was totally diggin’ this. His only problem? For $4.25, he felt the sandwich was on the small side and not filling enough for what it’s worth.  Enough that he wished he had ordered the B.B.Q. Hot Dog to go along with it like he originally wanted to do.  At least he had the French Fries to help pick up some slack. While he wouldn’t quite give their BBQ Teri Beef the same honor he gives the late and great Washington Saimin, he says it’s within contention and respect, and also reminscent of the other bygone classic, Burgerland on Monsarrat. Flavor-wise, he gives the CHEESE steak 3 SPAM Musubi, but the portion and price took away one point, bringing this one to a 2 SPAM Musubi rating.

Here’s my ROYAL cut in half…

W&M’s ROYAL B.B.Q. Burger and French Fries

Taste? Deep teriyaki flavor. Fairly char-grilled flavor, but not as much as I had expected (or hoped). A good burger no doubt. Probably a GREAT burger to those who are serious Teriyaki junkies. I like teriyaki, but not where it’s saturated in the meat, just coating it, where the sugars in the sauce get burnt on the edges. This one is saturated inside and out. Still, even though I’m not a teriyaki junkie, I still give this a stretched 3-SPAM musubi for flavor (knowing the respect it deserves as it is) and value. Especially in today’s $7-12 “gourmet burger” world we live in.

So there you seen the steak and the burger. Both look good to you? How about having both? Well you can with Hal’s Special!…

W&M’s Hal’s Special

Click on the photo above to enlarge it and you’ll better see the layer of BBQ teriyaki steak on top of the teriyaki burger, with a slice of american cheese between it, all topped with onion, iceberg lettuce and (local) tomato. At $6.25, it’s not exactly a bargain, considering the rather small size of their standard burger patty, according to Diner A, he thinks overall it’s a great choice. The best choice. A winner. With that, he gives Hal’s Special a solid 4 SPAM Musubi. He liked it enough where, he said next time he takes his son hiking up Diamond Head, he’ll bring his son – a major teriyaki burger fan – here.

Averaging Diner E’s 2, to my 3, to Diner A’s 4 SPAM Musubi, we come out with an overall 3 SPAM Musubi rating for W&M Burger on this particular visit.

W&M had quite a few archived family business-related photos displayed at the front window. Another of which was this of W&M Burger, circa 1976, when they were located on 9th and Waialae avenue…

W&M Burger when they were located on 9th and Waialae avenue in 1976

W&M’s current location — since 1980 — is at 2nd and Waialae avenue (about there, across the street). Across the street from W&M’s current location is “Fresh Catch”, which I think is a sushi joint (formerly Pizza Hut) and next to that Seven-Eleven. As mentioned earlier, they’re also nextdoor neighbors to City Mill.

Next time I swing by W&M, I’ll pick up the B.B.Q. HOT DOG, which is described as a “premium all-beef Oscar Mayer hot dog dipped in our BBQ sauce, rolled on the grill”. Never tried that one before, but it sounds ono!

W&M Bar-B-Q Burgers
3106 Waialae avenue
Honolulu, Hawaii  96816

Click to view pdf menu (current as of 7/08).

The Tasty Island rating:

(3) Very Good. Considerable of another visit or purchase. (Supah’ Ono!)


8 thoughts on “Kaimuki Eats: W&M Bar-B-Q Burgers

  1. Man, I used to eat there almost every day when I was going to UH Manoa. I’d ride my bike there so no parking problems. Last time we were there, I did park at City Mill, bought something first, then went over to grab a teri burger.

    It’s always the same for me – Tomato Royal. I used to pay a buck twenty-five back then. Three sixty now?! No way. The burger isn’t *that* great.

  2. My parents like this place I think, but to me it’s nothing special. The building is cute though and I love an independent joint with some history! Maybe someone should help them rework their menu.

  3. I am glad this last of a few places that does one well and not try to out do themself. A good burger is what many like and I am one of them.

  4. I remember W&M when I used to walk home from St. Patrick’s back in the 50’s. It was on Waialae and 9th Avenue right there on the corner. This may be dating myself but hamburgers were 24 cents and French fries were 11 cents. A small cup of fruit punch cost a nickel. I always thought that it was a regular teri burger patty on a plain toasted bun with butter and ketchup. No lettuce or tomato just a plain hamburger on a bun. The fries were unique because it was almost half raw and limp. Somehow everyone loved it with a lot of ketchup squirted in the wax paper bag. Man, time has changed!

  5. I’ve been there only once in college, but have passed it over a hundred times since. From what I remember, I really did like it. I really should be going there more often since I live five minutes away by car.

  6. I have just found this blog. My sister (who likes to make me squirm) sent it to me to torture me! I live in Tennessee now, so none of this yummy stuff to be had!

    I have many a yummy nights ahead reading all the past entries. For now, just a question. Do you reimburse for drooled-on keyboards that short out?

  7. All you foolz is trippin’! W&M is off the chain!! I hope they keep doin’ their thang. Keep up the good work. Bugga is ono!!!

  8. The 1976 picture of the place brought back good memories of the times I visited when I was attending UH Manoa in the early 1960s. It was on Waialae and 9th Avenue then. My best recollection is the day I rolled in with a pretty girl I was trying to impress. It was her first taste of the morsels from that onolicious palace, and her appreciative grin fanned my fantasies. Alas, they remained fantasies and nothing more, but the memory of that hopeful moment has survived all these years. I’m glad to learn that fare served today is still off the charts because although I now live in Europe I have another incentive to visit Hawaii if for no other reason than a bit of youthful reincarnation that a visit to W&M Bar-B-Q Burgers can provide.

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