Kaneohe Eats: Dean's Drive Inn

Dean’s Drive Inn – Ahi Cakes with Sweet Chili Beurre Blanc Sauce

KHNL’s ‘Cheap Eats’ with Russell Yamanoha and Lyle Galdeira recently paid a visit to Dean’s Drive Inn in Kaneohe (<—see video at that link), where as usual, everything looked really ono. So yesterday we decided to see (actually taste) for ourselves what all the fuss was about.

According to the ‘Cheap Eats’ guys, a few of Dean’s most popular dishes are the Teriyaki Beef, Ahi Cakes and Rack of Lamb. So that’s exactly what we tried.

Before we get to those plates, let’s check out the place…

As you see above, Dean’s Drive Inn is located in Adon Plaza, a tiny strip mall located on the Makai side of Kamehameha highway in Kaneohe (my “peeps”!), just after St. Mark’s Church and School and just before the Kaneohe HPD substation if you’re heading towards Kahalu’u.

If you go during peak lunch hour expect to wait for parking in the limited space lot. I arrived yesterday exactly at opening (11am) and there was already a line of folks waiting to get in. Mahalo ‘Cheap Eats’ for that!…

Notice Doreen (Dean’s wife and Chief Customer Service Rep’) hands each customer a number. If you’re dining in, it’s placed on that metal stand so her helper can easily find your table (about 6 total; not enough!). If you’re taking out, it’s handed to you and you must listen for your number to be called. I must note that the wait is considerable being that everything is cooked to order, with I believe mainly just Dean doing all the cooking. It took about 15 to 20 minutes for my number to be called. Thank a fully-packed house for that. If you’re in a rush, I highly recommend you phone-in your order. I wasn’t in a rush, so no biggy.

If you type in ‘Drive Inn’ in Google search, guess what one of the top hits are for the term? ‘L&L Drive Inn’. Yet like L&L, at least functionally, Dean’s doesn’t fit into the classic Drive Inn (more properly spelled ‘Drive-In’) concept. Yet I suppose at least from a top-of-mind aspect, most locals assimilate “Drive Inn” with “Plate Lunch Joint”. Fair enough.

Yet, like Kahai Street Kitchen, Koi’s, Nico’s and Kaka’ako Kitchen, do we dare call Dean’s just a “Drive Inn”, a.k.a. “Plate Lunch Joint”? Like those afforementioned places, here you just might have to bring along a bottle of your favorite wine, along with a white tablecloth and some silverware, as the dishes that come out of Dean’s kitchen give the impression you’re in one of those “Upscale Plate Lunch” eateries. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, as owner and chef Dean Mishima spent 18 years honing his craft with Liberty House (now Macy’s), overseeing their restaurant operations at Garden Court, Gazebo and Hackfield’s.

Now let’s check out the menu and see what’s for lunch!…

Dean’s Drive Inn’ Daily Menu (click to enlarge view)

Dean’s Drive Inn’ Daily Menu (click to enlarge view)

Today’s Specials…

Dean’s Drive Inn’ Specials of the Day (click to enlarge view)

In case you’re wondering what ‘Deep Sea Kaku’ is, that would be Barracuda.

Now I don’t know about you, but it isn’t often I come across a “plate lunch joint” serving Rack of Lamb with Mint Jelly. Also, how many “plate lunch joints” do you now of who offers their soup of the day as an option to Mac’ Sal’ or Toss? Well, they do here!…

Nice. I think I just might do that (soup). As one of the gentlemen explained in that KHNL ‘Cheap Eats’ segment, Dean’s offers you the full course meal, starting with your salad or soup as an appetizer, the main entree, and last but not least, dessert…

These are all made by Dean’s wife, mother and sister. Thank goodness. Based on how busy it was at the time of my visit, I really don’t think he’d have the energy to bake desserts either before or after a full day cooking in that restaurant kitchen.

The carrot cake was a good seller based on observation while I waited for our order…

This one also moved quickly (they were gone by the time I left)…

Red Velvet…

They also sell these gourmet Salt products…

So that’s “the joint”.

Now let’s look at what we got for lunch from Dean’s Drive Inn, starting with Diner AC’s choice, the 6-piece Pulehu (grilled) Rack of Lamb…

Dean’s Drive Inn – Pulehu Rack of Lamb (6 pieces), $15.25

This was obviously the most expensive dish on the menu, which is understandable being what it is.

Diner E went with his usual “gauge plate” (the other being Hamburger Steak), checking out Dean’s take the classic Teriyaki Beef Plate…

Dean’s Drive Inn – Beef Teriyaki, $8.75

Finally, yours truly (Diner P) chose the Ahi Cakes…

Dean’s Drive Inn – Fresh Ahi Cakes, $9.25

As you read on the sign, you can choose Mac, Toss or SOUP OF THE DAY as your side dish, so I decided to give their Clam Chowder a try….

Dean’s Drive Inn – New England Clam Chowder (included with meal as on option to Mac or Toss)

So how was it? Well, first let’s look closer at Diner AC’s Pulehu (grilled) Rack of Lamb…

Dean’s Drive Inn – Pulehu Rack of Lamb with Mint Jelly

Some seared edges there, although it would have been nice if there were distinctive (and mo’ flavah) crosshatch grill markings across the entire surface. Diner AC was so kind to share an entire rib each with Diner E and myself, so let’s try a bite…

Dean’s Drive Inn’ Pulehu Rack of Lamb with Mint Jelly

Mint jelly slathered on Lamb rack? Check. Medium-rare doneness? No check. NO check? Oh no! Yes, Dean overcooked it in our opinion, going more on the medium side (even though it does look slighly pink in that photo). Both Diner AC and myself prefer our Lamb medium-rare. Perhaps I should have specifically requested that. Oh well. I was also missing the rosemary. There may have been a little sprinkle of it, but certainly not enough that it was THERE. Personally I like my lamb CRUSTED with generous amounts of fresh Rosemary, garlic and breadcrumbs. This simple Pulehu style works, provided it’s cooked to perfection. Here I thought it was too far in the medium threshold. Seasoning-wise, this tasted like simple salt ‘n pepper and that’s it. Otherwise, the tenderness and flavor was good. Not great, but good.

Of course for me at least, the saving grace was the mint jelly. The ULTIMATE accompanyment with lamb, IMO. Diner AC thought the mint jelly was almost “mouthwash like”, but nah, not me. I liked it. Typical bottled stuff, but with the Lamb, as always, it works great. We all unanimously give Dean’s Drive Inn’ Pulehu Rack of Lamb 2 SPAM Musubi.

Now let’s sample my Ahi Cakes…

Dean’s Drive Ahi Cakes

That Beurre Blanc sauce looks absolutely delicious. Let’s have a bite…

Nice size chunks of fresh ahi in here (not ground up), mixed with some kind of batter. It certainly had a semi-starchy texture to it. The onions also brought lots of flavor to the party.

If there’s anything to complain about, I’d say it could have stood a little longer on the griddletop with more sear on the outside, as well as being more cooked through inside. Otherwise, GREAT! Of course that mildly spicy-sweet and buttery-rich Chili Beurre Blanc is was helped get this one to the home plate. Diner E, AC and C all tried some and gave it a big thumbs-up of approval. Diner E even went as far as saying he liked this fish cake better than Tanioka’s. The nerve! lol As it stands, I give Dean’s Drive Inn’ Ahi Cakes a solid 3 SPAM Musubi, which could have been 4 had it been seared and cooked a bit longer and more thoroughly.

Now let’s try that New England Clam Chowder, which I chose over the Mac or Tossed Greens…

Dean’s Drive Inn – New England Clam Chowder

Yup. OK. MM. Great viscosity which easily coats the back of the spoon. Generous chunks of fork-tender – not overcooked – potatoes. Plenty of small diced pieces of clams, plus a few pronounced slices of smoked bacon. Fairly rich flavor, but I found the bacon a little – just a little – too overpowering. I mean, when you taste this Clam Chowder, you KNOW there’s bacon in it. That could be scaled back just a bit. Otherwise, thumbs-up all the way. I’d be happy with just a big bowl of this and some Diamond Soda Crackers. Oouh-right! 3-SPAM Musubi for their Clam Chowder.

Oh, the other soup of the day was Minnestrone.

Saving the best for last, we have Diner E’s Beef Teriyaki plate (dare I call it a “plate”)…

Dean’s Drive Inn’ Beef Teriyaki (AWESOME!)

Witness that nicely-thickened Teri’ sauce as it coats each slice of super tender, supah’ ono chunk of beef. OMG!!! This is gauranz’-ballbaranz (did I spell that correctly? lol) contender for “Best Teriyaki Beef” on Oahu. EASILY one of the best I’ve ever tried.

Here’s a bite of Beef Teriyaki heaven…

Dean’s Drive Inn – Beef Teriyaki (AWSOME!)

I’m not sure what kind of cut of beef this is: perhaps Tri-Tip? Or could it be skirt or flank? It also didn’t taste like it was marinaded in Teri’ sauce, but instead was very generously bastes on with the Teri’ glaze right at the end of the grilling session. Just enough where it takes on that Pulehu flavor without getting over-caramelized and burned. Whatever his magic is, you can tell Dean’s KNOWS exactly how to make a GREAT Teriyaki Beef. Seriously, If you’re seeking what might arguably be the best Teriyaki Beef on the island, don’t walk, but RUN (or speed on H3… just kidding!) to Dean’s Drive Inn.

Interestingly, “hypercritical” Diner E subtracted an entire SPAM Musubi ratings point from his plate only because he thought the Mac’ Salad wasn’t quite up to snuff…

Dean’s Drive Inn – Macaroni Salad (a.k.a. “Mac’ Sal’)

While he says the “creamy coolness” was there, the Macaroni elbow noodles were a bit on the soggy side, while overall it was BLAND in flavor. If you ask me, I’m willing to bet his palate was simply overwhelmed by the amazing deliciousness of that Beef Teriyaki, making anything else that touched his tongue pale in comparison. Poor Mac’ Sal’, that’s just not fair! lol

All that said, Diner E initially was going to give his Beef Teriyaki plate a solid 4 SPAM Musubi (which is VERY VERY VERY good by most standards), but decided to go with 3 SPAM Musubi for his Beef Teriyaki plate thanks to the Mac’ Sal’. I still say, Mac’ Sal’ notwithstanding, Dean’s Beef Teriyaki is a very, very SOLID 4 SPAM dish, borderline 5. Enough where if Diner E had walked away, I might have been tempted to take his plate into a hidden corner and eat the rest of it myself. lol Broke da’ mout’ winnah’ ‘dat one.

So that was the appetizers and main entrees. Now let’s see what’s for dessert!….

Dean’s Drive Inn – Baked Butter Mochi, $1.85

As I ‘ve said before, as much as I love Japanese food, I’m not a mochi fan. But when I seen they added “Baked Butter” as a prefix to the title here, SHOOTS! Hook me up, baby. Paula Deen would be proud.

It tasted like a very sweet mochi with a buttery custard layer on top. That’s the best way to describe it. Plus it was nicely caramelized from the baking process. I give this a very solid 3 SPAM Musubi. Perhaps 4 if I had a scoop of some ice cream to go along with it.

There you have it. Some of the most popular plates from Dean’s Drive Inn. By far my favorite of them all was Diner E’s Beef Teriyaki. Amazing. So amazing, regardless of his 3 SPAM Musubi rating, he actually POLISHED the plate clean…

Beef Teriyaki plate “polished” ***burp***

As you see here, Dean’s Drive Inn won the Honolulu Advertiser’s ‘Critics Choice’ Ilima Award in 2008…

Dean’s Drive Inn’ business hours are rather unusual, but I guess this works for their logistics…

While I didn’t ask, based on that disclaimer below, my guess is they probably close a lot earlier than 6pm on most days due to running out of food (or energy to cook anymore). I’m telling you, as small and hidden as it is, this place PACKS a CROWD. The word is certainly already out on Dean’s Drive Inn.

Dean’s Drive Inn
Adon Plaza
45-773 Kamehameha hwy.
Kaneohe, HI 96744

Tel. 247-1300

Business hours*:
Sun – Thurs. 11am to 6pm
Fri 11am to 4pm
Sat closed
*Hours and days subject to change.

The Tasty Island rating:

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

**Note: Dean’s Drive Inn has now been nominated as top contender for “Best Beef Teriyaki on Oahu”**

Related links:
Dean’s worth a trip to windward side – The Honolulu Advertiser
Cheap Eats: Dean’s Drive Inn – KHNL NBC 8
Dean’s Drive Inn – Yelp user reviews


7 thoughts on “Kaneohe Eats: Dean's Drive Inn

  1. Pingback: Wine Glaze » Kaneohe Eats: Dean's Drive Inn « The Tasty Island

  2. Wow, rack of lamb is something I will head out to Kaneohe for. From a fast food place is not bad. I could use a Caesar Salad with that if have any. Love carrot cake use to make in class at KCC and French Onion Soup. Butter Mochi got me a A in class but will try it on Dean too.

  3. Pomai, by any chance in the near future they might make some teriyaki beef salad. Like Thai beef salad but with teriyaki beef instead. Guess living in California have made me a more salad eating person. That rack of lamb looked mighty tasty. San Francisco is also geting in on it in takeout food that is white table cloth type menu at low takeout prices too. It in downtown near the office buildings.

    Might I added San Francisco is trying to go green in cardboard boxes instead of using foam boxes for takeout. Soon it bring your own containers also.

  4. Heard so many good things about this place too. Next time I’m on that side of the island I’ll have to try there…

    His sister is an awesome baker.

    Talented family!

  5. It been a while but at Lily Koi in Aiea rack of lamb about 5 pieces with spinach and potatos about 18.95. It white tablecloth price. I will venture out to see Dean and try it out. Kelike ideal with Caesar Salad sound pretty good also wonder if Dean plan to add it on soon. Some people might like a light dessert like jello with fruits.

  6. Ooo, this reminds me of Fuji Burger nearby my house, but a tad fancier. Very low prices on the desserts–the carrot cake DOEs look really good.
    The signs, menus, and decor gives a very mom&pop kind of vibe. + points.

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