Airport Eats: Papa Ole's Lunch Wagon

Several weeks ago you may recall I mentioned stopping by Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon just to check out their menu, being that we had already bought plates from Joe’s Lunch Wagon in Mapunapuna. See, we’re diligently working on filling the void in lack of lunch wagons listed on The Tasty Island’s Index page.

After enjoying that STELLAR Peach Cake and Shortbread cookies Papa Ole’s so graciously “Aloha-comp’d” us on that last random visit (thanks to my handsome good looks lol), we made it a point to return again soon for lunch, which we followed-up in doing today.

Papa Ole’s Kitchen lunch wagon is located on Kalewa street, a loop off Lagoon drive on the Diamond Head (east) side of runway 22 at Honolulu International Airport. You can’t readily see them while driving/biking/walking down Lagoon drive, so you’d never know they’re there unless someone told you (like me), or for whatever reason, you took a detour onto Kalewa street.

Papa Ole’s has a brick and mortar restaurant in Hau’ula on the North Shore of Oahu. Both the lunch wagon and restaurant are overseen by owner/chef Cedric Kanoa, who we have here with his niece, Cookie…

Niece and assistant, Cookie gives a big shaka along with her uncle,  proprietor Cedric Kanoa, owner/chef of Papa Ole’s Kitchen Lunch Wagon by the airport and Papa Ole’s restaurant in Hau’ula

SUPER NICE FOLKS. I’ll start with that first and foremost.

As for the location near the airport, as you can imagine, it’s blazin’ sunny HOT there in the middle of the day. Thankfully they provide some canopies for shade, as well as a table for condiments, and also a table and bench to sit on if you care to eat there…

Now let’s see what get fo’ grind on da’ menu today (Pauhana Friday) from Papa Ole’s Kitchen…

Papa Ole’s Kitchen Lunch Wagon menu for Friday, October 23, 2009

Pretty standard lunch wagon fare, except… except if you look closely at the DESSERTS. Here is where Papa Ole’s truly SHINES. More on that later. I’ll just have to note that it should be spelled DESSERTS on the menu, not DESERTS. That is, unless you consider the extreme heat that comes with the territory.

Speaking of heat, it was so darned hot today, instead of grinding (eating) our plates at the turn-around parking lot at the end of Lagoon Drive to watch the planes take off from the Reef Runway like we had planned, we decided to take our grinds back to the cool comfort of our air conditioned office.

So let’s see what we got, starting with Diner E’s order…

Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon – Meat Loaf mini plate, $4.00

Accompanying the Meat Loaf, Diner E also picked up a Teri Beef Sandwich…

Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon – Teri Beef Sandwich, $2.50

Diner A decided to try their Teriyaki Beef Plate…

Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon – Teri Beef Plate, $7

Last but not least, yours truly decided on trying their Oxtail Stew…

Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon – Oxtail Stew, $7

Looking at the Oxtail Stew, at first impression I thought perhaps I got the wrong order, as it appeared more like your typical Hawaiian style Beef Stew, not Oxtail Stew. But as I dug through it, I found there were indeed two falling-off-the-bones Oxtails buried underneath…

One of two falling-off-the-bone Oxtail in Papa Ole’s Oxtail Stew

You can’t tell by the scale of it in this shot, but the other Oxtail I dug up was pretty big…

So how was it?

First let’s start with the globally available (all our plates included it) Mac’ Salad…

Papa Ole’s – Mac’ Salad

There was something really WEIRD with this Mac’ Salad. Like there was vinegar added into it, as it had an overwhelming acidic tang. Which you’ll probably ask if it was spoiled, but it wasn’t, as we certainly know from experience when Mac salad is in that state.  It just had this odd mayo/whatever-tangy flavor and edge that didn’t go over well with any of us.

Perhaps they used another brand of Mayonnaise than Best Foods, which in our humble opinion is a MUST. It certainly wasn’t Miracle Whip. It was also on the soggy and warm side, unlike my preferred state of Mac’ Sal’ being cool (chilled) and al dente.

Which is surprising, as my girlfriend said the mac salad that came with her Pulehu Shortribs plate from Papa Ole’s flagship restaurant in Hau’ula that she had recently was excellent. So go figgah.

Moving on to Diner A’s Teri Beef plate, the teri beef was tender and well-marinaded, but lacked any char-grilled edges, nor did it even taste like it was griddle-cooked. More like steamed. He also wished they put some Teri’ Sauce on the rice, ala the late Washington Saimin, which Diner E proclaims had da’ bes’ Teri Beef Plate on the island. With that, Diner A gave his Teri Beef Plate from Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon 1 SPAM Musubi (average).

Next let’s put Diner E’s Meat Loaf mini plate under the microscope…

Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon – Meat Loaf

The meatloaf itself is your typical ground beef mixed with bread crumbs and whatever “secret herbs and spices” they use. There wasn’t much for gravy except for the tomato-based coating from the crust of the thick slice. What was rather unusual was the strips of bacon given with the slice. I’ve seen meat loaf made wrapped in bacon for flavor, so perhaps that’s how this one is made. While I didn’t try it personally, so I can’t explain every nuance, Diner did, giving it again, 1 SPAM Musubi (average).

As mentioned earlier, Diner E also picked up a Teriyaki Beef Sandwich, which, as expected, was the same Teri Beef that was served on Diner A’s plate. So it had the same attributes as far as the meat itself is concerned. He did note that they steamed the bun, which helped give it that much-desired suppleness. But he did feel the quantity of Teri Beef in it was a little shy, so fortunately Diner A had some Teri Beef to share, so he added another generous cut to his sandwich…

Papa Ole’s “stock” Teri Beef Sandwich, with an extra slice of Teri Beef added from Diner A’s plate

Well, there ya’ go… a “MANLY-MAN!” Teri’ Beef Sandwich! Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout. lol

Even with the “upgrade”, Diner “Simon Kaukau” E grades his Teri Beef Sandwich from Papa Ole’s at 1 SPAM Musubi (average).

Finally my Oxtail Stew. which I really enjoyed. It tasted like the beef stew your mom or grandma makes. Simple, real down-to-earth home-cooked comfort food.  It was seasoned perfectly, the potatoes and carrots were tender yet not soggy, while the two Oxtails were falling-off-the-bones, suck-the-marrow-out ONO. Real ono. This was by far the best entree dish of the day, which I’m giving for the Oxtail Stew alone (discounting the Mac’ Salad), a very solid 3 SPAM Musubi.

Moving on to dessert, this is where Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon truly shines (just like the glaring sun above us). Behold their Chocolate Cake…

Papa Ole’s Chocolate Cake, $1.00

Think that looks delish? Then how about some Peach Cobbler…

Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon – Peach Cobbler Dessert, $2.00

Here’s a look at them in sliced view on a plate…

Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon – Peach Cobbler and Chocolate Cake Dessert

How is it? Just like the Peach Cake and Shortbread Cookies we had from them the last time, these two desserts were EXCELLENT. The chocolate cake was very moist ‘n chocolaty, while the cool, creamy chocolate pudding “frosting” was a welcoming change over the traditional, very rich butter, sugar and egg frosting, whikle the Whipped Cream topping also added a wonderfully refereshing finishing touch.

As for the the Peach Cobbler, my girlfriend, who I brought some home for her to try, proclaimed it as one of the best desserts she’s ever had. Seriously. I haven’t heard her repeat “OMG” so many times as when she was devouring this Peach Cobbler. Kid you not. And that’s coming from someone with a college degree in culinary arts and who’s worked in the food service industry for many years. And if it’s that good being consumed long after, imagine eating it as it comes piping hot ‘n fresh out of the oven! With that, she gives both Papa Ole’s Chocolate Cake and Peach Cobbler 5 SPAM Musubi. Wow!

So, like most places, there were some hits and misses at Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon. The desserts were just fantastic, and the Oxtail Stew was supah’ ono, while the mac salad (ESPECIALLY the mac salad), meat loaf and teri beef needed work. For the mac alone, I’m going to assume it was a blunder of the day, as Papa Ole’s receives mostly very favorable 4 and 5 star reviews by Yelp users, and another high-five by my girlfriend and gang who also have eaten at their restaurant in Hau’ula.  “Da’ Short Ribs is killahz (amazing)!!!” is what I hear.

Fix the Mac’ Salad,  pulehu da’ Teri Beef and go heavy on da’ sauce, and pour some REAL (brown) gravy on da’ Meat Loaf, and the entrees could be just as great!

Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon
Kalewa street (on the Daimond Head/Mauka end of Lagoon drive by Honolulu International Airport)
Tel. 673-9428

The Tasty Island Rating:
2 SPAM Musubi

(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it. (Ono)

Related links:
Papa Ole’s (Hau’ula) – Yelp User Reviews
Mapunapuna Eats: Joe’s Lunch Wagon – The Tasty Island


11 thoughts on “Airport Eats: Papa Ole's Lunch Wagon

  1. That choco cake looks yummy. Considering the size of that cake that almost fills one of those mini containers, ONe dollar is a steal.

  2. Pomai, the moment you wrote of the mac salad with vinegar I will pass on it. Peach cobbler made me want to make some since I did study at KCC. Now planning the turkey brine recipe for pork and chicken and beef and of course the turkey . Sweet potato haupia pie will be one of my dessert.

  3. Raph’, like Dan, you surely must be referring to the desserts.

    Dan, the dessert prices are a STEAL indeed. Especially the Peach Cobbler. It’s a HUGE slice for just $2.00? Easily over $5 in a white table cloth restaurant. Just add drizzles of caramel sauce, strawberry sauce and powdered sugar.

    Kelike, I did a whole write-up on brining a turkey here:

    Oooh, sweet potato haupia pie!… om nom nom nom nom…

  4. Pomai, thank you for brine recipe it for next month big holiday bash. Trying instead of purple sweet potate regular yam type. Family big get together. Some want pork also so thinking brine in it for pork too and roast beef also. My sister the brown sugar mustard glaze ham with pineapple.

  5. I just got back from Hawaii and the teri beef sandwich reminded me that it’s the one thing I didn’t have when I was there — doh! The peach cobbler sounds like a winnah, and I’m also impressed with the fact that it’s such an impeccable neat slice! When I make cobbler, it’s more like a messy landslide! I wish we had lunch trucks like this where I live!

  6. Pomai, that peach cobbler look more like peaches and apples in it. The white part look like apples. I made mango cobbler when it mango season. I like teri beef sandwiches. When ribeyes on sale I get a lot for it. Lunchwagon is great but out of my way too bad.

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