Lunch at Like Like Drive Inn

Last weekend my girlfriend and I hit-up Ross on Koreamoku street looking for accent throw pillows for our new sectional sofa (which they didn’t have anything we were interested in), where afterwards we conveniently drove across Kanunu street to have lunch at Like Like Drive Inn. It’s been a while since I’ve been here, and I heard some good and some not-so-good impressions of the place. My late father used to come here often, giving praise about their breakfast dishes. While my girlfriend and her gang visited here on several occasions recently and were far less than impressed with their late night, graveyard shift grubs. Which possibly could have been a blunder on their late night, graveyard shift cook running the kitchen at this 24-hour diner.

Well, we shall find find out today during this late afternoon lunch whether they live up to all the hype and old school heritage that is Like Like Drive Inn.

As always, first lets check out the place…

Like Like Drive Inn is located on the corner of Kanunu and Keeaumoku street, or what the locals like to call “Koreamoku Street” due to many Korean bars and Korean-owned businesses along this busy corridor near Ala Moana Center. One of their neighbors is Soribol, a popular Korean Yakiniku restaurant, which by the way, occupies the original Honolulu Shakey’s Pizza. Soribol recently painted the exterior of their restaurant this hideous lime green color, but that’s another story for another day. Another notable neighbor would be Walmart and Sam’s Club right across the street.

While Like Like Drive Inn may appear tiny and unassuming from the outside of the strip mall they’re in, upon entering you’ll find a clean, updated, quite expansive space with multiple dining rooms to sit at…

Where is everyone? Here…

That’s a lot of seats! You could throw a huge party here, no problem. Spock da’ green river and fruit punch machine behind the counter. Classic diner fare right there. Also notice da’ “aunty” waitress. All the waitresses have that stereotypical “aunty” look. Someone you think of as your own mom. I love that!

Here’s the wife and husband founders of Like Like Drive Inn, Alice and James Nako…

Sorry about that blurry photo, but as you can kinda’ see, the original Like Like Drive Inn used the same neon sign they still have up today. Classic to da’ max! While the original building looked more like a residential wooden home structure. Apparently the restaurant biz’ is in the blood, as, come to find out, Alice Nako is the older sister of Agnes Asato, the founder of the now-gone KC Drive Inn, famous for the waffle dog and chocolate-peanut butter “Ono Ono Shake”.

Let’s check out their menu, which to note as confirmed by our server, is effective 24 hours of the day and night…

Wow, that’s a lot to think about, and a lot for the kitchen to prep’ for, 24 hours a day on top of that!

A telling tale of any restaurant is the array of condiments they have stationed at each table, where here you can clearly see it’s a local style diner…

You did notice on that classic neon Like Like Drive Inn sign out front that it proudly advertises ‘SAIMIN’ on it, right? Well, that’s exactly what I ordered…

Like Like Drive Inn “Local Favorites” – Saimin. $6.10

The best thing I could find that would go good with my saimin was a side of fries (yeah,  I know, very creative)…

Like Like Drive Inn side order – French Fries. $3.35

My girlfriend also kept it simple, opting for their Hot Roast Beef Sandwich…

Like Like Drive Inn “Special Sandwiches” – Hot Roast Beef Sandwich. $9.00

For the life of me, I don’t know why I missed her requesting to substitute mashed potatoes — which this was supposed to come with — for fries. Had I caught that, I wouldn’t have ordered a side of fries myself and got something else. Now we have too much fries. Oh well, at least we’re gauranteed to walk out with a full stomach. lol

My first question is, “how is the gravy?”…

Da’ buggah is “tick” (thick). It tastes somewhat “meaty”, while also having a hint of sage and thyme in its flavor profile. Very nice. I could see this making one fantastic Loco Moco, which is another of their “Local Favorites” dishes. It also works out great as a gravy dip for fries…

Let’s have a taste of that Hot Roast Beef Sandwich…

Now here’s where they dropped the ball twice. First of all, my girlfriend explicitly requested that they TOAST the bread, where as you can see, it arrived NOT toasted. Secondly, the menu clearly says Hot Roast Beef Sandwich. How did it arrive at the table? Not hot, but more like room temp’. What the? Not being the type to complain, she just went with it as is. Personally I would have sent it back. Fortunately that excellent gravy made up for the mistakes and it turned out being a 3 SPAM Musubi meal for her, noting that the roast beef was flavorful and tender, while the accompanying thick-cut fries were deep-fried to perfection and salted just right.

Now my song and dance with this bowl of saimin, starting with a mindful observation of it, along with a deep thought of the meaning of life, then an initial sip of the broth…

Right off the bat, it’s very “shrimpy”. That’s almost all I taste is shrimp, and not much in the form of dashinomoto. I’m guessing they make this with just shrimp heads and  perhaps some kombu, with maybe a dash of shoyu and that’s it. It’s not intense either, but rather mild, where more shoyu and perhaps pepper would certainly help it out.

Let’s try the saimin noodles…

As usual, the ever great Sun Noodle Factory is the source of these wiggly wonders, and I must say, it was cooked perfectly al dente. They were also very “starchy”, which is actually how saimin noodles should taste, regardless of my bias for the flavor of the more “egg-like” Japanese Ramen noodles.  Very good saimin noodles here.

Let’s sample the Charsiu now…

Very good, being tender and very “charsiu-ee” and “pork-ee” in flavor and not bland at all. Wow, lot’s of “ee” emphasizing going on here. lol.

Only one slice of Kamaboko (fish cake), yet at least they cut da’ buggah “tick” (thick)…

And it wasn’t soggy or slimy either, but firm and fresh-tasting. Sometimes I take a whole roll (or block or whatever you call it) of Kamaboko, slice it thinly and eat it “sashimi style” on a bed of cabbage with choke wasabi and shoyu dipping sauce. I call that my “poor man’s sashimi”. I tell you, it hits da’ spot!

Speaking of dipping sauce, like all good saimin shops do, Like Like Drive Inn serves theirs with a side dish of Coleman’s mustard, where you mix with shoyu and dip your noodles and saimin topping in for an extra kick of flavor…

Mix ‘n dip..

Oh yeah, now there’s the money right there, baby. The Coleman’s Mustard and Shoyu sauce gave this saimin the life it needed, as the broth alone wasn’t enough at least for my palate. The dipping sauce is what makes it complete, and with that I give Like Like Drive Inn’s Saimin 2 SPAM Musubi, which is “good”. While the noodles were cooked perfectly and the charsiu was as good as it gets, the all-important saimin BROTH from Like Like didn’t meet my expectations. As of this writing, I still stand by Zippy’s Zip Min as being the best Saimin in town I’ve had yet in recent memory.

For dessert, my girlfriend made room for some Banana Pie…

Like Like Drive Inn dessert – Banana Pie. $3.30

What’s interesting is this tasted exactly like an apple pie, except instead of apples, it has sweet and tender chunks of bananas in it. It has that same gelatinous, cinnamon-flavored glaze the fruit is carried in, while I must note, the nicely-browned, buttery and crispy, flaky crust is KILL-ER.

Excellent, excellent crust on this pie, and in my book, when they ace the crust, they aced the cake… or pie that is, and with that, I give Like Like Drive Inn’s Banana Pie a solid 4 SPAM Musubi. A scoop of vanilla ice cream would have really hit the spot with this, but it was absolutely scrumptious as is. Yum!

Like Like Drive Inn
745 Keeaumoku Street
Honolulu, Hawaii  96814

Tel. (808) 941-2515

Business hours: Open 24 hours daily

The Tasty Island rating:

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

Related links:
Like Like Drive – Yelp user reviews

P.S., Here’s a fun video to dance to…



16 thoughts on “Lunch at Like Like Drive Inn

  1. Debbie-chan, you know, I didn’t even glance at the breakfast menu. Next time I hit this place, I’ll consider ordering that “Thick Malted Waffle” and get back to ya’ on that.
    Nate, I agree, some of the menu items here seem overpriced. Yet surely if you come in here 3am in the morning after a night out at the club, the prices won’t even phase you. lol  I’m actually surprised my saimin was only $6.

  2. I’m surprised the place was that empty.  When I’ve gone there the place is always packed.  I’ve been there at least a dozen times, but I’ve only gone for breakfast.  I guess that’s when all the old timers come in.

  3. Nate, according to the hostess, the dinner menu is identical to the lunch menu. It just has ‘Dinner’ printed on it.
    Marvo, I was surprised as well. Probably because it was a Monday afternoon (although that was a holiday for our company).

  4. I worked there for about a month and a half at the tail end of my senior year of high school (way back when).  I worked the 7am-3pm shift on sat and sun mornings.  Talk about busy.  I don’t think I’ve ever made so much money as a bus boy ever.  The first day I got tipped out something like $70 and the waitress said “it would be more, but you’re new here.  By the time I quit I was taking home $120-$140 a day.  We were also allowed 1 meal per shift which a mini sum of something like $2 per pay check was deducted.  YOu could order almost anything off the menu.  I always got a kamaboko omelet and one bowl saimin.  As far back as I can remember, whether was small kid time or a late night snack, I always enjoyed my meals there.

  5. I look at that picture of the sign and I don’t even recognize Koreamoku street.  I’ve been away way too long

  6. Some of the prices are scary, but what’s more scary is the first photo of Ke’eaumoku Street.  I haven’t been back home in years, and while I know the picture is real, it’s almost as if someone simply added the Likelike sign and the Ala Moana building in the back with Photoshop.  It looks nothing like I remember, is there anything old on that street anymore? Kinda breaks my heart.

  7. Pomai, my cousins in San Francisco looked at your web and see Like Like Drive Inn so interesting. It not a drive inn but a diner instead. Food is diner style for sure. That banana pie sound and looked so good I have to head there for a slice or do they sell a whole pie also?

  8. Pomai, I was in San Francisco and Mel Drive Inn was not really a drive inn but also a diner.  I like French Fries with Gravy.  The Mel Drive Inn in Japan Disneyland was awesome too.

  9. Aaron, the first thing that comes to mind when you mention Mel Drive Inn is the 1970’s-80’s sitcom ‘Alice’, although that ‘Mel’s Drive-In’ was fictionally located in Phoenix, Arizona.
    Amy, I didn’t see any whole pies and cakes on display anywhere, but I’m sure they’ll sell it like that. Just ask the manager for a better deal by “bulk” than per slice.
    John, what you see that’s dramatically changed the landscape of “Koreamoku street” is the monstrous structure across the street from Like Like Drive Inn known as Walmart, with Sam’s Club on the top floor. If you look at Keeaumoku street on Google Earth, you’ll see Walmart/Sam’s Club consumes almost half the entire city block of Keeamoku between Kapiolani blvd. and King St, with more than half of the property consumed by their parking structure. IIRC, they paid $30 million for that once-empty parcel.
    Migration Mark, I didn’t know you had roots in Hawaii, although I should have known, being you’re “hapa” Chinese. Your latest video in Cambodia was fascinating! Dig the music score as well. You NEED your own TV show. I can picture it now, ‘Migrationology’ on the Travel Channel!
    djmitcho, see my reply to John Book above.
    Richard, that works.
    djmitcho, $120-140 per day is some pretty good dough, especially that you were new and this was “way back when”. Wow! I think what it is, is that the clientele at Like Like Drive Inn is predominantly locals, where you ask anyone in the F&B or hospitality industry, and they’ll tell you locals are (for the most) the best tippers. No offense, but I hear Canadians and Japanese (from Japan) are notoriously horrible tippers. It’s a cultural thing. Now you have me intrigued about this ‘Kamaboko Omelet’. Brilliant! I’m so making that!

  10. Glad to hear you liked the saimin. When I was home last year, my cousin and I popped in to Likelike for lunch. The broth that day tasted like shoyu and hot water. It was very dark also, not like what I am seeing in your pictures. I figured I must have caught them on a bad saimin broth day, because every other time I have had it, it was very good.

  11. The problem with LikeLike is the prices. Too expensive to pair the Saimin with the Cheeseburger.
    What I love there is the chopped steak. Perfect marinade and balance between beef and vegetables. Has the old fashioned taste that is getting harder and harder to fine. Now days chopped steak tends to taste like a Chinese dish. Real Hawaiian Chopped Steak is supposed to have a JAPANESE accent. This place got it.

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