Kaneohe Eats: Lee's Drive In

Driving through my old hometown of Kaneohe, it always amazes me how many things are still the same. As if I’ve somehow entered a time machine once I’ve gone through the Wilson Tunnel into the Windward side. Especially the “old school” restaurants and related businesses that are still around, which for the most part these places haven’t changed their menu or appearance much.

Still get Kin Wah Chop Suey, Mui Kwai Chop Suey, Kikuya Japanese Restaurant, (the ORIGINAL!) Kim Chee Korean Restaurant, Chong’s Korean BBQ, Masa and Joyce Okazuya, Deluxe Pastry Shop, Kaneohe Bakery, and just a block down the street from there, Lee’s Drive In.

Ah yes, Lee’s Drive In! I remember this place being one of my dad’s favorite place in town for cheap ‘n good burgers.

According to wife and co-owner Linda, they’ve been in business in this same strip mall location next to the Kaneohe Post Office since 1970. That’s 40 years now! Very impressive, especially considering what a rather obscure, tiny little hole-in-the-wall they are. I mean, this is another one of those places that, unless you’re familiar with them, you could easily blink and pass right by them.

Well, come to find out, Lee’s Drive In is still serving the same, super-simple “old school” style burgers ‘n fries I remember eating with my dad so long ago, along with their specialty Dim Sum items.

Let’s check out Lee’s menu…

On display in the case in front are some of their Dim Sum items…

Lee’s Drive In – Hot Dog Bun, $1.25 each.

Lee’s Drive In – Almond Cookies and Tea Cookies, 55¢ each.

Lee’s Drive In – Peanut Candy, 75¢ each. Chinese Cake and Black Sugar Cake, 99¢ each.

Lee’s Drive In – Rice Cake, 99¢ each.

Of course, first and foremost I was here to refresh a taste of my childhood memories, where here I have Lee’s classic Cheeseburger Deluxe and Fries, this time making the burger a double patty…

Oh yes, gotta’ love that “Special Sauce” soaking through the white butcher paper-like wrapper. Just the way I remember it! They’re also still using the crinkle-cut fries like I remember. I tell ya’, before I know it, I’ll look down and still be wearing Angels Flight pants and Famolare Shoes! Remember that?! lol

Let’s unwrap it ‘n check it out…

Lee’s Drive In – Double Cheeseburger Deluxe ($4.25) and Regular Fries ($1.55)

Ah yes, the classic mustard ‘n mayo “Special Sauce”. Gotta’ love it.

As always, let’s get the the cutaway view…

Why not? Since there was so much ooey-gooey melted American Cheese drippin’ off the side of it, check out this angle…

Time  fo’ sample cuz’…

Hey! IIRC, it tastes the same as it was after all these years! The two beef patties are still thin, with plenty of filler, while being well-seasoned and griddled perfectly, without being dried out. There’s a thin slice of white onion between the two patties, which really helped punch out the flavor of the beef, while the lettuce and tomato were very crispy and fresh. Rounding it out is all that melted American Cheese oozing out of the very fresh, soft and supple bun that provided just the right bread-to-burger ratio, and of course, most importantly, that messy, yet oh so tasty, stick-to-your-ribs mayo-mustard “Special Sauce”… an old school favorite!

While I certainly wouldn’t compare it with the likes of Teddy’s, Kua’aina or Honolulu Burger Company, there’s a place near and dear to my heart for classic, old school burgers like this. Especially when it’s made with heart by the owner himself of a place in business for over 40 years in my hometown. The moment and the burger just doesn’t get any more special than that.

As for the fries, they were just your basic frozen crinkle-cut fries deep-fried for service, yet I must note they weren’t greasy at all and seasoned with just the right amount of salt. Always was that way and still is. A simple, yet perfect accompaniment for my old school Cheeseburger Deluxe.

While there, I also picked up some of their Dim Sum for dinner later…

Lee’s Drive In – Charsiu Manapua ($1.15 each) and Pork Hash (40¢ each)

Cutaway view…

Lee’s Drive In – Rice Cake (99¢ each) and Peanut Candy (75¢ each)

The verdict? Not bad. Not no Char Hung Sut or Libby’s, but decent. I especially liked the fluffy texture of the Manapua bun, as well as the airy, perfectly glutenous texture of the Rice Cake. The Manapua’s Charsiu filling lacked a little in flavor (sweetness and saltiness), yet I  did appreciate the “chunkiness” of it. The pork hash was just “meh”. The sesame peanut candy was pretty good, being on the chewy side.

What a burger trip down memory lane. I’ll always love Kaneohe.

Lee’s Drive In
46-026 Kamehameha Hwy (across the street from Walgreens/formerly Star Market, nextdoor to the Post Office)
Kaneohe, Hawaii  96744

Tel. (808) 235-1067

The Tasty Island Rating:

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

P.S. I haven’t had time yet to put up the Halloween pics. Will try to get it done this weekend.


14 thoughts on “Kaneohe Eats: Lee's Drive In

  1. Pomai, what a nice post! Thank you for that. I have fond memories of old style places in my hometown of Waianae back in the 70’s. Sea Breeze Drive In and Waianae Bakery made burgers like this wrapped in the white butcher paper and fries. Sometimes, I get really tired of the fancy burger places and just want the old fashioned style. (Actually, this is most of the time). Thanks for the trip down memory lane to Angel Flights and Famolare days, too!

  2. This looks like the Classic “old school’ burgers you don’t see in the fastfood places nowdays. So sad that the kids today rather have processed burgers and toys ,than REAL tasty food.

  3. Hey this is next door to my family’s old restaurant. The Chinese restaurant to the left used to be called Golden Crown and was owned and operated by my grandparents and all my uncles. Lee’s Drive In used to have a lady selling ice cream, and my relatives and Golden Crown waitresses used to take me over there and buy ice cream for me. I live on the mainland now, and the pictures of that building sure brings back memories!

  4. Pomai, due to my age I am a old school guy but my kids not really, They see menu got no Chili Fries and dim sum they could get in Chinatown when needed. Being a Pake I see it look like Royal Kitchen or Island Manapua style but sure glad they sell it in Kaneohe no need to head all the way out to town for some dim sum still .

  5. God, I miss Lee’s. Lived right next to this place growing up. It was like I was a little kid again seeing that building. In the mainland now. Still looking for good rice cake.

  6. I had a “for real” Pavlovian response to that burger cutaway photo. Not full on like when you catch a whiff of crack seed, but still.

    Need to find food now.

  7. Thanks Pomai!!!! I’ve been looking for da “old style” hamburger for a while now. Really miss da fillas. Garans ball barons heading to Lee’s.

  8. My dad used to get his haircuts from the Filipino barbers next door. I had my first haircut over there. Always passed Lee’s but never stopped to get something to eat. Golden Crown was the best and made my favorite dish roast pork harm ha. Ono.

  9. Kobi, I bet lots of folks who live in Kaneohe have never been to Lee’s. Especially nowadays with so much competition from larger restaurants and fast food chains. Hopefully this post will inspire some of you Kaneohe folks to give Lee’s a try! Gotta’ support the small mom ‘n pop businesses!

    Lance, right on! Hope you like it! I think this is the true “old school” style you’re searching for.

    Spotty, the response could go either way I suppose, depending whether you’re familiar with the taste of mayonnaise and mustard and whether you like that or not.

    Reece, wow, next door, eh? Well, this strip mall still looks like it did 20 years ago, save for mostly new businesses in there, including Pah Ke’s Chinese Restaurant that took over Golden Crown.

    Richard, Kin Wah Chop Suey way up the street on Kamehameha Hwy. in Kaneohe also sells Manapua, Pork Hash and other type of typical dim sum like that, although I have yet to try it.

    Fred, your grandparents owned Golden Crown? What a small world! Now that you mention it, I also remember getting Ice Cream from Lee’s when I was a keiki. My pops used also take me frequently to Tasty Treat up the road, which used to be in front of Mui Kwai. After they left, that location became L&L Drive Inn. Now it’s another drive-in with a HUGE, funky menu. The name escapes me though.

    Cubby, glad to hear from yet another person who know what I’m talking about and appreciates the classic old school style burgers. It was all about simplicity and execution, not over-thought and over-designed like some of the “haute” burgers today can be.

    Alan, AlohaWorld.com has recipe on DA’ BESTEST tasting Mac’ Salad, that originated from Waianae Drive Inn. Are they still around? Or do you remember them?

  10. Wow! I remember Lee’s when my family lived in Kaneohe…in the 70s. I agree, going back to visit my hometown, it’s like the little town that’s frozen in time…except for the mall which wasn’t there until after I left. I love your articles about the small ma & pa places, especially on the windward side! Sure brings back some good memories!

  11. Wow that burger brings back so much memories. I remember going to Japanese school at Hongwanji and walking home and getting a burger at Tastie Treet cost 25 burger 20 for fries and 15 for small soda.. Remember King Richards where zippys is? And Golden crown was the old post office. And Safeway shopping center was tall grass and a dirt road that led to Lins market and Doties meat market on the corner that is still vacant. Ah .. I miss old Kaneohe and going to see movies at the Kaneohe Movie theatre and the crack seed store.. I am going to LEEs and getting me one of those old school burgers this week!

  12. Old school burgers rule. And yes. Wilcox School on Kauai actually used to serve them, courtesy of Mrs. Tanji. Nowadays, on Kauai you can still get the taste at Sueokas Market in Koloa, Smileys and Dani in Lihue, Higashi and Waipouli Diners in Kapaa. But it is getting harder and harder to find.

  13. Don’t forget Mitsuba’s, Windy’s, Tiki Tops …. old time Kaneohe eateries… and I think Kaneohe town ended at Whitney’s…..

    btw, I think the baked manapua is way better than the steamed manapua at Lee’s

  14. Randy, I definitely remember Tiki Tops, which was a Spenceliff restaurant located in Windward City Shopping Center. IIRC, Tiki Tops occupied the entire space that now houses Kozo Sushi, a Chinese takeout and Supercuts. Tiki Tops was basically a family diner.

    Was there a Mitsuba in Kaneohe? I only know of the one Kalihi. I also don’t remember Windy’s. Where were they?

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