Divine Grinds At Keneke’s

By: Kevin McQuarrie
Oahu Island News

If you had to describe a plate lunch to someone who had never been to Hawaii, you might start with the words, “It’s huge, and ….” Plate lunches are often judged not by the quality of the food but the quantity. But unlike some places, Keneke’s, located in Waimanalo, doesn’t forgo flavor or courteous service.

It’s easy to find Keneke’s, as there is always a huge crowd outside of the little, white-cinderblock building. Standing in line gives you plenty of time to read through the lengthy menu and decide what grinds to try. Kalua pig, lau lau, barbecue chicken, pork adobo, kalbi, mahi mahi — the choices are many, and the listings are painted right onto the wall. (I guess if they have to change a menu item, it’s time to whip out the whitewash and start over.)

The most popular selections are the plate lunch ($5.75), which comes with fries or rice, and macaroni salad, or the mixed plate ($6.75), which comes with three servings of meat. You can also get a mini plate ($3.75) if you have a lighter appetite but I have to warn you, even this mini is an enormous serving. If you’re a delicate, salad-nibbling type of creature, Keneke’s probably isn’t the place for you. If, on the other hand, you want a plate piled high with delicious, shredded, not-too-salty-but-just-right bits o’ pig, then you will be in hog heaven here.

You can also order loco moco, a variety of sandwiches or even breakfast, which is served all day long. Vegetarians will get by just fine, as options include grilled cheese sandwiches and veggie burgers.

Our order was taken by Keneke’s owner, Keith Ward, a large man with a bald head, bushy white beard and sweet manner. He was unfailing polite to customers, despite the noonday heat and long lines. We settled into the back area, where there is some shaded seating, and enjoyed our hamburger steak (two patties in the “mini” size), kalua pig and mahi mahi. All three were good. The thick-cut potatoes made for excellent steak fries and the gravy on the rice was smooth and well-seasoned. The macaroni salad, to my taste, was completely bland, but that’s really the traditional way of serving mac salad in the islands. Relish? Celery? Pepper? No, just mayonnaise.

More spicy is the people-watching at Keneke’s, as the clientele includes surfers, locals, some Polish guy in a Speedo, sunburned tourists – it’s a wonderful mix of styles and colors, all seeking an inexpensive, filling lunch. The decor is interesting too, with hand-painted Bible scriptures festooning the walls. (Keith coaches a team called the “Fear God Powerlifing Team.”)

While we were pretty full from the giant portions, we couldn’t resist sampling dessert. I chose a lychee shaved ice with a “snow cap” – a shot of condensed milk. Again, the serving was huge. My friend’s “one scoop” of vanilla macadamia-nut ice cream was a towering pile of creamy goodness. I can’t image what three scoops would look like, but it might involve a carton of ice cream. The ice cream was particularly good, with hunks of real nuts, and the entire dessert bill, for both of us, was only $4.

For a plate lunch and for sheer atmosphere, Keneke’s is one of the brightest spots on the Windward side.

Keneke’s Plate Lunch
41-857 Kalanianaole Highway, Waimanalo
Phone: 259-5266
Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. (seven days a week).