The Rainbow Drive-In has stayed hopping since 1961. While car-hop service isn’t offered anymore, the original Kapahulu location retains a drive-in feel. When the weather is this nice, who wants to eat in your car anyway? Rainbow is open from sunrise till dark, serving great breakfasts, lunches, and such classic drive-in fare as burgers and fries.
All classic Hawaiian plate lunches are available, the two signatures being the Mix Plate and the Chili Plate. The Mix Plate is a combination of house specialties served with the requisite plate lunch scoops (two of white rice, and one of mac salad). On top of the rice is a filet of fried mahi-mahi, a cutlet of their famous boneless chicken (also fried) and a strip of boneless kalbi (short-ribs). It takes a mighty appetite to take down fish, chicken, and beef for breakfast, but we’re up for it.
The Mix Plate doesn’t miss, while the breadcrumb coated mahi has a fishstick quality befitting a drive-in, but the fish remains moist, and flaky. The kabli is tender and savory from the soy marinade. It’s the level of quality that you find at a good Hawaiian barbecue restaurant. As you eat these delectable proteins, little bits of the meat fold into the rice, seasoning it. The star of the show is that boneless chicken. The meat is succulent and tastes faintly like pineapple. The breadcrumb crust is crisp and just the right amount of salty. Oahu’s many Rainbow boneless chicken fanatics order it as a plate lunch then smother it with brown gravy.
The Chili Plate is a simpler pleasure: just a couple of large ladles full of meaty, beany, chili smothering the rice and mac salad. The secret recipe chili is delicious; and there is enough of it to completely overwhelm the rice. Stir some chili into the mac salad, and you’ve got chili-mac, Hawaiian-style!
We appreciate that Hawaii’s most classic breakfast, and most classic drive-in dish, the loco moco, is available as a half order in a bowl. This allows us to try a little bit alongside our plate lunches, and it makes it easier to eat while driving. However, the overfull bowl is still a challenge to negotiate with a plastic fork and knife, especially since the thin, chargrilled burger patties are a bit tough. What makes these patties difficult to slice makes them great on a Rainbow Royale (basically a double cheeseburger). The meat is thin with a resilient crust and a slightly smoky flavor. The sauce is different from the 1000 Islands that we’re used too, almost more like tartar sauce. It’s a great drive-in burger.
We try some Hawaiian sweet bread French toast, which is eggy with custard-like interior. It’s served in the traditional Hawaiian manner, with pods of Country Crock spread and pancake syrup.
Most of Waikiki is anything but affordable and authentic. But those who bother walking a few blocks inland will be rewarded with eats that are both affordable and authentic.