I didn’t grow up in Aiea, per se, but right next door in Pearl City, which meant my childhood overlapped both. My brother and I got haircuts at Head Arts, I have fond memories of ballet and jazz lessons at the Rosalie Woodson Dance Academy, and my orthodontist was in Aiea Heights Medical Center, with Heights Drive-Inn conveniently downstairs.
When it comes to Aiea eats, old and new favorites immediately come to mind. I’ve only bowled at Aiea Bowl once, but the iconic Alley Restaurant Bar & Grill is one of my favorite spots on the island. It’s known for staples like tasty chicken, kalbi, hamburger steak and lemon crunch cake, but what does it for me is the Chocolate Insanity Cake ($8.50).
Silky and decadent with luscious layers of chocolate, this is the king of all chocolate cakes. It seems to come straight out of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Dedicated chocoholics will appreciate the smooth texture and frosting, as well as the cake’s moistness and intense sweetness.
Big City Diner is another one of our family favorites. The Pearlridge location never seems as crowded as Ward. I typically get The Really Loco, Loco Moco ($10.99) with a fried rice upgrade and the Big Brownie Bubbies Pie ($7.99) for dessert.
This loco moco was one of the first ones I fell in love with because of its thick, rich gravy, which tastes even better over Uncle Danny’s Local-Style Fried Rice. And ice cream and brownies have a special place in my heart. The comforting combo evokes childhood nostalgia, since brownies were always my favorite treat.
Young’s Kalbee was always our go-to for Korean. To this day our orders remain the same: bibim kook soo ($11.65) for Mom, BBQ chicken and meat jun ($14.15) for Dad, BBQ chicken plate ($13.15) when my brother’s in town and regular chicken katsu plate ($14.15) for me.
Young’s katsu plate includes two layers of panko-breaded, thick-cut katsu. I never thought it was possible for katsu to almost melt in your mouth. The texture and flavor of both chicken and breading are unbelievable, and the katsu sauce is slightly sweeter since it’s the same sauce that’s served with meat jun.
I was sort of a regular at Aiea Town Square, since both Young’s and Head Arts are here. But now it’s also the home of Hughley’s Southern Cuisine. While Hughley’s is known for its soul food, the standout for me is the mac and cheese.
This is a side item (regular $3.50, large $5.50) that I always order, even if my entrée doesn’t come with sides. The sharp cheddar gives it a strong flavor, and its ooey-gooeyness covers every bit of the soft, curly noodles. It’s rich, creamy and pungent in the best way.
While I was growing up we often went to the Times Supermarket downstairs from The Alley in Aiea Shopping Center. Now the center is doubly significant to me since I discovered the fried rice at Armbar Sports Bar and Grill.
The Carnivore Galore Fried Rice ($10) is designed with meat eaters in mind, featuring a savory medley of lup cheong, char siu, Portuguese sausage, a few veggies and an egg. You definitely get a mouthful of meat in every bite — my favorite are the hearty chunks of sausage.
Finally, since I’m always in the mood for breakfast for dinner, I was thrilled when Pancakes and Waffles BLD opened in the Waimalu Plaza. I was a fan the Kalihi location, but the BLD restaurant has the same menu with longer hours.
It’s always difficult for me not to get the two-piece honey butter fried chicken and waffle ($9.99). But one of my other favorites is the monte cristo ($6.49).
I’m told the monte cristo isn’t ordered as often as other menu items such as the fried rice loco moco ($7.99) and the chicken and waffle combos. But trust me on this one — this sandwich oozes cheese, has a tasty layer of meat and delivers a satisfying crispiness with every bite because of the fried pancake batter. Think funnel cake meets your favorite ham and cheese sandwich. Can anything get more glorious?
The Alley Restaurant Bar & Grill | 99-115 Aiea Heights Dr. | 486-3499
Big City Diner | Pearlridge Shopping Center | 98-211 Pali Momi Rd. | 487-8188
Young’s Kalbee | Aiea Town Square | 99-084 Kauhale St., Unit A-2 | 488-0251
Hughley’s Southern Cuisine | Aiea Town Square | 99-080 Kauhale St. | 380-4200
Armbar Sports Bar & Grill | Aiea Shopping Center | 99-115 Aiea Heights Dr. | 888-0678
Pancakes and Waffles BLD | Waimalu Plaza Shopping Center | 98-1277 Kaahumanu St. | 200-7556