HONOLULU – President Barack Obama doesn't need a restaurant guide when he visits Hawaii.
When the island icon comes home to visit family and vacation, he knows exactly where and what to eat. His favorites range from Hawaii's top fine-dining establishments to walk-up windows where $10 could buy a carb-rich feast.
Michelle Obama once said, "You can't really understand Barack until you understand Hawaii."
And there's no way to truly experience Hawaii without tasting the local "grinds."
During his past two visits to Honolulu, where he was born and raised, Obama provided a glimpse of what pleases his presidential palate. While he has undoubtedly become a fan of Chicago fare, he didn't experience deep-dish pizzas or Italian beef sandwiches growing up.
The closest young Obama got to snow was slurping a Hawaiian shave ice.
"I'm going to get a plate lunch," Obama proclaimed, moments after arriving in Honolulu on his August vacation.
The name "plate lunch" doesn't quite do it justice. It should be called: Heaping pile of rice and meat crammed into a plastic foam container that could feed a small family, costs about $6, will require a couple of Rolaids and induce a two-hour nap.
And if there's nothing on the plate that's deep fried, soaked in mayonnaise, smothered in gravy or doubles your bad cholesterol level, it's not a true plate lunch.
That could account for why the health-conscious president we see now was pleasantly plump during his childhood when he was known as "Barry."
Plate lunches have been a part of Hawaii for decades. They are believed to have originated in the 19th century plantation era, when sugarcane workers brought rice, pickled vegetables and other leftovers from dinner and took a lunch break together in the shade. Decades later, "lunch wagons" started delivering plate lunches to laborers, much like they do today.
Plate lunches reflect the state's multicultural population, with Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian and American influences.
There are literally hundreds of combinations of plate lunches to choose from, and some places now offer gourmet selections and more healthy choices with brown rice and tossed salads, instead of the traditional white rice and macaroni salad.
Plate lunches are widely available from white lunch wagons parked around downtown and at many restaurants. The best spots don't show up in tour books, but the locals prefer it that way, because the lines are already too long.
Besides plate lunches, island cuisine often focuses on fresh fish and vegetables grown locally with seasonings borrowed from across the Pacific Rim.
At one point during his last visit, Obama offered journalists a shave ice. Hawaii's shave ice is a monster version of the snow cone, featuring fine-shaved powder with no icy chunks and a long list of tropical flavors.
"Guys, here's your chance," Obama said. "No? I'm telling you, this is really good."
Here are some of the places President Obama eats when he's in Hawaii, along with some of the eateries he spent time in growing up.
INDIGO, 1121 Nuuanu Ave., Honolulu
Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama's sister, who lives in Honolulu, has said Indigo is one of her brother's favorite spots. Indigo is a hotspot in Chinatown, popular with everyone from locals like Kelsey Grammer to Honolulu's political and business power players.
This "island fusion" eatery features a fresh and eclectic menu by chef Glenn Chu that matches the urban, Eurasian decor.
Greg Johnson, Indigo's vice president of operations, said when the Obamas visited in August, they started with the dim sum plate ($14), which includes goat cheese won tons, lumpia-wrapped shrimp (similar to eggrolls) and duck mu shu rolls.
For dinner, they had one of the most popular items: toasted black mustard and pepper crusted ahi served rare with wasabi soy, sun dried tomato and olive tapenade ($36).
"We treated them just like any another guest," Johnson said. "What I mean by that is, we made sure not to take pictures, or bother him or his guests and really just let them enjoy themselves."
Other popular dishes are miso-marinated salmon ($22) and tandoori-style grilled chicken breast with mint pesto ($24).
ALAN WONG'S, 1857 S. King St., Honolulu
Another Obama favorite is Alan Wong's, according to his sister. The acclaimed restaurant is a leader in Hawaii Regional Cuisine, which is a fusion of flavors and foods from the islands' many cultures, stressing local ingredients like seafood and produce.
Dinner entrees range from $27 to $52. Popular items include ginger-crusted onaga, a long-tail red snapper, and twice-cooked short rib.
RAINBOW DRIVE-IN, 3308 Kanaina Ave., Honolulu
Obama mentioned Rainbow as a possible stop to get his local plate lunch fix. It's located just outside of Waikiki and popular with hungry surfers and locals looking for a quick, hearty and affordable meal.
Traditional plate lunch offerings include hamburger steak ($5.75). A mix plate comes with teriyaki-style beef, mahimahi and boneless chicken for $6.50.
The outdoor eatery hasn't changed much since it was founded in 1961 by Seiju Ifuku, who learned to cook while during World War II while serving in the Army.
ZIPPY'S: 24 locations on Oahu, one on Maui
Obama also mentioned Zippy's, one of the few diners open around the clock. It's sort of like Hawaii's version of Denny's, a family restaurant serving breakfast, burgers and local favorites.
An institution for four decades, Zippy's is best known for chili served with white rice or spaghetti. It's a chili no Texan would love, but is beloved in the islands. It's so ubiquitous in Hawaii that it is sold in local Pizza Huts and Taco Bells.
Obama mentioned the restaurant's "Zip Min," a bowl of noodle in hot broth with everything from won tons and vegetables to fish cake and sweet pork.
He isn't the only president to have a penchant for Zippy's. Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea dined at the Zippy's in Hawaii Kai in 1993. A year ago, Chelsea returned to the same Zippy's while stumping for her mother.
GRACE'S INN, two locations in Honolulu
Alan Lum, Obama's high school basketball teammate at Punahou, said a favorite spot was Grace's. The team's favorite dish was chicken katsu on top of a bed of chow fun noodles, two scoops of rice and a side of mac salad. Chicken katsu is a deep-fried, breaded chicken filet served with a side of sauce.
"I know Barack grinded at Grace's!" Lum said in an e-mail.
ISLAND SNOW SHAVE ICE, 130 Kailua Road, Kailua
Island Snow has served up cold, colorful concoctions to NBA athletes, rock stars, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jamie Lee Curtis. Even with its star-studded clientele, the super laid-back, surfer-type crew doesn't bat an eye.
Until Obama walked in.
"It was nuts," said Richard Whaley, who created the treat for the then-presidential candidate in August.
Whaley said Obama's entourage seemed like it was 300 deep, including police, Secret Service, reporters, photographers, staffers, friends and about a dozen kids.
The shop has a framed copy of a widely distributed AP photo showing Obama sitting on a bench that day, eating shave ice with his daughters and other children.
"It's the shave ice that went around the world," Whaley said.
And things haven't been the same since. Tourists have flocked to order the same shave ice Obama ordered and sit on the same bench. The store even sells Obama T-shirts now.
Obama had the regular-size cone ($2.50) with three flavors: "choo-choo cherry," "da kine lemon-lime" and "tangy guava-orange." The most popular item is the "Rainbow" - strawberry, vanilla and banana.
CHOWDER HOUSE, 1050 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu
A sign in the window of the Chowder House says he ate there as a U.S. senator and often as a student. The low-key restaurant's menu ranges from fried seafood to sandwiches for about $10. But it's best known for clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls ($8). So what did Obama eat?
"Cheeseburgers," said the waiter.
SAKURA RESTAURANT, 41-1801 Kalanianaole Hwy., Waimanalo
Sakura is located on the top level of the clubhouse of Olomana Golf Links.
Manager Jun Tsuchiya said Obama and his friends usually order pupus (appetizers) after a round of golf. They have shared the ahi poke ($10.95), fried gyoza ($6.95) and the 12-ounce ribeye steak ($15.25). Ahi poke, a popular isle appetizer, is raw tuna cut into cubes, marinated with soy sauce, sesame oil, green onions and other ingredients.
Tsuchiya even has an autograph from Obama that reads, "Thanks for the good food."
Obama didn't stop by during his last visit. Instead, he went to the snack shop outside. He purchased two hot dogs, two Spam musubi and drinks. Spam musubi is a slice of fried Spam atop a block of rice and wrapped together in dried seaweed. It wasn't known if Obama ordered the Spam treat for himself or his buddies.
KUA AINA SANDWICH, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu
Obama created quite a scene when he stopped at Kua Aina and purchased a box of burgers to take to nearby Ala Moana Beach Park to share with family and friends during his visit in August.
Obama ordered eight 1/3-pound cheeseburgers ($7.50), six 1/2-pound cheeseburgers ($7.90), 10 Kiddie Burgers ($4.50) and 20 orders of fries ($2.25 or $3.25). He must have received a presidential pardon because his tab totaled just $116.50, about half of what it should have been. He did leave $40 in the tip jar.
The burgers are simple, yet satisfying. They come with a charbroiled patty, lettuce, tomato and grilled onions on request between a kaiser bun. A few hours after eating burgers, Obama was the guest of honor at a sold-out fundraising dinner at the Kahala Hotel & Resort, where guests paid $2,300 a seat.
BASKIN-ROBBINS, 1618 S. King St., Honolulu
This might not be one of his favorites, but it's where he landed his first job.
He scooped ice cream at this small parlor located across the street from the playground where he used to play basketball until dark. It's located in a densely populated, working-class area just a few blocks from his grandparent's high-rise apartment building, where he spent several years of his childhood.
While wearing his brown cap and apron, young Obama would dish out more than just 31 flavors.
"Girls would come in. You'd be trying to talk to them. They wouldn't give you the time of day because you were in this cap," Obama said last April.
KOKO MARINA PARADISE and KOKONUTS SHAVE ICE, 7192 Kalanianaole Hwy., Honolulu
After watching dolphins at Sea Life Park, Obama and his daughters ate at Koko Marina Paradise deli owned by Akemi Shindo, bypassing the nearby Subway sandwich shop.
"Let me get a tuna sandwich," Obama said, asking for it on 12-grain bread, tomatoes and no mayo. "Actually, can you melt cheese on that? Can you make like a tuna melt with cheddar cheese?"
The tuna melt is now known as the "Presidential Order" and costs $6.50. Besides a wide variety of sandwiches, the deli also features fresh crepes and even teriyaki beef bowls ($5).
Obama then went across the parking lot to order shave ice at Kokonuts Shave Ice and ordered 15 treats for his daughters, friends and staff members. Owner Sabina Yi said Obama had the small lemon-lime and cherry and that business has picked up since his visit.
MARIPOSA, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu
Obama, family and friends spent an evening last year dining at this relaxed but swank eatery inside the Neiman Marcus store at Ala Moana Center.
Dinner entrees include king crab cioppino ($32), grilled lamb chops ($36), seared diver scallops with lilikoi (passion fruit) butter ($29) and the Kona Kampachi fish grown in a fish farm off the Big Island ($32).