Text and images by IJfke Ridgley
Food trucks are appearing along Kamehameha Highway on O‘ahu’s North Shore faster than a hungry surfer can keep up. In fact, between Sunset Beach and Shark’s Cove alone, an interesting array of food truck owners can be found, each having started their mobile restaurants for different reasons. Some did so out of the need for a job, others to enter the restaurant scene without committing to a storefront location, and still others to expand upon already successful businesses. For residents and visitors to the North Shore, these mobile outlets are great opportunities to snag a tasty meal while supporting local businesses.
But life on the road is not always a smooth ride. “Your food truck can break down, or get a flat tire, or get stuck in the mud,” says The Elephant Truck owner Kevin Sutavee. “You have to set it up and break it down every day.” This particular stretch of North Shore highway has no available commercial zoning, which means that trucks often have to move around. However, every owner agrees that having a food truck is a great way to feel like part of the community. “I run into people on the street who have tried my pizza, and I like that,” says The Garden Oven owner Raul Bernal. “It makes me feel like I’m a part of something.”
When I pull up to Seven Brothers, the popular burger-and-fries food truck tucked in the parking lot of the Sunset Beach Chevron gas station, local surfers are trying to snag some shade after downing a burger. It is precisely these locals who can’t get enough of the filling fare that has put Seven Brothers on the map. For the Hannemann family—which has, yes, seven brothers—this mobile location was not the first food venture. The seven brothers’ father, Arthur, opened Kahuku Grill in 2009, and later, the Seven Brothers brick-and-mortar location in Lā‘ie. Next on the Hannemanns’ list was the food truck. The brothers, who grew up on the North Shore and now share the duties of running all three locations, aim to bring the surf culture of the area to their restaurants. This is reflected in their motto: “Not just a meal … but a lifestyle.” Now, preparing to celebrate a year in operation, the food truck can always be found at the same spot, adorned with decorations out front like a surfboard and potted plants.
What to order: The Shem Burger, piled high with Shem Hannemann’s homemade guacamole and served with round, flat-cut fries. Those avoiding carbs can add guacamole to Seek Hannemann’s recommendation, Max’s Salad, which comes with a full burger patty.
59-186 Kamehameha Hwy. in the Sunset Beach Chevron parking lot. Open from 11 a.m.–8 p.m. daily. Closed Sundays.
The Garden Oven
The legitimacy of the “Brick Oven Pizza” sign marking The Garden Oven may seem questionable when you see this food stall mounted on the back of an orange pickup truck. Yet look a little closer, and you will spy a tiny hitched trailer topped with a brick oven, which jovial owner Raul Bernal made by hand. Born in Chile and raised in the Bronx, Bernal spent years working in restaurants in New York City before moving to Hawai‘i, but he had never made pizza. All Bernal knew was that he wanted to work for himself—so he set about learning how to create the best pie. “You can’t go wrong with pizza,” he explains. “Everybody loves it, it’s a comfort food.” One year ago, The Garden Oven opened for business, popping out thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pies with simple, fresh toppings sourced from North Shore farms.
What to order: Try the pizza margherita, made with fresh mozzarella, Kamuela tomatoes, basil, and olive oil.
59-411 Kamehamema Hwy. near ‘Ehukai Beach Park. Open 4–9 p.m. daily.
The Elephant Truck
When it comes to North Shore food trucks, none match the present success of The Elephant Truck, a mobile eatery specializing in what its half-Thai, half-Dutch owner, Kevin Sutavee, describes as “homegrown Thai food.” The aqua food truck sits at the back of a wooden terrace, surrounded by potted palms and lovely mood lighting. It feels upscale, with the sleek and sexy vibe of an outdoor Balinese lounge. Hidden behind a surf shop and parking lot, you have to know where to go in order to find it, which is just what Sutavee likes. “I wanted a feeling of a secret spot,” he says. Sutavee worked at a food truck at Rocky Point in 1996 before returning to New York City to launch endeavors ranging from a surf-inspired magazine to a surf hotel in Puerto Rico named Buenas Olas. But the pull of the North Shore remained strong, and in 2011, Sutavee returned and opened The Elephant Truck, which quickly took off, counting famous surfers and celebrities among its fans.
What to order: The Yum Pla, a light and refreshing fried fish dish with tangy flavors of cilantro and lime. Or, try the glass noodles with bamboo chicken, a recommendation from celebrity chef Alton Brown, who declared The Elephant Truck “the best Thai food in the United States.”
66249 Kamehameha Hwy., across from Shark’s Cove. Lunch noon–5 p.m., dinner 6–9 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Owner Cris Jensen arrives like a ray of sunshine outside of her purple food truck, which is parked in front of Pipeline surf break at ‘Ehukai Beach Park. I’m already trying her famous acai bowl, made with the highest quality acai from Brazil, when she orders me the pitaya. She then insists I try the coxinha, a fried dough ball filled with shredded chicken and spices, then hands me a pastel for the road. It’s hard not to feel at home with the Japanese-Brazilian Jensen, whose warm smile and inviting demeanor match her vibrantly colored food truck. She moved to Hawai‘i 18 years ago for its great bodyboarding, but when money got tight, she and her husband Christian started selling pastéis, Brazilian street fare, at the North Shore farmers market. The pastéis (plural for pastel) were a hit, and Jenson soon began searching for a more permanent venue to serve them from in order to avoid the hassle involved with constant setup and breakdown. Thus, Crispy Grindz was born. Today, the food stall is popular with Brazilians wanting a taste of home, and with local surfers looking for a light snack between sets.
What to order: The acai bowl, coxinha, and pastel are each worth a stop.
59-411 Kamehameha Hwy. near ‘Ehukai Beach Park. Open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily.
North Shore Tacos
It’s hard to miss the bright red North Shore Tacos stall located across from Shark’s Cove, and with its inviting wooden deck and raffia umbrellas overlooking the sunset, who would want to? Owners Joseph Fullmer and Elen Atlas already own the successful brick-and-mortar North Shore Tacos in Hau‘ula, which has been in operation for six years, but they happily debuted this truck location in mid-2015. The North Shore Tacos cooks make everything from scratch, including all their sauces, and prep for the day at the company’s commercial kitchen in Hau‘ula. They also use only fresh, sashimi-grade local fish. “We want to be able to say that we have the best fish tacos in Hawai‘i,” Fullmer explains.
What to order: The fish and pork tacos. Atlas also recommends the Pineapple Tiki Drink, which is pineapple juice made on the spot from the very pineapple in which it is served.
66249 Kamehameha Hwy., across from Shark’s Cove. Open 11 a.m.–5 p.m. daily.