Hole Lot of Flavor at Puka Dog Waikiki


Puka Dog with Orginal Garlic Lemon sauce, Pineapple relish, ketchup and Guava Mustard (click to expand image)

Or a whole lotta’ hype? That was the question running through my mind upon my first visit to Puka Dog in Waikiki this past weekend.

As you may know, the Travel Channel featured Puka Dog not once, but twice: the first being on “Hot Dog Heavens”, which featured their original Kauai location; and the second time most recently on Anthony Bourdain’s Hawaii episode of “No Reservations”, which paid a visit to this location on Oahu. Not to mention coverage by Bon Appetite magazine, Modern Bride and Travelocity.com, as well as various local media outlets.

Puka Dog’s second location here in Waikiki is located on Kuhio Avenue in the Waikiki Town Center , which is sort of interconnected with the labyrinth of small businesses on the back-end of the Waikiki International Marketplace. So if you’re coming from Kalakaua avenue, enter the International Marketplace and walk all the way towards the back end towards Kuhio and there they are…


Puka Dog Waikiki – Waikiki Town Center, 2301 Kuhio Avenue

The establishment consumes about as much floor space as a small Subway sandwich shop (probably even smaller actually), with predominantly a main service counter that includes all that’s needed to serve up their “simple” menu, and a few small patio tables to dine on both inside and outside the door. As you may notice there’s double doors, which indicate that this place can generate quite a line at peak times, as the manager on duty mentioned. Luckily I arrived at a post-peak 9pm, so it was slow. Which was nice, as it gave me time to really chat up with the staff on duty. This also made service as attentive as it could get. I felt pampered.

The 3-step ordering system is straightforward, as you can see by the menu board here (literally a “board”!)…


Click menu to expand size

First comes the bun, which here’s how that looks before and after the “Puka” (hole) is put into it…

The bun is like a roll-size version of a typical loaf of white sandwich bread; soft, airy and pliable inside, with that said type of brown crust outside. Just your basic white bun.

Taking it to nother level, we go to the next step, where to get that “puka”, this roll is basically impaled on one of these special heated metal rods that resemble some sort of medieval torchure chamber device…

This takes several minutes. As you see, it not only makes the puka, but also toasts the inside and heats the bun to make it more supple – that’s a good thing. It’s put on there with the paper wrapper on to help hold in the heat, which is also a smart idea.

I zoomed in too tight on this odd piece of kitchen equipment, as it’s really a complete “Puka Dog system” if you will, that also includes a conveyor-like heated roller element path below that which does double duty and cooks the hot dogs at the same time. They’re then stored in a warmer bin at the end of the run, here…


Skinless Polish sausages

It really is a neat, all-in-one system that I’m sure they have patents (pending) over. One reviewer on another site said (speculated?) the manufacturers who build McDonald’s industrial kitchen equipment are behind this “machine”.

Continuing on the order, I asked for some sauce and relish recommendations from Joanne, the very friendly and courteous manager on duty, to which she mentioned a few popular combinations (I can’t remember what those were), but in the end said, “braddah, just go with the flow, and get what you feel like.. you can’t go wrong either way!”.

Well, as simple as the menu itself is, there’s a subset of that 3-step system in the form of over 12 relishes and sauces you must choose from. This sort of negates that simplicity and makes the final decision on what to order almost a brain-buster.

As you stand there with your mind and stomach trying to come to terms of whether to make your dog taste fruity, or zesty and spicy, the prominent array of condiment taps on the main counter loudly reminds you of the many choices at hand…

Decisions, decisions, decisions…

I can see this alone holding up long lines, as customers constantly change their minds as their order is being taken. I was no exception, exchanging flavor requests more times than Barack and Hillary trade political jabs. lol

If you’re still not convinced you chose the right one, they do have a samples you can try before ordering…


Puka Dog relish and mustard samples

Having either Polish or vegetarian sausages to choose, I went with the Polish, which IIRC, according to the manager, was made from a combination of pork, beef and chicken. Pork eh? So I’m thinkin’ what goes better with pork but Pineapple, where you get that whole savory-sweet-tangy thing goin’ on.

So my final “condimental decision” was the original mild garlic sauce, pineapple relish, Guava Mustard AND ketchup, which they squeeze and pump into your bun before sticking in the dog. Here’s a cross-cut view of that Puka Dog…

 

So how is this much-discussed Puka Dog? Excellent. Much better than I expected considering the hype and sort of “gimmicky” concept the idea seems at first hand. What I think is key to my favorable impression is first of all that they toasted my bun nicely, which really punched the flavor of the savory, moderately-salty Polish sausage throughout the bun.

Some reviewers have complained that the bun-to-sausage ratio of the Puka Dog is too high (too much bun), but I didn’t think so. If they made the sausage just a tad bigger, that may dispell most of those sentiments, but for me, the ratio was perfect. The key was the powerful, wonderful flavor of the skinless Polish sausage itself, which pretty much predominated all else. Thank goodness they got the most important part of this equations – the hot dog – right!

As for the garlic lemon sauce, it seemed like a mayonnaise-based garlic infusion, similar to the one featured at the Great Hawaiian Hot Dog stand. I couldn’t taste the “lemon” in it though, probably because I had already sipped the lemonade before digging into the dog, so my palate was already acclimated to anything acidic.

The Pineapple relish had a slight texture to it; not like pickle-based relish, but at it had some texture and not as “saucy” like some of the other “relishes” available there. Pineapple turned out to be a good choice for the savory-salty Polish sausage, acting as an effective palate buffer, and tying everything together.

Next time I’d certainly omit the ketchup and perhaps even the garlic “sauce”, but even with that, as complex as all those flavors were, the fantastic flavor of the Polish sausage shined through it all and made the overall experience quite delicious and memorable.

As for size, this thing is massive. Look at in scale to my hand holding it…

I’d estimate the bun is approximately 8-9″ length end-to-end. The total package ‘got some heft to it as well.

I also ordered a the fresh-squeezed lemonade…


Lemonade station. I missed getting a photo of the lemonade squeezer, which is just to the right of here.

It’s a simple recipe of fresh lemons, granulated sugar, water and ice. I’ve read some reviews that said their lemonade was too sweet, but mine was perfectly balanced in all its components. The refreshing coolness and acidity of the lemonade is also a good compliment to the richness and complexity of the Puka Dog.


A Puka Dog and fresh-squeezed lemonade, $9.25

One thing you can’t deny is how catchy the name “Puka Dog” truly is. It’s marketing brilliance. With that, they have no shortage of collectible memorabilia for the visitors to take back with them…

They also have their own “Puka” version of Shave Ice, where they put ice cream, Azuki beans, tapioca balls and other goodies in a “Puka” in the middle of the Shave Ice. Wow. I didn’t get a price on that, but this is one professional-lookin’ Shave Ice machine, so I’m willing to bet they’re quite good at it…

As for suggestions, I’m wondering if they ever looked at our local sausage manufacturers such as Redondo’s? Also, while the fruity relishes are great for the tourist crowd, you now how locals love their teriyaki. They might wanna’ consider adding that flavor, and also maybe a Chili dog version. A portuguese sausage, eggs and cheese breakfast Puka Dog might also be a hit. They should also experiment with heartier bun recipes such as sourdough and other specialty seasoned breads, such as the ones Subway has introduced. Oh my, the possibilities!

It ended up being a hole lotta’ loot: at $6.25 for a Puka Dog, and $3.00 for medium-sized fresh-squeezed lemonade drink, this likely isn’t something you’d bring the entire family to on a weekly basis, but more of an indulgent, impulsive treat. Thankfully I received a 10% off Kama’aina Discount card for future visits, which is certainly an incentive to return.

Besides, I just can’t help but wonder how the other relishes that Puka Dog offers taste along with their fantastic Polish dog, as well as what their vegetarian dog tastes like. To which I’ll certainly indulge in this “treat” again.

Hype and price aside, I’d have to agree with their slogan that Puka Dog truly is “a Hole Lot of Flavor”.

ISLAND OF KAUAI
Poipu Shopping Village

2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr.
KOLOA /HAWAII 96756
808-742-6044
Monday – Sunday
11 AM to 6 PM

ISLAND OF OAHU
Waikiki Town Center

2301 Kuhio Avenue # 2
HONOLULU/ HAWAII 96815
Phone: 808 924-7887
Monday – Sunday
10 AM to 10 PM

The Tasty Island rating:

(3) Very Good. Considerable of another visit or purchase. (Supah’ Ono!)

Related links:
PukaDog.com
Puka Dog reviews on Yelp
Puka Dog Hawaiian Style Hot Dogs on KGMB9 News


Comments

Hole Lot of Flavor at Puka Dog Waikiki — 19 Comments

  1. After seeing this on “No Reservations,” I thought it was quite interesting…now that you’ve tried it, it is going on my “to try” list. :-)

  2. I had a Puka dog on my trip to Kauai last Oct. and it was really really good. I had Polish with garlic sauce, pineapple relish and lilikoi mustard. Delicious! The Mister had a Polish with hot sauce (not really hot at all), pineapple relish and the guava mustard. Another winner. Although it’s on the pricey side for a hot dog, it is quite large. The fresh squeezed lemonade was pretty darn good too. Wish they would open one up in San Diego.

  3. You had me reeled in with that first glorious picture of the hotdog in its fluffy bun…then you lost me at the end when I read $6.25! For a hotdog, I must say it looked pretty dang good, though!

  4. i don’t know if $3 for fresh-squeezed lemonade is that bad. i think fresh-squeezed juice is always ridiculously expensive. and this is waikiki.

    $6.25 hot dog though. damn. something about the concept of this place kind of annoys me too. i don’t know… seems so targeted toward tourists rather than locals i guess… makes me feel even more like it’s a rip-off. lol.

  5. Maybe it’s because I’m pake, or maybe because I agree with RobynT that this place seems targeted towards tourists, but I think I’ll stick with the $1.50 deal at Costco. It’s delish!

  6. Ah, all the sentiments about the PRICE. It’s indeed way, WAY up there, especially in light of that amazing $1.50 Costco deal.

    Robyn, yeah it is VERY touristy, and the only way I can see this working in a non-tourist location (oh, like say in Kamehameha “Kam” Shopping Center in Kalihi) is if the prices come down to like say, $3.00 for the Puka Dog and $1.50 for the lemonade.

    It is a HUGE dog and very, very tasty, and worth at least that.

  7. Yo! Get on the Puka Train already! Chili Puka? Teriyaki Puka? “You know how the locals like teriyaki.” What? Eventually you will realize Puka is not a trivial hot dog stand to be blasphemed by your petty suggestions, but rather a thriving lifestyle enjoyed by many– MANY! Did you even bother riding the Puka wave? If you do the super friendly Puka Clerks will tell you tales of Puka fans far and wide and the lengths they will go to to fulfill their Puka cravings. This review wasn’t that bad, but it doesn’t not respect the level of Puka love shared in my world.

    Oh, and the by the way: The Puka Price is a kindhearted way of protecting Puka addicts from going overboard in Puka consumption and I thank them for it.

    VIVA LA PUKA!

  8. Wow PukaFan2000, you’re quite passionate about the product. Enough that if I were you, I’d look into franchising a Puka Dog restaurant in your neck of th e woods. I’m very VERY sure this place will do very VERY well in the mainland.

    What’s wrong with a Chili or Teriyaki Puka Dog? I think that would taste great! Shoots, how about a mini Arabiki Puka Dog! Sky’s the limit, that’s all I gotta’ say. After all, that’s how they’re doing it with the various salsas and other condiments they currently offer.

    Now your opinion about the Puka Dog price is funny. That sounds like someone saying the price of gasoline at almost $5/gallon is a kindhearted way of BIG OIL protecting people from driving more than they should. Thanks! Big Oil.

    Hey, you’re complaining about me dissecting it? How about them, who IMPALE it! lol

  9. eh it’s ok, i had them when they first came out and was selling um from a stand on the side of the road in Kekaha, Kaua’i . . . i think its just a personal DISLIKE sorry

  10. Pingback: Kitchener Munchies News « Dave a.g.p.’s Blog

  11. I had my first Puka Dog last week, and I’m ADDICTED! Seriously the best hot dog I’ve ever had in my life. Try the spicy dog pina colada style with lilikoi mustard. SO ONO!!!

    Regarding the price, I would gladly pay it again. It’s well worth the money in quality and taste. I didn’t have the lemonade, but I did have the shave ice. was pretty good.

    I think a franchise in the mainland would do VERY well… hmm. I should look into it!

    Anyway, you guys can go Costco and get your polish dogs. All the more Puka for me!!! :D

  12. these dogs you see are not hot dog size. there actually polish sausage, and very large. and a very fair price. they just call them dogs , but the sausage is much larger. thay look amazing. its just marketing to call them puka dogs instead of puka sausage. hot dogs and sausage dogs come in many sizes. fromy very small to very large half pounder. dogs. QUALITY WILL BE REMEMBERED LONG AFTER THE PRICE IS FORGOTTON. YOU ALWAYS REMEMBER HOW THINGS MAKE YOU FEEL. COMFORT FOOD, FUN FOOD, I HAVE A MACHINE AND DO MANY SPECIAL EVENTS IN MICHIGAN. ITHINK THIS WILL BE A HIT.

    • We had our first Puka Dogs last week in Kauai, Amazingly Delicious! Not messy until the last 2 bites. I would eat 1 a week if they were actually good nutrition. I’d even go back to Kauai for another Puka Dog!

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