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Mapunapuna Eats: Joe's Lunch Wagon

Joe’s Lunch Wagon on Mapunapuna road

After going over the new Index page here, Diner E, A and myself noticed in black and white that the list of Lunch Wagons The Tasty Island has visited is way too short.

So in an effort to fill that void, yesterday for our usual Pauhana Friday greasy spoon lunch hunt, we set off on a lunch wagon safari. Which the closest area to our office that is known to be populated with lunch wagons is the industrial district of Mapunapuna, near the airport. Campbell Industrial Park out on the Ewa side also get “choke” lunch wagons (I mean CHOKE) during lunch hour too, but that’s obviously too far for us.

Fortunately Diner AC’s brother works in the Mapunapuna area, so she called him up to get a few suggestions. Two of which were Lance’s and Joe’s Lunch Wagon, which we ended up choosing the latter.

Choosing a good lunch wagon is actually quite easy: just look for the one with the longest line. If there’s a long line of customers, like any other eatery, you KNOW the grindz gotta’ be good.

Remember Kanda “Kewalo” Lunchwagon? They always had a mean line. Often more than 20-30 deep. Seriously. Gosh do we miss “Kewalo’s”. RIP.

So anyhow, we ended up going with Joe’s, attracted by at least a small crowd of folks lined-up in front, and also the accessibility. It was easy finding parking there along an adjacent side street to Mapunapuna road where they’re located.

As you see in the photo above, Joe’s Lunch Wagon is specifically located in front of Industrial Hardware Hawaii Fasteners and Construction Supplies. A fitting place for lunch wagon, I’d say. Hardware Hawaii is located nextdoor Mauka to them.

Let’s see what’s on the menu…

Joe’s Lunch Wagon Menu

Those prices are incredible. A mix plate of any two entrees for just $5.50? Sweet!

Diner E chose the Kalbi Short Ribs plate…

Joe’s Lunch Wagon – Kalbi Short Ribs plate – $5.50

Diner A went with a BBQ Boneless Chicken and Roast Pork mix (not mixed) plate…

BBQ Boneless Chicken and Roast Pork mix (not mixed) plate, $5.50

Are you kidding me? $5.50 for ALL THAT? Step aside Palama Market, here come’s Joe’s!!! Man, now Diner A can afford to fill his car up with gas again. lol

Finally, yours truly decided on paying tribute to my roots once again, going with the Hawaiian Plate…

Joe’s Lunch Wagon – Hawaiian Plate: Chicken Long Rice, Pork and Butterfish Laulau, Kalua Pig, Lomi Salmon, Mac’ Salad and Rice, $6.50

My word. All I have to say is WOW ———- LAU ———- LAU. That is an incredible spread of Hawaiian grindz for just $6 and change.

Really though, most lunch wagons around the island offer large amounts of food at very affordable prices. That’s just the norm. But what matters more (for me anyway) is how it tastes; not how cheap or how much food they pile on the plate.

So let’s find out how good these lunch wagon grindz tastes, starting with Diner A’s mix plate…

First and foremost, we all unanimously agreed Joe’s Mac’ Salad was spot-on. Cool, creamy, tasty and simple, with the macaroni noodles perfectly al dente. Solid 4 SPAM Musubi for the Mac.

Joe’s Lunch Wagon Boneless BBQ Chicken

On to the BBQ Chicken, which Diner A noted was moist and tender, but lacked the desired char-grilled or seared edges. Almost as if it were baked – which it probably was – and not grilled. It was well marinaded with some kind of Korean BBQ sauce that gave it a rather reddish tone, although it wasn’t spicy, nor did it ring of Gojujang. Still tasty though (good word!).

The gravy was the saving grace for the roast pork, which he really liked, but noted the pork itself – especially the larger pieces – were a little dry.

Of course the good gravy can even save dry pork, and with that gave his mix plate of BBQ Boneless Chicken and Roast Pork from Joe’s Lunch Wagon a solid 2 SPAM Musubi.

Moving on to Diner E’s Kalbi Short Ribs plate, his looked like it used the same red-tinged Korean BBQ sauce, which he said tasted good, but also noted it wasn’t as spicy as it looks. He said it was tender, but like Diner A’s BBQ Chicken (BBQ?), thinks his Kalbi was baked, not grilled. Which really is a crime. Yet still, he enjoyed his plate, with its saving grace being – of all things – the stellar Mac’ Salad. Yes, with Diner E, if you can ace Mac’ Salad, you’re “in like flynn” with him. lol

That said and with all things considered, “Simon Kaukau” (Diner E) gave his Kalbi Short Ribs plate from Joe’s Lunch Wagon 2 SPAM Musubi.

Finally let’s sample my Hawaiian Plate from Joe’s Lunch Wagon, starting with the Chicken Long Rice…

Joe’s Lunch Wagon – Chicken Long Rice

Oh yes, we’re off to a good start! The Chicken Long Rice had a distinguishable Ginger-infused chicken flavor, just like the dish should be, with enough pieces of chicken itself to keep it satisfying. The long rice noodles were a little soggy, but not that bad. Still acceptable, especially considering its out of a lunch wagon. A real ono 3 SPAM Musubi for that.

Now on to the “Big Kahuna” of the plate, da’ Pork and Butterfish Laulau…

Joe’s Lunch Wagon – Pork and Butterfish Laulau

Wait a minute, did you say Pork AND Butterfish Laulau? Yes my friends, for $6.50 with all that other stuff, it’s a Pork AND Butterfish Laulau. And you know what? This laulau was FANTASTIC!

The luau leaves were cooked down and seasoned with Hawaiian Salt perfectly. While the pork had huge globs of gelatinous, ready-to-melt fat around it. So ono, broke da’ mout’! What took me by surpirse while digging through it was the discovery of Butterfish in it. I couldn’t believe it!

Butterfish is a considerably pricey ingredient that adds invaluably great flavor when combined with the pork in a Laulau. It’s usually a premium you pay if you were to order the same thing at Young’s Fishmarket. But nope, not here.

This laulau was a winnah. And from a Lunchwagon? Who woulda’ thought? Amazing! Easy 4 SPAM Musubi for da’ Laulau alone.

Now let’s sample da’ Kalua Pig…

Joe’s Lunch Wagon – Kalua Pig

This is actually called ‘Kalua Pig and Cabbage’, but I see way more Kalua Pig than Cabbage… which I suppose is better than the other way around! But eh, meh, was dry. Real dry. And it didn’t taste like they roasted it with Ti Leaves; just tin foil. It lacked that “Hawaiian flavah” you get from the Ti Leaves, tasting like simple Liquid-smoke flavored pulled pork, and a dry one at that. Luckily had all that fat from the moist pork in the Laulau – so I took that and mixed it up with the dry Kalua Pig and you know what? Buggah turned out winnahz! Ow-right! (I still can’t figure out how to spell that popular, highly-inflected slang properly).

Finally let’s try the Lomi Salmon…

Joe’s Lunch Wagon – Lomi Salmon

Definitely no “Lomi Tomato” here. There were small chunks of nicely-salted salmon in every bite, which you can visually spot amongst the diced tomatoes in the photo above. 3 SPAM Musubi for Joe’s Lomi Salmon (not tomato!).

Shoots, if only I had one bowl Poi, life at that moment would have been complete! For me, eating Hawaiian Food without Poi is like eating having a Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner without Gravy. It’s still delicious, but very much not complete without that gravy to smother all over everything. Ya’ know?

Not to fret though, as my plate did also included a scoop of their awesome Mac’ Salad…

Summing it up, I’ll give my Hawaiian Plate from Joe’s Lunch Wagon a solid 3 SPAM Musubi. Moisten up the Kalua Pig and offer poi instead of rice, and I’ll give it a four. Maybe five!

I mentioned earlier that Mapunapuna is nearby Honolulu International Airport. So we chose to eat our grindz at the parking lot located at the end of Lagoon Drive, where you can watch the airplanes take off from the Reef Runway…

Japan Airlines (JAL) takes off from the Reef Runway at Honolulu International Airport

It’s like a daily airshow here!

Here’s a trivia for you: Did you know?: The Reef Runway at Honolulu International Airport (HNL) is a designated alternative landing strip for NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.

Interesting! I did not know that until I read about it on Wikipedia:

“The (Honolulu International) airport has four major runways. The principal runway designated 8R/26L, also known as the Reef Runway, is the world’s first major runway constructed entirely offshore. Completed in 1977, the Reef Runway is a designated alternate landing site for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration space shuttle program in association with Hickam Air Force Base, which shares Honolulu International Airport’s airfield operations.”

That’d be pretty neat to watch a Space Shuttle land there. I would so be there to see it.

The Reef Runway is now used for daily operations of commercial and military jets, including Hawaiian and Mokulele Airlines’ smaller inter-island 717 and Embraer 170 aircraft, as well as the Hawaii Air National Guard’s F-15 Fighters.

Being we were on a lunch wagon safari, of course we drove around the area scoping out all the options we could find. Another one located across the street, adjacent to Joe’s Lunch Wagon was this one that featured homemade Lasagna…

There wasn’t a name on the wagon, but we heard of one in the area called Lance’s. Could this be them? This wagon also had your usual local plates, from Hamburger steak to Grilled Ahi, IIRC.

Further up on the same Mapunapuna road was this lunch wagon called Chung’s…

Good gosh, that font is horrible! the ‘C’ in LUNCH looks more like an O or Q, and the ‘W’ in WAGON looks like a lower-case L and V! lol

Then, as we headed down Lagoon Drive, we spotted this banner…

So of course we turned and checked it out! lol…

It doesn’t say it on this side (which it should), but on the other side it’s emblazoned with the name BYRON’S LUNCH WAGON. This was their menu of the day….

Byron’s Lunch Wagon Menu

Ooh, I’m a sucker for a good home-style meatloaf, so that ‘Mom’s Meatloaf’ looks good to me. Chicken Hekka sounds good too! Love that stuff. In fact, I’ll share a great recipe for Chicken Hekka in the future.

Then as were headed back to the office on Lagoon Drive, we detoured off on Kalewa street to see what was back there, where we came upon this lunch wagon…

Papa Ole’s had already sold out of food (a very good sign!) by the time we arrived, but I did get a shot of the menu anyways…

Papa Ole’s (sold out) Menu

The very nice Hawaiian lady running the place explained to me that their menu changes daily (as most lunch wagons do), and that they also have a brick & mortar flagship Papa Ole’s Restaurant in Hau’ula.

She also must have thought I was the most handsome, charming man she ever met (ha-ha!… just kidding!), because out of the blue she offered me free Peach Cake and Shortbread to take along with me. How cool is that! I offered to pay for it, but she said “No no, nevah’ mind braddah, just take ’em!” Now that is what you call Aloha Spirit my friends! So we made it a point that we’d return here soon for lunch to show appreciation for her generosity.

So just out of curiosity checking out a hidden lunch wagon, and thanks to my handsome good looks and charm (j/k!), we came back to the office with Aloha Friday dessert, compliments of Papa Ole’s!…

Complimentary Peach Cake and Shortbread Cookies from Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon

Here’s Papa Ole’s Peach Cake…

Peach Cake from Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon

Peach Cake from Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon

This buggah was so ono! Especially after all that savory Hawaiian food from Joe’s Lunch Wagon. And I’m not saying that because it was comp’d . Honestly, it was! Super moist, buttery-rich ono. If you hit up Papa Ole’s and feel you have a craving for rich, moist, buttery desserts, do order this Peach Cake. Highly recommended!

The Shortbread Cookies were also EXCELLENT!…

Shortbread Cookies from Papa Ole’s Lunch Wagon

Big, BIG MAHALO once again to the nice lady from Papa Ole’s for hooking us up with the complimentary, supah ono desserts! We’ll be back for lunch!

Joe’s Lunch Wagon
In the front of Industrial Hardware Hawaii Fasteners and Construction Supplies
on Mapunapuna road in Mapunapuna

SPAM Musubi Rating:

(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it. (Ono)

6 thoughts on “Mapunapuna Eats: Joe's Lunch Wagon

  • October 10, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Pomai, peach cake and shortbread cookies reminded me back in school when they serve one big shortbread cookie for lunch plate but my cookie got stolen by my classmate. Boo to her still. Peach cake make me want to make it myself since can’t head out there. Price is so good for laulau with other things with it.

  • October 10, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    I just love saying “Mapunapuna” — not sure why, it’s just fun.

    Joe’s lomi salmon looks tasty too.

  • October 10, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Ah, remember this area (Damon Tract) as a kid. My grandfather had a house on S Road where the family spent Sundays eating great food he cooked. Also the mango, lichee, pomergranite, and star fruit trees that were in the yard. Too bad no more pictures. Saw my first chicken neck slit there, shot a pellet gun for the first time,

  • October 11, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Pomai, that cake looked like the cake I entered in Mckinley High baking contest when attended there with cream cheese and choped up peaches for the topping. Shortbread cookies I put macadamia nuts it a popular with all people.

  • October 11, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Amy and Betty, both of you sound like fantastic bakers. My sister is too. I suck at baking, but willing and eager to learn the science.

    Okihwn, Mapunapuna still has a bad problem with flooding due that area being below sea level. At high tide certain roads flood over from sea water overflowing the street sewers. Not good to drive through if you love your car and don’t want it to rust.

    Kristin, now that you mention it, “Mapunapuna” is kinda’ fun to say! lol

  • October 28, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Didn’t realize that Hawaii lunch wagon fare is not as expensive as one would expect. I’m originally from Palolo (yeah, went Jarrett) currently living in Panama City, Florida, a.k.a. the Redneck Riviera. Lunch comparable in quality to Joe’s Hawaiian plate might cost up to a $1.50 more here and $2.50 more in Washington D.C. or New Orleans, and it wouldn’t taste half as good. Real estate and gasoline prices suck royally in Honolulu, but not everything is more expensive. Personally, I’m glad I’m here because I can’t get tempted to dine at a lunch wagon. Just survived a double cardiac bypass surgery and don’t need to be wallowing in temptation.


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