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Plate Lunch Prices Then and Now

Gosh, I haven’t had a plate lunch for quite some time now, however I thought this subject was kinda’ interesting to share and worth some food for thought. Literally.

For you readers out there who may not know, a “Plate Lunch” is a popular comfort food dish here in Hawaii, being a culinary melting pot of sorts that evolved over the years going back to the sugar cane and pineapple plantation era, where the Chinese, Japanese, Okinawan, Filipino and Portuguese plantation workers – amongst others – had influence in the make-up of it.

A typical classic Hawaii Plate Lunch always includes 2 scoops rice, 1 scoop macaroni salad (a.k.a. “Mac’ Sal’) and a HEAPING HELPING of any given entree item, which is usually “meat-centric” involving one or in combination of the following: Hamburger Steak (a hamburger patty smothered with brown gravy), Beef Stew (tomato-based), Shoyu Chicken (or Pork), Teriyaki Beef, Roast Pork with Gravy, Chili Frank, Curry Stew, Fried Chicken, Mahi Mahi and Pork or Chicken  Adobo. Just to name a few!

Often you’ll find a “Hawaiian Luau Plate” every “pauhana” (end of the work week) Friday at many plate lunch joints, which commonly includes Laulau, Chicken Long Rice, Kalua Pig and Lomi Salmon, served with either rice or poi (a very small portion of the latter, mind you).

Reason I bring the subject up of plate lunch prices both “then and now”, is that I happened to have dug up the original menu my sister Keanu eMailed me from her lunch wagon business that she owned and operated for about two years back in 1981 through ’83. That said wagon did business as “Hula Lunch Wagon”, which operated in various industrial locations, from Windward Community College to Elliot Street behind the Honolulu International Airport.

Are you ready for “Plate Lunch Prices Then”, circa 1982? Where here you go…

$2 + change for a plate lunch? INSANE! While I don’t smoke, even the price for cigarettes back then was crazy-cheap. 75 cents per pack? Gosh, I think that’s how much one single cig’ costs now!

Now here are the plate lunch prices at today’s 2012 market rate, courtesy of L&L “Hawaiian Barbeque” (Drive-In)…

Comparing local lunch grub prices in 1982 to 2012 (30 years later):

Item 1982 Price 2012 Price
Hamburger Steak Plate Lunch $2 $7.95
Chili Dog Plate Lunch $1.75 $7.95
Hawaiian Plate Lunch $2.75 $9.80
Cheeseburger Deluxe $.95 $3.05
Chili Dog $1.00 $3.60
Canned Juice $.50 $.75
Cigarettes (1 pack) $.75 $7.50

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s the average market price for those items both then and now here in Honolulu, give or take about a dollar, depending where and who.

Interestingly, the item least affected by inflation is the canned  juice (Hawaiian Sun or Aloha brand), while the cigarette prices compared to then and now are just insane at a 1000% increase. That sure is an expensive habit nowadays!

Then again, the home I grew up in Kaneohe originally costed my parents $26,000 when it was new in 1968. Today’s market price for that same property is about $700,000.

Depending where and who certainly are factors, as to be fair, at today’s market prices, plate lunches from lunch wagons are usually about a dollar cheaper than brick ‘n mortar restaurants due to the lower overhead (no rent) and demographic. Especially in industrial areas such as Mapunapuna and Campbell Industrial Park; both of which are teaming with lunch wagons during the peak lunch time hours.

Now how about a plate lunch from a restaurant in Waikiki. And not some dive place, but in the upscale boutique-chic Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, with neighbors including the Apple Store and Ferrari. Well, check out the prices for a plate lunch from Kenny’s “Hawaiian Barbeque” (that’s real original, guys), located in Royal Hawaiian’s Food Court…

Surprisingly (or not), I seen several what looked like tourists from the mainland whacking them plates, mac salad ‘n all. lol

While we’re on Kenny’s, I also remember when Kenny’s Burger House was around in the “Kam Shopping Center in Kalee-heee” (remember that jingle?!!!). Where even as recent as the early 90’s, they sold these supah ono char-grilled Teriyaki Burgers for just 10 cents each. 10 of those for a $ buck and I was good! Kenny’s Burger House has since closed down, only to be replaced by a McDonald’s. Sigh. But Kenny’s Restaurant is still there!

Nowadays if I ever do get a plate lunch, in an effort to eat healthier, I always opt for brown rice and a tossed salad, with fish as my entree.

P.S. While we’re having a little fun with comparisons, at this morning’s KCC Farmers Market, I picked up both a bunch of regular green onions, as well as a bunch of its big, BIG, BIGGER brother, the Japanese Negi…

That AMAZING Ramen-Ya (shop) in Tokyo’s Ginza district I always so fondly reminisce here only used the white part at the base of the Negi stock, cut into really thin slivers right across the bias. So it looked like these miniature slivers of white round onion floating on the surface of the broth. Oh, that amazing broth. It was attention to detail such as this that set that ULTIMATE SHOYU RAMEN apart from any other I’ve ever since tried on this earth. I WILL return to that Ginza Ramen Shop. :-)

21 thoughts on “Plate Lunch Prices Then and Now

  • May 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm
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    I didn’t eat a lot of plate lunches growing up, so I don’t remember what the portions were like with 1980s plate lunches. Like you said, places today give a lot of food, and almost always it’s enough for two meals. But I wonder if that was the case back in the 1980s.

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    • May 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm
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      Neither did I. However I do have fond memories of the white “Manapua Man” van!

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  • May 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm
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    I remember Kenny’s porky boy sandwich, which was very popular…and I remember the jingle for sure! Ah the memories. Some places still have decent prices though. I can’t wait for my trip back to the islands in August, and bringing my friend who hasn’t been to Hawaii in 20+ years! Going to check out Made In Hawaii Festival while we’re here, and of course some of the local grindz.

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    • May 27, 2012 at 3:32 pm
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      I’ll have to ask Diner “Saimin Kaukau” E about Kenny’s Porky Boy. I’m pretty sure he’s heard of or even tried it.

      I believe Richie’s Drive-In is still one of the cheapest plate lunch joints in town. Their Chili Frank plate, including a medium drink was still under $5 last time I checked. Even their other plates were still under $6.

      Reply
  • May 26, 2012 at 7:12 pm
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    Pomai, that photo of the plate lunch in the box is so old school reminded mom of Kalihi drive inn how they serve lunch plate to go. They use had 5 hamburgers for 1.00 in the 70.

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      • June 15, 2012 at 5:08 am
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        Don’t get me started about Rainbow’s. My all-time fave along with Gracie’s Lunchwagon at UH Manoa. The prices just reflect the economy, etc. but as long as the quality and quantity doesn’t change, no mattah. Rainbow’s is a must for me every time I come home to visit. Only wish there was a plate lunch place like that out here in Huntsville, AL.!

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        • June 16, 2012 at 3:10 pm
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          With all due respect, I don’t man. Rainbow’s reddish-toned Chili-based “brown” gravy is way too weird for me, while their Mac Salad way too “wet” with mayo’. Still, gotta’ respect their classic old school plate lunch drive-in appeal that they’ve preserved so well. Perhaps when I can “afford” to eat a plate lunch again (weight-wise), I’ll give them another try. As long as the dish doesn’t have their “brown” gravy.

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    • June 1, 2012 at 2:02 pm
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      my grandma used to work at the Kalihi drive inn back in the mid-seventies. They used to have the best fried pies (the apple and coconut were great!) and the hamburgers always had that weird yellow mayo mustard relish thing on them. They were so good.

      Reply
  • May 27, 2012 at 10:01 am
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    Pretty interesting comparison. Growing up on the windard side never experience plate lunches. My parents kinda looked down on it. Finally got exposed to it when my older cousin got his drivers license and took us to Rainbow baseball games. Ahhh, Graces and Diners. Surprised you didnt use Zippys in your comp. Expensive but when I go home have to have my chili/zip pac fix.

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    • May 27, 2012 at 3:40 pm
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      Kaneohe didnt’ really have much as far plate lunch joints that I can remember “back in the day”. Zippy’s was pretty much it for a long time. Then like in the 80’s, L&L Drive In came and set up shop in front of Mui Kwai, and they were a HUGE HIT. I don’t know why they left that spot. The plate lunch joint that was there most recently was closed down last time I drove by there.

      I just used L&L ’cause there was a location near our office that I could grab a menu. I think they’re a good example of the plate lunch “code of conduct”. lol

      Reply
  • May 27, 2012 at 3:05 pm
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    My introduction to plate lunch was at L&L “Hawaiian Barbeque” during my visits to Waikiki Beach from Rhode Island as a visitor. Now transplanted and living on the leeward side of Oahu I happily stop at the L&L in Waianae for plate lunch all the time. The price comparison from 1982 to 2012 is awesome and reminds me of when I visit back to Rhode Island and stop in for local delicacy of New York System hot weiners and glass of cold coffee milk. Back in 1960 the weiners cost $0.10 each or 3 each for $0.25 and now in 2011 the cost is $1.70 each. The actual weiners are still made in the original Rhode Island hot dog factory and also the coffee syrup is only made at Rhode Island’s Autocrat Coffee Company but not shipped to Hawaii.

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    • May 27, 2012 at 3:44 pm
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      Ken, mahalo for that tidbit on New York and Rhode Island then and now prices. I really want to visit NY City one day and just go on this crazy food blogging expedition. Next to Japan and Singapore, New York has got be one of the ULTIMATE foodie destinations.

      Reply
    • May 27, 2012 at 3:48 pm
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      Ken, mahalo for that tidbit on Rhode Island then and now prices. Costco’s food court hot dog must make all the hot dog cart vendors mad, as they under price the competition easily at $1.50 for that massive weiner and drink. Hard to beat that.

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      • May 27, 2012 at 6:25 pm
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        Actually Pomai the Rhode Island NY System hot weiner is not a hot dog and only found in Rhode Island. It’s considered a regional specialty. They are addictive so much so that you can’t just have one and that is why in the old days they were 3 for $0.25. Greek immigrants sold them in Coney Island, NY and when they moved to RI they added NY System to the title as a marketing ploy as there is no real NY System. The weiners are not hot dogs but made of veal and pork with spices, smoke cured and produced in long ropes by “Little Rhody Brand Franks & Weiners”. The weiners are hand-cut to length and slow grilled so the natural casing browns and pops when you bite; placed in a steamed bun, dressed with bright yellow mustard; covered with Greek dark brown sweet meaty spicy chili (this is what defines each restaurant that sells them; i.e., the secret sauce which is not tomato based); covered with small diced sweet white onion and topped with sprinkle of celery salt. Three bites and it’s gone!!! The other thing that is unique to RI is if the cook is filling more than one order, he’ll line steamed hot buns with the weiners up one hairy arm to assemble and dress the weiners. It’s quite a show and balancing act!!! Sanitary??????? The COSTCO all beef ¼ lb. hot dog with unlimited soda for $1.57 (with tax) is a treat but every once in a while I’ll go to a Woody’s hot dog cart or Hank’s Haute Dogs. What I really miss every once in a while is an old fashion straight grilled hot dog in a buttered grill-toasted New England top-split hot dog bun dressed with mustard, relish and onions and I have to wait till I visit New England for a Doogie’s Restaurant grilled 2-foot long Chili Cheeze Dog.

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        • May 27, 2012 at 6:31 pm
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          Wow, that must be quite the ono Rhode Island weiner! That sure was a fantastic sales pitch! My apologies for categorizing it as a “hot dog”. I was thinkin’ of Nathan’s. But a 2-foot long Chili Cheeze Dog? Now that’s just “redonkulous”. lol Who really eats that?

          But hey, don’t try and sway me off my new-found vegetarian lifestyle. Ehem. Cough-cough. :-P

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  • May 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm
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    Pomai, what’s the taste difference between regular green onions and Negi? Not sure if I ever tried Negi before.

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    • May 31, 2012 at 5:30 am
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      The negi’s green upper stock is a bit more “grassy” in flavor (kinda’ like chives), while also having just a slight more “bite” to it than regular green onion, while the white stock part of the Negi more closely resembles a standard round white onion in flavor profile, with just subtle hint that it’s “green”. At least that’s what I get out of it.

      Reply
  • June 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm
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    I remember late 60’s early 70’s my Dad taking us to Penny Lunch Wagon on Sand Island Access Rd halfway to the drawbridge. Beef Stew plate lunches (and others) for 60 cents! Price was right on the Penny’s Sign. Lunches taste the same at their Drive Inn now but at todays prices. Still see what I think is their old orange wagon parked on the backstreets in Kapalama now owned by someone else…. lol

    Reply

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