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Eat “Plate Lunch” With Locals At Rainbow Drive-In

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When my Dad hears “Rainbow Drive-In” he tells me the memory of his college days as a student at the University of Hawaii, standing in line for a $1.60 chili dog plate. It was the best deal for a hungry college student.

Rainbow Drive-In set the precedent for “plate lunch” in Hawaii and they’re still a big name these days. Locals still make this a mandatory stop when they’re in the area, but tourists are now in the know and have joined in the fun (and the lines).

I hope you enjoy this local gem – it’s a family favorite!

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Rainbow Drive-In is where it's at.
Where to fix your plate lunch cravings | Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority

Rainbow Drive-In Food Is The Original Plate Lunch

Rainbow Drive-In. “Rainbows” for short. This Oahu must-eat icon is the one place where I have taken every single one of my friends to when they are visiting the islands. It’s the pit stop for locals before they hit Waikiki beach and after their Diamond Head hike for years. Even my Mom (a health nut) loves to eat her Mixed Plate from Rainbows.

Since 1961 Rainbow Drive-In has served Hawaii their iconic plate lunches of 2 scoops rice, 1 scoop mac salad, and a hearty main dish on top of sliced cabbage. Way back then, the plate lunches had to be served fast due to the limited lunch time for workers. Even today the food still comes out quick, hot and ready to eat! Open daily from 7 AM to 9 PM, it’s one of my favorite places to go when hunger strikes.

Mixed Plate Lunch – Courtesy of Rainbow Drive-In

While you can go to Rainbow Drive-In at any time, my favorite time to eat here is after a hike or a day at the beach. Nothing quite beats their hearty meals that fill you up and make you feel just a tad lazy for the rest of the day.

Breakfast is also a big deal in the world of plate lunches so if you have a chance, check out their morning menu. We locals love our spam, Portuguese sausage and fried rice for breakfast, and Rainbow Drive-In does their breakfast right.

Local Tip: Breakfast at Rainbow Drive-In is usually $8 or less!

Loco Moco plate | Courtesy of Rainbow Drive-In

Local Tip: Stuck on what to eat? I almost always go for a mixed plate and a strawberry slush float. So satisfying on a hot Hawaii day!

Rainbow Drive-In Is Always Busy

Be ready for the long lines at Rainbow Drive-In – but don’t be discouraged! Rainbow Drive-In began their business in 1961 with the intent to serve those with a short lunch period and they have their system nailed.

Several windows are open, people know what they want, the line moves quickly and your food is out usually in less than 5 minutes. They’ll shout out your food order (not your name) so keep your ears open. Most people stand off to the side because the food comes out that quick.

How To Get To Rainbow Drive-In

Getting to Rainbow Drive In is easy especially if you’re staying in Waikiki. It’s located on Kapahulu Avenue, one of the main streets in this area that’s also home to many restaurants popular with the local crowd.

Local Tip: Rainbow Drive-In recently opened a second and third location at Pearlridge Shopping Center, Pearl City and Kalihi. While I’ve heard that the menu tastes pretty much the same, it’s the vintage atmosphere that you can’t beat at their original Honolulu location.

Local Tip: Because Rainbow Drive-In is such an old Hawaii icon, the souvenirs in their gift shop are fun and unique. They have the usual shirts, totes and mugs, but they’re all designed with local flair.

Check out their gift shop, Rainbowtiki.

How To Park At Rainbow Drive-In

As you can probably guess, Rainbow Drive-In’s parking lot can be horrendous if you don’t have a plan. The parking lot is small (can you believe it was even smaller before they renovated?), so have a strategy set when you come. Here’s how I usually do it:

  • Parking Strategy 1: Go outside of the main lunch and dinner hours. You’ll probably find a spot or two. This works best for those coming to Rainbow Drive-In by themselves.
  • Parking Strategy 2: If you’re traveling with a group, have the driver decide on what they want in advance. Their job will be to wait in the car and snatch a parking spot if it opens up while you’re waiting. Everyone else hops out of the car. One person orders and if you have more bodies, the rest finds a table when it opens up because tables and seats are limited, too!

Local Tip: My family likes to eat at the closest section of Kapiolani Park – a 2-minute drive away. Set your GPS to Waikiki Elementary School and park on Leahi Avenue. Pick any of the picnic tables under the monkeypod trees and eat. There are bathrooms nearby and a jungle gym, too.

Playing the waiting game at the parking lot.

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