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Unbeatable Deals at the End of the Rainbow
Foodie Fare

Unbeatable Deals at the End of the Rainbow

Story By Sarah Pacheco Photos By Lawrence Tabudlo
July 10 - 16, 2011

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Rainbow Drive-In turns the big 5-0 this year, and in celebration of reaching this momentous milestone, the Kapahulu eatery is rolling back the prices of select menu items to what they were when Sejiu and Ayako Ifuku founded the landmark restaurant in 1961.

  • Ahi Katsu ($7.50)
  • Rainbow Drive-In kitchen manager Pam Martin, showing off the 50th anniversary T-shirt and the Hot Dog Special.
  • Hot Dog Special available July 16 (25 cents)
  • Mix Plate ($7.25)
  • Chili Plate ($5.75)
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“It’s one day every month, and we’re doing that to recognize our beginnings and say thank you to the community for supporting us all these years,” says vice president Jim Gusukuma.

This Saturday (July 16), customers can get a Hot Dog and Small Drink for just 25 cents! The anniversary special will be sold from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the parking lot tent only and will be limited to five items per customer (no phone orders will be accepted).

“In August we’re having 25-cent Hamburgers,” Gusukuma adds of the special that will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 14. Additional specials to mark your calendars for include 25 cent Saimin (5 p.m.-9 p.m. Sept. 17) and $1 Chili Plate (11 a.m.-7 p.m. Oct. 16).

“With the anniversary specials, we’re trying to take prices back to what they were in the old days,” Gusukuma says.

Save the increase in menu prices, much has remained the same at Rainbow Drive-In as when it first opened for business a half century ago. Most of the recipes used today are the same ones Sejiu Ifuku cooked up back in the ‘60s, including the famous chili that is the focal point of many menu favorites, from the Chili Plate ($5.75) and Chili Dog Plate ($6.20) to the Chili Dog Boat ($3.95), Chili Rice or Chili Cracker Bowl ($2.75 each).

“We like to think we have a really good product, and we make it fresh every day,” Gusukuma adds. “It’s the same recipe that my father-in-law developed, and we don’t vary that recipe. We haven’t tapered with that, and it seems to work.”

One recent change on the menu, however, is the substitution of ahi katsu for mahi mahi filet in Rainbow Drive-In’s Mix Plate ($7.25).

“Mahi mahi is getting extremely hard to get right now, so we’ve changed to ahi,” explains Gusukuma. “Instead of the grilled mahi mahi, we’ve substituted ahi in the katsu form, just because it holds up better and is more tender than frying it.”

Everything else is the same on this best-selling plate, which also comes with a boneless chicken cutlet and barbecue steak served with two scoops rice and choice of macaroni salad or cole slaw.

“If people know us, they know we don’t add different items very often, so this is a major change for us,” Gusukuma notes. “But people should try it.”

On the Side

Ameal at Rainbow Drive-In is akin to stopping by your parents’ house for a quick bite to eat. The food is simple and unpretentious, but somehow recreating those homemade dishes is impossible to do on your own.

The reason for this familial feel is because Rainbow Drive-In has been a family operation since it was founded by Sejiu and Ayako Ifuku in October 1961.

“Rainbow Drive-In is still in the same family today,” says vice president Jim Gusukuma, who also happens to be the Ifukus’ son-in-law. “The second generation is still running it and looking to pass it on to the third generation.”

Another part of the Rainbow Drive-In ohana is its dedicated staff of 42 that helps the tiny drive-in run smoothly from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. In fact, many of the employees have been with the company for more than 20 years, such as kitchen manager Pam Martin who started with the company in 1983.

“I think people would be surprised by how many employees we have,” Gusukuma states. “Because our trademark is quick service, we have to hire a lot of people to have fast service and get the plates out.”

Though bustling all year long, summertime signals the start of busy season for the drive-in due to its close proximity to Waikiki, Kapiolani Park and Diamond Head.

“We’re fortunate to be in Kapahulu and be so close to the beach,” Gusukuma says.

“And our business noticeably spikes when there’s waves!” he adds with a laugh.

While the plate lunches, mac salad, saimin, loco moco and bentos have drawn in locals for years, Rainbow Drive-In recently has seen an increase in out-of-town customers thanks in part to glowing recommendations and a feature on Food Network’s hit series Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

“We’ll ask, ‘How did you find out about us,’ and they’ll say a friend told us we gotta stop here, or they saw us on television or they asked the hotel staff,” Gusukuma says.

“Again, we’re very fortunate.”

Rainbow Drive-In fans also can show their support for the iconic restaurant with a 50th anniversary special edition T-shirt, on sale for $16 for a limited time.

Rainbow Drive-In

  • Where
    • 3308 Kanaina Avenue
    • Honolulu, HI 96815
  • Call
    • (808) 737-0177
  • Hours
    • Open daily
    • 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.
  • Notes
    • Free parking available.