Penny’s Drive In

Step Up to the Plate

July 29, 2018

Story By: Elima Pangorang | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO


Sand Island is frequented by a slew of truck drivers to fishermen and sailors to restaurateurs daily, as it is home to many industries.

Among the strip of businesses that dot Sand Island Access Road is Penny’s Drive In.

Penny’s is grounded in rich history and has seen many changes. In fact, the eatery launched as a food truck in 1965 and eventually moved to its current home in 1980. As the story goes, founder Virginia Vance had not even a penny to her name when she started her business. And so she coined the drive in after her humble beginnings.

Today, Penny’s is known to be a haven for Sand Island’s hungry patrons coming from the area and beyond.

While Virginia ran the restaurant for years, she also credits her hard-working children and loyal staff for helping in the diner’s success. Her sons, Sam and John, work tirelessly six days a week prepping and cooking food for the week alongside long time employees of 30 years Reenie Carvalho, who works the counters, and chef Tony Pernawan (pictured).

As for Sam, he has been helping his mother since he was 11 by washing dishes, serving customers and even cooking.

When Dining Out paid a visit to the restaurant, happy faces filled the establishment from the dining area to the kitchen. A calming sense of familiarity and a close-knit community radiated from customers and staff. Adding to the welcoming vibe were the savory aromas seeping out from the kitchen that smelled like Grandma’s broke-da-mout’ old-school cooking.

A full menu of simple yet filling items is listed on a Coca-Cola menu board with black lettering boasting meals starting with breakfast favorites to lunch plate selections. Breakfast, served from 5 to 10 a.m., includes Loco Moco, Steak & Eggs, omelets, as well as the usual rice with choice of egg and breakfast meat, plus more. For lunch, choose between sandwiches — like the Cheeseburger that Carvalho mentions is made in-house, and by the looks of it, those patties are more than generous — tasty bowls of chili, stew or saimin, Hawaiian plates, Pork Adobo, Shoyu Chicken and more.

“People really like our Pork Tofu with Long Rice and also the Hamburger Delux. But if you ask Reenie, she’ll say everything is good,” says Sam with a chuckle.

With its friendly staff, ono eats and laughs all around, grounded from hard work and family values, Penny’s Drive In certainly will hit the spot in appetite and provide a boost in mood. In fact, shares Carvalho, “One of our customers tried the Roast Pork and commented ‘It’s so good, you forget your name after you eat it!'”

Tickle me pickled

Adding its own flair, Penny’s Drive In’s plate lunches come with a serving of pickled onion, made fresh daily by the founder’s son John Vance.

Eye candy

We’ve all heard that carrots promote good eye health. But do you know why? This orange stalk is a prime source of Vitamin A, an essential nutrient for healthy eyes. Luckily, this plate is filled with chunks of them.

Hot potato

The generously sized pieces of potato are cooked to perfection, making them easy to bite into.

Brewed and stewed

Tender cubes of beef are braised overnight and finalized in the early hours of the morning with a delightful stew sauce.

Return of the ‘mac’

No local plate lunch is complete without a hefty scoop of macaroni salad. Penny’s Drive In’s serving is just the right amount to bring this meal full circle.

Honolulu, HI 96819

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