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A colorful array of flavors

Cover Story

August 13, 2023

Story By: Dining Out Team | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO

Rainbow Drive-in CEO Chris Iwamura

Known for its various local plate lunches and iconic colorful rainbow overhang, Rainbow Drive-In’s first location opened along Kapahulu Avenue on Oct. 2, 1961. Since then, the restaurant has opened locations in Kalihi and Pearlridge Center. The family-owned and -operated business initially served 50-cent chili and rice plates, $1 barbecue beef plates and 25-cent hamburgers with 14-cent fries. The food was aimed toward the average working person and the Waikiki beach crowd.

Mix Plate with Side Gravy ($12.95 plus $1.50 for gravy)

According to the eatery’s website, the original Kapahulu location now produces more than 1,000 plates daily. Besides also becoming a tourist attraction, the restaurant has been recognized in several shows such as The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, CBS’s Hawaii Five-0 and Magnum P.I., and Netflix’s Terrace House.

Here, we speak with marketing director Crystine Ito to learn more about the iconic eatery.

Chili Plate ($10.25)

DO: How did Rainbow Drive-In’s concept and name come about?

CI: The plate lunch, as a concept, has been around since the plantation days. Rainbow Drive-In was one of the first businesses to bring plate lunches from push carts and food trucks to a brick-and-mortar location. The name “Rainbow Drive-In” came from the son of Seiju and Ayako Ifuku, the first-generation owners. They lived and raised their family in Manoa Valley, which is known for its morning rain showers and abundant rainbows.

Loco Moco Plate ($11.25)

DO: How would you describe the cuisine?

CI: We think of ourselves as local comfort food. We strive to be that meal that takes you back to dinners with your grandparents, lunches at the beach after surf or that first taste of Hawaii when you come back from the mainland. Whether it has been a day or 10 years, we want to have that same level of consistency that brings back all the memories associated with Rainbow Drive-In plate lunches.

Boneless Chicken ($11.75)

DO: What are some of your bestselling dishes?

CI: Our Mix Plate with Side Gravy ($12.95) is our bestselling plate. It’s a combination of barbecue beef, boneless chicken and mahi mahi, often enjoyed with a side of gravy ($1.50) or “gravy all over.” Next, the Loco Moco Plate ($11.25) is two hamburger patties served on two scoops of rice, topped with Rainbow Drive-In’s special gravy and two eggs cooked as desired, accompanied with a scoop of macaroni salad. The Boneless Chicken ($11.75) has tender, boneless chicken thighs seasoned, breaded and fried golden brown on our griddle, served with gravy. There is also the Chili Plate ($10.25) featuring our famous chili we take special care in preparing daily, which includes ground beef, garlic and kidney beans simmered with our special blend of herbs and spices. Finally, the BBQ Beef Plate ($11.50) uses tender-sliced beef marinated in barbecue sauce and seared on our grill.

BBQ Beef Plate ($11.50)

DO: Do you have any pro tips for customers?

CI: Our plate lunches can be enjoyed in many different ways. Most locals know about putting “gravy all over” your plate, but most don’t know you can also get “chili on the rice” or even “chili all over.”

Over the past few years, we’ve implemented online ordering for both Kapahulu and Kalihi, which can help with navigating our lines and making your experience easier.

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