W & M Bar-B-Q Burger
3104 Waialae Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96816 (map); 808-734-3350
Cooking Method: Charbroiled
Short Order: Teriyaki-flavored burgers with fresh toppings are worth trying even if you have to stand while eating or bring it back to your car
Want Fries with That? For lovers of crispy, well salted skinny fries, yes
Price: Royal burger, $3.60; fries, $1.95
Notes: There's a ledge where you can stand and eat, but no seating; limited opening hours; they're known for being very busy at lunch time
During my week-long trip to Honolulu from May 9 to 16, I made it a point to try as many different Hawaiian foods as I could without exploding. In the "burger" category that meant getting a teriyaki burger, or teri burger, made with a patty soaked in sweet soy sauce-based teriyaki sauce. I stopped by drive-up burger joint W & M Bar-B-Q Burger after reading 'Ono Kine Grindz's review to squeeze in a teriyaki burger and fries in between lunch at Zippy's and a 10-course meal at Town. (I don't usually eat afternoon burger snacks; I swear. Nor do I usually eat 10-course meals.)
W & M was founded in 1952 by Wildred and Mary Kawamura (hence the W and M) and has spent its nearly 60-year lifespan in three locations, its current spot being 20 years old. The business is now run by their grandson Walt Kunimitsu, his wife Joy, and uncle Dr. Myles Kawamura. W & M's popularity rages on despite limited opening hours: They're closed on Monday and Tuesdays, and open only from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Wednesday to Friday, and from 9 a.m to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday (to all the 9 a.m. burger eaters: That's hardcore, man). I heard it's swamped at lunch time, but I luckily encountered an empty lot when I visited around 4 p.m. on a Thursday.
They specialize in grilled Bar-B-Q hamburgers and Bar-B-Q steaks (bar-b-q meaning teriyaki flavored, not related to American barbecue) in plain, deluxe, cheese, or Royal. (You can also get a sandwich combining a burger patty and steak, or try a Bar-B-Q hot dog.) I went with a Royal hamburger, which came topped with lettuce, tomato, raw onion, and cheese, and a choice of mayonnaise, ketchup, relish, and mustard (I went with mayo).
As the patty is only 2.7 ounces (you can add a patty for $2.20), the toppings make up the bulk of this burger. The meat, soaked in homemade "secret recipe" teriyaki sauce, was cooked through but not dried out, and its sweet and savory flavor contrasted well with the crisp and fresh toppings. I don't think I'd want to eat this burger without the toppings; it goes better with the multiple layers of cool vegetation. The soft, untoasted white bun held everything together fine. No one part of the burger stuck out to me; it was the combination of the components that made it memorable. If I hadn't stopped to take photos of the burger, I would've wolfed it down in an unhealthily short span of time.
I almost left without trying the french fries (hey, I had to pace myself!), but when W & M employee Chris mentioned that some customers preferred their fries over McDonald's, I had to try them. He handed over a fresh-from-the-fryer batch full of crispy, well salted skinny fries à la McDonald's. The fries are frozen, but twice fried for extra crispiness, and barely left a trace of grease. Some people may find them too crispy without enough internal softness to balance out the crust, but I liked them.
I don't know how W & M's burgers rate to others in Honolulu since I only got to try one other, but I'd return for the quick, friendly service and simple burgers...as long as the craving hits during lunch time from Wednesday to Sunday.