Even before the morning sun spreads across Manoa Valley, a tiny shop is hard at work. And you can tell by the delicious aroma of freshly-baked manapua wafting from beneath the closed door that they mean business. Over the years, Island Manapua Factory has become a favorite among dim sum lovers in Hawaii, but what sets them a part is their creative manapua choices.

One box of baked and steamed manapua to go, please!

Rather than the usual char siu flavor (pork dyed with red food coloring), the menu includes more out-of-the-box ones which play off of local foods – kalua pig, Portuguese sausage/eggs/cheese (a popular breakfast combo) and lup cheong (Chinese sausage). Straying further from tradition, the manapua factory stuffs its manapua with chicken curry; another with ingredients equivalent to a pepperoni pizza; and my favorite, the vegetarian manapua.

Manapua can be steamed (the white bun) or baked (the tan bun), similar to the varying shades of your own buns after laying out on the beach. Haha! I prefer the baked over steamed because it’s a bit on the sweeter side. From there, it’s all about how bold you’re feeling – should you stick with tradition or step away from it? I’d suggest trying something new while you’re here, particularly the local flavors.

Hanging sweet meats welcome customers into the factory.

Island Manapua Factory also sells plate lunches and an assortment of baked Chinese sweets, but most customers come for the manapua. Usually, you get two or three choices of a dish. I’ve had a plate of their orange chicken and chow mien noodles, which was definitely a step above Panda Express but not the best Chinese food in the town. As with most Chinese shops, the spread of sweets aren’t usually labeled, so if you’re confused as to what each is, just ask. We always order the bat tong gou (white sticky rice cake), which we save for after the manapuas.

Like I mentioned earlier, this shop is small and has just enough room for a handful of customers at a time. During lunchtime, you’ll find a long line spilling out onto the sidewalk. It’s best to take your food to go; eat on the small tables right in front or have a picnic at Manoa District Park. No matter where you choose, you’ll be glad you made the drive to this little manapua factory.

ISLAND MANAPUA FACTORY • 2752 Woodlawn Dr., Honolulu, HI 96822 & 811 Gulick Ave., Honolulu, HI 96819 • 808-988-5441 & 808-847-2677, respectively • Free parking in lot; near bus route

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