The Hawaiian Islands were spit out of the ocean millions of years ago, and they’ve been drifting ever since, crawling with tectonic patience from the isolated calm of the Pacific toward Asia. The Hawaiian culinary scene, on the other hand, is moving significantly faster, making strides from its long-time (and valuable) creative insulation to notoriety on shores worldwide.
Not so much a major eruption but a series of tectonic shifts, Hawaiian chefs have reinvented their cuisine by tweaking what was always available to them and incorporating modern techniques and influences. They are resurrecting forgotten island favorites like pa’i’ai, foraging for fiddlehead ferns and sea purslane, protecting and promoting the bounty of their local seafood, and recasting junk food desserts in a frame of fine-dining whimsy.
The island seeing the biggest change is Oahu. Chefs there have migrated from the beaches of Waikiki to the fishing wharfs and strip malls of Kaneohe, the up-and-coming neighborhoods of Kaimuki and Molili, and the farmers markets of Diamond Head. There are still beachfront restaurants aplenty in downtown Honolulu, but fewer generic hotel eateries. Instead restaurants are following the pioneering lead of Alan Wong’s and La Mer. Oahu’s drinking scene finally has something to say, too, at least beyond the established canon of tiki. Instead of watery Piña Coladas, we’re finding barrel-aged and sous vide cocktails.
On Maui and the Big Island, which are more reliant on seasonal tourists than Oahu, the change is less palpable, but just as real. The adage “the better the view, the worse the food” doesn’t hold sway there anymore. Sure, there are still hotels with gorgeous sunset views and rubber chicken buffets, but there are now Italian, Asian, and Spanish-inspired restaurants—both hotel-run and independently owned—that boast heart-stopping views and heart-thumping meals. Even island outposts of mainland powerhouses like Spago and Morimoto haven’t taken the easy route of imposing a concept; instead they’re joining the discussion of what actually constitutes authentic Hawaiian cuisine. (And, thankfully, few use the term “Asian fusion” in Hawaii, because Hawaii is by definition a fusion of so many cultures and cuisines.) Maui even boasts its very own style of terroir-driven sparkling pineapple wine, made in the méthode champenoise.
Hawaii is not likely to surpass New York, Chicago, or San Francisco in terms of culinary magnetism. But with an abundance of natural riches to draw upon and an aloha attitude toward culinary reinvention, Hawaii is sure to keep pace and become a beacon in the middle of the Pacific for culinarians—and soon enough cause culinary shifts in mainland markets.
Hawaiian golfing legend Francis Hyde Brown developed this 32-acre resort, and the rich history of the underlying luxury property is evident at every turn. Located on the ancient Kohala Coast off the Big Island, the hotel offers exciting, exploratory, and just plain relaxing activities available for vacationers of all stripes. Hotel guests can tour nearby petroglyph rock carvings, join a fishing excursion, and enjoy waterfall massages at the resort’s “spa without walls.” A half-dozen fast-casual and Asian restaurants offer a nice medley of eatery options. The 540 rooms, all of which were refurbished in 2006, are spacious and furnished in elegant Polynesian style without being dull or over the top.
At the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, the saying “go big or go home” is taken to heart. The hotel’s gigantic, columnated lobby is nearly as sprawling as its 32-acre oceanfront property, which features an 18-hole golf course designed by Arnold Palmer, an on-resort shopping mall, two beaches, a state park, helicopter tours, and fitness and spa facilities. For those seeking luxury (and with the pocketbook to handle the steep price), the 8,000-square-foot Hapuna Suite villa offers personal chefs, butler service, and private driveways. Named after the area’s underground springs (“hapuna” means “spring of life” in Polynesian), the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel is a highly sought after and budget-conscious destination on the Big Island.
Huggo’s is a prototypical outdoor Hawaii restaurant, with no-wall dining room, fresh fish grilled simply or served poke-style, and the Pacific surf constantly crashing against the dock. Since opening in 1969, however, Huggo’s has evolved past the casual family-owned Hawaii eatery to include new twists on local favorites. The views here are stunning, but Chef Ken Schloss has tapped his California background (having grown up and worked in Napa) to create a menu that includes tempura fiddlehead ferns, Kong Kai shrimp bouillabaisse, and an ever-changing approach to showcase the Big Island’s myriad produce.Recommended:
To look at the small, simply decorated dining room and paper napkin layout, you wouldn’t expect much from Island Lava Java. But the meals there are unexpected and flavorful. Open since 1994, Island Lava Java is dedicated to all things Big Island, from its 100 percent Kona coffee list to only using Big Island Beef and organic cheese. The Guava-braised BBQ ribs are finger-licking good, and the grilled shrimp with nachos are a fun, fiery take on Latin food. But the banana-and-macadamia pancakes with coconut syrup—light, dreamy, and delicious—are the reason many come here.Recommended:
Described alternately by many as a hole-in-the-wall gem and one of the better Japanese restaurants on the Big Island, Miyo’s is a funky, casual eatery with home-style food and comfortable, rustic plating. Its umami-rich Tempura Udon and Karaage Fried Chicken are excellently executed (and occasionally healthy) Japanese fare that doesn’t deviate from the script, and diners are thankful for it. The restaurant itself is hidden near the Wailoa Pond, but the lure of its menu and occasional live music is enough to pull quite a draw, especially on weekends. With a second location now open in the Manono Street Marketplace, Miyo’s is sure to receive more attention from locals and tourists alike.Recommended:
It’s not hard to be both dazzled and relaxed at Norio’s. Located next to a tranquil koi pond in the Fairmont Orchid hotel, Norio’s is a traditional sushi restaurant that showcases dozens of Japanese and Hawaiian fish, the result of which is a rainbow of flavors, textures, and colors. The menu extends well beyond sushi, though. Chef Darren Ogasawara’s sake-marinated black cod brings out the moisture of the fish and gives it a crisp texture, and his sea bream with shiso chimichurri includes a touch of South American flair. The menu also features roughly two dozen dry-aged locally raised cuts of beef and a large selection of sakes and Japanese beers.Recommended:
Featuring a fusion of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, 2012 StarChefs.com Rising Star Chef Nick Mastrascusa’s menu at Beach Tree is both rustic and deeply flavored and showcases his half-Sicilian and half-Uruguayan heritage. His skill transforms a simple flatbread into a creamy, mascarpone-laden bit of decadence. And every Friday, the restaurant offers a beachside BBQ and family-style Tuscan menu to highlight some of the special produce bought from one of the 160 different farms with which Mastrascusa works. The sandy bar and nightly entertainment help to keep the vibe low-key, just enough to make Beach Tree’s menu a surprise for many visitors.Recommended:
Psychedelic tea and peacemaking brew kava (otherwise known as ‘awa in Hawaiian) is a large part of Hawaiian culture, but it has largely faded from the spotlight. Not so at Bay Front Coffee, Kava, & Tea, which promises that drinking their brews will lead to “enhanced communication and feelings of euphoria.” Owner Dave Stevenson is more than happy to explain to kava newbies the proper and historic clap-then-drink ceremony required before imbibing the beverage, and visitors happily line up for coconut water-cut portions of kava right out the shell. Converts and kava addicts on the mainland can purchase Bay Front’s sustainable kava powders (the shop buys only from farmers that use organic, pesticide-free crops). For the less adventurous or those who can’t take kava’s earthy, musky taste, there are also coffees and teas.Recommended:
In ancient times, Maui’s Black Rock was known as a place where the souls of the dead (and the occasional testosterone-fueled chieftain) would leap to reach the gods. Today, one of Maui’s premier hotels is anchored to that same igneous springboard, with more than 500 rooms, most of which are outfitted with bamboo designs, authentic koa bowls, and rattan chairs meant to resemble ancient thrones. More than 80 percent of the rooms offer views of the Pacific, as well as of the lava rock waterways and lagoons on the property. Each night cliff divers emulate the ancient traditions by marching up the Kaanapali beach and (safely) plummeting to the ocean from the Black Rock. Also included on premises is Black Rock Steak and Seafood, which offers an eclectic menu of classic meat, pasta, and lobster dishes. Recently appointed Chef Greg Gaspar, who comes from the Maui Prince Hotel, replaces Bryan Ashlock and brings both a classical French and Filipino approach to the menu. An added benefit to hotel patrons: the Sheraton is celebrating its 50-year anniversary the entire year with luaus, special discounts, and other fanfare.
In the heart of the Wailea resort community is Hotel Wailea, the dream hotel for Hawaii golfers seeking the best courses and families demanding quiet seclusion. Located on a slope overlooking some of the more expensive real estate on the island, nearly all the rooms feature gorgeous, unimpeded views of the Pacific, fit for sunset in-room dining. Nearby attractions include several pristine beaches and three championship golf courses, and the hotel itself features a maze of lush gardens. Also located on the premises: must-try dining destination Capische?, where chefs Brian Etheredge and 2012 Rising Star Chef Chris Kulis craft a dirt-to-mouth menu with product grown in the hotel’s garden or from nearby farms.
With views of the Pailolo channel and a wisp of Molokai in the background, Banyan Tree is all about simplicity and purity. The interior of the dining room is a mixture of lacquered wood and stone flooring. The kitchen is not afraid to craft dishes that highlight the simplicity of the islands’ bounty: Molokai shrimp are barely touched on a plancha; goat cheese tarts are garnished with just a hint of ratatouille, and Meyer lemon vinaigrette; and seafood sausages are offset by a dusting of pumpernickel crumble and remoulade.Recommended:
You may not expect to find a farm-to-table Italian restaurant with its own honeycomb and kale grown on-site at a Maui golfers’ hotel. But Capische?, which opened in 2001, is one of the most distinctive restaurants on the island. Chef-owner Brian Etheredge (who took over ownership of the original restaurant in 2002) and 2012 Hawaii Rising Star Chef de Cuisine Chris Kulis have crafted a restaurant that focuses on “dirt-to-mouth” sustainability; the hotel, situated on Maui’s “dry side” has orchestrated an irrigation system to create a garden at its base. The result has led to Capische? becoming one of the flagship restaurants on Maui, with uniquely Hawaiian twists on Italian favorites like the local greens-laden beef carpaccio and a surf-and-turf that uses Hawaiian salt, ahi, and polenta croutons. The recently designed Il Teatro private dining room is pure upscale Italian vista, with a giant fireplace, while the garden terrace and outdoor seating both offer semi-private dining—unless you count the birds that chirp in the bushes nearby.Recommended:
Named for the turtles that constantly peer at diners, Honu Seafood & Pizza is one of a few healthy options for Maui diners. Chef-owner Mark Ellman—who also owns sister restaurant Mala Ocean Tavern next door—has crafted an expansive menu that has a bit of everything for everybody: from shrimp cocktail and po’ boys, to pizza and whole-grilled fish. 2012 StarChefs.com Hawaii Rising Star Pastry Chef Elizabeth McDonald’s vegan and gluten-free approach to desserts gives Honu a fun but challenging twist on classics like Napoleans, poached pears, and cheesecake, replacing the animal-based aspects of pastry without losing any flavor.Recommended:
Overlooking Maui’s south shore, Mala Ocean Tavern is one of those rarest of restaurants on the island: it does not offer innovative fine dining, nor does it dish cheap, greasy lunch plate fare. Located on an old pier with a view of Lanai and Molokai in the distance, Mala is a great canvass for local product without being pushy, with a solid run of French classics, simply prepared seafood, and a few Asian-inspired favorites. With custom-made reclaimed sorghum tables and rickety plastic chairs, the restaurant is Chef-owner Mark Ellman’s answer to what many Maui residents (and visitors) often crave: flavorful food without pretension.Recommended:
Market Fresh Bistro proves it’s possible to be both quaint and classy, refined and comforting—all at the same time. Bathed in yellow light, diners crowd around the large community tables and watch the open-air kitchen work. The menu by Daniel and Union Square Café alumna Chef Justin Pardo reflects his time visiting the Union Square farmers market in New York City and his newly adopted home of Hawaii. His Coriander-crusted Hawaiian Monchong is delicate and richly flavored, and his take on Mediterranean Escarole and White Bean Soup would be right at home in a coastal Italian bistro. Every Thursday Market Fresh Bistro also offers a seven-course tasting menu designed to showcase one of the restaurant’s partner farms.Recommended:
Only a short walk from the Lahaina harbor, long-standing Maui destination restaurant Pacific’O’s gorgeous split-level dining room looks out onto the Maui coastline, hinting at the promise of the ocean’s seafood bounty. Chef James McDonald’s menu highlights both land and sea, from his innovative “Hapa/Hapa” Tempura to his Tahini-and-Tamarind-Roasted Australian Rack of Lamb. Most of the produce at the restaurant comes from upcountry O’O Farm (owned also by McDonald), an 8.5-acre farm in Kula that grows heirloom lettuces, fennel, asparagus, herbs, cherimoya, avocado, strawberries, and pohaberries, among other crops.Recommended:
This locals' favorite features delightful Pacific Island cuisine by Chef Ryan Luckey. Nearly every ingredient he works with comes fresh from a high-quality, local source. Pineapple Grill's award-winning wine program continues to evolve. They have received numerous awards both locally and nationally. Wine Spectator has given the "Award of Excellence" for the past three years for their Global Wine List and Wines by the Glass program. The lounge offers a sense of drama and excitement with daily happy hour discounts, nightly specials and live music on Wednesday, Fridays, and Saturdays.Recommended:
Wolfgang Puck’s Maui outpost is one of the island’s consistently best (and busiest) restaurants, with one of the best views on the island. The real star is Chef de Cuisine Cameron Lewark (and a 2012 StarChefs.com Rising Star), whose menu deviates from the tried and true to wow both adventurous and skittish diners with such dishes as his onaga ceviche and miso-marinated waloo. The bar is constantly buzzing, as is the constantly packed open-air dining room. But longtime bartender Tarah Principato still takes the time to craft many of its classic cocktails, including several Spago family favorites, with locally sourced product.Recommended:
Chef Sheldon Simeon said that he explored New York noodle houses when coming up with the concept for Star Noodle, and the proof is in the eating. The James Beard Award nominee, “Top Chef” contestant, and 2012 StarChefs.com Rising Star Concept Chef has crafted a menu that would feel right at home in New York’s Lower East Side, with excellent steamed pork buns, ramen, and garlic noodles. But it’s the distinctly Hawaiian flare that places Star Noodle among the pantheon of best Maui restaurants. The restaurant is located in a Lahaina industrial park, but inside it has a hip, ambient Asian feel, and the community table and some of the family-style dishes lead to culinary camaraderie.Recommended:
Kona may be king when it comes to Hawaiian coffee, but Maui is making its presence known. Helping to lead that charge is Maui Grown Coffee. Located on an old 500-acre sugar plantation (an old smokestack from the original sugar mill remains next to the coffee shop), Maui Grown Coffee has taken great strides to ensure its trees and workers are treated properly, using a drip irrigation method and mechanized harvesting. Owner James “Kimo” Falconer is more than willing to sit down and discuss the history of the Mokka blend or the changing-hands real estate background of the former sugar plantation. While Maui Grown Coffee’s varieties are newer than the Kona varieties, they are also milder and more distinctive.Recommended:
What once began as a five-bungalow respite is now one of the largest and most sought-after hotels on Oahu. The “house befitting heaven” was immortalized in the Charlie Chan story “House Without a Key” (an on-property bar is named after the short story), and still has a 100-year-old kiawe tree on the grounds. The open-air lobby sports elegant, museum-worthy decorations, while the freshwater pool overlooking Waikiki beach is bedazzled with 1.2 million South African glass tiles fashioned to look like an unfurled orchid. For the thirsty, a triad of options: the aforementioned House Without a Key, the well-regarded and bartenders’ training ground Lewers Lounge, and L’Apertif. Restaurants La Mer and Orchids, helmed by local star Chef Vikram Garg, offer both fine-dining and casual dining venues.
Affordability and Honolulu are often at odds. But at the Prince Hotel, conveniently located and inconspicuously priced, the two are symbiotic. Long the hotel of choice for many visiting Japanese tourists, the Prince has expanded its pull with its all-oceanfront rooms and floor-to-ceiling windows. Also included for guests is what some consider to be one of the better buffets on the island, Prince Court, as well as the sushi-centric Hakone. The hotel has a working arrangement with the Hawaii Prince Gold Club, which manages a 27-hole course on Oahu’s Ewa Plain, making Prince Hotel an excellent business traveler’s option.
The hustle and bustle of downtown Waikiki can be a distraction for those seeking Hawaii’s fabled tranquility. But The Modern, wedged against the yacht harbor on the eastern edge of Waikiki, is an escape from congestion and condescension in other parts of Honolulu. As the hotel says: “Stilettos are welcome. And so are flip-flops.” From the upscale club atmosphere of The Study bar and the refined Japanese dishes of Morimoto to the casual poolside dining and no-frills rooms, The Modern is a professional, all-points-covered resort. The 330 rooms are sleekly furnished (the hotel is called The Modern, after all) and offer views and easy access to Waikiki beaches and the sparkling Honolulu skyline.
“I’m going to Hawaii, where should I eat?” Such a question, sooner or later, brings up the name Alan Wong. The elder statesman of Hawaiian cuisine, Wong’s eponymous restaurant, which opened in 1995, is one of the most consistently highly rated. And no wonder. Wong’s dishes skirt the fine line between commerciality and artistry by retaining the rustic flavors of Hawaiian melting pot cuisine but presenting it in elegant terms. Line cooks and sous chefs wear hats engraved with “The Wong Way,” while fish and wagyu beef are plated with delicate precision. The daily changing menu features not only Wong’s indelible creations, but also those of his protégés, including Chef de Cuisine Wade Ueoka and Pastry Chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka (both of whom have traveled extensively with Wong and are 2012 Rising Stars). With a deep bench of budding talent and an all-encompassing approach to Hawaiian cuisine, Alan Wong’s is bound to remain on the “you should eat here” list for a while.Recommended:
One of the better wine lists in Honolulu, a burgeoning pastry program by Lynnette Pflugger, stellar service, and a superstar head chef are what makes Chef Mavro one of the top restaurants to visit while on Oahu. The food is decidedly French, but not overwhelmingly so. And while most Hawaiian restaurants pay tribute to the Asian immigrant influx, Chef George Mavrothalassitis (himself a James Beard Award-winner, as well as one of the founding members of the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine movement) does so in such subtle-yet-powerful ways that the dishes are not at all muddied in flavor or presentation. Local artists’ portraits hang in the small dining room, which does only one seating a night for its prix fixe menu. The totality of the experience—the food, ambience, wine, warm way Mavrothalassitis and wife Donna greet diners—has landed Chef Mavro on several Top 10 restaurant lists year after year. Not just Top 10 for Hawaii, but worldwide.Recommended:
Chef Peter Arbarcar’s menu at Coast Grille is almost singularly devoted to showcasing Big Island product. Be it the Kona cold-water lobsters or the brightly colored tiki drinks like the Kohala Sunset (which is akin to drinking the Hawaiian island in a single glass), Hawaii is unabashedly on display. And what a display it is, with beautiful sunset views from the terrace—during which the restaurant often runs a special 20 percent discount—which serves as the perfect backdrop to cocktails like the Kohala Sunset, itself a fruit-forward adult Slurpee that is like drinking all of Hawaii in a single gulp.Recommended:
Outside of Kaneohe, the north side of Oahu can be a desert for good food. The long stretch of highway boasts more fishing piers and national parks than fish dishes or composed salads. But it’s at the end on one of those piers, in a ramshackle building, that He’eia Pier & General Store is changing the definition of “destination restaurant.” While it may look like the cross between a filling station and a fisherman’s bar, the food is some of the most highly regarded on the island. Former Chef Mark Noguchi (who left the deli in July 2012) laid the foundation for the classic-Hawaii, locally sourced menu, which features foraged fiddlehead ferns and pa’i’ai, among other Latin-inspired luau stews, burgers, and guava chicken.Recommended:
The name of La Mer, located in the heart of the Halekulani hotel on the Waikiki shores, is a misnomer, as the restaurant is not just a testament to the sea, but to also to Hawaii’s various microclimates and terra. With a long pedigree (it boasts one of the longest AAA rankings in the state) and a kitchen overseen by well-traveled and renowned Chef Vikram Garg, La Mer is now recognized as one of the best fine-dining experiences in Honolulu. Garg’s menu occasionally takes daring chances—making a mash of Eastern and Western cultures with his Ahi-Daikon Ravioli, for example—while at other times playing it safe, showcasing the freshness of Hawaiian product.Recommended:
Ahi poke is everywhere in Honolulu, but at Morimoto the dishes are taken to creative extremes—substituting avocado wasabi sorbet and dashi foam instead of the typical soy marinade. Chef Jevic Acain, obviously inspired by his restaurant-namesake mentor, butter-poaches lobster and matches it with orange-braised local mushrooms and carrots, and he pairs whole crispy moi fish with green papaya salad. The dining room, with pristine white walls and conch shells encapsulated in glass, sexily showcases the playful dishes, which are the real stars of the restaurant. A second Morimoto is slated to open in Maui next summer.Recommended:
2012 StarChefs.com Hawaii Rising Star Chef Andrew Le’s inimitable pop-up The Pig and the Lady is a restaurant without a home, but its warm, comforting menu more than makes up for its nomadic location. Still looking for a permanent brick-and-mortar location, Le has found just as good of a niche at the bi-weekly farmers markets, where he offers the pop-up menu to hordes of hungry shoppers, and in his weekly pop-up, where he serves authentic Vietnamese dishes like the addictive Bo La Lat sausages and his fragrant, floral Pho. With a second pop-up—this one devoted solely to the noodle bar concept—The Pig and the Lady continues to develop flavor combinations and explore Hawaiian products in exciting ways.Recommended:
After two years of planning—and with their V-Lounge already a success—Alejandro Briceno and Lindsey Ozawa were finally ready to launch Prima, a simultaneous, if unlikely, homage to Italy and Hawaii. With its interior made from recycled and upcycled wood and plaster, and server outfits designed by Fitted Hawaii, Prima is almost literally built out of the island. The menu by Chef Kevin Lee, who came from New York’s Dovetail, is mostly Italian, but Chinese, Hawaiian, and even Indian flavors peek through in dishes like Pappardelle with Curry Bolognese and “Panang” Curry Clams. Briceno, who runs the pastry and pizza programs, cranks out excellent Boquerones and Margherita versions with just the right amount of char on the crust.Recommended:
With a menu of signature favorites, sushi, and Chef Jason Peel’s own creations, Roy’s Waikiki pulls 400 to 500 covers a night, feeding (and satisfying) a hungry Honolulu crowd. By Peel’s own admission, the restaurant (unlike some of its 33 Asian fusion cousins) doesn’t aim for fine dining chic. Instead, the chef and his team take on comfort favorites, while dabbling in fused flavors of the Mediterranean, China, and Japan. But even with a larger format, Roy’s doesn’t just crank out dishes. The restaurant makes serious attempts to be as healthful and sustainable as possible, with well thought-out vegan options and menus that occasionally highlight a single farm’s produce.Recommended:
Until recently, Hawaii had a palpable dearth of good charcuterie, but with the arrival of Salt Kitchen & Tasting Bar comes a world-class charcuterie destination. Like the chefs at Town, Salt Owner Kevin Hanney saw the culinary doldrums on Oahu and sought to do shake it up with something he had wanted to do for a while—a simple deli with house-made charcuterie. Shake things up he did, but not without the help of Chef de Cuisine Quinten Frye and Charcutier Doug Kocol. The two have adapted to Hawaii’s high humidity levels and oppressive heat to design a charcuterie program that could have done well in Portland or New York, but instead fills Hawaii’s previous cured-meat void with pork rillettes and head cheese. Frye’s sustainability-minded cooking, wherein he tries to locally source nearly everything, even hard-to-find octopus, have helped garner Salt a slew of awards in the first year of operating, including two StarChefs.com Rising Stars awards.Recommended:
When Town burst onto the Oahu scene in 2005, it quickly became one of the most talked about and exciting restaurants on the island. Under Chef-owner Ed Kenney’s direction, it has since become a near-yearly winner of local culinary awards (including a StarChefs.com’s 2012 Rising Star award for Kenney) and a haunt frequented by other island chefs and mixologists. The savory menu, created in collaboration with his Italian-American Chef de Cuisine Dave Caldiero, is a double helix of Italian and Hawaiian flavors that manages to make a new flavor DNA. The house-made pasta and charcuterie go hand in glove with the pa’i’ai and monchong.Recommended:
Driving down Ala Moana Boulevard in Honolulu, it’s easy to miss the shopping center that houses VINO, one of the star properties in the D.K. Restaurant Group. The reason for its success is two-fold: the stellar “gulpable” wine program, designed and maintained by Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya, and the rustic Italian menu put out by Chef Keith Endo. VINO is so different from the typical Honolulu eatery that eating there is a completely welcome and comforting experience. The dimly lit dining room has little of the kitsch so prevalent elsewhere, and the menu could easily have been ripped straight from an osteria in Emilia-Romagna.Recommended:
Tucked behind bookcases and computer banks in the Modern Hotel’s lobby, this aptly named bar is a white, leather-bound respite from much of the neon-lit colors of Honolulu watering holes. The bar menu is also a departure from the usual Hawaiian scene. No coladas or fruit-laden drinks here. Instead, bartenders mix rather souped-up classics like the Vesper and subdued interpretations of myriad flavors and cultures, taking Japanese, Korean, and Mediterranean spirits and melding them almost flawlessly. A subdued atmosphere during the day and early evening and a club-like vibe at night make The Study a drinking destination with something for everyone.Recommended:
Located in Honolulu’s Chinatown district, Thirtyninehotel is a popular dance club, a crowded watering hole, and even a budding art space, as the bar is developing relationships with several local (and a few non-local) artists. But it’s the bar menu that draws the masses here. Storied (and storytelling) Bartender Christian Self mans the nighttime operation. Thoughtful drinks like The Italian Geisha and The Smoking Gun[link] offer a stark contrast to the typical tiki-laden menu. A small garden on the back porch serves as both visual oasis and a tiny herbal buffet for several of Self’s more exotic cocktails.Recommended:
The bar space at Town is cozy to the point where you’ll happily chum up to fellow tourists looking to wet their whistle, but the restaurant is just as popular among locals (and fellow bartenders). Bartender Kyle Reutner has brought his crowded-bar savvy (that he gleaned from thirtyninehotel) to craft an expedient but deep bar menu that pairs well with Chef-owner Ed Kenney’s menu. It ranges from the refreshing (the Campari challenge-nominee Pa cocktail) to the smoky (the Devil You Know, essentially a fancy ginger beer). Reutner, who is now bottling his own bitters when he’s not barrel-aging his drinks, is one of those rare breeds of Hawaiian bartender looking to de-tourist the island mixology scene while decidedly NOT detoxing it.Recommended:
Located on one of the original Kona coffee farm areas, Arianna Farms is steeped in rich Hawaiian coffee history. It was the site of Hawaiian royal pig hunts, and gnarled “grandparent coffee trees” still exist on the 40-acre property. The coffee brewed here is a serious contender, too, having won the Kona Coffee Crown Cupping Competition three times with its three coffee varietals.
Ringed by the majestic Waianae caldera, Frankie’s Nursery is a wonder. With several microclimates within a few hundred yards, the nursery houses dozens of varieties of fruit trees, many of them non-native to Hawaii (we don’t know what kinds of State Department connections owner Frankie Sekiya has, and we don’t want to know). Every day mangosteens, rambutan, jackfruit, lychee, and other prized fruit are for sale—and top chefs, including George Mavrothalassitis, will often drive up for inspiration, or to score a bushel of some rare fruit. The Frankie’s crew also has a stall at the Kapiolani Community College farmers market every Saturday. But many visitors to the nursery prefer to simply seek out the green peppercorns or elusive baby pineapple on the vibrant property.
It’s virtually impossible to eat out in Hawaii and not run across sushi. And a major source of all that fresh fish is the Honolulu Fish Auction. One of only three active U.S. fish auctions, and the only tuna auction of its kind in the United States, the auction on pier 38 is always lively. The action starts around 5:30am, when the bidding starts in earnest, but the auctioneer sometimes rattles off sales of tuna and swordfish well into mid-morning. Other varieties, including opakapaka and opah, are inspected and bid for by middlemen throughout the auction. Manager Brooks Takenaka has a good relationship with many of the island’s top chefs, and he’s also responsible for helping promote sustainability and working with local fishermen to abide by federal and international monitoring standards.
Recommended by: Mark Noguchi
Recommended by: David Thor Newman