As many of you know, Hawaii is my home — well, one of my homes. I spent part of my childhood there, and I feel so lucky that I get to spend time there each year. This summer, I stayed for a month, and am delighted to say that the food scene in Honolulu just keeps getting better. There are many places that I want to share with you; some of these listings will go into our existing Honolulu city guide, so don’t forget to check that out when planning your trip.
I couldn’t get enough of Mission Social Hall & Café and Budnamujip. While the former is a refreshing take on local Hawaiian flavors, and the latter a traditional Korean barbeque restaurant, both offer exceptional quality cuisine made with heart, soul, and fresh ingredients.
Coming from New York, where our Italian restaurants are of the highest caliber, it’s hard to imagine that for a long time, Honolulu didn’t really have decent Italian cuisine. These days, the good ones are all Japanese-owned. My favorite is Arancino, with three locations: two in Waikiki, and one in the Kahala Hotel, which is the one I recommend. Though casual in atmosphere, the pricing at Arancino is on the high side, so consider it for an occasion or splurge.
For a change of pace, there is the vegan restaurant Greens & Vines, which features savory dishes composed of surprising juxtapositions of ingredients — especially impressive considering that nothing is cooked.
We also found the chicken tacos at Nordstrom’s Habitant Bar to be the best pupu in town, warranting repeat visits during our stay (not to mention that the new Nordstrom in the Ewa wing is much nicer than the old one). Also in Ala Moana Shopping Center, Rokkaku Hamakatsu is the best choice for Japanese lunch. Whether it’s tonkatsu, noodles, or sashimi, the restaurant has a good variety of high-quality lunch sets, and the restaurant’s zen and soothing décor make for a pleasant atmosphere — you wouldn’t really know you’re in a mall. I’m glad that they finally have some decent eateries in Ala Moana and not just the food court. Unfortunately, the new Shirokiya Japan Village Walk is a total disaster — it feels like they killed Shirokiya altogether. Save yourself the trouble, there’s pretty much nothing in there you’d want to eat; the place is overrun with excessively greasy fried foods, and they no longer carry the Japanese okazuya staples they used to.
Also disappointing was the reopening of Foodland Supermarket in Ala Moana — on opening day, we waited in a line that wrapped around to the outside of the mall. In hindsight, I can’t believe I stood in that line, but we’d all been eagerly awaiting the reopening of Foodland, which had been my favorite grocery store in Ala Moana. The new store is very glitzy, and includes a poke bar and a R. Fields wine bar (which is one of the few things I am not complaining about). Sadly, after trying some of the prepared foods, including grilled butterfish, fried chicken and tuna poke, I have no interest in buying prepared foods there again. The butterfish and fried chicken were overcooked and rubbery, and the poke was not thoroughly marinated. I still love Foodland, but I’m not a fan of the new one in Ala Moana, where the checkout line was too long and ill-managed each time I visited. The developers designed a beautiful new storefront, but somehow forgot to think about where the checkout lines would go and how to handle long lines. The New Yorker in me has no patience for this.
Back to good news, and if you’re staying in Waikiki, there is great news. The revamped International Market Place is quite a departure from the IMP I remember from childhood. All of the little vendor stands are gone, and it is now described as a “world class” mall. There’s something sad about another local landmark becoming a generic mall, but in terms of the food options, I have to say that it’s pretty exciting — is that horrible?! I had lunch at Stripsteak, Michael Minna’s steakhouse, and the food is exceptional. Everything I tried tasted perfect, from the ahi tuna tartare to the burger and side of creamed spinach. The ahi tuna tartare is actually the best “poke” we had, with a beautiful balance of well-seasoned fresh ahi and masterfully cooked rice. For a great deal, try the prix fixe lunch, which is just $37.50 for two courses. I highly recommend Stripsteak and I can’t wait to return for steak and raw bar next time.
The hotspot in Chinatown right now is Fête, opened by New York transplants, Robynne Maii and Chuck Bussler. Fête is one of several restaurants raising the bar for dining in Honolulu. Dinner was lovely, but what was most memorable was dessert, the house-made rocky road ice cream, made with chocolate by local chocolatier Madre Chocolate. Growing up as a child in Honolulu, I have many fond recollections of visits to Baskin Robbins for rocky road, and I love the memories that this dessert brought back — and it’s also a wonderful-tasting rocky road.
No Honolulu visit would be complete without repeat visits to chef Ed Kenney’s restaurants — his first establishment, Town, remains my absolute favorite Honolulu restaurant. For breakfast or lunch, Kaimuki Suprette is top on my list; for brunch or dinner, the one-year-old Mud Hen Water is always a good choice. Chef Alika Chung, who heads Mud Hen Water, is always coming up with playful dishes, like the fried half chicken with Szechuan salt and the smoke meat carbonara. Hawaiian culture and cuisine is such a melting pot of Asian, American, and local flavors, and chefs like Chung are so good at grasping what flavors and ingredients work together, however unconventional. Plus, anything he does with vegetables is just amazing.
Kauai is my favorite outer island because the landscape is so beautiful; though I’m not the outdoors type, I enjoy the natural splendor of the island. Seventy percent of Kauai is rainforest, so if you like adventure, this is the island for you. The two top hotels are the St. Regis Princeville and the Grand Hyatt Kauai, at opposite ends of the island — the St. Regis is north in Princeville, and the Grand Hyatt is south in Poipu (it’s about an hour drive from one hotel to the other). While the St. Regis has undoubtedly superior service, the Grand Hyatt’s property is better-situated for enjoying beachfront activities. If you plan on staying at a resort and lounging on the beach (or by the pools), then the Grand Hyatt is the preferred choice. The St. Regis has a stunning sunset view, but because the hotel is located on Hanalei Bay, it seems like the heat gets trapped, so lying on the beach is not very comfortable. They each have golf courses on site. I enjoyed both hotels for their differing attributes, though I can’t say that I had any meals that wowed me. That said, there are far more options on the island than there used to be, and if staying at the Grand Hyatt, you can venture to The Shops at Kukui’ula for meals and some local art, entertainment, farmer’s market, and shopping.
Mission Social Hall & Café, the little café inside the Mission Houses Museum, is one of my favorite finds of 2016. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch only, and I try to go there every chance I get. God bless chef Mark Noguchi and his team at Pili Group, who opened the café in 2015 with the mission to reconnect with the historic... full article
For years, Cyn and I have passed by Budnamujip but never tried it —the windows are completely covered, so you can’t peek inside to see what it’s like, or what people are eating. A Korean barbeque restaurant with a reputation for being expensive, Budnamujip hails from Seoul, and the only location outside of Korea is in Honolulu. This... full article
I celebrated my last birthday at Arancino with one of my favorite pairings, uni spaghetti and champagne. The service at the Kahala Hotel is excellent, and while Arancino at the Kahala is the only restaurant on property that does not have a view of the ocean, you can enjoy a walk and the view on property and the beach... full article
Because the local produce is so fresh and healthy, Hawaii is quite vegetarian-friendly — the vegetables at farmer’s markets are a treat, and relatively inexpensive. Then there’s the health food store and market Down To Earth, and the wonderful vegan restaurant Greens & Vines. Chef/owner Sylvia Thompson has created a menu with wonderful... full article
We also found the chicken tacos at Nordstrom’s Habitant Bar to be the best pupu in town, warranting repeat visits during our stay (not to mention that the new Nordstrom in the Ewa wing is much nicer than the old one).
In Ala Moana Shopping Center, Rokkaku Hamakatsu is the best choice for Japanese lunch. Whether it’s tonkatsu, noodles, or sashimi, the restaurant has a good variety of high-quality lunch sets, and the zen and soothing décor make for a pleasant atmosphere — you wouldn’t really know you’re in a mall. I’m glad that they finally have some... full article
At Stripsteak, Michael Minna’s steakhouse, the food is exceptional. Everything I tried tasted perfect, from the ahi tuna tartare to the burger and side of creamed spinach. The ahi tuna tartare is actually the best “poke” I’ve had in Hawaii, with a beautiful balance of well-seasoned fresh ahi and masterfully cooked rice. The prix... full article
Chef Alika Chung, who heads Mud Hen Water, is always coming up with playful dishes, like the fried half chicken with Szechuan salt and the smoke meat carbonara. Hawaiian culture and cuisine is such a melting pot of Asian, American, and local flavors, and chefs like Chung are so good at grasping what flavors and ingredients work... full article
Located on the north of the island, Kauai’s St. Regis is on Hanalei Bay. The sunsets over the bay are spectacular, and best savored at the St. Regis Bar, where you can take in that precious view with signature cocktails. And every evening, the bar hosts a champagne sabering, which makes the sunset a very special and dramatic event. I thoroughly... full article