24 Perfect Pupu

Editor’s Note: Check out our updated list from 2018, 40 Local Dishes and Drinks That Put the Pow in Pau Hana


For many people, pupu are the best part of the meal. To find stellar pupu for you, we taste-tested them statewide—here are the yummiest.


Start your meal off with the summery flavors of Brasserie Du Vin's grilled tiger shrimp salad.

Photo by Monte Costa




Bombay Indian Restaurant, 1776 Ala Moana Blvd., Discovery Bay Center, 942-3990.

Like getting an egg roll at a Chinese restaurant, ordering a vegetable samosa at an Indian restaurant is a given. At Bombay, the samosa ($6.95) has a crispy, thick crust folded and crimped into a perfect pyramid that encloses the filling. After cracking through the flaky crust, you’ll find a tasty, curry-spiced mixture of mashed potatoes and peas. The dense filling is moist and tender, making it soft on your palate while also jolting you with a  distinct, slightly spicy flavor. Drizzle a little dipping sauce, such as the cilantro-mint or sweet tamarind options, and you’ll find your samosa is flawless. Lunch served Monday through Friday, 12 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Sunday buffet from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner daily, 5 to 10 p.m. www.bombayhawaii.com


Brew Moon Restaurant & Microbrewery, Ward Centre, second level, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., 593-0088.

With a pupu menu about as long as its dinner menu, there have to be great appetizers at Brew Moon. After sampling a few, the Tempura Ahi Rolls ($9.95) stand out above the rest, and are served with tempura sauce, wasabi and ginger. These bite-size sushi rolls are lightly tempura fried, and are topped with a sliver of ahi that is perfectly proportioned and tasty. All of the flavors seem to fuse together and melt in your mouth, making you want to keep grabbing for more—and we did. It was the only appetizer plate we cleaned.   Lunch daily, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner Sunday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. [Now Closed]


You haven't really tasted hamachi until you've had it as a confit at Chef Mavro.

Photo courtesy of Chev Mavro


Chef Mavro, 1969 South King St., 944-4714.

Island gourmands know and love hamachi best in its raw form, as a staple of sushi. But render it into a confit—that most decadent of old-world preservation techniques—and you’ve got something entirely more buttery and sensuous. Instead of using the traditional duck fat, Chef Mavro brushes the hamachi with extra virgin olive oil from Provence, and slowly cooks it between two sheets of parchment paper in a 200-degree oven, before finishing it off with a glaze of yuzu (an East Asian citrus fruit) and olive oil/leek emulsion. A side of pickled spring vegetables, bright in both color and flavor, balances the fattiness of the fish, and the wine that’s paired with the dish, a creamy 2006 Viognier-Marsanne from the Treana Winery, puts the whole thing over the top. 6 to 9:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, www.chefmavro.com.


Brasserie Du Vin, 1115 Bethel St., 545-1115.

A hearty portion of grilled tiger shrimp tops this salad ($14) of mixed greens, poached pears, smoky bacon and roasted shallots. The blue cheese vinaigrette takes it up a notch. Another noteworthy option here is the escargot, a legendary pupu if ever there were one. The escargot dish arrived at the table brimming with the little critters, bathed in butter, shallots, parsley and garlic ($10). With the help of a crispy baguette, we mopped the plate clean. Monday through Saturday lunch 11:30 to 4 p.m.; happy hour 4 to 6 p.m.; dinner from 4 “to late.” Closed Sunday. www.brasserieduvin.com



Green Door's Very Special Shrimp Roll.  The "very special" designation is no misnomer.  Put in one order per person—you won't want to share.

Photo by Linny Morris


Green Door Café, 4614 Kilauea Ave., 533-0606.

The menu at Green Door Café isn’t broken down conventionally—instead of appetizers and entrées, items are grouped by protein. So when we asked which dishes were appetizers, chef/owner Betty Pang pointed to items on four different quadrants of her menu board. The Very Special Shrimp Roll ($7) arrived as petite, fried rolls of mushrooms, taro slivers, and well-seasoned ground pork and shrimp in beautiful, gauzelike wrappers. “It’s noodles!” Pang revealed, describing how ultra-fine noodles are scattered, then pressed together into sheets. “And it’s not too easy,” she laughed. The result: an incredibly delicate, crunchy layer that, when dipped into the sweet and tangy vinegar sauce, once again defied convention. Cash only and B.Y.O.B. Open daily 5 to 10 p.m.


Hanohano Room – Cobalt Lounge, Sheraton Waikiki, 2255 Kalakaua Ave., 921-4600.

Of all the restaurants in town, few have a view equal to the Hanohano Room’s 30th-floor Waikiki vista. And few have a pizza equal to the Hawaiian Imu Kalua Pig Naan, $12, off the appetizer menu for the Cobalt Lounge (basically, the Hanohano Room’s swanky drinks menu). OK, it’s not technically called a pizza, but that’s the obvious inspiration for this assembly of brie melted over smoky kalua pork and dried cranberries on naan bread, drizzled with arugula pesto. We enjoyed it with a sizzling cocktail concoction called the Bourbon Firecracker, with Tabasco and bourbon. Dinner daily from 5:30 p.m. Cobalt Lounge happy hour prices from 5 to 7 p.m.

Drawn and quartered—Hoku's ahi musubi starts as sphere but arrives in four quarters, plenty to share.

Photo courtesy of Hoku's and Shokudo


Hoku’s, The Kahala Hotel & Resort, 5000 Kahala Ave., 739-8780.

Nineteen bucks for a musubi? You’d better try the Hoku’s Ahi Musubi before you scoff. It starts out as a globe, bigger then a baseball, with a red center of ahi poke, a thick mantle of sushi rice, and a thin crust of sesame seed and nori. This is cut into quarters and arranged around crisp, fried crab, namasu and soy ginger. You’ll never think of musubi the same way again. This, and two other appetizers, was more than enough food for two people, including the Chinatown Trio (roasted duck, kalbi short ribs and soy-glazed pork bellies), $18, and the Trio of Naan (three slices of naan bread topped with prosciutto and fig, tomato and mozzarella and seared ahi with an Asian remoulade), $16. Monday through Sunday, 5:30 to 10 p.m., Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.


Hukilau Honolulu, 1088 Bishop St., lower level, 523-3460.

After the fourth person told us that Hukilau’s executive chef, Jason Takemura, serves the best Crispy Calamari in town, we had to investigate. The calamari ($8.50) is indeed noteworthy. The polenta dusting adds the right crunch, and the rings are lightly fried, not a bit greasy. Chinese long beans are fried along with it, giving you visual interest and the illusion that you’re eating healthfully. The calamari are sprinkled with red pepper, adding a pleasant spiciness, and the dipping sauce is a snappy chili-lime treat, not the usual acidic marinara. Note: The calamari is available at happy hour and on the dinner menu, but not on the lunch menu. Monday through Friday, breakfast from 6:30 to 10 a.m.; lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; happy hour, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Closed Saturday and  Sunday.  www.dahukilau.com.




Little Village, 1113 Smith St., 545-3008.

The Mu-Shu Rolls at Little Village aren’t just a delicious pupu, they’re a performance piece. Servers bring out the dish’s components—a vegetable-heavy stir fry of pork or chicken, a small stack of crêpes and a dish of hoisin sauce—and skillfully construct the rolls right at the table. The result is so addictive that it’s always a struggle not to order seconds and make a meal out of them, but follow them up with the sizzling black cod entrée, and you’ll enjoy one of Honolulu’s most dramatic meals. Another mark of a true crowd-pleaser: the mu-shu rolls taste just as good in their vegetarian incarnation. $8.50 for four rolls. Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to midnight. www.littlevillagehawaii.com.


Panya Bistro, Ala Moana Center, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., 946-6388.

The Spicy Won Tons at Panya Bistro remind us of a pint-size, ponytailed karate champion. This petite little pupu ($7.95) sits in its curvaceous dish, all pretty and unassuming, then the flavors whirl around and pow! hit you with a flying kick. The house-made chili oil lends the pork and shrimp filling in the won tons plenty of heat, while the sesame-seed, green onion and dried red pepper topping give crunch and texture. We’re down for the count and smitten. Monday to Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Shokudo's Lobster Dynamite

Photo courtesy of Shokudo


Shokudo, 1585 Kapiolani Blvd., 941-3701.

The past Hale Aina Award winner debuted a new menu in June. Among the fresh items in the appetizer section, we recommend the Lobster Dynamite ($9.95), shell-free lobster meat and fresh vegetables baked in a rich, creamy “dynamite” sauce, which, as any frequenter of the town’s izakaya will tell you, may be the best use anyone has ever found for mayonnaise. Also unexpected and interesting is the Mochi Cheese Gratin, $6.95, mochi baked under mozzarella in a light soy dashi broth, topped with green onion and nori. “It’s like a mochi fondue,” said our tablemate. After Aug. 4, Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 to 1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 to 2 a.m., www.shokudojapanese.com.


Spices, 2671-D S. King St., 949-2679

In Aristophanes’ creation myth, Zeus split two creatures who had four arms and four legs into two separate people, forcing them to wander in search of their other half. The Grilled Eggplant on the Half ($9.95) will make you feel like you’re whole again—this is eggplant love. The divided eggplants are grilled to perfection, making the shell lightly crispy while turning the insides into a soft, tangy delight. They are seeped in a chili sauce and finally sprinkled with red onion, dried shallots, and mint confetti, to end your bite with a little kick. Tuesday through Friday, lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Tuesday through Saturday, dinner from 5:30 to 10 p.m. and Sunday 5 to 9 p.m.,  spiceshawaii.com.



Photo courtesy of The Cheesecake Factory



The Cheesecake Factory, 2301 Kalakaua Ave., 924-5001.

If you like cornbread, you’ll love The Cheesecake Factory’s Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes ($9.95).  On first bite, these small, moist and fluffy cakes taste more like a dessert  than an appetizer. The toppings of tiny, diced tomatoes, sour cream, salsa, avocado and salsa verde add color and unique flavors to the corn cakes. For a moment, you forget that you’re eating a cornbread creation until it hits you—an aftertaste reminding you of Grandma’s fresh, home-baked cornbread. The combination of flavors mixed with the cornbread sensation make this a great appetizer—or dessert. Who needs cheesecake? Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.  www.thecheesecakefactory.com.

Big Island


Pahu ia, Four Seasons Hualalai at Historic Kaupulehu, (808) 325-8000.

We could write a book about the Hawaiian Anthology appetizer quartet ($38) at Pahu ia, the Four Seasons Hualalai’s award-winning beachside restaurant. It’d open with a chapter on the Keahole lobster bisque “cappuccino”—light, yet absolutely flavorful, topped with a float of Hamakua vanilla bean foam. The melange of local ingredients and flavors in the “deconstructed” ahi poke, and lilikoi-barbecue-sauce-infused kalua pork bao with house-made kimchee, would keep readers riveted through chapters two and three. A concluding chapter on the Anthology’s simple, grilled Kona baby abalone—lightly finished with an herby chimichurri sauce—would demand multiple readings. The coda? The surf rolling in a few feet away from the table and a sunset on the horizon. Open daily. À la carte breakfast 6:30 to 11:30 a.m.; buffet breakfast  7 to 11:30 a.m.; dinner 6 to 9:30 p.m. www.fourseasons.com/hualalai/dining.html.


Sansei Seafood, Restaurant & Sushi Bar, 201 Waikoloa Beach Drive in the Queens’ MarketPlace, Waikoloa, 808-886-6286.

The Big Island couldn’t wait to welcome D.K. Kodama’s latest (and largest) to the Queens’ MarketPlace, and we can’t wait to go back for another of chef Eric Rouelle’s Seared Foie Gras Nigiri Sushi ($19). Bartender/guide Chris gave us spoons and instructions to swirl the tangy unagi demiglaze around bits of fresh mango, caramelized Maui onion and teeny orange masago (smelt roe) and stage it on the side. Then we took up our chopsticks and plucked the heaven-sent seared foie gras from its sushi-like pedestal, sank our teeth in and followed through with the lovin’ spoonful. This ceremony is a great prelude to a cold Hefeweizen. Dinner nightly from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Late night dining and karaoke Friday through Saturday 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.,  www.DKRestaurants.com.


Waikoloa Beach Grill, 69-1022 Keana Place, in the Waikoloa Beach Resort, Waikoloa, 808-886-6131.

The good news is award-winning chefs Stephen Tabor and David Brown now present their presidential-quality menu tapas-style in appetizer portions. The bad news is you might have to share. The Grilled Duck Breast with Chutnied Fruit Salad ($12.50) had us finger-wrestling over that last swipe of sweet-salty sauce well after the duck was gone. Medallions of duck breast are marinated in Port, honey, herbs and secrets, then grilled and glazed in a house-made chutney mixed with fresh strawberries, bananas, mango and pineapple, for a lingering lip-smackiness akin to li hing mui. The chefs pair this with Las Brisas Rueda, a wine from Spain. Open daily for lunch 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., pupu 4 to 5 p.m., dinner from 5 to 9 p.m., www.WBGrill.com.





Blossoming Lotus, 4504 Kukui St., Kapaa, 808-822-7678.

Fresh is always best, and you can’t get much fresher than the Live Moo Shu. Don’t worry: It won’t arrive squirming on your plate (this restaurant is vegan), but while these moo shu ($12) taste “cooked,” they aren’t. The wrapping is made from pulverized coconut meat and a bit of banana that is heated in a dehydrator below 115 degrees — according to raw-food enthusiasts, the point where food enzymes begin to die. This sweet-chewy wrapper is packed with shiitake mushrooms and tender, but crisp slivers of carrots and cabbage, all marinated in sesame oil. A spicy-sweet hoisin sauce is served alongside that perfectly complements the Asian flavors of the filling. Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner daily from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. www.blossominglotus.com.

The Live Moo Shu from Blossoming Lotus, which serves vegasn world fusion cuisine.

Photo courtesy of Blossoming Lotus



The Beach House Restaurant, 5022 Lawai Road, Koloa, 808-742-1424.

It becomes easier to take your eyes off the Beach House’s lovely ocean view when Macadamia Nut Crab Cakes are on your plate. The crab cakes ($12) are delicate, creamy and mashed potato-soft, encased in a crispy coating faintly flavored with macadamia nuts. They’re served with a tangy-sweet papaya and black bean salsa, which adds another intriguing contrast of textures, topped with pickled ginger. But the real star is the sauce: a light, sweet-tangy coconut-red-curry ginger beurre blanc that will have you reaching for the rolls to sop up every luscious drop. Pupu 5 to 6 p.m., dinner 6 to 10 p.m.  www.the-beach-house.com.


The Hukilau Lanai, 530 Aleka Loop, Kapaa, 808-822-0600.

Variations of Adam’s Ahi Poke Nachos have been showing up on menus elsewhere, but we know it has its origins here, where Hukilau Lanai chef Adam Phelps first whipped it up for his own lunch. The foundation of these Island-style nachos ($11.95) is the poke, made from sashimi-grade ahi, finely chopped sweet onion and salty ogo. It’s then layered with crisp wonton chips, chunks of juicy tomato and creamy avocado, and sprinkled with crunchy tobiko. A mildly tangy wasabi cream sauce is drizzled over it all, creating a lighter, more refined and decidedly delectable version of nachos. Dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Closed Mondays.



Haliimaile General Store, 900 Haliimaile Rd., Haliimaile, (808) 572-2666.

Apparently, the most closely guarded secret in the Haliimaile General Store kitchen is chef Bev Gannon’s recipe for Bev’s “Famous” Crab Pizza ($9)—we’ve heard she’s sworn to only reveal the formula on her gravestone. Can’t say we blame her. The fresh-made, six-inch pizza crust comes heaped with a warm spread of melty, creamy, crabby, shmushy goodness. You wouldn’t want a recipe like that to fall into the wrong hands. Monday through Friday, lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m; Pupu 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., dinner nightly from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.  www.bevgannonrestaurants.com/haliimaile.





Lahaina Grill, 127 Lahainaluna Road, Lahaina, (808) 667-5117.

Tired of messing around with chopsticks over namby-pamby sashimi plates? We found a hunk of ahi you can sink a fork into at the Lahaina Grill. The Seared Ahi and Foie Gras ($29) takes a slab of seared tuna and tops it with a nicely browned slice of foie gras over a bed of wilted spinach, for a bite as smooth (and rich) as butter. The Maui onion and duck sauce add another layer of umami, while the fig compote is a sweet contrast. Dinner nightly from 6 p.m.  www.lahainagrill.com.

A mini hamburger is on the appetizer menu, but it would be perfect for children as an entree.

Photo by Ryan Siphers


Main Street Bistro, 2051 Main St., Wailuku, (808) 244-6816.

The Mini Hamburger ($3) on the appetizer menu at Main Street Bistro seem to delight both children and the young-at-heart. The hand-sized bun contains quality beef, with tomato, onion and lettuce —and yes, you can ask for cheese to be added. “Why isn’t McDonald’s this good?” our dining companion asked. “This was fast, cheap and so much better than a Big Mac.”  Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,  First Fridays, until 10 p.m. www.msbmaui.com.


Now you can't get this in Des Moines—the Seared Beef Polynesian from Mama's Fish House.

Photo courtesy of Tony Novak-Clifford


Mama’s Fish House, 799 Poho Place, Paia, (808) 579-8488.

As we were watching plate after plate of crab cakes march out of the kitchen, not one but two waiters leaned in to whisper that the Seared Beef Polynesian ($18) was their favorite pupu on the menu. Boy, were we glad we took the hint. Bite-size strips of warm, peppery beef come tossed with tomato, cucumber and Maui onion in mouth-puckering lime juice and garlic, all served in a grilled ripe papaya. We loved how the combination of flavor and texture opposites—chewy-crunchy-soft, meaty-tangy-sweet—came together in each bite. Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; light menu 2:15 to 4:15 p.m.; dinner 4:15 to 9:15 p.m. www.mamasfishhouse.com.



Spago, The Four Seasons Resort Maui, 3900 Wailea Alanui, WaiLea, (808) 879-2999.

Imagine if fresh, cool, raw fish were a kind of ice cream, served in a thin, scrumptious crunchy cone. We can’t think of a better way to describe Spago’s Spicy Ahi Tuna “Poke” in Sesame Miso Cones, $25. Rounding out the flavors are chili aioli, Tosa soy, green onions, pickled ginger and tobikko. Another reason Maui no ka oi?—this is the only Spago where this Wolfgang Puck creation can be found. Dinner nightly 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.