Hawaii Restaurant Chefs Recommend

Chef Recommends: Everyone envisions chefs laboring away at the hot stove, so much so that we sometimes forget they do venture out of their kitchens, eat at other restaurants, try new dishes and relax with friends around a table.


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By Martha Cheng, Portrait Illustrations by Joel Kimmel

Kevin Hanney digs in at Jimbo.

Photo: Mark Arbeit

Everyone envisions chefs laboring away at the hot stove, so much so that we sometimes forget they do venture out of their kitchens, eat at other restaurants, try new dishes and relax with friends around a table. We asked these local food experts two questions: What dish would you recommend at your own restaurant, and what dish would you recommend at another? Almost every chef prefaced their favorite dish at their own restaurant with, “It’s really hard to choose one thing,” but choose they did. Recommending a dish at another restaurant was no less difficult. The end result is a tantalizing spread across the Islands, skipping from Hawaiian to Pacific Rim cuisine, from Mexican to Indian plates, while dwelling just a bit in comforting noodle bowls.


Ron de Guzman

Executive Chef at Stage Restaurant

At his restaurant: Lamb chops ($33).
The lamb chops at Stage are popular and a personal favorite of de Guzman’s. They’re crusted with Marcona almonds, honey mustard and herbs, and served on a parsley-potato purée, alongside charred brussels sprouts. The Colorado lamb “is a cleaner lamb” than most, he says, and the crust lends a slightly sweet crunchiness to the dish. “The purée is a little different from your regular mash,” he says, because he blends in parsley, one of lamb’s classic accompaniments. 1250 Kapiolani Blvd., 237-5429, stagerestauranthawaii.com.

He also recommends: Char siu tan tan ramen ($8.75) and chicken tatsutaage ($6.75) at Goma Tei.
More than one chef recommended Goma Tei. What draws de Guzman is the deeply flavorful soup in a bowl of tan tan ramen. It’s a long-simmered, pork-based broth, enhanced with sesame. He orders it topped with char siu—braised, soft, not-too-fatty slices of rolled pork. A side of chicken tatsutaage, the fried, boneless chicken pieces “that’s almost like a mochiko chicken,” make Goma Tei his “favorite ramen place.” Ward Center, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., 591-9188.


Hoku Kupihea

Chef de Cuisine at Downtown @ the HiSAM.

At his restaurant: Pan-roasted shutome with cannellini beans ($16).
Kupihea didn’t like beans  when he first started working at Downtown. But learning to cook them from scratch (adding pancetta doesn’t hurt) has made him a convert. He plates shutome atop cannellini beans, tomatoes, arugula and watercress, and brings it all together with a delicate salsa verde. 250 S. Hotel St., 536-5900.

He also recommends: Ikayaki pancake at Tokkuri Tei ($7.50).
“Sushi is my go-to thing,” Kupihea says, and that’s probably what draws him to the izakaya Tokkuri Tei. In addition to sushi, his staple there is the ikayaki pancake with a miso dressing, topped with bonito flakes. The squid is bound in a thin, egg, crepelike batter. “I love the texture, the local flavor of the dish,” he says. It reminds him of a soft tako (octopus), or what he likes to call “Hawaiian bubble gum.” It comes out hot and goes well with cold Japanese beer. 449 Kapahulu Ave., 732-6480.


Mark Noguchi

Chef/Owner of Heeia Pier General Store and Deli

At his restaurant: Bacon-teri cheeseburger ($8.50).
"I really like our hamburger,” Noguchi says. “It’s local beef, but it’s not a gourmet burger. It tastes like a diner burger.” Even better, he brushes it with teriyaki sauce for a teri burger that’s not on the menu. The teriyaki sauce is more Japanese than local-style: “We actually have a mother tare sauce that we keep going and building and building on,” Noguchi says. On top of the teri-glazed hamburger patty, he adds sriracha, mayo, watercress. “It’s not the most popular thing on the menu (maybe because it’s not even on the menu), but it’s developed a cult following.” Heeia Pier General Store and Deli, 46-499 Kamehameha Highway, Kaneohe, 235-2192, heeiapeir.com.

He also recommends: Dave Caldiero’s pasta at Town (price varies).
“Any pasta dish that Dave Caldiero makes, I get kinda emotional,” Noguchi says. Noguchi recommends any of his pastas—dried or fresh—though the “pièces de résistance” are the hand-cut pastas and gnocchi. 3435 Waialae Ave., 735-5900, townkaimuki.com


Kevin Hanney

Chef/Owner of 12th Ave Grill and Salt

At his restaurant: Fish special (price varies).
At 12th Ave Grill,  the fish changes daily, depending on what the restaurant gets in. Recent catches include kajiki, seared with peppercorn and served with a smoked Ewa tomato relish; an akule escabeche with quinoa risotto, MAO arugula and preserved Big Island Meyer lemon; grilled opah on top of a celery root and parsnip purée, dressed with a beet vinaigrette and garlic chips. 1145 12th Ave., 732-9469, 12thavegrill.com.

He also recommends: Nabeyaki Udon at Jimbo ($14.70).
Like many other chefs, Hanney turns to noodles for off-duty comfort food. Jimbo is on his short list of noodle establishments and, in particular, the nabeyaki udon is his go-to.  “It has a little bit of everything,” he says. “Chicken, mushrooms, egg, all things I love.” Served in a metal pot, and topped with fried shrimp and eggplant tempura, “it’s soul satisfying.” 1936 S. King St., 947-2211.

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