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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Chef/Owner, and Wes Monty, Owner of Monstera
At his restaurant: Tuna tataki ($17.95).
Yamamoto, the sushi chef at this sushi bar/izakaya/noodle house, recommends the tuna tataki so wholeheartedly, he says it’s “100-percent guaranteed” you’ll like it. Humility or a language barrier prevent him from pinpointing what makes this dish so special, except to say: “Combination of everything, very unique.” Lightly seared tuna, ponzu, garlic aioli, what’s not to love? The Shops at Mauna Lani, 68-1330 Mauna Lani Drive, No. 111, Kohala Coast, (808) 887-2711, monsterasushi.com.
He also recommends: Paneer makhni at Shivalik Indian Cuisine ($15.95).
If you think it’s odd for a Japanese-restaurant owner to recommend an Indian dish, Monty says, “I just like good food, the cuisine doesn’t matter.” The paneer makhni is a fresh, non-melting Indian cheese cooked in a creamy tomato sauce, resulting in “great flavor,” he says. 75-5669 Alii Drive, Kona, (808) 326-9889, shivalikindiancuisine.com.
Chef/Owner of Village Burger
At his restaurant: Hawaiian Red Veal burger ($8.50).
Village Burger is a burger joint and, yet, the choices of patty alone—beef, red veal, Kahua Ranch Wagyu, even a Waipio taro burger—can make ordering a hamburger a paralyzing affair. Goto helps with his recommendation: the Hawaii Ranchers red veal patty with tomato marmalade and goat cheese, on a brioche bun. The sweet and tangy tomato marmalade—tomatoes and onions cooked down with red-wine vinegar and a bit of sugar—eliminates the need for ketchup. 67-1185 Mamalahoa Highway, Waimea, (808) 885-7319, villageburgerwaimea.com.
He also recommends: Saimin at Nori’s Saimin and Snacks (small special $7.45, large special $8.45).
Nori’s Saimin and Snacks may be an hour and 15 minutes away from Waimea, but Goto makes the drive for the saimin and company (Nori’s owner is a good friend). He goes to talk shop over a bowl of saimin: “The noodles have a really good texture, and I like the broth,” he says. 688 Kinoole St., Hilo, (808) 935-9133.
Chef de Cuisine at 22° North
At his restaurant: Porcini-rubbed, grilled Aakukui Ranch New York Strip Steak ($32).
At its simplest, this is a grilled steak served alongside potatoes, Maui onion rings, Kauai blue oyster mushrooms, all anchored by a natural jus. For Leikam, though, the beef is an ode to Kauai: “Duane Shimogawa of Aakukui Ranch does an excellent job of raising and selecting his cattle,” Leikam says. “The flavors that come through his product truly have the flavors of Kauai. The tropical grasses that they feed on are definitely pronounced in his meats.” 3-2087 Kaumualii Highway, Lihue, (808) 245-9593, 22northkauai.com.
He also recommends: Carnitas plate from Monico’s Taqueria in Kapaa, Kauai ($14).
Leikam is nostalgic for Mexican flavors, having worked with Rick Bayless at Frontera Grill. He finds comfort in the carnitas at Monico’s: “The dish is simple and always done well. It is a feel-good meal.” 4356 Kuhio Highway, Kapaa, (808) 822-4300, monicostaqueria.com.
Roy's Restaurants' Corporate Chef and Opening Chef at the Tavern at Princeville
At her restaurant: Buttermilk fried chicken, sautéed kale and mashed potatoes ($18), Tavern’s pie ($9).
“Roy's thing is fried chicken— it’s his favorite thing to eat,” says Lau. With those kind of expectations, just throwing chicken into the fryer at Yamaguchi’s latest project—American comfort food at The Tavern—wouldn’t do. “It probably took a good year to get it to where he said, ‘That’s it,’” Lau says. “There are many steps included in it; it’s a Tavern secret recipe, you could say.” It’s served with mashed potatoes and kale grown in The Tavern’s 5,000-square-foot permaculture garden. To complete The Tavern experience, Lau also recommends The Tavern pie, “a really, really rich, dark, Big Island chocolate pudding with Hawaiian salted caramel on top.” 5-3900 Kuhio Highway, Princeville, (808) 826-8700.
She also recommends: Menudo at Mariachi’s ($12.50).
Lau is “pretty partial” to Mariachi’s menudo, a tripe stew with hominy and chilies. “They do a really good job with it; it reminds me of my mom’s food,” says Lau (who’s half-Mexican). “It’s hard to find good menudo, so when you find something that tastes great, you go.” 3501 Rice St., Lihue, (808) 246-1570, mariachiskauai.com.