Eat Here Now: Six New Restaurants in Honolulu
Hawaii is a great place to eat, and it seems to get better all the time. Here are six of our favorite new eateries that have opened in the past year.
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It is a thrilling time to dine out in Hawaii. Eating spaces have gotten more casual—hell, some of them aren’t even permanent or fixed, as in the case of pop-ups and food trucks—as fanaticism over ingredients has replaced table linens and formal service. Everything we eat and drink these days has gotten better: coffee is brewed to order at new cafés such as Morning Glass and Beach Bum Café, gastropubs such as Real and Pint + Jigger serve craft beer from Hawai‘i and around the world, and, while local meats and produce used to be the provenance of high end restaurants such as Alan Wong’s and Roy’s, they are now also being served by prepared food vendors (i.e. The Pig and the Lady) at the farmers’ markets.
Here is a look at some of the most interesting and appetizing restaurants that opened in the past year.
In the Grand Wailea, 3850 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, Maui, (808) 891-3954,
Thirteen years ago, Alan Wong opened The Pineapple Room with a three-page pupu menu. This was before Jose Andrés popularized small-plate dining in the United States, before tapas popped up on every menu, even before izakayas became mainstream.
It lasted three months. People thought the portions were too small, they didn’t understand that plates were meant to be shared and “people were looking for the entrée,” Wong says.
Now, Wong’s revitalizing his old concept with Amasia at the Grand Wailea, offering a menu of 65 small plates and larger ones meant to be shared family-style. Dishes come from the raw bar, sushi bar, robata grill and main kitchen. There are Alan Wong classics, like a whole tomato salad with li hing dressing and soy-braised short ribs with ko choo jang sauce. Wong and his kitchen crew change the menu frequently, but new dishes have included a grilled Greek-inspired sausage on cardamom yogurt, topped with pickled fennel, and even some plates with “Spong,” a housemade Spam (the word itself is a mash-up of Spam and Wong).
Sushi chef Jeff Ramsey, who had a stint at Jose Andrés’ Minibar in Washington, D.C., has come up with some inventive sushi rolls, like the “lū‘au,” with grilled ika, a coconut-milk lū‘au sauce, and a cube of pressed l‘ūau leaf. Of the larger, family-style plates, there’s a whole chili-garlic Dungeness crab. The beauty of Amasia’s menu is that you get the whole spectrum of Wong’s cuisine, from the more local-style comfort food of The Pineapple Room, like a kimchee fried rice, to the rarefied dishes of Wong’s flagship restaurant, such as the “soup and sandwich,” a chilled tomato soup and a grilled cheese, kālua pig and foie gras sandwich. You can have it all at Amasia. You just have to share.
767 Kailua Road, Kailua, 261-1000, cactusbistro.com.
Cactus collects the flavors of Latin and Caribbean cuisines and, like a spice trader at a market, lures you in with bright tastes and smells. There are wild boar picadillo empañadas, cumin-scented ground meat folded into corn tortillas and deep-fried; Argentine fry bread, rounds of fried dough somewhere between a biscuit and a doughnut, accompanied by a pineapple and chile jelly. These are from the small-plates section of the menu, a nod to current trends, perhaps. Mostly, though, the menu is dedicated to generous-size entrées, like a big hunk of pork shoulder roasted and sauced with tamarind and fresh mango. Pork and clams go together like beer and fries, and there’s all of that in the fideos, similar to a loose risotto, but made with vermicelli noodles. Here, they’re in a rich broth of Dos Equis lager, lemon and chile. The aforementioned pork and fries? They’re crisp, airy chicharrones, or fried pork skins.
John Memering, the chef of Cactus, spent six years helming the kitchen at Kalapawai Café before he moved right across the street to open his own place. (“That was incidental,” Memering says. “They have sore feelings about that.”) He’s brought with him the same style of comfort food—nothing too crazy or unusual, hearty portions—but instead of the pan-European fare at Kalapawai, he’s punching it up with chiles and spices from other tropical climes. It’s food that belongs here, according to Memering, with “the brightness of lime and mango and pineapple and coconut and chiles.”
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