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Vegan and Gluten-free Dining in Hawaii

Vegan? Gluten-free? Plant yourself at one of these eateries, where less is more.


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Prima’s plate of braised breakfast radish, sweet potato, heart of palm, quinoa and mango.

Photo: Rae Huo


Pioneering gluten-free baker and chef Marie Cassel has been developing pastries and muffins (it took her a year to get the recipe just right) on Kauai for 13 years. Her Sweet Marie’s restaurant-bakery in Lihue is a destination, with residents from other islands flying over for the day to pick up baked goods.
“Tourists look me up before they come,” says Cassel.
They go for rarities such as a breadcrumb-free turkey meatloaf, shoyu chicken made with wheat-free shoyu, and pizza featuring a crust made without gluten, soy, dairy or eggs, along with sweet treats such as double chocolate fudge brownies and white chocolate lilikoi cake with white chocolate lilikoi mousse.
Now Cassel, who has celiac disease, is ready to take her valuable gluten-free resource to the big city: She hopes to have a manufacturing facility in Honolulu by October, and envisions opening little Sweet Marie’s throughout Hawaii. Along with her popular baked goods, she plans to offer “sophisticated takeout” of gluten-free dishes.
Sweet Marie’s: 3-3204 Kuhio Highway, Lihue, 808-823-0227, sweetmarieskauai.com

If you’re meatless and/or wheatless, what are you to do in a place where the office Christmas party buffet has you eating a scoop of overcooked rice and limp iceberg salad, while your colleagues gorge on breaded mahi mahi, breaded chicken katsu, and wheat noodles dotted with char siu?

Honolulu has surprisingly few strictly vegetarian/vegan restaurants for a city that seems to have been colonized by posture-perfect yoga instructors. And there are zero gluten-free restaurants or bakeries (for now—see sidebar on right).

Thanks to our forward-thinking chefs who keep in step with the national trend of putting the spotlight on vegetables, vegetarians and, to a lesser extent, the gluten free can eat out well in Honolulu. In fact, a vegetarian can have a better meal at, say, Prima, than they can at one of the six official vegan restaurants, which for some reason try to recreate the meat-eating experience rather than be creative with produce. The phenomenon of vegetable-as-main-dish has taken root here, especially with the influx of transplanted chefs—carrots have starring (and delicious) roles at Prima, Whole Ox Deli and Vintage Cave Honolulu.

It's these restaurants that may make people rethink the possibility of being vegetarian. It no longer means having a monotonous diet of brown rice and tofu. The possibilities are endless. Here are a few you can take advantage of.

The real, raw deal

Vegetarian, vegans and raw-food acolytes rejoiced when farmers’ markets vendors Sylvia and Pete Thompson turned their prepared-foods Licious Dishes company into the restaurant Greens and Vines late last year. Even meat eaters get hooked on the macadamia nut spread and “living” lasagna, made with layers of zucchini, basil pesto, sundried tomato marinara, mac nut “ricotta,” spinach and tomatoes. It’s a dense block of nutrients that tastes good and is wheat-free.

I’m partial to Syl’s Garden Burger ($10.75)—instead of trying to imitate the beef experience, Thompson created her own flavor sensation, the all-veggie patty sandwiched between her onion “bread” (a mousepad of sweet oniony-ness) with date “mustard” and cashew “mayo.” The Thompsons are also hardcore oenophiles and hold special wine seminars featuring raw tapas. Visit the website for upcoming events.

Greens and Vines: 909 Kapiolani Blvd., 536-9680, greensandvines.com

Veggies of the day

It’s not on the menu, but Town’s vegetable plate ($22.50) is well known enough to get ordered up to nine times a night.

The veggie plate is “comprised of whatever we’ve got that day,” explains Ed Kenney. “We always have polenta on the line, so we add a scoop of that. It might include roasted mushrooms or bok choy—and five to six other items. It’s not hard to do. You don’t need to order in advance.”

While the kitchen doesn’t consciously have a vegetarian option on the daily changing menu, “it usually works out that way,” says Kenney. “Our risotto and gnocchi dishes often are vegetarian.”

Town easily accommodates gluten-free diners, too. “Like with our chicken with torn bread,” says Kenney, “we take out the bread and put in chunks of breadfruit or kalo.”

Town: 3435 Waialae Ave., 735-5900, townkaimuki.com

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Honolulu Magazine September 2020
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