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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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Vegan Thai

Opal Thai Food cook-owner Sanith “Opel” Sirichandhra is a vegetarian, so he’s highly attuned to meeting vegetarian and vegan needs. Don’t feel lame asking for “no fish sauce”—he understands. Try vegan drunken noodles, fried, firm tofu with garlic sauce or the sauteed eggplant, topped with crispy fried basil chips ($8.50).

Opal Thai Food: 66-460 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa; 381-8091

Pretty, healthy

The lovely shoebox known as Peace Cafe, with its rustic communal table, is a top spot for vegetarians, though with a whole section of sandwiches, and bread sticks in the Caesar salad, the menu shrinks drastically if you’re gluten- or wheat-free. The bento boxes of hearty creations such as the yogini (brown rice, beans, greens and seaweed) and a Moroccan chickpea stew ($9.25) atop brown rice make this a popular go-to café for all walks of eaters.

Peace Cafe: 2239 S. King St., 951-7555.

Roots to carrot tops

Whole Ox Deli’s sweet pea risotto.

Photo: Olivier koning

Chefs Kevin Lee at Prima and Justin Yu at Whole Ox Deli both make mean pork belly dishes, but they also know their way around a carrot.

Lee came to Hawaii from New York’s Dovetail restaurant, which started doing vegetarian Mondays in 2010. “You’re able to be a lot more creative with fruits and vegetables than you are with a chicken breast or piece of lamb. There are only a few cooking techniques you can apply to proteins,” says Lee. Witness his recent balls of quinoa colored with spinach puree and accompanied by roasted carrots, their tips blackened with “carrot ash.” “When you receive carrots from MAO Farms,” explains Lee, three-quarters of their weight is the tops. Thinking of a way to use the whole vegetable, he burned the carrot tops in the restaurant’s woodfired oven then pulverized them with chili flakes and salt.

“We’re trying to do as many creative things with fruits and vegetables as we can,” Lee says. You can make a hearty veggie meal from the sides, such as pan-fried Brussels sprouts (ask them to hold the pancetta) and oven-roasted radicchio.

While the Whole Ox Deli continues to fuel ravenous meat eaters with its trademark dry-aged burger and gooey Philly cheesesteak on its lunch and late-night menus, chef Yu, previously of acclaimed Hawker Fare in Oakland, exercises his vegetable tendencies for his reservations-only Sunday night tasting menu ($50–75). He turns carrots into a grown up creamsicle in a bowl for his carrot-and-orange soup, and creates an earthy clusterfungus of meaty mushrooms.

Prima: 108 Hekili St., Kailua, 888-8933, primahawaii.com. Whole Ox Deli: 327 Keawe St., 699-6328, wholeoxdeli.com


The only dining options near your office are McDonalds and Zippy’s? You can have the vegetables come to you by ordering from Salad Envy. Online menu indicates which of the 16 different salads ($9.75-$13.75) are gluten free. I like the Synergy quinoa salad, and the hearty Indonesian curry bowl. All you need to do is get four other people to order, then Salad Envy will deliver directly to your building.
Salad Envy: Delivery only; saladenvy.com

At your service

At Vintage Cave Honolulu, ground zero for of-the-moment progressive dining, the reservationist asks if you have any dietary restrictions when you book your table. Chef Chris Kajioka is happy to accommodate vegetarian and gluten-free requests if alerted in advance. His nightly changing menus ($295) normally give top billing to vegetables, in dishes such as slow-roasted carrots with date-caper emulsion, and his signature charred cabbage leaves (though vegans can’t have the addictive broth made with anchovies). He keeps wheat-free shoyu on hand, and for his signature dish of caviar atop maple brioche, he substitutes his “fish skin” rice cracker—which I actually prefer, the better to savor the fish-egg flavor.

Vintage Cave Honolulu: 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., 441-1744, vintagecave.com

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Honolulu Magazine March 2018
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