8 Hearty Local Dishes to Keep You Warm This Winter
Robust meals, stews and soups to help ease the pain of chilly Island evenings.
Instead of blizzards and snow, winter in Hawai‘i may only mean 60-degree weather and gray, overcast skies, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy hearty, stick-to-your-ribs wintertime fare like the rest of the country. And, with the added benefit of so many local cultures to draw from, it means we’ve got some of the tastiest and most diverse cold-weather food anywhere. Here’s a roundup of some of our favorites.
One note: We’re not just looking for any and all soups. We deliberately left ramen, saimin, udon, hot pot and pho off this list, since there are so many places in Hawai‘i that do each of these items well that they’d constitute an entire list of their own. (Which gives us the perfect excuse to go out and try them all for another list later.)
1. Oxtail Soup, Asahi Grill
Photos: James Charisma
According to the menu, Asahi Grill’s oxtail soup is “voted Hawai‘i’s best!” It doesn’t mention who gave it this rank or which reader poll issued this proclamation. Maybe it was a collective agreement by anyone who’s enjoyed Asahi’s take on the classic: with big delicious pieces of soft oxtail simmering in a light broth alongside peanuts, Chinese parsley and green onions. The meat is soft and the broth is clear yet rich with dissolved marrow and soft cartilage. This big bowl is served piping hot with two scoops rice and a serve-yourself jar of freshly grated ginger.
$14.95 regular, 515 Ward Ave., 593-2800, asahigrillward.com
2. Jook (with thousand-year-old eggs and pork), Mei Sum
Lunar New Year may be over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this Chinese staple dish year-round at Mei Sum. For those unfamiliar with jook, it’s simply rice and chicken broth porridge. Here, it’s served with lots of thinly shredded pork and chopped, fermented thousand-year egg (dark greenish gray caused by its preservation in clay, ash and salt) topped with green onions and served tableside. You can also get it with fish. Great as a companion dish to other items—such as Mei Sum’s extensive dim sum, available daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Head in soon; the restaurant is also currently giving out complimentary bowls of sweet tapioca in honor of the New Year.
$7.95, 1170 Nu‘uanu Ave., #1102, 531-3268
3. Sundubu Jjigae, So Gong Dong
There’s an entire section of So Gong Dong’s menu dedicated to the bright red Korean spicy jjigae (stew). The sundubu (tofu) comes standard, but meat options include pork and beef, seafood and beyond. It’s all tasty, with a solid amount of spice that offers heat without becoming blistering. Not to mention the rotating sides depending on the day, such as crunchy green choy sum, bean sprouts, perfectly aged kim chee and nokdumuk, Korean jelly made from mung bean and served with cooked onions. Plus a raw egg-in-the-shell for you to crack into the soup and cook at your table.
$8.99, 627 Ke‘eaumoku St., 946-8206
4. Portuguese Bean Soup, Zippy’s
An Island favorite, the Portuguese bean soup at Zippy’s is nearly as popular as the chili. Macaroni, kidney beans, diced carrots, celery, cabbage, potato, onion, ham and Portuguese sausage all simmer together in a tomato and pork base. Plus the signature diner addition: a side packet of Diamond soda crackers. Perfect as a small bowl, or make the large bowl a meal with two scoops rice and mac salad for just $1.20 more.
$3.05 regular, $4.70 large, various locations, zippys.com
5. Tomato Bisque, Aloha Salads
Aloha Salads has mastered the simple tomato soup by enriching it with complexity in the form of a thick broth of tomato, fresh basil, cream and chicken base, topped with shaved Parmesan and sprinkled basil. Plus it comes with two slices of house pita, perfect for dipping. Honestly, the soup is perfect for dipping your entire sandwich into. Or pairing with a salad. Order it as dessert if you want, we won’t argue.
$4.50 for 6 ounces and $5.50 for 8 ounces, various locations, alohasalads.com
6. Fisherman’s Stew, Nico’s Pier 38
If you’re willing to brave a nippy trip right to the water’s edge at Pier 38, you’ll have earned a bowl of Nico’s signature fisherman’s stew. This is some of the best clam chowder you’ll find on the island, with big cuts of fresh, white fish and chopped clams in a soft toasted sourdough bowl that holds up without getting all mushy or falling apart. Small but savory. Featuring live music in the evenings, Nico’s is often packed full of people but, with plenty of tables and a long bar, there’s always a seat indoors or outside. Just wear a jacket.
$9, 1129 N. Nimitz Highway, 540-1377, nicospier38.com
7. Pozole Rojo, Los Chaparros
A traditional Mexican stew of pork, dried red chilies and hominy (ground corn, the kind used to make grits), Pozole Rojo is perfect for when you want the warmth and heartiness of a meaty soup without getting weighed down under a thick stew. At Los Chaparros, this Spanish dish is rich and flavorful in a reddish broth, with big cubes of fatty pork and chunks of hominy (imagine soft corn nuts). Served with chopped lettuce and onions, sliced radish, lime and your choice of corn or flour tortilla. Our server recommended the corn tortilla and we’re glad we listened.
$7 for 8 ounces and $9.50 for 12 ounces, 2140 S. Beretania St., 951-6399, loschaparros.com
8. Smoked Ham Hock Stew, Livestock Tavern
When a stew or soup features ham hock, most times it comes in the form of tiny shredded bits or a few chewy, overcooked pieces playing second fiddle to the beans or the greens. Not at Livestock Tavern. When the chefs say “Ham Hock Stew,” they mean it—with a giant platter of soup and a piece of ham the size of a turkey leg sitting on top. Smoked, but not salty, and soft enough for you to dig apart with your spoon. The soup is no slouch either; this complex broth made of beef stock and mustard cabbage is filled with kale, black eyed peas, carrots, potatoes, herbs and garlic boar sausage. At nearly $30, this dish isn’t cheap, but it sticks to your ribs while warming your heart.
$29, 49 N. Hotel St., 537-2577, livestocktavern.com