2008 Hale Aina Awards

What are the best restaurants in Hawaii? We asked a huge panel of experts—our readers.


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Photo by Monte Costa

Can you imagine a celebration without food?
  It's a vital part of any gathering.  The annual HONOLULU Magazine Hale Aina Awards are given out in this same spirit: relishing the fresh ingredients available in the Islands, rejoicing over the skilled chefs, the polished service, the world-class wines, and most of all, toasting to the pleasure of spending time with loved ones. 

Since 1984, our Hale Aina Awards have been voted on by our subscribers. This year, you chose winners in 28 categories, such as Restaurant of the Year, Best Brunch and Best Ambience. What follows is a little pupu sampler of the winners; for our complete listing, click here. For those of you who filled out a survey, thank you for your time and opinions. For those of you who just love to eat, well, read on. We think you'll find the results of the Hale Aina Awards quite tasty.


Photo courtesy of Duo

Best New Neighbor Island Restaurant, Gold

Part of a $55 million renovation of the Four Seasons Resort on Maui, Duo was created in an area that had formerly been the Pacific Grill. The name Duo refers to steak and seafood, explains Mark Simon, director of marketing for the resort, and is also a coy nod to the fact that it also serves breakfast. Our Hale Aina voters have embraced the new emphasis on high-end steak, naming Duo Best New Neighbor Island Restaurant, gold.

Executive chef Roger Stettler says he tries to "cook understandable food. Not too many flavors, and fresh, local ingredients. We've been using a lot of organic products, mostly grown on the Big Island." The beef, such as an organic New York steak, is imported. True beef aficionados will order the Japanese Kobe, so rich that it's served in four- and six-ounce portions. If you're feeling decadent—and who isn't, when you're at a Four Seasons?—you can add lobster tail, blue crab lump meat or scallops to your entrée.

Photo courtesy of Duo

as apple compote, Eggs Benedict with crab meat and a thickly sliced bacon that has its own following. "We have people come in saying they have been thinking about this bacon for six months," says Simon.
Another perk: A "very high-end wines by the glass program," says Simon. "We're addressing the trend of trying a glass of a great wine, or two different glasses, without having to order a whole bottle." Including the offerings at Spago and Ferraro's, you'll be able to find about 100 premium wines available by the glass throughout the resort.


Best Thai Restaurant, Gold
Best Restaurant for Spicy Food, Gold

If you've had to wait in line at Phuket Thai, you'll be happy to hear that a third location opened in December, on the corner of Kamakee and Queen streets. Owners Naret and Sheryl Sihavong started their McCully restaurant 10 years ago, then added one in Mililani. The newest location will also be Phuket Thai's largest, reports general manager Edwin Ohta, with an outdoor seating area  and a total capacity of 150 people, about double that of the McCully branch. The menu will be similar to the other locations, but because there is more storage space, the chefs will be able to offer more specials. Ohta also notes that a full bar is planned, with a liquor license expected by late January.


photo by RAE HUO

The snapper is a spicy specialty at Phuket Thai.
The restaurant also placed first as Best Restaurant for Spicy Food, gold. "We're very honored to win Hale Aina Awards,"  says Sheryl Sihavong. She says that the restaurants' signature dishes include a Thai snapper in spicy lemongrass sauce, and  Thai crispy chicken.
"We have different levels of spiciness, from no spice at all, to Thai hot, to even hotter than Thai hot," says Sihavong. "You would not believe how many chili peppers some people want in their papaya salad." She says that if the food turns out to be too spicy, "we can remake the dish and tone it down a notch." Still, be careful when asking for more heat. "Our medium is pretty hot," says Sihavong. It's an addictive pursuit. "Once you start eating a dish hot, you really can't go back to mild."


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