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2008 Hale Aina Awards

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


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Best Restaurant for Spicy Food, Bronze

They're running on chili power at Sorabol, where you can say "whoo!" not just at breakfast, lunch and dinner, but 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Korean restaurant invests heavily in chili peppers, says manager Jay Cho, who adds that the kimchee stew and stir-fried squid are popular. But what would you really need a flame-retardant bib for? That would be the spicy barbecued pork. Patrons particularly love it at night, Cho says. "I think greasy, spicy food goes well with drinks."


Restaurant of the Year, Gold

This year, Alan Wong's Restaurant won this honor for the ninth time. The restaurant also garnered a gold Hale Aina for Best Service and a silver award in the category of Best Desserts. Alan Wong's Pineapple Room took home a bronze for Best Business Lunch. But despite the accolades, chef/owner Alan Wong is as modest as ever.

"I'm happy and proud for the entire staff. They are the ones bussing the tables, washing the dishes, cooking and serving the food. These awards are for the team."


Chef/owner Alan Wong with restaurant managers Kathy Kawashige and Kerry Ichimasa.

But surely, Wong is part of the story, too. He values goal setting, both for himself and for his staff, and cites the book In Search of Excellence. "You enjoy the moment, and then you go back and improve on yourself."

Take pastry chef, sous chef Michelle Karr. "Nine years ago she was an intern with us. She didn't know how to hold a knife or a frying pan," says Wong. "She's not afraid to try something, and has come up with about 10 variations on the Wailua Chocolate Sampler."

What ingredients are currently most interesting to chef Wong?

"Everyone is crazy about the Japanese Wagyu beef—it's outrageously expensive and outrageously full of fat. You can't cut it up as an 8-ounce steak; 2 ounces is enough. I was just playing around in the kitchen with it, trying to figure out what to do with it. You want to showcase it and keep the flavors simple."

In the coming year, Wong says he may travel more to Europe, visiting and tasting his way through some excellent wine-producing countries. We can't wait to see what ideas he—and all of our award-winning chefs—comes up with.
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