2010 Hale Aina Awards
Our readers named the best restaurants in the Islands.
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Congratulations to the winners of our 26th annual Hale Aina Awards, selected by the readers of HONOLULU Magazine. Our state’s hottest chefs, best restaurants, beloved neighborhood favorites, top wine lists, most professional servers—you’ll find them all here. Bon appétit!
Each year since 1984, we’ve turned to the most discriminating food experts in town—our readers—and asked them to vote for their favorite restaurants and dining experiences in 25 categories. And vote they do, via a paper ballot enclosed within our August Restaurant Guide, or online at our Web site. (Each reader can, however, only vote one time.) The results become the Hale Aina Awards, the oldest and most prestigious restaurant awards in the state of Hawaii.
Restaurant of the Year: Roy’s
While Roy’s flagship restaurant in Hawaii Kai has consistently won gold-medal-level Hale Ainas in many categories, this is the first time since 2004 that it’s taken home the honors for Restaurant of the Year. (It also won Restaurant of the Year in 2002 and 1995.) Roy’s in Hawaii Kai didn’t stop there, also claiming Hale Aina honors for Best Dessert, gold level; bronze-level awards for Best Place to Take Visitors, Best Outdoor Dining and Best Seafood; and becoming a finalist for Best Service, Best Value and Best Wine Program.
“People are looking to us to do great things in food and service and our job is not to meet that expectation, but to exceed it,” says founder Roy Yamaguchi. Chef Yamaguchi balances the Roy’s Classics, dishes that people would be crestfallen if he were to remove from his menu—baby back pork ribs, misoyaki butterfish, blackened ahi—with exciting new dishes for the regulars, the “guests we have who come in once a week, twice a week.”
Yamaguchi was the first-ever Hawaii chef to win a James Beard Award, and he has also authored three cookbooks and appeared on six seasons of PBS’s show Hawaii Cooks with Roy Yamaguchi. But he’s modest, and when I ask him how many people work for him, he responds, “I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter.”
What does matter to him is the local farmer who has dropped by to deliver some green onions. Yamaguchi brightens and gives the guy a shaka. “He grows them, he delivers them himself. That’s what it’s all about!”
There are now 34 Roy’s restaurants, six of them in Hawaii, but Yamaguchi obviously has a special place in his heart for the original location. “He’s here a lot,” says his executive chef, Ronald Nasuti. “He’s in the kitchen, trying new things. We want to keep our cuisine as cutting-edge as possible and, at the same time, always cater to the people of Hawaii.”
Nasuti has worked with Yamaguchi for 18 years, and says the best thing about the relationship is “creative license. We can do whatever we want as long as it’s within the confines of what he’s trying to achieve with the restaurant.” Nasuti is currently pushing his dessert staff to experiment with cannoli, for example. Still, he notes, “You can take any two cultures and slap the food together and call it fusion. We don’t do that. Everything has to be well thought out.”
Yamaguchi says it’s been 21 years since he started Roy’s. “That’s one of the reasons I picked Hawaii Kai. I wanted it to be a community restaurant, part of something. We’ve seen children who came in here growing up; some are now married and have their own kids. They’re taking their parents for dinner here, instead of their parents taking them. It’s the greatest thing you can ever experience in a restaurant.”
Best Maui Restaurant, Silver Award
Roy Yamaguchi has not only seen some of his customers grow up, he’s also heavily influenced an entire generation of Island chefs. One is rising star Ryan Luckey, who presides over the kitchen at the Pineapple Grill at Kapalua. Luckey says he was careful to leave some of the dishes of Pineapple Grill’s founding chef, Joey Macadangdang, on the menu. “He trained under Roy. You try to emulate them because they are such trailblazers for the state.”
Like his fellow regional chefs, Luckey relishes local, fresh ingredients. “Close communities need to support each other. My duty is to give back to the mom-and-pop farms, the guys who deliver in their own trucks. We live in a climate and area that produces such beautiful food. It’s a treat to get to create with those ingredients.”
Related Link: See the full list of Hale Aina Award winners.