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2012 Hale Aina Awards

You voted, we counted, and here they are, the best 128 restaurants in Hawaii. On these pages, you’ll find a complete list of the winners and a closer look at some of the specific, delicious dishes that put these eateries on top.


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A traditional Japanese breakfast at Morimoto includes grilled miso cod, a silky poached egg and rice polished in house.

photo: courtesy morimoto waikiki

By the time a restaurant  has won a Hale Aina Award from our readers, it has excelled on any number of fronts—fantastic food, terrific service, great atmosphere. But especially fantastic food. It makes that part look so easy that we take for granted the thought, technique and good, old-fashioned practice that make the dishes so unique, so irreproducible at home. You might learn Alan Wong’s recipe for ginger-crusted onaga, or Town’s recipe for gnocchi, but there’s no substitute for the experience of making it every day for years, reading each batch the way an experienced surfer reads a wave.

HONOLULU Magazine’s Hale Aina awards are the Islands’ oldest, most prestigious dining awards. Across 35 categories, 128 Hawaii restaurants have won Hale Aina awards, out of thousands of restaurants statewide. You can find the full list of winners on the foldout in this issue. For these pages, we interviewed some of the winning chefs about their restaurants’ most popular or remarkable dishes to find out how they make magic on a plate.

One thing that struck us in our conversations was that, whether these restaurants have been open for one year or 50, they’re keenly in tune with their diners, which is probably why you voted them to the top.

Morimoto Waikiki

Best New Restaurant, Gold
Restaurant of the Year, Bronze
Best Japanese, Silver

There are multiple locations of Morimoto restaurants around the world, but Morimoto Waikiki offers dishes available at no other outpost. There’s the Big Island abalone takoyaki, for example, a riff on traditional takoyaki which contains octopus (tako) in a cooked (yaki) flour ball. In Masaharu Morimoto’s other restaurants, he swaps out the octopus for lobster or foie, but in Waikiki, he uses local abalone. “Takoyaki is actually a street food in Japan,” Morimoto says, “but with Big Island’s delicious abalone, Morimoto’s takoyaki became an elegant dish.”

Another Morimoto dish with a local twist is the Loco Moto, a take on the classic loco moco with influences from a popular Japanese comfort food—Hayashi rice, a thick beef stew on rice. The Loco Moto incorporates Wagyu beef, a sunnyside-up egg, Hayashi gravy and fukujinzuke, a crunchy Japanese relish. Even the rice receives a luxe touch: it is polished in house, the husks removed right before cooking.

Particularly addictive is the pineapple tempura, wrapped in jamon iberico, the Spanish equivalent of prosciutto. Why not use the more widely available prosciutto? “Because the Hawaiian pineapple we use for this dish has a delicate sweetness, I thought jamon iberico’s less salty, subtle flavor would be good for the fruit,” says Morimoto. 1775 Ala Moana Blvd., 943-5900.

La Tour Café

Best New Restaurant, Silver

La Tour Café will never be a gluten-free haven. Chef Travis Inouye says the menu revolves around the artisan breads from La Tour Bakehouse, an 80,000-square-foot production facility above the café. So the croque madame may be laden with black forest ham, béchamel, roasted tomatoes, gruyere cheese and a runny, fried egg, but these are all supporting actors to the thick slice of rustic, country-style bread underneath.

Click here for the full list of winners from the 2012 Hale Aina Awards.

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