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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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The baguettes at La Tour are different from those it ships to the Ba-Le franchises. Here, they have a more crackly crust with a tender interior. The French dip, a simple roast beef sandwich dressed with caramelized onions, is composed to “accentuate the bread,” Inouye says. Imagine that—roast beef second to bread. One exception to all this bread love might be the porchetta sandwich, in which the baguette competes with a roasted pork belly stuffed with parsley, garlic, lemon. The pork belly is finished off in the pizza deck oven, so the skin is as crispy as a chicharron.

But La Tour can’t be blamed for showcasing the bakehouse breads. Rodney Weddle, baker and partner in La Tour Bakehouse, says the flour for the all-natural, old-fashioned breads comes from a specialty mill offering mostly organic flours. The mill maintains such a close connection with its growers, Weddle says, each bag of flour can be traced back to an individual farmer. 888 N. Nimitz Highway, 697-5000.

A classic burger, built from the bun up by Monkeypod Kitchen, with house-made Portuguese sweetbread, Maui Cattle Co. beef, from-scratch ketchup, accompanied by thick-cut fries.

photo: nina lee

Monkeypod Kitchen

Best New Restaurant, Bronze

If there were one item that epitomizes Monkeypod Kitchen, it might be the cream pie, in variations of chocolate, banana, coconut or strawberry. It’s a humble slice of pie, but everything’s made from scratch, like the crust, custard and whipped cream, with high-quality ingredients such as the chocolate and locally grown strawberries and bananas. “A lot of what I like is comfort food, things that people can remember from their childhood or times gone by,” Peter Merriman says. “I like to make what are often homespun items and do them with a real high-level, sophisticated approach.”

This philosophy also applies to the burger: the Portuguese sweetbread bun made in-house, the patty made with Maui Cattle Co. beef, topped with Maui tomatoes and lettuce, and a housemade pickle. Even the ketchup is made from scratch, with 14 ingredients (including ginger, fennel and clove), hours of simmering and three stages of straining. Double-fried, thick-cut french fries accompany the burger and ketchup.

Fresh local strawberries top pillows of cream and custard at Monkeypod Kitchen.

photo: nina lee

This sort of comfort food is “something I always wanted to do ever since I opened my own restaurants—real simple, homegrown food,” Merriman says. “When I opened Merriman’s in Waimea 23 years ago, I intended it to be a café. But my customers kept telling me to increase the price.” He laughs at the absurdity of diners requesting higher prices; nevertheless, raise them he did. “But I always wanted to do what I call approachable food. It’s still high-quality food, it’s just the prices are a little lower.”

Monkeypod Kitchen has a fancy, Italian kiawe-burning oven. The cooks hand-toss the pizza dough. (“A pizza comes out more tender when you toss it than when you roll it,” Merriman says. “It’s more than just for show.”) There are fig and arugula and goat cheese on one of the pizzas. But in the end, underscoring Monkeypod’s homeyness, the Proletariat pizza steals the show, with unpretentious, classic toppings such as pepperoni, sausage, onion, green peppers, olives and mozzarella. 10 Wailea Gateway Place, Suite B-201, Kīhei, (808) 891-2322.

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

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