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2013 Hale Aina Awards: When to eat where

Our readers named the best restaurants in the Islands. To help you navigate the wealth of great dining, we lead you through a year-long itinerary of Hale Aina eating: when to eat where.


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A tako and sweet corn puree plate at Salt Kitchen and Tasting Bar.

Photos by Olivier Koning

Salt Kitchen and Tasting Bar (Best New Restaurant, gold) is 12th Ave Grill’s younger sister—more casual, a bit trendier, leaning a little heavier on the booze. She’s great fun to party with, while still keeping it classy. So if you’re looking to escape Guinness-soaked block parties, Irish car bombs and corned beef and cabbage, Salt may be just the place to feel festive. Last year, Salt upgraded St. Patrick’s Day classics to Guinness-braised lamb sliders and corned beef tongue, all in line with its year-round love of meat and nose-to-tail philosophy. As with the St. Patty’s Day specials, meat is the highlight here: whether for monthly whole animal feasts centered on Maui venison or Shinsato hog, or the charcuterie board of housemade terrines, sausages and cured meats from local cows and pigs. It might include cured meats like prosciutto as well as summer sausage, maple chicken liver pâté and a crispy round of fried headcheese.

In the year since it opened, the food at Salt has evolved. The smaller plates are more fearless—more risk taken with plates that require less commitment. There’s chicken-fried local rabbit in an oatmeal stout gravy and sweet carrot butter; a foie gras torchon accompanied by watermelon, lime curd, black sesame seed, garlic chips and bunuelos—cinnamon-dusted, fried, sweet dough. Chef Quinten Frye, by way of Mexico and Austin, has also been adding Mexican touches here and there: citrus mole on fish and charred corn dusted with chile and lime; fried oysters on mini-tostada rounds, topped with charred pineapple relish, like an oyster po’ boy who studied abroad in Mexico.


Mango ice cream on sticky rice at Bangkok Chef.


Mid-April, Thailand celebrates the traditional Thai New Year with the Songkran Festival. Naturally, then, it’s time to hit one of the Hale Aina Thai restaurants. Bangkok Chef (Best Thai, silver) surveys the curries and noodles of Thailand—from panang curry to pad thai—at prices that (almost) make you feel like you’re actually there. With no plates over $10, it’s also the perfect place to stop when you’re feeling the pinch of tax season. Finish lunch or dinner here with the house special dessert, mango ice cream on sticky rice sprinkled with toasted rice.

As long as we’re exploring Southeast Asian culture, did you know that Filipinos erected a statue to Lapu-Lapu, a hero for slaying Magellan? Maybe it’s unseemly to celebrate the Battle of Mactan (April 27), in which Magellan was killed, so just quietly make your way to Elena’s Restaurant (Best Filipino, gold). Filipino classics fill the menu: pork adobo, lechon kawali (crispy pork with tomatoes and onions), kare kare (oxtail with a peanut butter sauce), and dinuguan (pork in a blood sauce), which may be appropriate for the occasion. While the menu is mostly traditional, Elena’s also garners fame for its fried-rice omelets, such as one stuffed with pork adobo or the lechon fried rice swaddled in egg.


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Honolulu Magazine March 2019
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