Best of Honolulu 2015: Food
The 32 editorial and reader picks for tastiest food from our Best of Honolulu 2015 issue.
(page 2 of 3)
Best Mexican Hora Feliz
Offering ceviche at happy hour is an all-in move that only works if you get yours fresh. And Luibueno’s deliciously passes the test. The fish in the ceviche and in the $2 tacos is fresh caught, the brisket and al pastor tacos are heaping, Negro Modelo is on tap ($3.75) and there’s a good, classic margarita ($6).
Luibueno’s Happy Hour is weekdays 4 to 6 p.m. and every night from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. 66-165 Kamehameha Highway, Hale‘iwa, 637-7717, luibueno.com
PHOTOS: AARON YOSHINO
Comfort foods shouldn’t be tricky to judge, but, even so, we were amazed when the humblest burrito shop we know of, La Taqueria Mission, unanimously won a blind tasting. Known better as “the place on Fort Street Mall,” La Taqueria has variously been Taqueria de Ricardo and Taqueria de Ramiro. The foil-wrapped torpedoes look the same under new owner Esteban, lately from San Francisco (and its celebrated Mission District Mexican food), yet do seem to have gotten better, while retaining retro-classic simplicity. The chunks of chile verde are large and juicy, the carnitas crispy and succulent, both fillings playing off the subtle flavoring of the pinto beans, rice and tomatoes. That La Taqueria Mission beat out burritos with fancier ingredients, more polished pedigrees and higher prices is almost as gratifying as its under-$7 price tag.
1148 Fort St. Mall, 532-8226
Best Upper Crust
Sometimes the best part of the pie is the crust. And the best upper crust we’ve had in years is the croissant-fluffy pastry cover of the Crab Fat Curry at The Pig and the Lady. Not always on the menu, this pot pie exhales a heavenly Dungeness steam when pierced. Warning: Dipped in the curry sauce, the crust will make you greedy.
83 N. King St., 585-8255, thepigandthelady.com
Best Way to Eat Fruit for Breakfast
We didn’t think Café Kaila’s fluffy, cinnamon-kissed pancakes could get any better. Then we saw every Japanese tourist around us ordering them with what looked like a fruit salad on top. It was apparently the secret that everyone seemed to know about except us, until now. Pile on all of Café Kaila’s fruit offerings, and you’ll get caramelized apples, bananas, strawberries and blueberries. All dusted with powdered sugar, it’s the prettiest plate ever, even if you can’t see the pancakes under the fruit. You barely need any maple syrup—the fruit lends all the sweetness you need.
Market City Shopping Center, 2919 Kapi‘olani Blvd., 732-3330, cafe-kaila-hawaii.com
Best Dim Sum Dessert
There’s not a lot of innovation in dessert at dim sum restaurants. Not that we were complaining—we were too busy making sure we weren’t burning our fingers and mouths on the fresh fried jin dui at Mei Sum. Then we discovered the mango mochi at Jade Dynasty. This isn’t mango-flavored mochi, it’s mango pudding inside mochi. How do they do it?! (We asked, but the chef is keeping this secret all wrapped up.) We love you, jin dui, but we also wholeheartedly embrace this new wonder as a lighter finish to dim sum.
1450 Ala Moana Blvd., 947-8818, jadedynastyhawaii.com
Best Banana Split
If you don’t know where to look, it can be damn hard to find a good banana split in this town. But once you know … you’ll find it’s been hiding in plain sight, day and night. The best banana split is served at Zippy’s dine-in restaurants (which means it’s available 24 hours a day!). It’s decadent and yet no frills. An oblong glass dish will barely contain the banana and three scoops of ice cream, but loses the battle against the thick, thick hot fudge, strawberry and pineapple toppings that spill over the edges. (The standard banana split comes with one scoop of chocolate ice cream and two scoops of vanilla—we think all vanilla is the way to go.) Mounds of whipped cream, a sprinkle of crushed peanuts—it’s hard not to go bananas at the sight of this. Bring a friend: It’s definitely made to split.
Multiple locations, at Zippy’s, dine-in side only, zippys.com
The piña cake is a uniquely Hawai‘i treat. It’s a soft, shortbreadlike crust encasing delightfully chunky pineapple. It’s not really cake, and it’s not a usual round cookie—it’s more like manju and a close kin to Taiwanese pineapple cakes. Piña Hawai‘i uses locally grown pineapple for the treats and delivers them to its cookie boutique in the Hilton Hawaiian Village every two days to ensure a fresh product.
Piña Hawai‘i at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, 2005 Kālia Road, 952-5919, pinahawaii.com
Best Roll Cake
If you could eat a cloud, this is what it would taste like: a light-as-air sponge cake rolled around a puff of whipped cream, gently cradling a fresh strawberry. The strawberry roll cake: so simple and perfect, and no one does it better than Kulu Kulu Cake. Something about its form (best eaten with your hands!) makes it more casual and comforting than a slice of a stately, upright cake. If the latter is for formal occasions, then the roll cake is for everyday ups and downs, telling life: I’m gonna have my cake and roll with it.
Inside Shirokiya, first floor, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., kulukulucake.com
Best Roast Duck
We were sure the best roast duck had to be in Chinatown. It just had to be. Because that’s where all the best Chinese food is, right? Wrong. It turns out it’s in an ‘Aiea strip mall that also houses a killer lemon crunch cake and great Taiwanese-style shave ice: Roast Duck Kitchen’s mahogany-colored roast duck, most of the fat melted into the rich meat, scented with anise and ginger. Winner, winner, roast duck dinner.
99-115 ‘Aiea Heights Drive, ‘Aiea, 486-0005
Best Crispy Pork
Italians have their porchetta, Chinese have their roast pork and Filipinos have lechon. But not satisfied with just lechon, they also have crispy pata, a deep-fried pig leg. The best version is at Tiano’s in Waipahu, where crunchy pig skin encases soft, tender meat—no dry bits here. It’s served off the bone and chopped up, with a soy calamansi dipping sauce.
94-235 Hanawai Circle, Waipahu, 677-2992
Best Variation of Haupia
As much as we love Ted’s chocolate haupia cream pie, our new favorite adaptation of the coconut pudding dessert is Pomai Ku¯lolo’s haulolo, a smooth block of fresh haupia (the best we’ve tasted) atop a thin layer of kūlolo crust. It’s not too decadent, the savory crust balancing out the sweetness of the haupia, with just the right firmness, our teeth sinking through two magical desserts in one.
Various farmers markets, 699-6089, pomaikulolo.com
Best Kim Chee
We blind-taste-tested a number of kim chee—from jars distributed by kim chee conglomerate Halm’s, to other grocery store staples, to gourmet, small-batch kim chee products, to plastic tubs picked up from the corner store. And the surprising-but-why-are-we-surprised winners? Kim chee from two corner stores, the ones run by Koreans, where the kim chee is homemade and pungent, lights your tastebuds on fire with chili and leaves them with an afterglow of fishy umami: Sidewalk Deli and Number One Store.
Sidewalk Deli, 1154 Fort St. Mall, #107, 538-1688; Number One Store, 1638 10th Ave.
Best Homemade Waffle Cone
We’re slow eaters. We call it savoring. And that means we usually end up with ice cream on our arms and chins, which is why we love Wing Ice Cream’s waffle cones: They can stand up to the dripping scoops of Pretz-i-dent and Nutella Bella we can’t help but stack upon each other, with new flavors precariously perched on the melting tower that gets taller and drippier each time we come by (S’moreos? Two scoops, please). Somehow, the delicate and crunchy, hot-off-the-iron cones maintain their structure without turning into gooey messes. For that, they get an A. For tasting like a sugary wafer cookie, enriched with chocolate or sprinkles, they get an A+.
1145 Maunakea St., Suite 4 (entrance on North Pauahi Street), 536-4929
Liliko‘i, li hing shiso, strawberry ume, lava flow, guava—where else do sorbettos capture the culture and flavors of the Islands this perfectly? Via Gelato’s fresh-churned sorbettos deliver bright, cheery flavors we can’t get enough of. Pair a sorbetto with one of Via Gelato’s gelato for a perfect play of icy and creamy, fruity and lush.
1124 12th Ave., 732-2800
Best Moscow Mule
In our quest to find the city’s best Moscow mule, we found variations with different types of citrus, legit house-made ginger beer (sometimes with bits of fresh ginger), local honey. But, in order to be a true Moscow mule, our criteria were strict: Tangy lime juice, a spicy hit of ginger beer, some honest-to-Pete vodka and a lime wedge. Strong, but not too strong. And, for tradition’s sake, it damn well better be in a chilled copper mug. That’s exactly what you get at Manifest, where your tongue tingles with delight as you try to remember that this is, indeed, alcoholic, so slow your roll. While you’re there, go for the Manifest Mule, too, a variation that uses bourbon instead of vodka, and house-made liliko‘i shrub.
32 N. Hotel St., manifesthawaii.com