38 Best New Dishes and Drinks You Must Try in Hawai‘i
The best new dishes and drinks around the state.
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Photos: Steve Czerniak
Livestock Tavern may be making its name as a hot new restaurant because of the seasonal comfort food: Remember the crab carbonara, the scallop-and-pea risotto and the house-cured lamb bacon in the BLT? But a simply wonderful mainstay is the lunch version of the fresh catch of the day, which of late comes atop beet-bright braised quinoa in a moat of Champagne vinaigrette. Owners Dusty Grable and Jesse Cruz say dishes will keep changing with the four-season palate, but the catch, the burger and other favorites will stay on.
$14, 49 N. Hotel St., 537-2577
Chocolate Cremeux Semifreddo
Top of Waikīkī
Chocolate cremeux semifreddo: a mouthful of words that translates into a mouthful of awesome ice-cream cake. Smooth with milk chocolate, crunchy with dark chocolate chunks. It’s one of the new desserts at the Top of Waikīkī, where pastry chef Heather Bryan, formerly of Vintage Cave and Nobu, recently joined the team. And she’s really turned the previously lackluster dessert menu around (get it? Around?).
$9, 2270 Kalākaua Ave., 923-3877
The Picadillo, a recent addition to the French-Latin American menu at Grondin, features an appetizer-size portion of minced Makaweli beef simmered with roasted red peppers, olives and capers and is served with a mound of fried yucca chips. It’s arguably Honolulu’s most soulful chips and dip, coming across more like a complex bowl of evocative chili. The slight sweetness comes from cumin and unrefined Mexican piloncillo cane sugar. There’s a red jalapeño aji rojo dip on the side, but chances are you won’t need it. If you can’t get to Grondin for dinner, get the picadillo in a sandwich at lunch.
$10, 62 N. Hotel St., 566-6768
Chicken and Pomelo Salad
Stop equating Chinese food with greasy food. Jade Dynasty offers Hong-Kong-style cuisine, featuring more refined and delicate dishes than the usual dim sum and Chinese dinner menus around Honolulu. Take the chicken and pomelo salad: Half a marinated chicken is shredded and tossed with fresh, local pomelo, lots of chopped parsley and pine nuts. Simple and refreshing.
$11.95, at Ho‘okipa Terrace at Ala Moana Center, 947-8818
Milk & Cereal Pancakes
Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop
Breakfast is served daily from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at this welcome addition to the downtown comfort-food lineup. The menu varies with the seasons, but a clear favorite has emerged: Milk & Cereal Pancakes. The sizable stack of four frosted-flake-infused pancakes comes adorned with sliced fruit and granola, surrounded by milk flavored by sugar-kissed cereal. Egg whites beaten into the pancakes keep them lighter than they look. Still, sharing a stack with the table seems the way to go. That leaves room to experiment with shrimp ’n’ grits with Kaua‘i shrimp or the lunch menu, which starts at 10:30 a.m.
$10, 1030 Smith St., 536-1669
Savory Parmesan Ramen
Start with Agu’s richest, porkiest bowl of ramen, the kotteri, which features a thick, almost gravy-like broth, achieved by simmering pork bones for hours, and then top it with a snowy mound of fresh-shaved Parmesan, and you get Honolulu’s most decadent bowl of ramen ever. Parmesan and ramen? It totally works, like mac ’n’ cheese with a heavy dose of porky goodness.
$15.75, 925 Isenberg St., 492-1637
Sushi ii’s selection of rare fish keeps this little sushi bar at the top of our list. But, in the past year, chef Ricky Goings, who previously cooked at Aki No No and He‘eia Pier and General Store, has melded his Western and Japanese culinary influences into hot dishes from the Sushi ii’s tiny kitchen. Goings introduces some seasonality to the menu, such as with the persimmon tempura (persimmon in the fall, peach in the summer)—sweet, just barely soft chunks of the fruit coated in a lacy, crisp batter like the fried taro puffs you find at dim sum places. They’re piled on mashed avocado spiked with lemon and showered with Parmesan and fried prosciutto (like bacon bits!).
$10, inside Samsung Plaza, 655 Ke‘eaumoku St., Suite 109, 942-5350
Kamal Jemmari’s salty-sweet oxtail, new on the menu as of spring, tastes of his childhood in Morocco. It’s a modified version of his mother’s recipe for dinner on the second day of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim period of feasting following the month-long Ramadan fast. While the spices—a gentle mix of cinnamon, cloves and other aromatics—are straight from the markets of Marrakech, Jemmari has swapped out the traditional lamb’s neck for the more widely available oxtail, and added fresh porcini mushrooms to the stew. Order in advance, as the dish sometimes runs out.
$24, 1028 Nu‘uanu Ave., 554-3847
There are few desserts happier than this: a stack of piping-hot butter mochi cubes studded with bursts of blueberry, topped with bananas and strawberry ice cream drizzled with butterscotch and sunflower seeds. Who knew? Hot and icy cold, chewy, creamy, crunchy and underscored by the comforting notes of delicious childhood memories, this one calls you home. It ranks right up there with Nobu’s classic Bento Box of Valrhona chocolate cake with green tea ice cream. Don’t wait too long to try it—pastry chef Jenny Sumpter likes to concoct new tobanyaki recipes with each season.
$13, 2233 Helumoa Road, 237-6999
Crispy Mochi Sticks
What’s better than fried mochi? Mochi, mozzarella and mentaiko (spicy cod roe), wrapped up in thin rice paper and fried. Crispy, gooey, salty—the Japanese version of American fried mozzarella sticks. And just like those, these pūpū go great with beer. Or sake. Even better, during happy hour, from 4 to 6 p.m. and 9 to 11 p.m., beer and sake are just $3, and the mochi sticks $5. $7.75.
611 Kapahulu Ave., 737-0125, restaurantwada.com
Ethiopian Love Veggie Sampler
The fare at Honolulu’s new and only Ethiopian restaurant consists of traditional wot stews, tib stir-fries and tangy injera flatbread. But the plethora of cooked vegetarian options that rise beyond the usual insipid salads and flavorless legumes is breathtaking. The six choices spooned onto a sheet of injera the size of a washbasin are as colorful as they are flavorful, from the vertical tasting of brown, yellow and red lentils to the three contrasting veg dishes. Highlights include azifa brown lentils, bright with lemon juice and bell peppers, and soulful yellow lentils, which finish with the taste of tea. Warning: Ask for utensils if you need them; otherwise tear off pieces of injera and eat with your hands.
$20, 1112 Smith St., 725-7197
Okinawan Soba Mazemen
Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas
Mazemen is essentially ramen without the soup—it was originally conceived for staff meals. Of the five elements of a ramen bowl—noodles, soup stock, tare (a liquid seasoning), aroma oils and toppings—the soup is the most expensive. Hiroshi’s mazemen, however, isn’t some slapped-together dish made of leftovers. Thick, chewy noodles are tossed in an umami-rich clam and mushroom jus that tastes of the ocean. Grilled salmon, salmon-skin cracklings and ikura underscore the seafood notes, and the noodles are brightened with shiso and calamansi, slivers of chili and fine threads of limu.
Note: Vino and Hiroshi at Restaurant Row closed near the end of May, just as we were going to press. We offer a fond farewell to two of our favorite restaurants.
Korean Shave Ice
“How many is this for?” Sitting next to the apple selections in Ke‘eaumoku Supermarket’s fruit section, we gape at En Hakkore’s ramen bowl mounded with bejeweled promises of icy goodness. “Two or three people,” our server smiles. “And this”—she points to a freshly pulled shot of espresso—“is to pour on top, as much as you like.” We’ve heard this patbingsu, or Korean-style shave ice, is like no other: Ice like fresh snow, drizzled with sweetened milk and sprinkled with soft lobes of mochi, the nutty powders of roasted grains, plus fresh fruit and nuts. A thick layer of whole-red-bean azuki waits in the middle. We—actually, I—eat the entire bowl.
$9.99, 835 Ke‘eaumoku St., 250-3513
Let Them Eat Cupcakes
We used to think of blondies as just inferior versions of brownies. But not these beauties at Let Them Eat Cupcakes. They’re a perfect threesome of liliko‘i, dense cake and crème brûlée—they have a magic, crackly, lightly caramelized sugar surface that breaks way to a burst of bright liliko‘i flavor. Who needs chocolate anymore? Just kidding.
$2, 1153 Bethel St., 531-2253