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50 Gourmet Comfort Food Dishes in Hawai‘i That’ll Warm Your Heart and Soul

Comfort food might be indulgent, but it connects us to family, traditions, cultures. Here are some of our favorites, elevated, but still reminding us of when life was simpler and calories didn’t exist.


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Macaroni and cheese pancakes

Morning Glass Coffee + Café 

Macaroni and cheese pancakes from Morning Glass Coffee + Café.

 

A ridiculous yet genius interpretation of the classic, Morning Glass Coffee + Café offers mac ’n’ cheese pancakes for weekend brunch and its once-a-month “night breakfast” event, using elbow macaroni, pancake batter and aged Vermont cheddar. The result is crispy on the outside, gooey and melty on the inside, and tastes amazing. Where have mac ’n’ cheese pancakes been all our lives? Served with complimentary maple syrup, and bacon on top for just $1.50 more.

$9, 2955 E. Mānoa Road, 673-0065, morningglasscoffee.com.

 

“I grew up eating the most delicious homemade fried chicken, cornbread, mashed potatoes and white gravy. I still make the pilgrimage home to eat ‘Granny’s chicken.’”
—Kyle Reutner, Kō Hana brand manager 

 

Hawaiian-Style Nachos

Highway Inn

Hawaiian-style nachos from Highway Inn.

Photos: Steve Czerniak

 

These nachos are made with fresh, sweet-salty, crunchy ‘uala (sweet potato) chips, piled with lean and smoky kālua pig, sour cream, guacamole, green onions and a side of salsa. Bring friends to help devour this treat since it’s a big portion and the cheese eventually cools, making it tougher to keep eating, which you will want to do.

$13.75, 680 Ala Moana Blvd., #105, 954-4955.

 

Chicken fat rice

The Pig & The Lady 

Chicken fat rice from the Pig & the Lady.

 

Meet the chicken fat rice, a staple side at The Pig & The Lady (you’ll find it in a lot of the grilled meat dishes) that’s all about balance. It’s a subtle, yet thoroughly satisfying, take on jasmine rice. The grains are first cooked in chicken broth and turmeric for some slightly next-level flavor, then drizzled with chicken fat and topped with chilies. It complements your show-stopping entrée, yet still sings a backup to which local rice-lovers will give hearty applause.

$4, 83 N. King St., 585-8255.

 

Truffle mac ’n’ cheese

Kissaten

The 24-hour coffee bar Kissaten offers a truffle mac ’n’ cheese featuring aged white cheddar and truffle oil, topped with roasted chicken breast, bacon crumbles and torched bread crumbs. It’s hearty and gigantic and comes served on a massive plate, perfect for sharing. Purists beware, though: Kissaten opts for penne pasta instead of macaroni and, with the bonus chicken and bacon, the meal feels like more of a cheesy pasta dish rather than your conventional mac ’n’ cheese.

$10.75, 88 Pi‘ikoi St., 593-1200, kissatencafe.com.  

 

“My comfort food is noodles. Any kind of soupy noodles. Japanese ramen, Chinese duck noodle, wonton noodle soup, udon.”—Alan Wong, chef/owner, Alan Wong’s Honolulu, The Pineapple Room, Alan Wong’s Shanghai

 

Milk ’n’ cereal pancakes

Scratch Kitchen and Bake Shop

Milk ’n’ cereal pancakes from Scratch Kitchen and Bake Shop.

 

The Scratch folks roll at least three kinds of comfort into one short stack. The pancakes themselves taste lighter than they look, which makes them just the right partner for the sweet milk-and-cereal topping that transports us back to the comfort of cereal eaten in pajamas. The fruit on top plays a tasty supporting role while counterbalancing the sweetness. Call it a lovely breakfast for one, or split it with a friend alongside a savory choice. We’d go for the Loco Moco Royale.

$10, 1030 Smith St., 536-1669.

 

Corn Chowder

Monkeypod Kitchen

Corn chowder is too often simply “potato soup with bits of corn.” Not here. The Maui sweet corn stands on its own, and this deceptively simple soup packs a complex combination of flavors. Fresh coconut milk and local lemongrass add a trace of Thai curry flavor, and fresh black pepper and cayenne give some spice. It also features celery, kale and tomato (all local), which add balanced diversity to the taste. For a hearty soup, this chowder’s quite subtle.

$8.95, 92-1048 Olani St., Suite 4-107, Kapolei, 380-4086, monkeypodkitchen.com

 

 

Cap’n Crunch Milkshake

Franky Fresh

Cap’n crunch milkshake from Franky Fresh.

Photo: Aaron Yoshino

 

Oh, so Momofuku serves cereal milk? That’s cute. Eighties-pop-themed Franky Fresh blends a scoop of your favorite small-kid-time cereal right into a thick vanilla milkshake and then sprinkles it with cereal pieces—so take that. The Cap’n Crunch shake is the very best of Saturday mornings in front of the TV, but in a slightly more adult format, we tell ourselves after ordering from a vinyl record menu. It’s not good just because it’s nostalgia in a frosted glass, it’s good, period.

$7.49, 3040 Wai‘alae Ave., 734-0404 .

 

Jidori fried chicken biscuit slider with corn-and-bacon gravy

Avenue’s Bar + Eatery

Many a late-night snacker has attempted to wedge a piece of Sunday’s fried chicken between crumbling biscuit halves—a task which, while delicious, is nearly impossible to do neatly, especially if gravy is involved. Well, the new Avenue’s Bar + Eatery, which took over the old Salt (and briefly Hale Ōhuna) space, has triumphed where Popeye’s wimped out. If you’ve had Salt’s Jidori chicken, you’ll be reunited with a thick, juicy thigh that is crunchy without being over-battered. Similar restraint is shown with the chow-chow-like mix, just a smattering of sweet corn and (maybe) diced peppers, and the gravy—it is brushed on, not ladled and smothering. This helps the substantial biscuit keep the whole thing together through the entire three-bite experience. At $6, this is as good as it gets, right up there with chicken and waffles.

$6, 3605 Wai‘alae Ave., 744-7567, avenuesbarandeatery.com

 

“My comfort food go-to is Palace Saimin. Medium wonton min, add three pieces [of char siu], two barbecue sticks, always. Ramen is trendy, but saimin is life.”
—Mark “Gooch” Noguchi, chef/owner, Lunchbox and Mission Social Hall & Café

 

Grilled Stinky Cheese Sandwiches

The Tchin Tchin! Bar

Grilled stinky cheese sandwiches from Tchin Tchin! Bar.

Photo: Steve Czerniak

 

Ah, a grilled cheese sandwich and juice—was there ever a more satisfying after-school treat, as a kid? Well, turns out grownups really do have it better: The stinky grilled cheese sandwich at the Tchin Tchin! Bar has been upgraded with gooey, just-pungent-enough Taleggio cheese, smeared with a sweet onion marmalade to counterbalance the tang, and then garnished with house-made vegetable pickles. Pair it with a pinot or Côtes du Rhône from Tchin Tchin’s extensive wine list, and you’ve really got something. The sandwich comes cut into four points, but, hey, you’re an adult now—you don’t have to share if you don’t want to.

$10, 39 N. Hotel St., 528-1888, thetchintchinbar.com.

 

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Honolulu Magazine August 2018
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