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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Kamameshi hot pot rice bowl with butterfish
Eating House 1849
Photo: Courtesy of Eating House 1849
Eating House 1849 is a nod to one of Hawai‘i’s first restaurants, an 1800s hub of Hawaiian fusion cuisine that drew from local farmers, ranchers and fishermen. In that same vein, chef Roy Yamaguchi’s kamameshi hot pot rice bowl with butterfish pays homage to Japanese-influenced Hawai‘i bento lunches. Hearty and savory sweet, this kettle fried-rice dish shines thanks to the fresh-caught fish and a generous drizzling of spicy kabayaki sauce. The dish is slow-cooked in an iron pot called a kama—kamameshi translates to “kettle rice”—and is best enjoyed after a good stir.
$31, 2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka Road, Kōloa, (808) 742-5000, eatinghouse1849.com.
Art Café Hemingway
Kaua‘i’s Coconut Coast is a far cry from the snow-blanketed Swiss Alps, where gently bubbling fondue pots bring people together much like a round of pau hana beers. Yet nestled in a charming bluebird-blue building steps from the Kapa‘a shoreline is the unexpected Art Café Hemingway, where the cheese fondue is rich and oozing. A great beacon of the classic Swiss dish, this European-style art gallery and café’s velvety blend of white wine and melted alpine cheeses is authentic enough to make you second-guess your geocoordinates. Served over fire with a side plate of sliced sausage, apple, homemade bread and other treats for dunking, the fondue is best enjoyed communally.
$24 for one person or $18 to $19 per group member, sides not included, 4-1495 Kūhiō Highway, Kapa‘a, (808) 822-2250, artcafehemingway.com.
Salted caramel ice cream sundae
Jean Georges’ salted caramel ice cream sundae is the perfect balance of savory and sweet. Think of it as all your cinema favorites rolled into one, with three dainty dollops of creamy ice cream floated over a bed of crunchy popcorn and peanuts in a pool of chocolate sauce. It’s a textural delight. Topped with a sticky square of caramel brittle and an airy pillow of whipped cream, this dish is the ultimate one-two punch of dessert and after-midnight snack.
$13, 5520 Ka Haku Road, Princeville, (808) 826-2250, kauaigrill.com
Frida’s Mexican beach house
Hawai‘i-Regional-Cuisine-pioneer chef Mark Ellman is back with a new, upscale Mexican restaurant. Located at Māla Wharf, Frida’s serves great, freshly caught seafood, but you know what your heart really wants: the oversize Māla Burrito, served wet with your choice of meat. We’d recommend the Ni‘ihau lamb, which comes redolent of guajillo, ancho and arbol chilies, but wouldn’t blame you if you couldn’t resist the short rib option.
$18.75, 1287 Front St., Lahaina, (808) 661-1287, fridasmaui.com.
Pineapple upside-down cake
Hali‘imaile General Store
photo: courtesy hali‘imaile general store
You usually find pineapple upside-down cake at bakeries or potlucks—not at an award-winning restaurant. But chef/owner Bev Gannon has turned this classic into something decadent. These single-serving-size cakes are made with sweet Maui Gold pineapple, caramelized and baked with a buttery, house-made pound cake. It arrives warm and topped with whipped cream and a sweet slice of pineapple.
$12, 900 Hali‘imaile Road, Makawao, (808) 572-2666, hgsmaui.com.
All Things Pork Ramen
photo: david t. cole
Steaming, molasses-colored pork broth, steeped for two days with leeks, onions, aromatics, konbu, mushrooms and a secret ingredient, glazes chewy (Sun Noodle) noodles in perfect balance. Beneath there’s the hint of bacon, garlic and ginger from the dollop of slow-cooked tare (sauce) that melts into the broth, and on top there’s rich, thick-sliced char siu pork belly. It’s all garnished with pea shoots, an oozy boiled egg, crisp seaweed and spicy chicharrons. Lest you think it’s all too rich, a bite of soy-braised, citrusy ali‘i mushrooms brightens the porky flavors. Together this bowl is a soul-soothing umami bomb.
$12, Noodle Club, 67-1185 Māmalahoa Highway, A106, Waimea, (808) 885-8825.
Classic Cheesy Melt
The Red Barn
Sharp cheddar, Gruyere, Swiss and American cheeses melt seamlessly between thick slices of toothsome, artisan-made rosemary asiago bread, slathered in butter for a classic, crunchy grilled cheese sandwich. It’s accompanied by a zippy tomato bisque, Waimea cucumber dill pickle and Honoka‘a sweet potato chips. This is a small-kid-time favorite made better.
$8, Wednesdays and Saturdays, farmers markets, Pukalani Stables, 67-139 Pukalani Road, Waimea.
The phrase “comfort food” first appeared in 1966, when the Palm Beach Post used it in a story about obesity: “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called ‘comfort food’—food associated with the security of childhood, like mother’s poached egg or famous chicken soup.”