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36 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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30. 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.

$42, 2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka Road, Kōloa, (808) 742-5000, eatinghouse1849.com


31. Classic Fondue

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.


32. Salted caramel ice cream sundae

Kaua‘i Grill

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.

Part of the three-course prix-fixe menu, $90, 5520 Ka Haku Road, Princeville, (808) 826-2250, kauaigrill.com 



33. la burrito

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. 

$22.95, 1287 Front St., Lahaina, (808) 661-1287, fridasmaui.com


34. 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.


Big Island

35. All Things Pork Ramen

Noodle Club

All things pork ramen from Noodle Club.

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, noodleclubwaimea.com.


36. 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.

$9, Wednesdays and Saturdays, farmers markets, Pukalani Stables, 67-139 Pukalani Road, Waimea.


Fast Fact

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.”


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Honolulu Magazine May 2020
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