Best of Honolulu 2011: Food

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Murphy’s Bar and Grill won editor's pick for best secret pie.

Photo: Michael Keany

 

Editor's Picks

Popsicles

OnoPops are poised to be the Next Big Dessert, as brothers Joe and Josh Welch take the childhood standard into foodie territory: Think strawberry goat cheese, caramel shoyu (tastes like salted caramel) and Kona latte. Using only local ingredients, the flavors are super-local, too—there’s nothing Mainland about crackseed lemon peel and pineapple li hing mui. “They’re a great vehicle for local products,” says Joe, a Hawai‘i Kai firefighter by day. Pops are made with fresh and seasonal ingredients, so don’t expect mango honey cream year-round. And li hing lovers rejoice! They make the powder themselves; it’s organic and for sale soon on its own. Available at Whole Foods, Kalapawai Market by the beach and various farmer’s markets; for more locations visit onopops.com.

Taco Tuesday

There are quite a few Taco Tuesdays out there. But only one is worth visiting. Pablo’s Cantina in Ward Centre serves up tasty, authentic tacos on its lanai every week. For only a buck a piece you can munch your way through chicken or beef tacos, or $2 carnitas or tacos al pastor with all the fixings in hard shells or house-made tortillas. Don’t forget about margaritas with Cazadores tequila—$4 each or $17 for a pitcher. Ward Centre, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., 591-8307.

Steakhouse Burger Bargain

Such a deal. During lunch at Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in the Royal Hawaiian Center, you can get its half-pound sirloin burger for $10.  It’s one of the meatiest burgers around, and you get fries with it, plus a heap of real onion rings. The only downside: Cheese is a dollar extra. But the burger lunch—good service, white-tablecloth surroundings, first-rate burger—comes with three hours of free validated parking at Royal Hawaiian Center. Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, Royal Hawaiian Center, 2201 Kalakaua Ave., 922-3600, wolfgangsteakhouse.com.

Macarons

“It’s a delicate little process, making macarons,” says self-taught baker Eileen Papero, of Haleiwa’s Coffee Gallery. These delicate little confections are Parisian-style cookies, made of two discs of meringue held together by a smear of sweet filling—not the pile-of-coconut, dipped-in-chocolate, American version, mind you. These elusive cookies are notoriously hard to make and only carried by a few Island eateries. Coffee Gallery’s version is bigger than its competitors’ and packed with rich flavors—the mocha with chocolate ganache was our favorite. One flavor available daily (baker’s choice), Coffee Gallery, 66-250 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, 637-5355, roastmaster.com.

Vegan Treats

Turns out it’s tough to find a vegan dessert, without butter, milk or eggs, that tastes great. After brownies that went down like paste, appropriately named banana “leather,” and a scone so dry it made our tongues hurt, we were relieved to find sinfully delicious vegan sweets at Down to Earth.  Not only was the selection fantastic—from cookies to muffins to cakes—the chocolate brownie was so moist and chocolaty that the entire staff still wonders if maybe just a little butter was snuck in there. 2525 So. King St., 947-7678, downtoearth.org.

Secret Pie

The sweetest things are always the most elusive. Regulars at Murphy’s Bar and Grill know about Pie Friday—when co-owner and pie baker extraordinaire Marion Murphy serves up a limited selection of home-baked pies. “If I did it more than once a week it wouldn’t be as special,” says Murphy. We ate blueberry, lemon meringue, and apple. Delicious, unfussy, perfect. Call ahead to reserve a slice or get there for lunch, because pies always sell out. 2 Merchant St., 531-0422, murphyshawaii.com.

Custom Cakes

If you need a plain, old sheet cake, head to Costco. If you need a scale replica of Aloha Stadium, or a highly detailed R2-D2 or even a towering Tiki head, Cakelava is the answer. “Pretty much, anything goes,” says co-owner Sasha Reichart. “We get crazy requests, and we almost never have to say no.” Her husband, Rick, has been crafting spectacular custom cakes for almost 20 years, and has been featured in People Magazine and Wedding Style and on the Food Network. Not only are Reichart’s creations one-of-a-kind sculptures, they’re also surprisingly edible. “It’s important to us that you be able to eat our cake,” says Sasha. “Everything is made from scratch, no mixes or preservatives, and often they’re served within four hours of delivery.” If you’ve got a special occasion coming up, call in early; Cakelava is already taking orders for the end of 2011. 263-2868, cakelava.com.

Mac and Cheese

Sometimes less is more when it comes to classic comfort food such as macaroni and cheese. We tried mac-and-cheese dishes all over town, and, while they were all tasty, 12th Avenue Grill has perfected the art of decadence. The serving might look small, but the rich flavor will take you down: elbow pasta swimming in a housemade Parmesan cheese sauce is topped with bread crumbs, then baked, giving it a warm and creamy texture. Connoisseurs can add alii mushrooms or Black-Forest ham. After two bites, your taste buds will tap out. 1145 12th Ave. Suite C, 732-9469, 12thavegrill.com.

Butter

Two years ago, Oahu’s only dairy—Naked Cow Dairy—was making 25 pounds of butter a week. Now, sisters Monique Vander Stroom and Sabrina St. Martin churn out 150 pounds of the creamy condiment weekly, and it’s showing up everywhere: at Alan Wong’s restaurant, Whole Foods and even fellow “Best of Honolulu” winner OnoPops’ butter-mochi popsicle. Look next for truffle butter and hard cheeses such as havarti and gouda, their undertaking for the new year. Available at local farmers’ markets, Whole Foods and select Foodlands: Beretania, Foodland Farms ‘Aina Haina and Kailua. 696-7430, nakedcowdairy.com.

Cocktail

Mai tais sometimes get a bad rap as a kitchy tourist cocktail, but, at Waikiki Edition, the drink has been re-imagined. “You take the cocktail apart and put it back together, but not necessarily in the same order,” says mixologist Christian Self, who, with collaborators Tobin Ellis, John Lehmeyer and Sam Treadway, has assembled drink menus for the hotel’s three bars. His deconstructed mai tai consists of Pyratt XO Rum mixed with a homemade orgeate (almond syrup) and topped off with curaço citrus foam. 1775 Ala Moana Blvd., 943-5800, editionhotels.com.

Veggie Burger

A tasty burger doesn’t always have to come with a meat patty. At Burgers on the Edge, the veggie burger rivals its more beefy brothers. It’s made with quinoa, mushrooms, black beans, macadamia nuts, cumin and oats. Better yet, the patty, with a panko crust, stays together bite after delicious bite. “People that are beef eaters try it and like it,” says co-owner Jason Kim. “We’re making more every day; we’ve doubled our batches as more people find out about it.” We found that adding sprouts, avocado, tomato and spicy Thousand Island dressing make this veggie burger even more flavorful. 888 Kapahulu Ave., 737-8866, burgersontheedge.com.

Local Meat

Local beef that isn’t shipped to the Mainland for grain finishing is grass-fed, which means you never know how tough it’s going to be.  However, the Hawaii Ranchers Association is now producing Hawaii red veal, a tender, consistently tasty, more humane alternative to feedlot veal. Why red veal? Veal was originally a product of the dairy industry: young male calves were fed skim milk, leaving their flesh white.  Hawaii red veal calves are allowed to roam pastures, free of hormones and antibiotics. Look for Hawaii red veal at R Field Beretania and Kailua, Foodland Aina Haina and the KCC Farmers’ Market. If you don’t feel like cooking, it’s on the menu at Tango, 12th Avenue Grill, Town, Roy’s Hawaii Kai and Waikiki, The Pacific Club, Michel’s, Rokkaku and the Halekulani.