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Hawaii’s Best Chefs Recommend 109 Drinks and Dishes You Must Try Now

Forty-seven chefs recommend their favorite dishes—at their restaurants and around town.


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OAHU

1. Ed Kenney, chef/owner, Town

Town Restaurant’s pan-fried paiai with Shinsato Farm coppa di testa, local tomatoes and pohole.
Photos: Steve Czerniak
 

At his restaurant:

➸ The daily paiai preparation (price varies)

“I love paiai for its versatility, its cultural significance, its health benefits, and its flavor and texture,” Kenney says. “Whether it’s butter-basted in a pan, deep-fried, grilled or thinned into poi, it is neutral enough to complement just about any other ingredient but also delicious enough to stand on its own. At Town, the preparation changes daily, which feeds my short attention span and need for variety. Some of my favorite combinations pair it pan-roasted with grilled akule and grated tomatoes or deep-fried with compressed watermelon and pickled pohole.”

3435 Waialae Ave., #104, 735-5900
 

He also recommends:

➸ Mama Le’s noodle soup at The Pig and the Lady (price varies)

“Mama Le’s ever-changing noodle soups [are] always different, always delicious,” Kenney says. “Her rich, clear broths are so pure and clean, often sweetened with daikon, brightened with just the right amount of aromatics and herbs, with a satisfying savoriness or umami from dried shrimp and/or fried shallot. Yum!” 

83 N. King St., 585-8255

2. Ed Morita, pastry chef, Highway Inn Kakaako

At his restaurant:

➸ Poi-filled chocolate cupcake ($3)

The inspiration for the poi-filled chocolate cupcake came to Morita literally overnight. “I had a dream that [Town restaurant’s] Ed Kenney, Dave Caldiero and I were racing down a bobsled track riding woks,” says Morita. “Dave won the race and his prize was a bowl of poi.” The next day at work, he was making cupcakes and remembered the poi. He uses it in the cake batter, then fills the cupcakes with sour poi before they’re frosted. “The flavor of the cupcake is not right when I use fresh poi, which is why they are available only when we have sour poi at the restaurant,” he says.

680 Ala Moana Blvd., #105, 954-4955
 


 

He also recommends:

➸ Via Gelato (prices vary, around $4)

“I don’t really have a favorite flavor, I just go and get whatever one I haven’t tasted yet,” Morita says. The flavors change daily; if you’re lucky, you might catch the cherry amaretto with chocolate chips, brown-butter vanilla, black sesame or green tea Oreo.

1142 12th Ave., 732-2800

3. Lee Anne Wong, chef/partner, Koko Head Café

Photo: Mae Ariola
 

At her restaurant:

➸ Ohayou eggs ($15)

Of Koko Head Café’s most popular dishes, Wong singles out this dish, what she refers to as an “umami bomb.” It’s two eggs baked in a Parmesan dashi cream with heritage ham, soy-mirin shiitake and king oyster mushrooms and topped with bonito shavings and nori. “It’s rich, savory and absolutely addictive,” Wong says.

1145C 12th Ave., 732-8920
 

She also recommends:

➸ Peanut tofu ($6.50), seared mackerel ($8), taco rice ($10.75) at Izakaya Naru

“I am a huge fan of Izakaya Naru, a small Okinawan izakaya close to work and home,” Wong says. “Its menu is unique so I have plenty of favorites, three in particular: The peanut tofu with its strange, viscous texture and big flavor. The seared mackerel is torched tableside, and reminds me of Star Wars, like the Death Star shooting down flames to sear my fish. And, of course, the famous taco rice, which is sense-memory nostalgic because its hot stone bibimbap meets Old El Paso Taco Kit (which I grew up on). Oh, and you’re gonna add cheese to my sizzling rice bowl??? OK.” 

2700 S. King St., 951-0510

 

4. Justin Park, bar manager, Manifest

At his bar:

➸ Old Fashioned ($10, $5 at happy hour)

“You can get Old Fashioneds anywhere,” says Park. “We just make it the best way.” He mixes the classic ingredients of whiskey, sugar, bitters and orange, but “the secret is in the proof,” as in Knob Creek’s 120-proof bourbon. “It’s probably the cocktail we make and sell the most.”

32 N. Hotel St.
 

He also recommends:

➸ Fade to Red at Lucky Belly ($10)

“Cocktails are not about the drinks, but when, where and how you have them,” Park says. And where does he like to have them? Lucky Belly. “[The] Fade to Red is great. It’s not too sweet. It’s got some Campari, bitters and citrus—it’s generally the type of cocktail I enjoy.”

50 N. Hotel St., 531-1888


 

5. Geoff Seideman, owner/brewer, Honolulu Beerworks

At his bar:

➸ South Shore Stout ($6.75/pint)

How could anyone choose from the 11 different beers brewed at Honolulu Beerworks? Seideman makes it easy for you: “The South Shore Stout,” he says. “It’s delicious, well-balanced, and there’s so much flavor going on with chocolate and roasted malts.”

328 Cooke St., 589-2337
 

He also recommends:

➸ Deschutes’ Fresh-Squeezed IPA at JJ Dolan’s ($6)

The Deschutes Fresh-Squeezed IPA is a unique-tasting beer, Seideman says.  “It’s got a lot of nose, [or] a lot of aroma to it. It’s an easy drinking beer for an IPA.” Naturally, he pairs it with a slice of pizza.

1147 Bethel St., 537-4992

 

6. John Edwards, bar manager, Salt Bar and Kitchen

At his bar:

➸ Black and Orange ($11)

“It’s got a little more bitterness than a Manhattan,” says Edwards of his rye-based cocktail with Cynar (an artichoke-based, bitter liqueur). “It’s good for after dinner—it kind of settles your stomach after a meal. It’s an easy drink that both a man and woman could enjoy, not too boozy.” 

3605 Waialae Ave., 744-7567
 

He also recommends:

➸ Beef tartare ($12.50) and akami foie gras sushi ($9.50/pc) at Wada

Wada’s beef tartare has a “nuttiness and herbal finish that hits all flavor profiles,” says Edwards. It’s mixed with crushed pine nuts and shiso leaf, crowned with a quail egg. And then there’s the foie gras sushi—fatty fish and seared foie gras: “clean fat of the ocean topped with decadent fat of the land,” as Edwards puts it. “I usually get two!”

611 Kapahulu Ave., 737-0125

7. Troy Terorotua, chef/owner Brew’d Craft Pub

At his pub:

➸ Calabaza Blanca ($23 for 750-ml bottle)

“It’s a spiced, golden-white ale that is brewed Belgian style with coriander and orange peels. It comes with a nice tang.” If you’re a fan of sour beers, this one should hit the spot. Jolly Pumpkin is “known for its sours,” he says. “It’s just part of the bottling process and from years of doing it.”

3441 Waialae Ave., Suite A, 732-2337

 

He also recommends:

➸ Rogue Side Street Inn Ale at Side Street Inn ($6.50 draft)

The one-of-a-kind Side Street Inn Ale was crafted for owner Colin Nishida five years ago as a surprise gift from Jack Joyce of Rogue Ales.

1225 Hopaka St., 591-0253, or 614 Kapahulu Ave., #100, 739-3939



 

8. Dave Newman, bartender/owner, Pint and Jigger

At his bar:

➸ The Ricochet ($12, $10 at happy hour)

The Ricochet was named for the way the distinct flavors bounce around. “It’s probably the most well-balanced cocktail I’ve ever made,” says Newman. “It opens with a familiar Scotch flavor then transitions to the sweetness and herbal notes from the Meletti Amaro. Then, a few seconds later, it’s like, ‘Oh, hello, Talisker!’”

1936 S. King St., 744-9593
 

He also recommends:

➸ Cobra Commander at The Pig and the Lady ($11)

“I like to go down to The Pig and the Lady and have the bartender’s choice,” he says. “I’ll tell bartender Kyle Reutner I feel like a whiskey-forward cocktail, and he makes something special.” Otherwise, Newman recommends the spicy and smoky Cobra Commander cocktail made with avocado-infused mezcal, fresh lime, grapefruit liqueur and Sriracha ice cubes.

83 N. King St., 585-8255

 

9. Jon Matsubara, executive chef, Japengo

Photo: Courtesy of Jon Matsubara
 

At his restaurant:

➸ Roasted Kauai shrimp with mountain apple, ume, nashi and watermelon radish ($19)

“I’m working with Frankie’s Nursery in Waimanalo—it’s a museum of exotic fruits and veggies,” Matsubara says. Their relationship is “sort of freestyle,” as it changes with whatever is in season. He mixes Frankie’s crunchy, sweet mountain apples with nashi (Asian pear), ume and watermelon radish to make a salad, and pairs it with shrimp brushed with anchovy butter. “[With] all of the bright, fresh flavors from the ume and nashi, it’s like, Boom! It’s sour, sweet and crunchy with the toasted pumpkin seeds, and, with the micro-shiso, it really stands out.”

2424 Kalakaua Ave., 237-6180
 

He also recommends:

➸ Pig ears at Café Anasia ($9) and nakami soup

Café Anasia’s late-night hours mean you’ll usually find Matsubara there after work, with a beer and pig ears. “I can’t get it out of my mind right now,” he says. “It’s addicting. I’ll eat almost a pound—it’s so good and flavorful.”

2227 S. Beretania St., 951-9295
 

➸ Sushi at Sunrise Restaurant ($13.75)

Sunrise Restaurant serves a soup that Matsubara can’t find anywhere else. “This might sound a little weird—I think it’s intestines,” he says. “I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll try it. Nakami sounds sexy.’ It tastes like a clean clam broth. It’s outstanding. I have never heard or seen it anywhere else, and it’s by far one of my favorite dishes.”

525 Kapahulu Ave., 737-4118

10. Eric Rose, owner, Morning Glass Coffee and Café


 

At his restaurant:

➸ Burger ($9)

A burger isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you think of a coffee house. But it’s Rose’s top dish. It starts with freshly ground Kulana beef, simply seasoned and cooked medium-rare, topped with fresh burger fixin’s and served on a grilled ciabatta roll. “[It’s] great ingredients simply prepared, resulting in one of the best burgers in town and one of the best I’ve ever had.” The drawback: It’s served only Fridays and Saturdays and one night a month, during Burger Night. So when’s he going to add it to the daily menu?

2955 E. Manoa Road, 673-0065
 

He also recommends:

➸ Oyako udon ($8.50) at Jimbo Restaurant

“When I have time to get out, more often than not, I find myself at Jimbo,” he says. “Eat in or for takeout, I pretty much like everything on the menu. But my go-to dish is the oyako udon, a version of the classic chicken and egg over rice, with dashi and udon replacing the rice—a perfect combination. Great flavors, great balance. Makes me happy! True comfort food.”

1936 S. King St., #103, 947-2211

11. George Mavrothalassitis, chef/owner, Chef Mavro

Photo: Courtesy of George Mavrothalassitis
 

At his restaurant:

➸ Spicy bigeye ahi (part of tasting menus)

Though the menu at his high-end restaurant changes seasonally, Mavrothalassitis says there’s one thing that stays the same: His love for his spicy bigeye ahi. “Everyone makes spicy ahi, but this one is different,” he says. His take on the dish? He makes it with bigeye ahi, ogo, sea urchin-aleppo pepper aioli and sushi-style basmati rice.

1969 S. King St., 944-4714
 

He also recommends:

➸ Tripe stew at Ono Hawaiian Foods ($7.75)

“I go there after my day-off swim at Kaimana and that dish hits the spot when I’m that hungry. I also have to have fresh poi and pipikaula.”

726 Kapahulu Ave., 737-2275

 

12. Robert Urquidi, Ethel’s Grill

Photo: David Croxford
 

At his restaurant:

➸ Oyako don ($7.50)

Urquidi’s in-laws have run Ethel’s Grill for years, turning out local Japanese homestyle cooking such as turkey tails and hamburger steak topped with grated daikon. Urquidi’s favorite dish is the most quintessential, classic dish of them all—the oyako don, with simmered chicken and softly scrambled eggs poured over hot rice. “It’s one of the first things I had there, when I was first introduced to Minaka’s (his wife) mom and dad,” Urquidi says. “It’s simple. It’s not something crazy.”

232 Kalihi St., 847-6476
 

He also recommends:

➸ Prima pizza at V Lounge ($18)

“I can eat a whole one in five minutes,” says Urquidi of his go-to pizza at V Lounge, the Prima, with pancetta, topped with truffle oil and a raw egg yolk. “The crust is always good and the beer is always perfect there.”

1344 Kona St., 953-0007 [As we went to press, V Lounge had just become Inferno’s at the Lounge.]

13. Jesse Cruz, chef/owner, Lucky Belly

Photo: David Croxford
 

At his restaurant:

➸ Lobster shiu mai ($12)

This dish best represents Cruz’s culinary point of view. “It’s a fun appetizer that pulls inspiration from the dim sum we grew up on in Chinatown, and it also applies a French classic, beurre-blanc sauce flavored with local Meyer lemons,” he says. “This dish truly represents what Lucky Belly hopes to offer, in the sense of local Asian favorites done with other cultural influences.”

50 N. Hotel St., 531-1888
 

He also recommends:

➸ Hamachi tartare ($9.50) at Sushi Izakaya Gaku

When it comes to Cruz’s own belly, he doesn’t hesitate for a second. “Sushi Izakaya Gaku is my favorite spot,” he says. “I admire everything they do.” The hamachi tartare is the first dish off the top of his head, but he doesn’t bother to narrow his pick down to just one dish. “The beef tongue is always more than enjoyable. Their ikura is the best I’ve ever had—I want to learn their secret—and the fish bones are a lot of fun, too.”

1329 S. King St., 589-1329

14. Andrew Pressler, chef/partner, Grondin, a French-Latin Kitchen

Photo: courtesy of Andrew Pressler
 

At his restaurant:

➸ Pan-roasted Jidori chicken ($21)

“This dish is a great representation of what we are trying to accomplish here at Grondin by creating classic dishes using focused technique, quality ingredients, and presenting them in an unpretentious manner,” says Pressler. The chicken is a three-step process: first, a 24-hour brine, then the chicken is cooked sous vide in Grondin’s “master fat”—made with chicken, beef, pork and duck fat, for a “luscious tenderness”—and, finally, it’s pan seared for a crispy, fatty, salty effect on the skin.

62 N. Hotel St., 566-6768
 

He also recommends:

➸ Stir-fry mochi ($9.50) at Dew Drop Inn

Though new to the Islands, it didn’t take Pressler long to discover under-the-radar local gem Dew Drop Inn. “My favorites are the stir-fry mochi, spicy won ton and Shanghai buns,” he says. “Their dishes are consistently good.”

1088 S. Beretania St., 526-9522

 

15. Hide Yoshimoto, executive chef, Izakaya Torae Torae

Photo: Courtesy of Hide Yoshimoto
 

At his restaurant:

➸ Pork-belly kakuni ($8.95)

The most popular dish at Izakaya Torae Torae is just under $9 but takes more than six hours to prepare, to achieve melting tenderness and develop flavor. It’s served with simmered daikon and a slow-cooked egg with runny yolk.

1111 McCully St., 949-5959
 

He also recommends:

➸ The abalone croquette at Rinka ($9.75)

“[The restaurant] puts time and care into its dishes,” he says. “[The dish] is not something they just put together quickly.”

1500 Kapiolani Blvd., 941-5159

16. Ron de Guzman, chef, Stage

Photo: Courtesy of Stage

 

At his restaurant:

➸ Soy-braised short rib with unagi risotto ($30)

“It’s like comfort food,” says de Guzman. “It’s risotto with a soft, braised piece of meat on top. It’s kind of like unagi over rice; I was playing on a surf and turf dish.” He also folds water chestnuts into the risotto and surrounds it with a lobster cream sauce.

1250 Kapiolani Blvd., 237-5429
 

He also recommends:

➸ Beef cutlet at Rainbow Drive-In ($7.50)

“I turned Lindsey (his wife and a pastry chef), onto this,” he says. “It’s real tender and breaded with gravy all over. When we were dating, I took her to Rainbow for this—now, wherever she goes, she orders a breaded beef cutlet. But it’s not the same as at Rainbow.”

3308 Kanaina Ave., 737-0177

17. Vikram Garg, executive chef, Halekulani Hotel

Photo: Halekulani Corporation
 

At his restaurants:

➸ Ahi crudo ($22) at Orchids

➸ Fillet of beef “Rossini” (menu degustation: $195; four-course menu: $145; three-course menu: $110) at La Mer

➸ Coconut cake ($11) at House Without A Key

As the executive chef of the three restaurants at the Halekulani, Garg turns us on to three very different dishes, and all of them are worth the trip to Waikiki. At Orchids, Garg says to try the ahi crudo because the super-fresh fish, prepared with a hint of sake and lemon, plus the addition of peppery horseradish, make it the perfect combination. For a classic French dish, Garg recommends La Mer’s fillet of beef  “Rossini,” beef fillet with sauteed foie gras, souffle potato and Périgueux sauce. “This dish reminds me of my days at cooking school when we learned French classical cooking,” says Garg. “It takes me back in time.” Garg caps off his best dishes with … what else? House Without A Key’s timeless coconut cake with a cup of perfectly pulled espresso, made even better with an ocean view. Chef’s orders.

2199 Kalia Road, 923-2311
 

He also recommends:

➸ Salt-and-pepper pork chops ($11.95) at Fook Yuen

Garg isn’t alone in his fondness for Fook Yuen restaurant, where he says he always gets these fried pork chops for their “balance of sweetness, chili, garlic and crispy pork.”

McCully Shopping Center, 1960 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 200, 973-0168

 

18. Roy Yamaguchi, executive chef/owner, Roy’s Restaurant

Photo: David Croxford
 

At his restaurant:

➸ Misoyaki butterfish with sweet ginger wasabi butter ($21 appetizer, $44 entree)

“It has been a long-time classic and [has] flavors from my childhood,” Yamaguchi says.
 

He also recommends:

➸ Goya (bittermelon) with tofu and eggs ($15.95) and the nabera (squash) with tofu and green onions ($14.95) at Utage

When eating out, Yamaguchi often returns to this Okinawan restaurant for his childhood comfort food: “I always order those two dishes because my dad used to cook similar dishes while I was growing up.” 

1286 Kalani St., 843-8109

19. Sylvia Thompson, chef/owner, Greens and Vines

At her restaurant:

➸ Crimini “escargot” ($9.50)

Escargot without the snails and butter? What? But Thompson says when people try this dish at her raw, all-vegan eatery, they say “it’s like eating escargot, soft and garlicky, without the grease from butter and the bulk.” As this city’s leading lady of raw and vegan fare, she knows how to pack flavor, and with this dish sans snails, she slathers mushrooms with sunflower-seed croutons, macadamia-nut garlic “butter” with shallots, parsley and micro greens.

909 Kapiolani Blvd., 536-9680
 

Photo: David Croxford

 

She also recommends:

➸ Tea Leaf Salad at Dagon ($10.50)

“I love the complexity of all the ingredients mixed into one,” says Thompson of this popular Burmese restaurant’s signature salad. “You get the pop of jalapeños, the salt from the tea leaves, the crunch from peanuts, and the simplicity of the dressing with the squeeze of a lemon—and all those greens! Try the Indian salad with it on the side.”

2671 S. King St., 947-0088

20. Ronnie Nasuti, executive chef, Tiki’s Grill and Bar


 

At his restaurant:

➸ Garlicky shrimp with wasabi spaetzle ($27)

“I love pasta dishes, all kinds,” says Nasuti. His favorite one melds a Kahuku food trip—garlic shrimp and Kahuku corn—with German spaetzle spiked with wasabi.

2570 Kalakaua Ave., 923-8454
 

He also recommends:

➸ Cioppino at Sabrina’s (market price)

An insider’s secret for an off-menu gem: “I love to go to Sabrina’s. Great Italian food! I love the cioppino—it’s not on the menu, but [the owner] can usually make it by request.”

3036 Waialae Ave., 739-0220

 

21. Alan Wong, chef/owner, Alan Wong’s

At his restaurant:

➸ Special of the day (price varies)

Hard to nail down on any one dish, Wong recommends the special of the day because “it’s probably the most recent dish that we created, and it shows the growth and evolution of our kitchen and our inspirations,” he says. Right now, “a lot of my inspiration is coming from China. I’m working on a bunch of different reinterpretations like a Szechuan sauce, a mushroom and peanut relish and dim sum made from all kinds of wrappers with a variety of fillings. I’ve never used much dark soy sauce, black vinegar, or Chinese cooking wine, but now I am.” 

1857 S. King St., #208, 949-2526


He also recommends:

➸ Zip Pac ($8.95) at Zippy’s

“My go-to place to eat would probably be Zippy’s—I get the Zip Pac, because it reminds me of my younger days.”

Multiple locations, zippys.com.

22. D.K. Kodama, chef/owner, DK Restaurants

At his restaurant:

➸ Cajun-seared walu sashimi at Sansei ($12.95)

“This dish has great, complex flavors, brightness and excellent texture,” says Kodama. Shaved Maui onion, jalapeños and cilantro help cut walu’s characteristic richness, while a yukke (Korean chili) sauce adds vibrancy.

2552 Kalakaua Ave., 931-6286
 

Photo: Linny Morris
 

He also recommends:

➸ Yakiniku at 678 Hawaii and Seoul Garden Yakiniku (prices vary)

Kodama may have secured his place as a steakhouse master in the local foodscape, but he says when he’s hungry, he goes for Korean. Newcomer 678 Hawaii and the old standby Seoul Garden Yakiniku top his list. “We always have yakiniku and soft tofu miso stew,” he says. “Grill the meat and wrap it in lettuce with green onions and miso, then dip it into a salt and oil sauce. One bite with kimchee and rice. Delicious!”

678 Hawaii, 1726 Kapiolani Blvd., 941-6678; Seoul Garden Yakiniku, 1679 Kapiolani Blvd., 944-4803

23. Kamal Jemmari, chef/co-owner, Kan Zaman

Photo: Steve Czerniak
 

At his restaurant:

➸ Merguez sandwich for lunch ($11) and the lamb couscous for dinner ($22.95)

The spiced lamb sausage on a baguette is “kind of emotional for me—it reminds me of the street-food vendors at home in Marrakech where I grew up,” says Jemmari. “Besides, it’s very tasty.”

If the merguez reminds Jemmari of his hometown, the lamb couscous brings back memories of his mother. For this dish, he’s kept her original touches of preserved lemon and saffron. “When I was a little kid I came back from school for lunch,” Jemmari says. When she made couscous, “before I even got inside the house, I knew what she was cooking.”

1028 Nuuanu Ave., 554-3487
 

He also recommends:

➸ Pho at Hale Vietnam (medium $9.69, large $10.99)

“Once I had it the first time, I wanted to have it all the time,” says Jemmari. “It’s refreshing, not heavy. I could have that soup every day for breakfast. 

1140 12th Ave., 735-7581

 

24. Quinten Frye, chef/owner, Cocina

Photo: Steve Czerniak
 

At his restaurant:

➸ Headcheese carnitas ($9)

Frye’s top pick is “different from most tacos. I don’t think you can find anything like it anywhere on the island,” he says. Indeed: First, they’re made out of Shinsato Farm pigs heads, which Frye says he gets first dibs on because he’s been using them for so long. Second, they’re topped with a fresh orange and poblano relish. “People think Mexican food should be really spicy, but this is especially balanced,” Frye says.

667 Auahi St., cocinahawaii.com
 

He also recommends:

➸ Unagi and butterfish arancini at MW Restaurant ($12)

MW’s arancini are deep-fried risotto balls stuffed with unagi and butterfish, on a mound of salty-sweet nori tsukudani. “It’s so unique,” Frye says. “Arancini, you think Italian, you don’t think butterfish and unagi."

1538 Kapiolani Blvd., #107, 955-6505
 

25. Shaymus Alwin, chef, Azure

At his restaurant:

➸ Lobster roll (part of the Royal Papaaina menu: $160)

“I’m originally from Maine, and my dad is a lobster man,” Alwin says. “It’s something I did every summer growing up. Instead of summer fun, my dad put me to work. We’d always make lobster rolls from the leftovers the next day. It’s simplicity at its best.” Alwin took the family classic and made his own modern local interpretation, which uses poached Kona lobster on fresh house-made brioche, Meyer lemon preserves, truffle aioli, and tarragon and tobiko brown butter.

The Royal Hawaiian, 2259 Kalakaua Ave., 923-7311
 

He also recommends:

➸ Rabbit moco at Moke’s Bread and Breakfast ($13.95)

“I’m a fan of breakfast at any time,” Alwin says. “Moke’s has this Shinsato Farm rabbit moco—it’s pretty unique. I don’t know who else has a rabbit moco on their menu. Not only are you supporting a local farm, it’s a great idea and a delicious dish.”

27 Hoolai St., Kailua, 261-5565

26. Garrett Wong, chef/owner, Sushi ii

Photo: Rae Huo

At his restaurant:

➸ Lamb lollipops ($18) and sushi omakase (price varies, charged by piece)

“Our lamb lollipops are really popular,” says Wong. “We use Australian rack of lamb, seasoned with olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, garlic and rosemary, cooked to a medium rare. You get three pretty large pieces.”

Wong also suggests the sushi omakase, the best way to experience the extensive variety of fish Sushi ii brings in. “I’ll make one piece at a time with all seasonal fishes,” says Wong. “I keep making sushi until you get full and tell me to stop.”

655 Keeaumoku St., #109, 942-5350
 

He also recommends:

➸ Pig’s feet soup ($14.95) at Utage

Wong eats out a lot. So much so that when we asked to photograph his fridge (see page RG28), he told us he had nothing but ice in there. So where does he love to go? Utage, for homestyle Okinawan food. Tops is the long-simmered pig’s feet soup.

“The crispy skin is my favorite part of the pig,” says Wong. “It’s served with seaweed, daikon and mustard cabbage. It’s perfect for hangovers.”

1286 Kalani St., 843-8109

 

27. Michelle Karr-Ueoka, pastry chef/owner, MW Restaurant

Photo: Steve Czerniak
 

At her restaurant:

➸ Strawberry shave ice ($9)

At MW, Karr-Ueoka reinvents childhood favorites by keeping all the flavors and textures that we love and giving them a gourmet spin to thrill our adult palates. Her strawberry shave ice is an airy granité with cherry-blossom watermelon and pickled watermelon, li hing strawberries and mochi ice cream buried in the middle like hidden treasures.

1538 Kapiolani Blvd., #107, 955-6505
 

She also recommends:

➸ Spanish rolls at Nanding’s Bakery (3 for $1)

“They are so yummy when they are hot and freshly baked,” says Karr-Ueoka. “You have to go early in the morning, though. They’re buttery and sweet and go well with coffee.”

918 Gulick Ave., #1, 841-4731

28. Andrew Le, chef/owner, The Pig and the Lady

Photo: Martha Cheng
 

At his restaurant:

➸ Slow-roasted tomato ($10)

Le roasts tomatoes for two to three hours with chili and garlic, “just until it’s about to melt,” he says. He serves it with lots of the olive oil it was roasted in, an emulsion of tofu and garlic, plus thyme and shiso. Eat it with the toast spread with smashed black garlic and lilikoi seed. “The black garlic gives it that balsamic flavor people look for in this dish; the tofu gives it creaminess that marries it all together. It’s delicious. It’s something I could never get sick of.”

83 N. King St., 585-8255
 

He also recommends:

➸ Shima aji at Mitch’s Sushi (market price)

“It’s chicken-skin good,” says Le of the Japanese white pāpio, which he gets as nigiri sushi at Mitch’s. “It’s a nice, firm fish but also really fatty. The more you chew, the more it starts to melt. It came out of left field. It’s not otoro, where it’s predictable, you know it’s fatty. I had it four years ago, and I still talk about it. I’ve been back recently and it tastes just as good. Mitch’s quality of fish is amazing.”

524 Ohohia St., 837-7774

29. Takanori Wada, chef/owner, Wada

At his restaurant:

➸ Harami skirt steak ($26)

Cooked tableside over a hot stone grill, this dish uses Washugyu beef from Oregon, quickly seared with sweet onions, shimeji mushrooms and shishito pepper, served with an orange ponzu sauce.
 

He also recommends:

➸ The grilled octopus at Yaki Yaki Miwa ($18.50)

Forget the tough and chewy tako you might know. Yaki Yaki Miwa’s is “the soft, melt-in-your-mouth kind,” Wada says.

1423 S. King St., 983-3838

 

30. Chai Chaowasaree, chef/owner, Chef Chai

Photo: David Croxford
 

At his restaurant:

➸ Kataifi-and-macadamia-nut-encrusted prawns ($13)

Chaowasaree’s dishes are a staple in the Honolulu fine-dining scene, and his favorite of them all is these prawns, wrapped in super-fine strands of pastry and fried so they resemble cotton candy. “I like this dish for so many reasons,” he says. “It looks stunning, and it has good texture—crispy on the outside and nice tender shrimp on the inside. The acidity of the pineapple vinaigrette adds even more depth to the dish.”

1009 Kapiolani Blvd., 585-0011
 

He also recommends:

➸ Lobster with black-bean sauce at Fook Yuen ($11.95)

When his place is shut down for the night, Chaowasaree can often be found sitting down to a late-night meal of Fook Yuen’s lobster with black-bean sauce. The dish is $11.95 with the order of another entrée, and Chaowasaree recommends the salt-and-pepper prawns, loaded with chopped garlic, jalapeño peppers and green onions. “It’s best to eat them whole with the shell, head and all. Tell them Chef Chai recommended it.”

McCully Shopping Center, 1960 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 200, 973-0168

31. John Memering, chef/owner, Cactus Bistro

At his restaurant:

➸ Slow-roasted pork shoulder pernil ($19)

Cactus’ Cuban-style roasted pork shoulder, made with Shinsato Farm pork, is marinated in a mixture of achiote, local Hawai‘i sour oranges, garlic and oregano. “The great thing about it is how crispy the skin gets with that sumptuous, juicy pork underneath it,” says Memering. It’s glazed with tamarind and agave, served on a bed of potatoes mashed with lime and roasted jalapeño, plus mango escabeche, a play on local pickled mango, but with more South American flavors. “It cuts the richness of the fattiness of the pork shoulder,” says Memering.

767 Kailua Road, Kailua, 261-1000
 

He also recommends:

➸ Breakfast bibimbap at Koko Head Café ($15)

“It’s unbelievable,” says Memering of Koko Head Café’s breakfast bibimbap, a hot skillet of bacon, Portuguese sausage, ham, kimchee, soy-mirin shiitake mushrooms, ong choy, sesame carrots, bean sprouts and a sunny-side-up egg, all served over crispy garlic rice.

1145C 12th Ave., 732-8920

➸ Salt-and-pepper Kahuku shrimp at Pah Ke’s Chinese Restaurant ($38/pound)

But he couldn’t leave it at that: “I also love Pah Ke’s in Kaneohe,” Memering says. “The chef does a whole section of his menu with local ingredients. My favorite is the salt-and-pepper Kahuku shrimp.”

46-018 Kamehameha Highway, Kaneohe, 235-4505

 


 

MAUI

32. Brian Etheredge, executive chef/owner, Capische  

At his restaurant:

➸ Porcini-crusted ahi, (about $52, price varies)

The ahi comes with a chickpea panisse (a fried chickpea flour patty), roasted vegetables, cacao nibs and a pumpkin seed-vanilla vinaigrette. “It’s something different,” Etheredge says. Instead of the usual shoyu and wasabi flavors that you find paired with ahi in Hawaii, “this dish really shines because we do it our own way with more of a European flair,” he says. “It’s heartier and brings out the meaty aspect of the fish, and the unique ingredients work harmoniously with the ahi.”

555 Kaukahi St., Kihei, (808) 879-2224
 

He also recommends:

➸ Côte de boeuf ($135 for two—request one week in advance) or curry ($45) at Spago

“For the longest time, I would get their côte de boeuf,” says Etheredge of Spago. “But I’d also recommend any of their curries. They make such a beautiful curry. Chef Cameron Lewark is a very talented guy.”

3900 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, (808) 879-2999
 

33. Isaac Bancaco, chef de cuisine, Kaana Kitchen at Andaz Maui

At his restaurant:

➸ Abalone risotto ($31)

Kaana Kitchen’s menu is literally organized around its ingredients, such as one section grouped by Surfing Goat Dairy cheese or one with dishes highlighting Kona cold lobster. From the entire menu, Bancaco singles out the abalone risotto. “We showcase abalone from Kona in a classic Italian-inspired dish, where the Vialone Nano grains of rice are the perfect vehicle for the abalone flavor,” says Bancaco. It’s braised in kombu, sauteed with shallots, finished with a miso compound butter and then topped with a soft poached egg. 

3550 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, (808) 573-1234
 

Photo: Ryan Siphers
 

He also recommends:

➸ Gado gado salad at Honu Lahaina ($22)

“It’s killer!” says Bancaco. “It’s the perfect regenerating meal after a long downwind paddle on my OC1 canoe.”

1295 Front St., Lahaina, (808) 667-9390

34. Greg Harrison, executive chef, Morimoto Maui

At his restaurant:

➸ Pan-seared local snapper ($42)

This snapper dish takes extra care, down to the grains of rice, which are polished daily, giving them a “superior texture and full flavor,” says Harrison. The fish, pan-seared onaga or opakapaka, is paired with mussels and—an intriguing twist—roasted bananas,  finished off with pohole, Thai-style curry, and a bell pepper citrus vinaigrette. 

3550 Wailea Alanui Drive, Kihei, (808) 573-1234
 

He also recommends:

➸ Panang curry at Maui Thai Bistro ($13-19).

You’re stuck on a remote island and have one dish to choose. What would it be? For Harrison, the Panang curry with macadamia nuts at Maui Thai Bistro. Yet another difficult choice awaits: Will it be with mahi mahi, ‘ahi, wild salmon, chicken or beef?

2439 S. Kihei Road, #103B, Kihei, (808) 874-5606

35. Sheldon Simeon, executive chef, Migrant Maui

At his restaurant:

➸ “KFC” Korean Fried Chicken ($19)

Try not to drool when Simeon describes Migrant’s “KFC” Korean Fried Chicken. “It’s made with 808 Vodka [in the batter] which makes the chicken crazy crispy,” Simeon says. “Then it’s layered with all these different flavors. First the Korean dipping sauce, second, Filipino peanut sauce and, finally, the roasted kimchee-spiced peanuts.”

3700 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, (808) 875-9394
 

He also recommends:

➸ Chicken liver pate at the Sale Pepe Pizzeria E Cucina ($8)

“You just don’t see chicken liver on a menu anymore, let alone a place that does it so well!” says Simeon. At Sale Pepe, the pate is served on a homemade, grilled crostini rubbed with garlic and olive oil and finished with Parmesan and parsley.

878 Front St., Lahaina, (808) 667-7667

36. Jojo Vasquez, executive chef, The Plantation House Restaurant

At his restaurant:

➸ Kauai shrimp étouffée ($17)

“We make a great étouffée,” says Vasquez. For spice, he uses Adoboloco’s Hamajang hot sauce with kiawe-smoked peppers. The dish also comes with a scallion polenta cake and edible begonia flowers. Not only do they look pretty, they give it a bright citrus flavor.

2000 Plantation Club Drive, Lahaina, (808) 669-6299
 

He also recommends:

➸ Kalbi at Million Restaurant ($26.95)

“When I go to Oahu, I always go to Million,” Vasquez says. “It brings in the local industry people and you can order anything from prepared plates to cook-at-your-table dishes. I like to do the kalbi. Late night grinds, you know?”

626 Sheridan St., 596-0799

 


 

BIG ISLAND

37. Peter Merriman, executive chef/owner, Merriman’s

At his restaurant:

➸ Schwenker-roasted local beef ravioli ($16)

“At Merriman’s Waimea, we have an open fire in the garden where we roast meat on a German-style BBQ called a schw​enker,” Merriman says. Local pumpkin is used to make the pasta, and, if you’re like Merriman, the addition of fresh Big Island goat ch​eese will make you crave it again the next day. “It’s like a drug to me,” he says. “I gotta have it.”

65-1227 Opelo Road, Waimea, (808) 885-6822
 

He also recommends:

➸ Gado gado salad at Honu Lahaina ($22)

[Chef/owner] Mark [Ellman] has been making his gado gado salad for decades,” he says. “He’s changed the brown rice to quinoa, but it still has that killer peanut sauce. The tofu and veggies let me feel like I’m eating well. Bold flavors from the coconut, chili and peanuts add a richness to the tofu and quinoa, while contrasting the textures of the green beans, mushrooms and tomatoes to round out a simple dish, with complex flavors. Did I mention that the gado gado is no wimp?  I always feel I’ve had plenty to eat.”

1295 Front St., Lahaina, (808) 667-9390

➸ Jeff Scheer’s Chef’s Table, a private dining experience

“When I can score a reservation to Jeff Scheer’s Chef’s Table, I do,” Merriman says. Scheer is the owner of Maui Executive Catering, and he regularly hosts upscale dinners in the middle of his commercial kitchen. “He’s a great cook with honest, locally sourced food and an inventive yet unpretentious technique.”

38. Mark and Tedd Pomaski, chefs/owners of Moon and Turtle (formerly Full  Moon Café)

Photo: James Rubio
 

At their restaurant:

➸ Smoky sashimi (market price, about $13) or the cinnamon beef (price varies; roughly $27)

Mark’s pick is the smoky sashimi, which highlights the freshest fish available, lightly dressed with ‘ōhi‘a smoked soy, Hawaiian chili-pepper water and extra-virgin olive oil. His brother Tedd’s choice is Full Moon Café’s cinnamon beef, braised in red wine with simmered carrots, mixed green beans and cilantro in an aromatic cinnamon and lemongrass broth.

51 Kalakaua St., Hilo, (808) 961-0599
 

Mark also recommends:

➸ Steam pork banh mi at Nickie Café ($6.50)

“It’s a really tiny place—sometimes it’s open, sometimes it’s not,” Pomaski says. “My brother and I are half-Vietnamese, so we grew up eating Vietnamese food our whole lives. The banh mi was unique and nothing like I’ve ever had before. The meatballs were so fluffy and light in texture. It was novel—one of those times where it was completely unexpected.”

3297 Campbell Ave., 734-6180
 

Tedd recommends:

➸ Tongue tacos with mole sauce at Reuben’s in Hilo ($7) 51 Kalakaua St., Hilo, (808) 961-0599

39. Hubert Des Marais, executive chef, Brown’s Beach House at the Fairmont Orchid

At his restaurant:

➸ Crab-crusted kampachi ($47)

“It represents the very best of Hawaii Island,” Des Marais says of his kampachi dish. It’s served with Kekela Farms haricots verts, Waimea tomatoes, herbs from his chef’s garden, a poha-berry emulsion and an ulu gratin.

1 N. Kaniku Drive, Kohala, (808) 885-2000
 

He also recommends:

➸ Avocado poke from Umeke’s (market price)

“I can’t get enough of it!” he says of Umeke’s avocado poke and quinoa and warabi salad.

75-143 Hualalai Road, Suite 104, Kailua-Kona, (808) 329-3050

40. Angela Kenyon, executive chef, Beach Tree at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai

At her restaurant:

➸ Gnocchi with oxtail ragout ($33)

This gnocchi is close to Kenyon’s heart. “I like it because [gnocchi] is one of the first dishes I ever learned to make when I went to Italy,” she says. “It’s all about making a connection with the dough.” The recipe comes from her Beach Tree predecessor and mentor, chef Nick Mastrascusa. “It’s his grandmother’s original recipe,” she says. “It’s got a great combo of flavors with the wine and incorporates a lot of local ingredients.” The oxtail is braised for four hours with vegetables and red wine, local red tomatoes and topped with Parmesan cheese and olive oil.

72-100 Kaupulehu Drive, Kailua-Kona, (808) 325-8000
 

She also recommends:

➸ Crepes at Peaberry and Galette ($9–$14)

“It’s a great coffee place and they make everything to order,” says Kenyon. “Sweet or savory, all of the crepes are delicious.” The first crepe to pop into her head? Caramelized apple.

78-6831 Alii Drive K-1, Kailua-Kona, (808) 322-6020
 

41. Stephen Rouelle, executive chef/owner, Under the Bodhi Tree

At his restaurant:

➸ Kung fu tofu ($14)

At Rouelle’s recently opened vegan and vegetarian restaurant, he serves kicky dishes like this spicy tofu, stir fried with garden vegetables, bok choy and rice noodles, and topped with mung beans, cashews and the house kung fu sauce. “This particular dish is a great example of a vegan meal with enough flavor, variety of texture and substantiality to satisfy vegans and carnivores alike,” Rouelle says.

68-1330 Mauna Lani Drive, Suite 116, Waimea, (808) 895-2053
 

Photo: Steve Czerniak
 

He also recommends:

➸ Hualalai hummus plate at Kona Brewing Co. ($14)

Rouelle’s favorite lunch has local veggies, spent-grain flat bread, and a rich and creamy hummus. “The use of spent grain, which can constitute as much as 85 percent of a brewery’s total by-product, is a clever and sustainable way to round out this healthy vegetarian alternative,” Rouelle says.

75-5629 Kuakini Highway, Kailua-Kona, (808) 334-2739

42. Ippy Aiona, executive chef/owner, The Three Fat Pigs

At his restaurant:

➸ Double-cut pork chops with an apple, caramelized-onion and blue-cheese tart ($25)

“You know, my restaurant is called Three Pigs, so I’ve had some time to experiment,” Aiona says. His favorite pork-chop dish is brined multiple days with local oranges. “It’s four inches thick, so it’s [typically] hard to cook perfectly through. But because we brine it for so long, hands down it’s the moistest, best piece of pork I’ve ever had.” It comes with an apple, caramelized-onion and blue-cheese tart on the side, which gives a tart-sweet-salty component to the pork.

250 Waikoloa Beach Drive, Waikoloa Village, (808) 339-7145
 

He also recommends:

➸ Spicy drunken chicken at the Lotus Café ($14)

Simmered in kaffir lime leaf, herbs and a spicy chili-tomato sauce, “I like it because it’s fresh,” says Aiona. “It has a lot of fresh veggies and local pumpkin and the Thai basil makes it super flavorful.”

73-5617 Maiau St., Kailua-Kona, (808) 327-3270

 


 

KAUAI

43. Jana Boemer, chef/owner, Art Café Hemingway

Photo: Courtesy of Art Cafe Hemingway
 

At her restaurant:

➸ Duck breast and mango tartelette ($14)

Sweet meets savory in this quichelike dish. The mango is baked with green onions and spices including cloves, cardamom and pepper, then thin slices of smoked duck breast are layered on top.

4-1495 Kuhio Highway, Kapaa, (808) 822-2250
 

She also recommends:

➸ The banderillas ($12) and the chocolate pot de crème ($9) at Bar Acuda

Boemer’s favorite dinner spot is Bar Acuda, where she enjoys the banderillas, grilled flank steak skewers topped with honey and chipotle chili oil.

5-5161 Kuhio Highway, Hanalei, (808) 826-7081

44. Jean-Marie Josselin, chef/owner, Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill

Photo: Kicka Witte
 

At his restaurant:

➸ Naan bread ($15)

This is not your typical naan. “Our bread dough is flavored with buttermilk and becomes really crispy, blistered by the heat of the oven,” says Josselin. “It’s cooked in our wood-burning oven, with a combination of kiawe and coffee-stump wood that is absolutely flavorful.” He serves it with roasted onion puree, smoked bacon, black olives, and goat and Fontina cheeses. “When it is piping hot, we brush it with garlic butter and serve it with organic kale,” he says. “It is simply addictive.”

2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka St., Koloa, (808) 742-7117
 

He also recommends:

➸ Blue crab-stuffed baby squid at Sushi Sasabune ($7)

“It’s nuts!” says Josselin of Sasabune’s baby squid stuffed with blue crab, served with a sweet soy sauce and sesame seeds. “You want to bite into it, but the dish does not let you. It melts in your mouth and, before you know it, you realize what just happened and it is gone.”

1417 S. King St., 947-3800

45. Maxime Michaud, chef de cuisine, Kauai Grill

Photo: Courtesy of the St. Regis Princeville Resort
 

At his restaurant:

➸ Nuts-and-seed-crusted mahi mahi ($42)

Michaud, who was appointed as chef de cuisine at Kauai Grill by super-chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, says his favorite dish at his place is one that was created by Vongerichten himself. Fresh-from-the-ocean mahi is encrusted with toasted almonds, sesame and coriander seeds, served over a sweet-and-sour jus and brown-butter and caramelized-mushroom emulsion. “The jus is very well balanced, with just enough richness and a touch of acidity,” says Michaud.

5520 Ka Haku Road, Princeville, (808) 826-9644
 

He also recommends:

➸ Balsamic tomato confit at Bar Acuda ($8.50)

The tomato confit is “a very nice dish, and it’s designed to be shared,” says Michaud, who almost always takes his wife with him to help him finish the dish. “The whole tomato is slowly cooked in the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. It is served warm in the marinade, and can be spread onto the croutons.”

5-5161 Kuhio Highway, Hanalei, (808) 826-7081

46. Jim Moffat, chef/owner, Bar Acuda

At his restaurant:

➸ Duck confit ($20)

The duck confit, a southern-French technique in which duck is preserved in its own fat, is served with organic roasted sweet red grapes, which shrink up like raisins, and a wine reduction sauce based on the same grapes.

5-5161 Kuhio Highway, Hanalei, (808) 826-7081
 

He also recommends:

➸ The Spyder Roll at the Dolphin Restaurant ($16)

“I have to say—the sushi bar at the Dolphin Restaurant is killer,” says Moffat. “All the sushi there is unbelievably fresh. Fishermen bring it right off the boat to the restaurant.”

5-5016 Kuhio Highway, Hanalei, (808) 826-6113

47. Sean Mell, executive chef, Nobu Lanai

At his restaurant:

➸ Yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño ($25)

“It’s one of my personal favorites,” says Mell. “Any Nobu restaurant I go to in the world, it’s the first thing I order. It was actually created on Maui at an event Nobu did years ago.”

1 Manele Road, Lanai City, (808) 565-2832
 

He also recommends:

➸ Lobster ceviche at Kaana Kitchen ($15)

Kaana Kitchen’s lobster ceviche won Mell over—served with plantain chips, avocado and a distinctive lilikoi suero, based off of a Colombian yogurt-like condiment.

3550 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea (808) 573-1234

 

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