38 Best New Dishes and Drinks You Must Try in Hawai‘i
The best new dishes and drinks around the state.
Year round, we eat out a lot, so of course it’s always exciting to encounter something we haven’t tasted before. Here are the recently introduced dishes (and drinks) that we’ve been craving, the ones that we can’t stop thinking about. They might be surprising additions to the menu at our favorite, go-to restaurants, or they might be stunning dishes at the new hot spot in town. Either way, they are the ones that we keep coming back for, that we can’t wait to introduce our friends to.
Mochiko Chicken and Waffles
Photos: Steve Czerniak
Appropriately nook-ish, hidden within Puck’s Alley, this restaurant has a menu that’s short and sweet and fun. Like the newer brunch spots, it breaks out of the usual eggs-Benedict-and-pancakes rut with creative comfort food, the best example being the mochiko chicken and mochi waffles. We can’t think of a more awesome Hawai‘i food mashup since loco met moco. Crispy, juicy chicken, matched with crispy, chewy waffles, all drizzled with maple syrup.
$13.50, 1035 University Ave., 942-2222, thenookhonolulu.com
Mexican Pork Lau Lau
Búho Cocina y Cantina
It looks like a culinary identity crisis: a warm flour tortilla, beer-simmered black beans, pickled red onions, Mexican rice—and a neatly tied lau lau. Open it, and you’ll find a softly steamed chunk of slow-roasted cochinita pibil that’s reminiscent of kālua pig. But here’s the secret: It all comes together once you take the dish back to its Mexican roots. Tear off pieces of tortilla and wrap a little bit of everything inside for bites that are porky, starchy and pickly, with a hint of crunch and a faintly beery finish.
$28.95, 2250 Kalākaua Ave. 5F, 922-2846
New England has its lobster roll, and now Honolulu has its own version: the he‘e roll. Chunks of locally caught octopus are lightly tossed with aioli, punctuated with fresh celery heart and tender leaves. It’s all stuffed into a classic, split-top bun, buttered and toasted. Long Island-born Dave Caldiero says, “Ed (Kenney) and I have always shared an affinity for a soft and buttery Long-Island-style lobster roll, which was the inspiration for the sandwich.”
$13, 3458 Wai‘alae Ave., 734-7800
The Pig and the Lady
It’s a chef’s dream dish, skewed crazy: A giant marrow bone arrives at your table, wafting the star anise scent of the pho broth it’s stewed in. The server spoons the steaming marrow onto bread brushed with olive oil, and tops it with glistening orbs of salmon roe, slivers of fresh citrus and sprinkles of Hawaiian salt. But you’re not done. As you bite in, a bartender runs up and splashes a shot of mezcal cocktail into the marrow cavity. You pick up the giant bone in your bare hands and drain the warm liquor. Now you’re done. All completely subject to change according to the chef’s whim.
$24, 83 N. King St., 585-8255
Lazy Lūau Dip
Off the Wall Craft Desserts & Kitchen
Anyone who deconstructs lū‘au and serves it as a dip with tortilla chips deserves a nod. But there’s more. The hot pool of whole-leaf lū‘au comes topped with a round of kālua pig that’s itself topped with mozzarella and a sprinkle of katsuobushi flakes, a reference to the salty butterfish inside the lau lau it was inspired by. And then the sides—ramekins of lomi salmon, pickled onion and chili pepper water—bring it home. Why the name “lazy lū‘au”? Because, while the components are the same as for lau lau, this one’s not rolled—and it’s cooked in a slow cooker.
$12, 1272 S. King St., 591-9255
Singaporean Chili Lobster Tails
A luxe riff on Singaporean chili crab. Don’t expect a fiery sauce—rather, it’s a subtle tomato sauce, sweet and salty, with just a touch of heat. Whisked with egg and thickened with cornstarch, it’s pure comfort. The three fried mantou (Chinese steamed buns) that it comes with will not be enough to sop it all up, so here’s a tip: Order a side of rice and spoon all the leftover sauce over it. You won’t want to waste any of it.
$52, inside the Hyatt Regency, 2424 Kalākaua Ave., 237-6180
Think of it as a deconstructed piña colada cake, a version so light that each of its components seems as if it could just float off the plate. Pillowy coconut chiffon cake is ever so lightly weighted down with a kaffir lime pudding, haupia sorbet and ribbons of pineapple, sliced so thin that they’re sheer.
$10, 1538 Kapi‘olani Blvd., Suite 106, 955-6505
Photos: Steve Czerniak
Livestock Tavern may be making its name as a hot new restaurant because of the seasonal comfort food: Remember the crab carbonara, the scallop-and-pea risotto and the house-cured lamb bacon in the BLT? But a simply wonderful mainstay is the lunch version of the fresh catch of the day, which of late comes atop beet-bright braised quinoa in a moat of Champagne vinaigrette. Owners Dusty Grable and Jesse Cruz say dishes will keep changing with the four-season palate, but the catch, the burger and other favorites will stay on.
$14, 49 N. Hotel St., 537-2577
Chocolate Cremeux Semifreddo
Top of Waikīkī
Chocolate cremeux semifreddo: a mouthful of words that translates into a mouthful of awesome ice-cream cake. Smooth with milk chocolate, crunchy with dark chocolate chunks. It’s one of the new desserts at the Top of Waikīkī, where pastry chef Heather Bryan, formerly of Vintage Cave and Nobu, recently joined the team. And she’s really turned the previously lackluster dessert menu around (get it? Around?).
$9, 2270 Kalākaua Ave., 923-3877
The Picadillo, a recent addition to the French-Latin American menu at Grondin, features an appetizer-size portion of minced Makaweli beef simmered with roasted red peppers, olives and capers and is served with a mound of fried yucca chips. It’s arguably Honolulu’s most soulful chips and dip, coming across more like a complex bowl of evocative chili. The slight sweetness comes from cumin and unrefined Mexican piloncillo cane sugar. There’s a red jalapeño aji rojo dip on the side, but chances are you won’t need it. If you can’t get to Grondin for dinner, get the picadillo in a sandwich at lunch.
$10, 62 N. Hotel St., 566-6768
Chicken and Pomelo Salad
Stop equating Chinese food with greasy food. Jade Dynasty offers Hong-Kong-style cuisine, featuring more refined and delicate dishes than the usual dim sum and Chinese dinner menus around Honolulu. Take the chicken and pomelo salad: Half a marinated chicken is shredded and tossed with fresh, local pomelo, lots of chopped parsley and pine nuts. Simple and refreshing.
$11.95, at Ho‘okipa Terrace at Ala Moana Center, 947-8818
Milk & Cereal Pancakes
Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop
Breakfast is served daily from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at this welcome addition to the downtown comfort-food lineup. The menu varies with the seasons, but a clear favorite has emerged: Milk & Cereal Pancakes. The sizable stack of four frosted-flake-infused pancakes comes adorned with sliced fruit and granola, surrounded by milk flavored by sugar-kissed cereal. Egg whites beaten into the pancakes keep them lighter than they look. Still, sharing a stack with the table seems the way to go. That leaves room to experiment with shrimp ’n’ grits with Kaua‘i shrimp or the lunch menu, which starts at 10:30 a.m.
$10, 1030 Smith St., 536-1669
Savory Parmesan Ramen
Start with Agu’s richest, porkiest bowl of ramen, the kotteri, which features a thick, almost gravy-like broth, achieved by simmering pork bones for hours, and then top it with a snowy mound of fresh-shaved Parmesan, and you get Honolulu’s most decadent bowl of ramen ever. Parmesan and ramen? It totally works, like mac ’n’ cheese with a heavy dose of porky goodness.
$15.75, 925 Isenberg St., 492-1637
Sushi ii’s selection of rare fish keeps this little sushi bar at the top of our list. But, in the past year, chef Ricky Goings, who previously cooked at Aki No No and He‘eia Pier and General Store, has melded his Western and Japanese culinary influences into hot dishes from the Sushi ii’s tiny kitchen. Goings introduces some seasonality to the menu, such as with the persimmon tempura (persimmon in the fall, peach in the summer)—sweet, just barely soft chunks of the fruit coated in a lacy, crisp batter like the fried taro puffs you find at dim sum places. They’re piled on mashed avocado spiked with lemon and showered with Parmesan and fried prosciutto (like bacon bits!).
$10, inside Samsung Plaza, 655 Ke‘eaumoku St., Suite 109, 942-5350
Kamal Jemmari’s salty-sweet oxtail, new on the menu as of spring, tastes of his childhood in Morocco. It’s a modified version of his mother’s recipe for dinner on the second day of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim period of feasting following the month-long Ramadan fast. While the spices—a gentle mix of cinnamon, cloves and other aromatics—are straight from the markets of Marrakech, Jemmari has swapped out the traditional lamb’s neck for the more widely available oxtail, and added fresh porcini mushrooms to the stew. Order in advance, as the dish sometimes runs out.
$24, 1028 Nu‘uanu Ave., 554-3847
There are few desserts happier than this: a stack of piping-hot butter mochi cubes studded with bursts of blueberry, topped with bananas and strawberry ice cream drizzled with butterscotch and sunflower seeds. Who knew? Hot and icy cold, chewy, creamy, crunchy and underscored by the comforting notes of delicious childhood memories, this one calls you home. It ranks right up there with Nobu’s classic Bento Box of Valrhona chocolate cake with green tea ice cream. Don’t wait too long to try it—pastry chef Jenny Sumpter likes to concoct new tobanyaki recipes with each season.
$13, 2233 Helumoa Road, 237-6999
Crispy Mochi Sticks
What’s better than fried mochi? Mochi, mozzarella and mentaiko (spicy cod roe), wrapped up in thin rice paper and fried. Crispy, gooey, salty—the Japanese version of American fried mozzarella sticks. And just like those, these pūpū go great with beer. Or sake. Even better, during happy hour, from 4 to 6 p.m. and 9 to 11 p.m., beer and sake are just $3, and the mochi sticks $5. $7.75.
611 Kapahulu Ave., 737-0125, restaurantwada.com
Ethiopian Love Veggie Sampler
The fare at Honolulu’s new and only Ethiopian restaurant consists of traditional wot stews, tib stir-fries and tangy injera flatbread. But the plethora of cooked vegetarian options that rise beyond the usual insipid salads and flavorless legumes is breathtaking. The six choices spooned onto a sheet of injera the size of a washbasin are as colorful as they are flavorful, from the vertical tasting of brown, yellow and red lentils to the three contrasting veg dishes. Highlights include azifa brown lentils, bright with lemon juice and bell peppers, and soulful yellow lentils, which finish with the taste of tea. Warning: Ask for utensils if you need them; otherwise tear off pieces of injera and eat with your hands.
$20, 1112 Smith St., 725-7197
Okinawan Soba Mazemen
Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas
Mazemen is essentially ramen without the soup—it was originally conceived for staff meals. Of the five elements of a ramen bowl—noodles, soup stock, tare (a liquid seasoning), aroma oils and toppings—the soup is the most expensive. Hiroshi’s mazemen, however, isn’t some slapped-together dish made of leftovers. Thick, chewy noodles are tossed in an umami-rich clam and mushroom jus that tastes of the ocean. Grilled salmon, salmon-skin cracklings and ikura underscore the seafood notes, and the noodles are brightened with shiso and calamansi, slivers of chili and fine threads of limu.
Note: Vino and Hiroshi at Restaurant Row closed near the end of May, just as we were going to press. We offer a fond farewell to two of our favorite restaurants.
Korean Shave Ice
“How many is this for?” Sitting next to the apple selections in Ke‘eaumoku Supermarket’s fruit section, we gape at En Hakkore’s ramen bowl mounded with bejeweled promises of icy goodness. “Two or three people,” our server smiles. “And this”—she points to a freshly pulled shot of espresso—“is to pour on top, as much as you like.” We’ve heard this patbingsu, or Korean-style shave ice, is like no other: Ice like fresh snow, drizzled with sweetened milk and sprinkled with soft lobes of mochi, the nutty powders of roasted grains, plus fresh fruit and nuts. A thick layer of whole-red-bean azuki waits in the middle. We—actually, I—eat the entire bowl.
$9.99, 835 Ke‘eaumoku St., 250-3513
Let Them Eat Cupcakes
We used to think of blondies as just inferior versions of brownies. But not these beauties at Let Them Eat Cupcakes. They’re a perfect threesome of liliko‘i, dense cake and crème brûlée—they have a magic, crackly, lightly caramelized sugar surface that breaks way to a burst of bright liliko‘i flavor. Who needs chocolate anymore? Just kidding.
$2, 1153 Bethel St., 531-2253
Cow Pig Bun
Cow Pig Bun’s fancy burgers are worth a detour up to the non-descript Kīhei Tech Park, where the new little gastropub tries hard to evoke a big-city feel. The house burger combines a few perfect elements, starting with the bun: lightly toasted focaccia slathered in garlic aioli and melted Gruyere. It’s heaped with spicy arugula leaves, caramelized onions and a lean but flavorful beef patty. The sweet balsamic reduction drizzled on top knocks this burger out of the park. Instead of fries, pork cracklins come on the side, along with a small tin of bacon jam—a thick mash of bacon, fig, maple syrup, and bourbon.
Cow Pig Bun also hosts riotous late-night “Knife Fights” on the second Saturday of each month. The island’s best chefs stop in after closing their own restaurants for the night to engage in fierce, entertaining cooking competitions with audience participation.
$14, 535 Lipoa Parkway, Suite #100, Kīhei, (808) 875-8100, cowpigbun.com
Chef Isaac Bancaco first served this delectable dish during one of his “chefbloc” dinners—monthly collaborations between the chef and his favorite culinary pals. The evening’s theme was Haleakalā lamb, and Bancaco created this local twist on kilawín, the Philippine version of ceviche. The rare lamb meat, marinated in Maui olive oil, lime juice and rice wine vinegar, is meltingly tender. Bancaco serves it with a few slivers of Serrano chili and a delicate scallion flower, atop a kaffir lime and black pepper granita. This icy component rockets the dish to another dimension, sending hot, frozen, sweet, salty and savory sparks simultaneously across the tongue.
$16, 3550 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, (808) 573-1234, maui.andaz.hyatt.com
Aloha e Ka La Garden to Glass Cocktail
Banyan Tree at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua
Newly reopened, the elegant Banyan Tree restaurant in Kapalua has a terrific craft cocktail menu, accented by savory herbs grown in the resort’s organic garden. The Aloha e Ka La is an unexpected favorite: fresh grapefruit juice spiked with dry rosé and Ciroc peach vodka. Served on the rocks in a highball glass, it’s garnished with sweet Hawaiian lehua honey and ripe strawberry. The recipe sounds like something that 1950s housewives might’ve drunk by the pool, until the addition of a transformative ingredient: muddled sage. The aromatic, slightly pungent green leaves turn June Cleaver’s polite adult beverage into a sultry siren’s song.
$16, One Ritz-Carlton Drive, Kapalua, (808) 665-7096, ritzcarlton.com
Julio’s Beach Burritos
Describing the heat of his signature Machaca burrito, Julio Calisher says, “It should slowly warm the lips but not burn the mouth and palate.” He should know. He’s been making his grandmother’s recipe of pulled-pork burritos with green chilies, jalapeños, tomatoes and onions since he was 12 years old and working in the kitchen of the family matriarch’s East L.A. restaurant. “It’s slow-cooked for 15 hours,” he explains through the screen of his newly opened food truck in Kīlauea on Kaua‘i’s North Shore. But when pressed for what gives the tender meat that extra special flavor, he admits it’s his family recipe of 10 spices. “In particular, the fajita seasoning,” he adds in a whisper.
$10, 4244 Kīlauea Road, Kīlauea, 634-3218
Just about everything is delicious at Maka, the new vegan café operated by the folks who run Mana Foods, the beloved natural grocery store a few doors down in Pā‘ia. Maka’s juice menu reads like a recipe for longevity. Ingredients are organic and locally sourced. The 16-ounce Golden Goddess is a sweet and tangy mix of golden beets and celery enhanced with pear, green apple, three citrus fruits and turmeric—a spicy root renowned for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The juice’s saffron-orange color alone is guaranteed to boost your vitality. Drinking it down feels like sipping pure sunlight.
$6.95, 115 Baldwin Ave., Pā‘ia, (808) 579-9125, makabymana.com
The Best Breakfast
Kaua‘i Juice Co.
Breakfast on the go doesn’t have to mean fast-food drive-thru lanes and plastic-wrapped, processed foods. With Kaua‘i Juice Co. on the Garden Island, the approach to juice is local (when possible) and cold-processed, with no pasteurization or additives. When planning their menu, husband-and-wife owners Kristal Muhich and Dylan Scott went all-out on their juices, basing their creations on what local growers could provide. But they also wanted to incorporate cold-pressed coffee. “The Best Breakfast is perfect for someone who wants to substitute breakfast and taste the most amazing cold-brewed coffee drink ever,” Muhich says of the concoction, which includes macadamia nuts, cashews, agave, Hawaiian sea salt and Tahitian vanilla, in addition to the coffee. The result? “It’s to die for,” she says, “and it’s turned into one of our best sellers. If not the best.”
$11, 4-1384 Kūhiō Highway, Kapa‘a, (808) 634-0886
Ni’ihau Lamb Sausage and Warabi
You can’t get more sustainable than the Ni‘ihau Lamb Sausage and Warabi appetizer at Hukilau Lanai. The lambs range free on the small island southwest of Kaua‘i—on the westernmost ranch in the United States. The meat is processed at Makaweli Meat Co. on Kaua‘i’s West Side, and then owner/executive chef of the Wailua restaurant, Ron Miller, makes the sausage himself, adding dried mango. “It’s lamb for all people,” Miller’s wife and business partner, Krissi, says. “It’s mild, not gamey.” To top off the local experience, the Millers pair the snap of the sausage with a bright surprise of pickled vegetables, featuring warabi, locally grown fiddlehead ferns from Ueunten Farms in Lāwa‘i. Layering more flavors, the dish is dressed with micro greens and finished with chile oil.
$10, 520 Aleka Loop, Wailua, (808) 822-0600
Liliko‘i Opera Cake
Daylight Mind & Coffee Co.
Daylight Mind, a café, restaurant, bakery and coffee school in Kona, is really into coffee. Like, really into coffee. Here, you can take cupping classes (how coffee experts taste coffee) and even order a coffee flight, brewed by centrifuge. But if you want to just get a good espresso or a cup of coffee, you can do that, too. Just make sure to pair it with one of Daylight Mind’s superlative desserts. Our favorite: the liliko‘i opera cake, a take on the classic opera cake, traditionally flavored with chocolate and coffee. This one swaps out the coffee (after all, you can get coffee in many other forms at Daylight Mind) for tangy and sweet liliko‘i buttercream and the layered cake is finished with a liliko‘i glaze.
$7, 75-5770 Ali‘i Drive, Kona, (808) 339-7824, daylightmind.com
Moon and Turtle
At Moon and Turtle, chef Mark Pomaski seasons his clean, spare and fresh cooking with Japanese and local influences. Take the sashimi salad: Big Island-caught fish, usually ono or ‘ahi, sliced and drenched in a soy-onion dressing. Crisp greens from Kekela Farms in Waimea pile on top of the raw fish. Pomaski calls the dressing Tetsuya Ozaki sauce, a nod to his mentor, a third-generation sushi chef from Osaka, with whom he worked for five years in Eugene, Ore.
$15, 51 Kalākaua St., Hilo, (808) 961-0599
About a year ago, James Babian, former executive chef at the Four Seasons Resort Hualālai, opened this inviting Italian restaurant in the Waikoloa Highlands Shopping Center, not exactly a culinary destination. Regulars fill all the bar seats and exclaim, “We’ve lived here for nine years, and we haven’t had a restaurant here until now!” So it’d be easy to be grateful for anything, anything at all—that maybe Pueo’s doesn’t have to be this good, when there’s so little competition nearby. But it is good. It could stand up to Honolulu’s best. There’s a lot that’s excellent here, but every regular starts with the kale salad—tender curly kale softened with lemon and garlic and tossed with sweet currants, toasted almonds and lots of salty pecorino romano.
$12, 68-1845 Waikoloa Road, Waikoloa Village, (808) 339-7566
Conscious Culture Café
Conscious Culture Café, a new café in Hilo, was described to us once as “a freaky vegan Jawaiian breakfast place.” So, yes, we were a bit trepidatious. But the urge for something fresh and revitalizing drew us in—the Big Island, with its healing vibes, can do that to you—and we loved it. Kela’s breakfast starts with fluffy, scrambled eggs on a bed of sautéed greens and veggies. Then the fixins get piled on: a spicy ginger kim chee made in house, a dab of fresh Puna goat cheese, avocado and a fresh tomato salsa. Get a side of ginger beet kraut for an extra delicious dose of fermented goodness.
$10, 100 Keawe St., Hilo, (808) 498-4779
Best New Drinks
Whiskey cocktails tend to go heavy on the brawn, but this twist on the whiskey sour from Bevy is anything but. Made with liliko‘i, lemon juice and Montenegro amaro, it’s a whiskey cocktail for people who think they don’t like whiskey. But that doesn’t mean it’s not serious: the liliko‘i is subtle and well-integrated, and the amaro adds a note of intrigue. It all adds up to an ideal warm-weather sipper—light, fluffy and dangerously easy to drink.
$10, Bevy, 661 Auahi St., 594-7445
Save for the mighty piña colada, pineapple juice doesn’t tend to show up in the serious cocktail world with great frequency. But with this offering from 12th Ave Grill, the fruit gets its due. A mix of dark rum, dry curacao (a less sweet style of orange liqueur revived from the 19th century), and a pineapple-balsamic shrub (a colonial technique for preserving fruits with vinegar and sugar), the drink is both tangy and sweet, wholly unique and about as far from tropical tiki kitsch as one can get.
$10, 1120 12th Ave., 732-9469
Cynar, one of the classic Italian amaros, is made from a proprietary blend of several herbs and spices, the most notable being artichoke. (Trust us: It tastes better than it sounds.) Italians traditionally drink it over ice, or sometimes with soda water and orange juice for a refreshing kick. But, lately, bartenders stateside have been putting it in distinctive cocktails. The version from Pint and Jigger incorporates Cynar into a classic daiquiri made from rum, lime and sugar. It’s citrusy, sweet and just the right amount of bitter—the ideal companion to the pub grub found on the food side of the menu.
$10, 1936 S. King St., 744-9593
Right Hand Cocktail
Manifest is famous for delivering both top-notch classic cocktails and original concoctions. This example, a twist on the Negroni, straddles both worlds. Subbing rum for gin in the original recipe alongside Campari and sweet vermouth, this version is richer, smoother and just a touch more subtle than its bright red cousin. A dash of Hawai‘i Bitters Co.’s chocolate and ginger bitters adds cozy warmth to the finish—perfect for Manifest’s cocktail-literate late-night scene.
$10, 32 N. Hotel St., manifesthawaii.com
Some cocktails work best with few ingredients. Others, like this twist on a Negroni, skew gloriously maximalist. Gin and Campari form the base, but then it really gets going, with elderflower liqueur, crushed shiso leaf, liliko‘i juice, all topped off with a hit of bubbly Cava. It’s all sweet fruit upfront with the herbal notes coming behind, a surprisingly bold drink for being served in such a delicate flute.
$10, Lucky Belly, N. Hotel St., 531-1888
Mezcal, tequila’s smoky cousin, can be a tricky ingredient in a cocktail: Too much, and it can feel like you’re sipping an ashtray. Town gets it right with the Smoking Dove, a mix of mezcal, Cocchi Americano, grapefruit juice, lime juice and honey. The juices lift and lighten, while the honey brings a tonal warmth, adding up to a refreshing drink that lets the mezcal shine, not dominate—the kind of cocktail we want to drink all summer (and winter) long.
$10, 3435 Wai‘alae Ave, 735-5900