40 Local Dishes and Drinks That Put the Pow in Pau Hana
Remix your pau hana with these better-than-basic dishes.
A spread of pau hana-worthy dishes at Doraku Waikīkī including the emperor roll.
Photos: Steve Czerniak
It’s 3 p.m. and you’re already plotting your escape.
The destination: the nearest watering hole. Double points if it has a happy hour menu. And while baskets of saucy chicken wings and crunchy onion rings are your go-to postwork cravings, maybe you want something different. ‘Ahi nachos, uni mentaiko pasta, a veggie burger that’s even better than the all-beef version, perhaps? We’ve got you covered. And don’t worry—your favorites are here, too, only these versions are better than basic and still perfect for pau hana.
The Mexican street corn (foreground) and rice and beans combo PAIRED WITH A PACIFICO MEXICAN LAGER.
Mexican Street Corn
You know the nachos at Encore are the bomb (we named them Best Nachos in 2017), but you’d be remiss to not order a bowl of Mexican street corn on the side. Esquites, as the dish is known in Mexico, seems simple: mature yellow corn kernels, barely charred; lime mayonnaise, a little tart like sour cream; salty crumbles of Cotija cheese, chili powder and cilantro. But the combination of all five ingredients elevates this uncomplicated bowl to gotta-have-it status.
$4.50, 10 N. Hotel St., (808) 367-1656, encoresaloon.com.
Rice & Beans Combo
When Encore first opened, owner Danny Kaaialii said this dish was his favorite on the menu. Seriously? Rice and beans? “It’s got really big, bold flavors,” he says, and, after shoveling spoonful after spoonful into our mouths until the bowl was spotless, we have to agree. Kaaialii says pinto beans are stewed with garlic, onions, tomatoes and poblanos; then, they scoop out half and add ancho and chipotle chilies before folding it back in, resulting in a nice smoky, slightly spicy mixture. Combined with achiote rice, it’s a great side to add to the (outdoor picnic) table.
$5.25, 10 N. Hotel St., (808) 367-1656, encoresaloon.com.
Chef Norman’s Poke Nachos
PAIRED WITH a KAI TAI (WINDWARD-STYLE MAI TAI).
Go to the new Nico’s in Kailua (in the old Pinky’s Broiler), along the canal in Pali Palms Plaza, for your ‘ahi appetizer fix. We like the nachos served on crispy wonton chips instead of tortillas. The restaurant adds cubes of ‘ahi, oyster sauce, a drizzle of sweet-salty kabayaki glaze, Sriracha aioli, avocado and shredded nori. We also order the tempura ‘ahi bites ($13), an ample serving of lightly breaded fish with kim chee aioli and furikake that we use to top extra chips while enjoying the relaxed vibe.
$14, 970 N. Kalāheo Ave., Kailua, (808) 263-3787, nicoskailua.com.
Captain Dan’s Dog
Three’s Bar & Grill
The wait for a table during happy hour—from 3 to 6 p.m. daily—might be a little longer these days, since the locally owned bar and grill was recently featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, but this pūpū is worth it. Captain Dan’s Dog is really a hot dog wrapped in crispy bacon and served with a kim chee slaw, chutney made with spiced Maui Gold pineapple and mangoes, and a local-style mayo-mustard. Go big with a side of Hurricane Fries ($4.25) tossed in furikake and topped with Sriracha aioli and arare.
$7.50 during happy hour only, 1945 S. Kīhei Road, Kīhei, Maui, (808) 879-3133, threesbarandgrill.com.
Lemon Basil Pizza
The kiawe wood fire from the custom brick oven that catches your eye in this Kailua eatery makes all the pizzas memorable. While several make it to our favorites list, we haven’t tasted anything quite like the lemon-basil combo with preserved lemon, olive oil, artichoke hearts, house ricotta, basil, sea salt and mozzarella cheese. Trust us!
$19, 108 Hekili St., #107, Kailua, (808) 888-8933, primahawaii.com.
Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar
For three years, chef Keith Endo has been experimenting with cauliflower, the cruciferous low-carb veggie that has been having a moment recently. Endo cooks the cauliflower just enough to keep some crunch, then serves it with house-made aioli spiked with cumin, pickled red cabbage and brown butter spiced with zaatar. It’s so tasty, you forget you’re eating vegetables.
$11.95, Waterfront Plaza, #6F, 524-8466, vinohawaii.com.
Moon and Turtle
No matter what else you see on the small-plates menu at chef-owners Mark and Soni Pomaski’s restaurant in Hilo, come pau hana time, order the smoky sashimi. Your life will be that much sadder if you don’t. Mark fans out a circle of thin-sliced, fresh-caught ‘ahi, marlin or kampachi, drizzling it with extra-virgin olive oil, Hawaiian chili pepper water and—the dish’s pièce de résistance (other than the fish, that is)—a smoked kiawe-wood shoyu he crafts in-house. Simple. Delicious. Irresistible. A dish-finishing mound of shredded daikon strings provides the perfect edible enabler for respectably soaking up any remaining shoyu mixture post-sashimi.
$14, 51 Kalākaua St., Hilo, Big Island, (808) 961-0599.
Kālua Pork and Goat Cheese Wontons
Hali‘imaile General Store
You might be tempted to order Bev’s Famous Crab Pizza—and, honestly, you wouldn’t be disappointed—but consider the humbly named kālua pork and goat cheese wontons, served in a bamboo basket with a mango barbecue dipping sauce. These crispy wontons are a riff on a crab Rangoon, stuffed with smoky pulled pork and goat cheese rather than a mixture of lump crab meat and cream cheese, and perfect with a glass of chardonnay.
$12, 900 Hali‘imaile Road, Makawao, Maui, (808) 572-2666, hgsmaui.com.
The Impossible Burger
Smith & Kings
It’s an odd feeling when the best burger at Smith & Kings isn’t made of beef, but of wheat, coconut oil, soy and potatoes. You wouldn’t know it though, thanks to an abundance of the protein heme, which is what gives meat its characteristic taste but is found in plants, as well. The Impossible Burger, a flavorful patty created by California-based Impossible Foods, comes with caramelized onions, cheddar, tomato and a dollop of garlic aioli, with the option of adding a fried egg for $2. Each burger comes with a choice of salad, soup or fries, so shell out an extra $3 for poutine, grab a game from the shelf by the door and hang out for a bit.
$18, 69 N. King St., (808) 537-2222, smithandkings.website.
Shoyu Hot Dogs
Co-owner Kawehi Haug had to fight to put shoyu hot dogs, a dish her grandpa would make for her when she was a kid, on the menu at the Downtown restaurant. “But I won,” she says, laughing. No, we won. The dish, which is only served during happy hour (4 to 6 p.m. daily), uses an entire pack of all-beef hot dogs, cooked in Haug’s shoyu-sugar sauce and topped with grilled onions and served over a bowl of rice. (You can—and should—order it with an egg topper.) “We just wanted to serve something that reminds us of growing up in Hawai‘i and the kind of food we eat here,” Haug explains. “It’s humble food.”
$6, 1088 Bishop St., LL13, (808) 523-3460, dahukilau.com.
Tiki’s Grill & Bar
Pau hana here runs from 2 to 5 p.m., but you can get the whole calamari steak day and night. It’s a signature dish, crisply but lightly batter-fried, served sliced on a pool of lemongrass butter sauce, dotted with capers and topped with dabs of tangy, unexpectedly hot bay-crab-shrimp-papaya salsa. Enjoy the discounted draft beers ($3), cocktails ($5) and Bulleit Rye specialty drinks ($7) as you linger to enjoy the second-floor terrace’s stunning sunset view.
$16, 2570 Kalākaua Ave., (808) 923-8454, tikisgrill.com.
Wisp Restaurant & Lounge
We almost hate to let the word get out about Wisp, the elegantly appointed lounge in the space along Kapi‘olani Park formerly known as Bobby McGee’s and lately occupied by the Lotus Hotel. So we'll whisper: They’re killing it. Well-made drinks, smartly executed small plates and, often, a trio playing Hawaiian music in the old (tastefully electric) style—all this and these fragrant dashi-steamed clams in a broth of soy, katsuo and chili, perfect for sopping up with the grilled baguette.
$15 before 40 percent pau hana discount, 2885 Kalākaua Ave., (808) 791-5163, wisphawaii.com.
Pint + Jigger
PAIRED WITH A GUINNESS BEER.
The moment you bite into these pickles, you know there’s something special about them. Lightly house-fried in beer batter, they don’t lose their crunch even when submerged in the addictive Sriracha aioli served with them (a must, to cool them down), which is more than we can say for onion rings. The brine gives the perfect amount of tang to accompany a hearty burger or another small side. Plus, they come in a bucket. It’s just fun.
$6, 1936 S. King St., (808) 744-9593, pintandjigger.com.
Street Burger S’more
Street Burger in Kapa‘a specializes in—what else?—burgers, all of which boast 6-ounce grilled-to-order patties made with natural grass-fed beef from Kaua‘i cows. (In fact, the burgers are a mix of chuck, sirloin and brisket cuts.) And then there’s the extensive fries menu, which includes fries topped with pickled peppers and Sriracha aioli (Diavola Fries), sharp cheddar and a poached egg (Texas Poutine) and parsley, thyme, rosemary and sage (Herbed Fries). But leave room for dessert, particularly the Street Burger S’more: layers of chocolate mousse, peanut butter feuilletine (a crispy confection made from thin, sweetened crêpes) and perfectly toasted Swiss meringue served in a Mason jar. It evokes campfires and lazy summer nights. Trust us, no matter how much you’ve already eaten, you will find a way to finish this.
$8, 4-369 Kūhiō Ave., Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i, (808) 212-1555, streetburgerkauai.com.
Bacon Kim Chee Fried Rice
paired with (left) Hawaiian Punch (rum, fresh watermelon juice, strawberry, lime, yogurt) and The Cure (melon-infused soju, lime juice, Resqwater).
The bacon kim chee fried rice at DB Grill, the sister restaurant of Café Duck Butt, is a show stopper. The kim chee fried rice is made with onions, kim chee butter, seaweed and scallions, and the bacon crumbles add a nice touch to the spicy yet sweet concoction. The popular dish is topped with a crispy over-easy egg that adds soft, gooey goodness.
$15, 4450 Kapolei Parkway, #560, Kapolei, (808) 376-0885, dbgrillhi.com.
Uni Mentaiko Pasta
The Social Honolulu Eatery and Bar
When Dash Gastropub closed in 2015 after three years in business, it didn’t take long for The Social to replace it with much of the same. But, unlike Dash (As in, dine and dash? A dash of salt? What even is a gastropub?), the name tells you everything—it’s a place to gather with friends, drink and share good food. One of our favorite dishes? The Social’s signature uni mentaiko pasta. Strands of spaghetti are coated in salty, briny flavor from the uni and mentaiko cream sauce, with ikura, the boba of the sea, popping in your mouth with each bite. It’s a huge portion, so come hungry.
$16, 1018 McCully St., (808) 943-1025.
paired with On the Wagon.
Here’s a way to try innovative cuisine by chef Kevin Lee. A small-bites sampler in the bar and lounge features popular appetizers, most notably beef tartare made with 75-day dry-aged beef, a tea-soaked deviled egg and citrus-cured salmon topped with ikura and crème fraîche on buttered toast. Still, a can’t-miss appetizer is the asparagus frites. Spears are rolled in a light batter flecked with matcha and dried asparagus powder, quick-fried so they stay crunchy, then topped with a runny sous vide egg, crumbled bacon and lemon zest. Texture, taste and a little tang make this memorable.
$13, 55 Merchant St., Suite 110, (808) 744-2531, paihonolulu.com.
Fried Caprese Bites
A fried salad is the kind of contradiction that can only take place somewhere like Square Barrels. Here, little chunks of mozzarella and grape tomatoes are each breaded and fried separately—cubes are cheese, spheres are tomatoes—and accompanied by a pesto sauce for dipping. Be careful with the tomatoes—the hot juices burst in your mouth when you bite into them. These poppable snacks go great with Square Barrels’ charcuterie platter.
$8.50, 1001 Bishop St., Suite 108, (808) 524-2747, squarebarrels.com.
Side Street Inn
If you’re looking for a great pau hana spot, Side Street Inn is an oldie but goodie. The pork chops and fried rice get most of the attention, but there is a reason the kalbi has also been one of the most popular dishes for more than 20 years. Pick from two options: the sizzling boneless kalbi, a house specialty served on a bed of Asian stir-fry and kim chee, and the bone-in kalbi, which comes with kim chee. This juicy, tender staple won’t disappoint.
Market price, multiple locations, sidestreetinn.com.
PAIRED WITH THAT’S ONE HOT CUCUMBER (HERRADURA SILVER TEQUILA, CUCUMBER JUICE, LIME, AGAVE, REALLY HOT CHILI PEPPERS).
Oyster Hour, which runs from 4 to 6 p.m. daily, is a bivalve hit parade. Each day features one variety; the usual suspects, jotted down by our well-versed server, Lauren, include Kumamotos, Shigokus, Malpeques, Kusshis and, on the day we visited, Miyagis. Plump, briny sea-bathers in their deep-shell cups, they broke the mouth but not the bank. So relax, take your time, order the excellent house sauvignon blanc and wave to the Two-Buck Shuck crew as they prepare your luscious little umami bombs and send them out to your table on a bed of ice.
$2 apiece, 2330 Kalākaua Ave., (808) 797-2435, herringboneeats.com/locations/waikiki.
If all you’re ordering at J.J.’s is the pizza, you’re not really living. No pau hana is complete without an order (or three) of the breaded wings, deep fried, crispy and super moist. These wings have plenty of meat on their bones and can stand as a meal on their own, even without the obligatory celery sticks most places throw in the basket to make it seem healthy. No frills here—just keep dunking ’em in the blue cheese dressing.
$8.75, 1147 Bethel St., (808) 537-4992, jjdolans.com.
Things That Make You Hummm
Alternate between dipping soft squares of house-made pita bread and slices of cucumber into this hummus and the whole plate will be gone within minutes. Even if you’re not typically a fan of the strong tahini flavor (which is a little like peanut butter), this hummus is not like other girls—a well in the center holds a stellar garlic cilantro citrus oil that adds brightness to the dish, along with a sprinkling of sumac and fresh cilantro. Stir it all together for a delicious pau hana dish that just might make you consider licking the plate.
$10, 675 Auahi St., Suite 130, (808) 594-7445, bevyhawaii.com.
Sam & Chips
Bevy could probably rest on its Moscow mules and $1.50 oysters during happy hour and we’d still make an effort to go there regularly. But it also has a pretty solid menu of small plates that are $2 off during happy hour (4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday), including lenguas fries, jalapeño mac and cheese bites, patata puffs and the Sam & Chips. Taro chips surround a dome of smoked salmon, studded with onions and smoky paprika, for a light app you may or may not want to share.
$11, 675 Auahi St., Suite 130, 594-7445, bevyhawaii.com.
Macadamia Nut Shrimp
underdogs Sports Bar & Grill
Darts, pool tables, good prices on drinks and local-style fare, friendly servers, and a relaxed and fun vibe make it easy to see why some regulars drive across the island to meet weekly at Underdogs. You’ll also find folks from Hawai‘i News Now grabbing a bite there since they can walk over from their studio. It’s worth the trip for a few things. The macadamia nut shrimp comes lightly breaded and tossed in a soy-masago aioli, topped with green onions and chopped macadamia nuts. Best bonus? It’s served on a bed of greens, which makes it work as a meal or a good thing to share, especially if you order another house special—the truffle mac & cheese poppers ($13) served with house-made marinara.
$15, 508 Waiakamilo Road, (808) 888-2873.
Lemon Crunch Cake
The Alley Restaurant
Sometimes after a particularly rough day at work (or not), pau hana is just desserts. When in ‘Aiea, everyone knows to stop by The Alley at ‘Aiea Bowl for the lemon crunch cake. The fluffy, light yellow chiffon cake is filled with lemon curd and milk custard, and topped with almond toffee. It is the most popular cake the restaurant sells, although the Chocolate Insanity Cake comes in a close second. (The restaurant also sells a pumpkin crunch flavor in the fall.) You can buy an entire cake or one slice, so don’t worry—there’s plenty to go around.
$4.95 for one slice, 99-115 ‘Aiea Heights Drive, ‘Aiea, (808) 488-6854, aieabowl.com.
Smoked Pork Loin Sandwich
Aloha Beer Co.
Paired with Waimānalo Farmhouse by Aloha Beer Co.
If you only think of Aloha Beer for locally crafted pours from O‘ahu veteran brewmaster Dave Campbell, you’re missing out. The Kaka‘ako brewery offers a full menu of sandwiches, salads and boards of food to share with your favorite pint of Hop Lei IPA, Same Same Pale or Portlock Porter. The locally raised Pono Pork loin is brined in lehua honey and smoked, sliced and served on a crunchy baguette with grilled raclette cheese and a smear of tangy whole-grain mustard. The sandwich comes with a big green salad and house-made pickles. We loved the golden beet pickles on our last visit.
$16, 700 Queen St., (808) 544-1605, alohabeer.com.
Pumpkin with Bacon and Garlic
This midtown pau hana spot delivers something for nearly every taste with a menu that goes on for pages. It’s hard to choose just one favorite. But if we have to pick just one, we’d go with the kabocha sautéed with bacon and garlic. The saltiness of the bacon, the tang of garlic and the sweetness of the Japanese pumpkin come together atop some greens in a comforting dish. (We also liked the sizzling omurice, a fluffy omelet with demi-glace all over that comes in a hot pan and costs $7 during happy hour.) Friendly servers keep drinks and food coming and keep guests posted on last call for happy hour, too.
$11, 1451 S. King St., (808) 941-2439, chezkenzo.net.
paired with the Japanese Mojito (mint, lime and shiso leaf, house-made ginger syrup, vodka, and club soda).
A sushi roll with no rice. Yes, you heard that right. Doraku features a few “deluxe no rice rolls” on its menu (two at the Waikīkī restaurant and three in Kaka‘ako). One in particular caught our eye: the Emperor Roll, a Doraku favorite, one of the waiters noted. It is nori simply stuffed with tuna, salmon, shrimp and avocado rolled in crab mix and fried panko. Five rolls are served over a spring mix and crispy onions topped with unagi sauce, spicy aioli and tobiko. Pretty ‘ono for a no-rice roll.
$13.95 in Kaka‘ako and $14.95 in Waikīkī, multiple locations, dorakusushi.com.
Local North Shore Honeycomb
A block of Humboldt Fog cheese, a honeycomb smothered in sweetness from Kaua‘i Island Honey and sliced Fuji apples are grouped together in this simple, yet elegant presentation. It’s been a staple on Bar Acuda’s tapas menu since the north shore restaurant opened 13 years ago, but it’s continued to be a favorite. “I recommend eating [all the ingredients] in one bite,” says chef de cuisine Kenny Udiffa. “The way they meld together on the palate, there’s something remarkable about it.”
$17, Hanalei Town Center, 5-5161 Kūhiō Highway, Hanalei, Kaua‘i, (808) 826-7081, restaurantbaracuda.com.
Finding a mix of dishes inspired by Central and South America, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico in one place means we can order Argentine bread along with Chilean clams. Yet sometimes the simplest-sounding dish can stand out. That’s the case with the chunky yet creamy guacamole with just-made tortilla chips and three salsas: a tomato-based Mexicana, tomatillo-avocado and one that incorporates Negra Modelo beer. Cactus also gives a break to us weekday workers, offering a 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. happy hour seven days a week with $2 off the guacamole and a list of appetizers and drinks, and the opportunity to order a swirl of frozen sangria and margarita in one glass.
$17, 767 Kailua Road, Kailua, (808) 261-1000, cactusbistro.com.
*Cactus closed on June 9.
Combine smoky mushrooms, charred sweet corn, blackened tomato, three cheeses and a roasted tomatillo salsa and you get a savory and creamy enchilada—with all of the roasted components—that appeals equally to meateaters and vegetarians. The tortillas are served flat in a short stack rather than rolled into tubes, which further makes the dish stand out.
$25, 767 Kailua Road, Kailua, (808) 261-1000, cactusbistro.com.
*Cactus closed on June 9.