44 Insanely Good Dishes in Hawai‘i

Our writers select the dishes and drinks around Honolulu and beyond that we crave.
Sxy Szechuan Whole Fish

Whole roasted fish from SXY Szechuan. Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


Whole Roasted Fish

At SXY Szechuan, the description “roasted fish” belies this centerpiece of a dish, which arrives in a silver tray with its own heat source, thus melding two Chinese obsessions: hot pot and whole fish. Two small yellow corvina (watch out for the bones) are fried (not traditional, but no matter), then bathed in a red chile sauce swimming with Sichuan peppercorns. You’ll have to, ahem, fish out goodies from its depths, including wide, slippery glass noodles, lotus root, cloud ear fungus and tofu skin. —MC

$32.99, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., (808) 942-8884, sxyszechuan.com


Oyster and Pork Tenderloin Katsu

Juicy pork tenderloin and creamy oysters, both encased in a cloud of panko (made on the spot from La Tour bread) and fried in copper pots—this is the pinnacle of surf and turf at Tonkatsu Tamafuji. Tonkatsu is the star, but details in the ensemble elevate the experience, from cabbage salad—the clunky vegetable transformed into fairy strands—to the grind-your-own sesame seeds for the sauce. —MC 

$25, 449 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 922-1212, tamafuji-us.com, @tonkatsu_tamafuji_usa 


Tane Vegan Izakaya Barber Roll

Barbers Roll. Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


Nigiri and Rolls

At Tane Vegan Izakaya, the bright assortment of nigiri erases any longing for traditional sushi. The specialty rolls are studies in flavor and textural contrast. All are vibrant, surprising and in one case—the Barbers—slightly menacing. Cold-smoked discs of beets sit on a roulade of yuba, rice, spinach, avocado and asparagus. They’re kissed with spicy aioli and dotted with crispy arare and caviarlike seaweed pearls. Arranged like chambers of a six-shooter, one contains a fiery habanero. It’s a bit like Russian roulette: Should you draw the heat, just know it’s served with a lifesaving, milky sweet sake. —JN

2065 S. Beretania St., (808) 888-7678, tanevegan.com, @tanevegan 


Roast Pork

The sleeper hit at Roast Duck Kitchen is not duck; it’s the roast pork. It’s not too fatty, not too lean, juicy and capped with lightly salted crisp skin. —MC

$18.50 a pound, 99-115 ‘Aiea Heights Drive, Suite 206, ‘Aiea, (808) 486-0005



To balance out Honolulu Skewer House’s fiery lamb skewers rotating at your own personal tabletop grills, order the more delicately flavored scallops, which poach in their own shells, along with a swirl of vermicelli noodles that help soak up the chile-garlic-soy sauce. —MC

$18.99, 567 Kapahulu Ave., Unit 1A, (808) 888-8680, @hnlskewerhouse


Hana Soba

One of our go-to orders at the soba stalwart I-naba, this bowl of buckwheat noodles in a cold broth comes topped with ikura and uni and a mound of slippery grated mountain yam. And for yin-and-yang balance, it’s accompanied by a side of perfectly fried hot tempura. —MC

$27.50, 1610 S King St., Suite A, (808) 953-2070, inabahonolulu.com, @inaba_honolulu


Soufflé Pancakes

Cream Pot’s airy breakfast stacks have inspired a global trend, yet they remain fairly under the radar in the charming French countryside-style restaurant across from the Ala Wai. Lucky for us, we don’t have to go to Japan or New York to get the original free-standing ultra-fluffy clouds topped with fruit, vanilla custard and whipped cream. —KV

$22.50 and up, 444 Niu St., (808) 429-0945, creampothawaii.com


Baked Escargot

Six snails swim in Piggy Smalls’ green garlic curry sauce, soft umami bites that might even convert the squeamish into gastropod gastronomes. But as long as you have one mollusk lover in your party, it’s worth breaking off a few pieces of the accompanying baguette from La Tour to swipe up the creamy goodness, topped with a generous sprinkling—more like a carpet—of fried garlic. —KV

$16, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 665, (808) 777-3588, thepigandthelady.com/piggysmalls, @piggysmallshawaii


Istanbul Hawaii Hatay Kunefe

Hatay Kunefe from Istanbul Hawaii. Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


Hatay Kunefe

For this classic Turkish dessert at Istanbul Hawai‘i, a thin disc of crisp, shredded phyllo enfolds a warm and stretchy mild cheese. Covered in bright green crushed pistachios, dolloped with kaymak (similar to clotted cream), and just barely sweetened with honey and sugar syrup, think of it as a cheese plate and dessert in one. —MC

$13, 1108 Auahi St., Suite 152, istanbulhawaii.com, @istanbulhawaii


Potato ’n’ Eggs

Over Easy, an indoor-outdoor café in Kailua, makes breakfast special with dishes we can’t find elsewhere. Our family orders the Potato ’n’ Eggs on repeat because a silky blanket of potato purée over soft-boiled eggs on French bread with tomato jam feels indulgent yet not overly rich. It’s topped with bacon bits, but leave them off to keep it vegetarian. —RD

$17, 418 Ku‘ulei Road, #103, Kailua, (808) 260-1732, overeasyhi.com, @overeasyhi


Whiskey Coke Teri Burger

At Whiskey Smoke 808, the barbecue joint inside Bob’s Sports Bar, two smashed patties with edges crisped to the brink of being burnt are layered with thick teriyaki sauce and gooey American cheese. The homemade bun is the love child of a buttermilk biscuit and a soft pretzel complete with flaky salt. This burger is divine. —MB

$16.65, 170 Hāmākua Drive, Kailua, (808) 861-7683, @whiskeysmoke_808


Patty Melt

A memorable patty melt tastes like a cross between a summer picnic and a diner dinner, a grilled cheese sandwich hooking up with a burger hot off the grill. And Butcher & Bird delivers on that promise with a tender beef patty, salted just right, on griddled rye, melty cheese bracketing the burger with soft, sweet cooked onions and a creamy sauce to bring it home. —RD

$13, 324 Coral St., (808) 281-9595, butcherandbirdhi.com, @butcherandbird


C4 Table Cioppino

Ciopinno from C4 Table by Colin Hazama


Asian Cioppino

This dish at C4 Table by Colin Hazama tastes like a melding of San Francisco-style seafood stew and Thai curry. Shrimp, clams, tender Hokkaido scallops and fish (mahimahi or uku) bathe in a broth fragrant with lemongrass, galangal (a citrusy cousin to ginger) and Thai basil with a hint of chile heat. It’s a dish Hazama started making from the onset of the pandemic when he evolved from hotel executive chef to helming his own pop-up and catering business. —RD 

$22, C4table.com, @c4_table; order by email at chefcolinhazama@c4table.com or text (808) 922-1910 


El Cubano

I’ve never craved a Cubano like I do the one at Castro’s in Waikīkī. Toasty curves of the rich ciabatta give way to tender stacks of briny ham, lush roasted pork, melted sharp cheddar, garlic aioli, whole grain mustard and house pickles—a simple and satisfying fix for any sandwich lover’s longing. —MB

$15, 2113 Kalākaua Ave., (808) 630-0480, castrosrestauranthi.com, @castroswaikiki


Iliili Cash Carry Hoagie

Hoagie Italian from ‘Ili‘Ili Cash & Carry. Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


Hoagie Italian

At ‘Ili‘ili Cash & Carry, 8 inches of daily baked hoagie bread are hollowed to make room for a stack of thinly sliced sopressata, salami and mortadella. Any remaining empty space is filled with provolone cheese, tomatoes, red onions and slices of pepperoncini. This will inspire you to unhinge your jaw—it’s easily O‘ahu’s best version of the iconic East Coast sammie. Pro tip: Always add sweet pickled peppers; eat half when you get it and let the other half meld into an Italian vinaigrette-marinated mass of goodness. —MB

$17, 2065 S. Beretania St., (808) 367-0606, @iliili_cash_carry


Lūʻau and Eggs

What you can’t see from above is the layer of crispy garlic rice that’s been forming a crust inside the cast-iron pan. For this dish at Koko Head Café, the lū‘au is creamy and rich—balanced between savory and coconutty. Spooned on top is lomi tomato strewn with ogo, a sprinkling of green onion and bubu arare. You can add miso pork, five spice pork belly or fresh fish to the party if you want. The best parts, besides the hidden-treasure crispy rice, are the light and crunchy tempura sweet onion petals. —MB

$20, plus $10 for pork, 1120 12th Ave., (808) 732-8920, kokoheadcafe.com, @kokoheadcafe


‘Ahi Tasting

There’s so much more to ‘ahi than poke and sashimi—a point Maguro-Ya deftly proves with its head-to-tail offering of eight pieces of nigiri sushi topped with different cuts and preparations from a single bigeye tuna. Its collar is presented three ways, kissed with flame and lightly poached with different sauces. Nakaochi, scraped from between the ribs, is dressed simply with green onion and shiso. Belly cuts and lean akami round out a sumptuous vertical tasting. —MT

$29, 3565 Wai‘alae Ave., (808) 732-3775, maguroyakaimuki.com, @maguroyakaimuki


Cup Sushi

The three choices of cup sushi at Higoto Japanese Eatery are all good, but we’re going with the crab and ikura bowl, as colorfully pretty as it is oishii. Crunchy red cabbage slaw and sweet carrot snow are layered between generous swaths of sushi rice crowned with a briny crabcake slathered with yuzu kosho and ikura so fresh it tumbles everywhere as your chopsticks plunge in. —MT

$11.30, 3221 Wai‘alae Ave., (808) 892-1199, @higoto_japanese_eatery


Goat Hot Pot

Goat hot pot in Vietnam arrives in a show of sparks and bravado, delivered atop live coals in an earthenware hibachi to diners hoping to emulate the animal’s virility. The presentation at Pho Que Huong is more subdued, thankfully, and far more delicious. A sea of fried aburaage tops a rich, nuanced broth flavored with dried berries and other Silk Road seasonings; and the goat meat, tender and more beefy than gamy, is complemented by punchy, leafy greens. —MT

$58, 1160 Maunakea St., (808) 528-3663


Bara Chirashi

Sushi Sho’s exquisite Hawai‘i-focused Edomae sushi is presented as bara chirashi, nibble-size pieces artfully arranged in a single mosaic atop a bowl of rice, at nearby Upstairs Waikīkī. The sampling of sushi master Keiji Nakazawa’s techniques for preserving and intensifying flavors of ono, Kona abalone, Moloka‘i shrimp and other seafood is in limited supply and available on a first-come, first-served basis, so book an early dinner at Upstairs. A very early dinner. —MT

$45, 280 Beachwalk, (808) 922-1500, upstairshawaii.com, @upstairshawaii


Hau Tree Coconut Cake

Coconut cake from Hau Tree. Photo: Courtesy of Hau Tree


Toasted Coconut Cake

While the Halekūlani was sleeping, Hau Tree stole the mantle for best coconut cake. It’s a simple, elegant affair: whipped white chocolate ganache between three layers of soft vanilla chiffon soaked with a dark rum syrup and adorned with a ribbon of coconut whipped cream and curls of toasted coconut. —MC

$15, 2863 Kalākaua Ave., (808) 923-1555, kaimana.com/dining


He‘e Roll

You can get lobster rolls anywhere in the country (and likely fresher), but you can only get a he‘e roll at Kaimukī Superette. In this local take, chunks of tender octopus dressed with tarragon and celery fill a buttered and toasted bun. And because it comes from Superette, also home to Local I‘a, a community-supported fishery with transparent fishing practices, you can be sure the tako is responsibly sourced. —MC

$13.50, 3458 Wai‘alae Ave., (808) 734-7800, kaimukisuperette.com, @kaimukisuperette


Laotian Sausage

Crunchy, bouncy, porky delights, deep-fried sai oua, or Laotian sausages, at Olay’s Thai-Lao Cuisine make for excellent pūpū, especially when accompanied by BYOB libations in the restaurant’s picturesque hidden courtyard. In this dish, a rarity in Honolulu, umami runs deep, thanks to lightly fermented pork and pork skin, all balanced by hints of lemongrass and lime leaves. —MT

$16.95, 66 N. Hotel St., (808) 536-5300, olaysthaihawaii.com, @olays_thai_lao_cuisine



Rangoon Burmese Kitchen is one of the city’s best spots for salads, most featuring dried legumes and other crunches that, tossed with fresh and fermented ingredients and piquant dressings, deliver multidimensional flavor bursts. The tea leaf salad is the best known of the nine, but our favorites are the ginger with its zingy, softened matchsticks; the riotous mango salad with fresh vegetables, herbs, nuts and fried onion; and the delicate, faintly tea-flavored pennywort salad. —MT

$10-$15, 1131 Nu‘uanu Ave., (808) 367-0645, rangoon-burmese-kitchen.business.site


Pizza Mamo Pepperoni

Pepperoni pizza from Pizza Mama. Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


Detroit Roni

A soft, thick dough, essentially fried in a rectangular pan, results in a golden crust, while the blanket of Wisconsin brick cheese and mozzarella produces a caramelized cheese crown along the edges: This is the queen of pizzas. A bright tomato sauce goes on top of the cheese, then pepperoni, crisping into delightful cups. Pizza Mamo didn’t just bring Detroit-style pizza to Honolulu; it manifested its ideal. —MC

$21, 16 N. Hotel St., eatpizzamamo.com, @pizzamamo


Smoked Beef Rib

Sure you’ve had great brisket from Sunset Texas Barbecue, but have you tried the Flintstones-esque smoked beef rib? Primal portions of slow-smoked rib meat are encased in a black pepper bark, its heft pulling the juicy chunk—each weighing about a pound—right off the bone. Yabba dabba doo make sure you sample it on your next visit. —MB

About $30 a pound, 443 Cooke St., (808) 476-1405, sunsetq.com, @sunsettxbbq


Confit Pork Belly Brûlée

It’s the combination of gochujang and Korean miso that flavors the supple skin, and the six- to seven-hour confit bath that coaxes the flesh to a yielding tenderness, that define the confit pork belly brûlée at O’Kim’s Korean Kitchen. Slices are topped with apple ginger jam and fried sesame leaves and are best eaten whole for full, lip-smacking effect. —MT

$16.95, 1028 Nu‘uanu Ave., (808) 537-3787, okimshawaii.com, @okims_honolulu


Strawberry Matcha Shortcake

Delicate flavors and sensations rise in layers atop a crispy-sweet feuilletine crust: fresh cream, plenty of strawberries and the tightly balanced, loamy-herbaceous notes of matcha spongecake. A creation of three-time James Beard Award semifinalist Michelle Karr-Ueoka, Artizen by MW’s strawberry matcha shortcake tastes like early summer among the clouds. —MT

$6 a slice, 888 Kapi‘olani Blvd., (808) 524-0499, artizenbymw.com, @artizenbymw


Lengua Burrito

Across Honolulu’s landscape of Mexican delights, lengua is as elusive as it is hallowed. Whenever I roll over to Thyda’s Tacos I get a mess of different tacos but always with a lengua burrito for later. Luscious, beefy chunks of tongue are the prize in the L.A.-style wrap requiring two hands. Fried cheese and tangy guacamole top off the usual fixins that pack a ridiculous amount of flavor. —MB

$13, 1034 Queen St., call or text orders to (310) 666-4671, @thydastacos



Ep Bar Mala Sangre

Mala Sangre from EP Bar. Photo: Courtesy of EP Bar


Mala Sangre

Smoky, a little spicy with chile agave, and with a hint of citrus, the mezcal in this cocktail plays off the herbaceous tang of Cynar, the artichoke-based aperitif. The Mala Sangre suits the clubby cool atmosphere of Chinatown’s listening bar—EP Bar, for extended play—as we soak in the tunes from the turntable spinning from a collection of 3,000-plus vinyl records. —RD

$15, 1150 Nu‘uanu Ave., Unit A, (808) 753-9720, epbar.co, @ep.bar


E Ho‘o Pau Mai Tai

This isn’t the flower-adorned mai tai accessory to pool bars and beachside cabanas. Bar Leather Apron’s mai tai is a tropical vacation gone M. Night Shyamalan, arriving in an ominous carved idol, fuming kiawe wood smoke. It’s richer on the tongue, the rum infused with raisin, the orgeat spiked with spice, and absinthe worming its way through the lime, a reminder that paradise always has a dark side. —MC

$18, 745 Fort St., #127A, barleatherapron.com, @barleatherapron


Cynar Daiquiri

Choosing one drink at Wild Orange, one of Honolulu’s newest speakeasies, feels a little like trying to pick your favorite cousin at a long-delayed family reunion: so many intriguing choices. The Cynar daiquiri beckons with its telltale bittersweet base mingling with rum, lime and a bit of orgeat. Other intriguing cocktails include black sesame vodka, aloe liqueur and other not-so-common ingredients in concoctions as eclectic as the glassware and as fun as the secret entrance. —RD

$15, 1687 Kalauokalani Way, (808) 892-6966 (text for a reservation)


Party Boy Pils

If the Speedo-rocking man on the can doesn’t sell you on Hana Koa Brewing Co.’s collab with The Rice Factory, its super clean taste and drinkability will. The rice flavor is subtle—almost as if a few drops of shochu were added to lager—but the familiar funk in this Tokyo-style pilsner keeps things interesting. —KV

$8 a pint, 962 Kawaiaha‘o St., (808) 591-2337, hanakoabrewing.com, @hanakoabrewing


Tasting Menus


Seasonal Shave Ice

Forget the syrupy sweet fluorescent shave ice you know, and experience the nuanced subtlety of Bar Maze’s ever-changing interpretation. We loved the ethereally light cantaloupe version in the restaurant’s earlier days, and the more recent one with banana bourbon pudding, puffed wild rice, cinnamon powder, chestnuts and a drizzle of spiced almond syrup to end the meal. —KV

Part of the $150 omakase, 604 Ala Moana Blvd., Unit 1B, barmaze.com, @bar.maze


Foie PBJ

It’s like an Uncrustable—but sexual. While the elements might interchange, in essence you’ll receive a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with creamy melted foie gras dripping from its center. Pan-toasted on each side then finished with a dusting of kinako, Sooper Secret Izakaya’s signature dessert garners smiles, laughs and moans every time. —MB

Part of the $150 prix fixe, 2045 Kalākaua Ave., @soopersecretizakaya


Motsu Nabe

Ah, the motsu hot pot at Yakitori Ando! It may be for the IYKYK crowd, because motsu is beef intestines or other offal that, unlike tripe, deliver a funk-free richness. Simmered in a gentle dashi broth, motsu imparts a lip-smacking unctuousness that flavors the accompanying tofu and ali‘i mushrooms; chives and dried chiles add sharp accents. Ando’s motsu nabe, sought after by aficionados in previous incarnations at Kohnotori, is especially generous with the motsu. —MT

Included in the $55–$60 omakase yakitori dinner, 1215 Center St., (808) 739-5702


Neighbor Islands


Hawai ‘i Island

Tina Garden Cafe Garden Curry Avocado

Garden curry and avocado from Tina’s Garden Cafe. Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


Garden Curry with Avocado

At Tina’s Garden Café, a tiny spot in downtown Hilo, you’ll find a curry that has an entire bombucha-sized avocado in it, along with local produce that might include heart of palm cut like crinkle fries, kabocha and fresh coconut pieces in a bright and herbal green curry shot through with turmeric, ginger and lemongrass that’s more like a broth than a stodgy coconut milk gravy. —MC

$15, 168 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, (808) 935-1166, tinasgardencafe.com


Hawai ‘i Island

Tako Karaage

Using a traditional tool of trickery (involving a cowrie shell, rock and coconut husk fiber) to lure it in, the tako featured in Brian Hirata’s pop-up, Na‘au, is captured by a Kohala fisherman, aka the “Tako Whisperer.” After being massaged vigorously with Hawaiian salt, the tender cross sections of tentacles are karaage fried: light and crispy on the outside, succulent and rich on the inside. Lime vinaigrette and nuoc mam marinated cherry tomatoes and cucumbers offer mouthwatering pops of acid. —MB

Part of a $250 prix fixe, check website for pop-up dates and locations, naauhilo.com, @naauhilo


Hawai ‘i Island

Fish of the Day

Get the famous pork chops at Manago Hotel, but supplement that order with the fish special of the day. It might be fillets of lehi (snapper), pan-fried with butter and lemon; or whole-fried ehu, lechon-style, topped with fish sauce-laced diced tomatoes and onions. No matter the fish (or entrée) at Manago, it’s always served with an assortment of okazu, including a thatch of pickled limu. —MC

Market price, 82-6155 Māmalahoa Highway, Captain Cook, (808) 323-2642, managohotel.com, @managohotel




The hand-rolled deep-fried rice balls at Sale Pepe arrive as a pair wading in a shallow pool of chunky crimson tomato sauce. Breaking through their crusty exterior reveals the prize inside: gooey fresh mozzarella, peas and rich Maui Cattle Co. bolognese enveloped in steamy saffron risotto, the scent of which is truly drool- inducing. —MB

$14, 878 Front St., Units 7 & 8, Lahaina, (808) 667-7667, salepepemaui.com, @salepepemaui



Potato Pizza

Maui has more than its fair share of pizza joints, but Restaurant Marlow stands above the rest (and literally, perched high in Upcountry Maui). Chef Jeff Scheer churns out dozens of gorgeously leopard-spotted sourdough pies from a 900-degree wood-burning oven. The potato pizza, made with rounds of the charred spud spread across a field of cheese and basil pesto, is a masterpiece of delicious simplicity. —TO

$21, 30 Kupaoa St., Pukalani, (808) 868-3366, restaurantmarlow.com, @restaurantmarlow



Dry Mein

Simple, soulful and broke da mouth—everything leads to Tin Roof. Bouncy Sun Noodle saimin makes a cozy bed for choke crispy Spam, kamaboko, green onion and bean sprouts. An umami-rich dashi completes the bowl of local kine abundance and it’s sure to paint a smile across your face. —MB

$9, 360 Papa Place, Suite 116, Kahului, (808) 868-0753, tinroofmaui.com, @tinroofmaui



Mahimahi Wellington

With local boy chef Isaac Bancaco now at its helm, Pacific’o on the Beach promises a unique way to enjoy the fresh catch, one that’s both new and familiar. Mahimahi and lobster tail are swathed in lū‘au leaves and mushroom duxelles before being embraced by flaky puff pastry. A green pea emulsion on the plate offers creaminess to each layered bite. —MB

$59, 505 Front St., Suite 114, Lahaina, (808) 667-4341, pacificomaui.com, @pacificomaui



Kiibo Oyako Donbori

Oyako Donbori from Kiibo. Photo: Courtesy of Kiibo


Oyako Don

After more than a year of closure, Kiibo, an almost 50-year-old restaurant in Līhu‘e, recently reopened with a complete renovation. The new sleek and understated interior underscores a classic Japanese comfort-food menu executed with precision, as exemplified by the oyako don—slices of chicken and onion cooked into a layer of fluffy egg and a sweet sauce that soaks into the rice below. —MC

$16, 2991 Umi St., Līhu‘e, (808) 245-2650, restaurantkiibo.com, @restaurantkiibo