Best of Honolulu 2016: Food
The 25 editorial and reader picks for tastiest food from our Best of Honolulu 2016 issue.
Best Yeast Doughnut
Photos: Steve Czerniak
In the age-old cake doughnut vs. yeast doughnut debate, there’s no clear winner. But we have made some progress, tasting all the local top contenders for best yeast doughnut, and we have good news: Mr. Donut’s & Bakery is undoubtedly it. Judging standard glazed doughnuts on consistency, freshness and taste, there was no question that William and Carlos Borgos’ baked goods knock it out of the park. Where other doughnuts taste oily or dry, Mr. Donut’s are moist, springy and finger-licking sweet. We tried a bunch of other flavors, just to be sure, and were not disappointed.
134 S. Hotel St., 545-2961.
Best Loaded Toast
Rise and Shine
Bills Waikīkī has loaded this toast with fresh chunks of tea-smoked salmon, pea shoots, edamame and cream cheese.
Bills Waikīkī’s Australian fare has won over Honoluluans looking to indulge in ricotta pancakes and luxuriously creamy scrambled eggs, but we’re obsessing over a totally different section of the menu. Scroll through your Instagram feed, and you’ll probably spot a slew of bloggers treating themselves to trendy and totally photogenic loaded toasts, where thick slices of bread are piled high with a bevy of fresh and unfussy toppings. At Bills, the staff takes this simple meal (which is already a staple in Australia) to the next level, with toasted rye and brioche sporting pumped-up ingredients: Coriander, labneh, poached eggs, pea shoots, tea-smoked salmon and edamame make the list. “Not,” as general manager Eki Locke says, “what you think would traditionally be on toast.” We’ll say. Sorry, PB: We’ve upgraded.
280 Beach Walk, 922-1500, billshawaii.com.
Hot morning cereal can be yawn-inducing—it’s basically gruel, after all. But Anicea Campanele, owner and chef at The Nook Neighborhood Bistro, has figured out how to upgrade that lowliest of breakfast staples. Before opening her Puck’s Alley spot, she found herself roughing it across New Zealand carrying powdered coconut milk, chocolate bars and instant oatmeal. Despite the skepticism of her fellow backpackers (Americans can’t cook, right?) she pulled it all together into a “haupia oatmeal,” a real breakfast winner that her co-travelers felt compelled to copy the next day. The Nook’s version is considerably more polished, with steel-cut oats that take the kitchen 14 minutes to cook up, brown sugar, apple bananas, cacao nibs and, of course, coconut milk, which Campanele adds gradually and with a constant stir, almost like a risotto, ensuring a luscious, creamy texture.
1035 University Ave., Unit 105, 942-2222, thenookhonolulu.com.
Best Latte Art
Photo: Courtesy of Glazers Coffee
Sure, there are latte art competitions to determine the most skilled baristas by the shininess of their pours and the amount of bubbles in their foam. But while technical mastery is impressive, we’re more into sheer entertainment value—nothing gets as many likes on Instagram as an adorable cartoon bunny drawn in milk. Glazers Coffee has this down pat—no surprise, considering the coffee shop’s love of art. It’s served up everything from latte-art pizzas, Totoros and even a cat giving the middle finger, in case you’re looking for a creative way to break up with someone via foam. The master behind these designs? Barista Matte Hanson, who is also a tattoo artist. No wonder. He and the rest of the team at Glazers deliver consistently adorable drinks that blow any heart or feather shapes out of the water—er, coffee.
2700 S. King St., D101, glazerscoffee.com.
Best Teri Burger
Photos: Steve Czerniak
In Hawai‘i, old-school drive-ins would often use the term “barbecue” to describe what’s really a teri burger, slathered in a sweet, shoyu-based sauce. So our pick for best teri burger is really called a barbecue burger at W&M Bar-B-Q Burgers on Wai‘alae Avenue. Third-generation owners Walt and Joy Kunimitsu keep their sauce a secret. Walt’s grandparents, Wilfred and May Kawamura created the sauce in 1940, selling burgers for 19 cents. Today, the barbecue burgers are still a deal: A deluxe burger—lettuce, tomatoes and onions—costs $3.75 and the royal—all that plus cheese—is just $4.
3104 Wai‘alae Ave., 734-3350.
Honolulu Burger Co. offers 15 different specialty burgers.
There are a lot of new burger joints in town, and we tried them all: The winner: Honolulu Burger Co. Not only are our stomachs happy with its tasty, succulent patties, the company uses local ingredients: Island free-range, grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef, Mānoa lettuce from Mari’s Gardens, and tomatoes and onions from ‘Ewa Beach. Throw them all on a taro bun with a flavorful house-made chipotle mayo and you have the basis for a number of scrumptious specialty burgers. We can’t chew fast enough.
1295 S. Beretania St., 626-5202, honoluluburgerco.com.
Best Veggie Burger
A veggie burger is an inherently weird concept. It’s a facsimile of a meat-based dish, without the meat, so ordering one can often feel like a compromise. We wanted something more. And, after eating our way through the city’s highest rated veggie burgers, we found one that is just as good as its beefy menu-mates. Maybe even better! The Guru Veggie at Franky Fresh is a complex, juicy wonder of a burger, thanks to its housemade patty, which includes ground-up portobello. Add Franky’s usual great burger fixings—lettuce, tomatoes, onions, plus a roasted-pepper aioli sauce—and you’ve got a veggie burger that even avowed carnivores could love.
3040 Wai‘alae Ave.
Best Ice Cream Sandwiches
Photo: Courtesy of uncle’s gourmet ice cream sandwiches
The lineup of Uncle’s Gourmet Ice Cream Sandwiches could make you feel like starting elementary school all over again, just to devote yourself to this once-humble staple of school snack shacks. Scoops of handmade flavors include liliko‘i, macadamia nut and Waialua coffee squeeze between homemade cookies paired for their complementary flavors. “We take a real simple approach,” says founder Paul Logan, a longtime North Shore microgreens farmer, “just like if you made ’em yourself in your kitchen.” Sure, and Picasso finger-painted. The Liliko‘i topped our charts, but a Funky Monkey had equally passionate followers. Check Logan’s Facebook page for locations, including the Hale‘iwa Farmers Market, Hawaiian Chip Co. in Kalihi and Muddy Waters Espresso in Kailua.
Best Luxury Beef
Craving premium-grade, melt-in-your-mouth wagyu beef, but want to skip the high-end restaurant? J-Shop on unassuming Young Street lets us travel to Japan without the plane ticket. You can easily drop $500-plus for a large luxury roast, but entry-level packages offer sliced boneless wagyu marbled meat for under $10. The shop also sells buttery sashimi, bento, fresh wasabi root and the infamous Aroma melons that sometimes top $70 apiece.
1513 Young St., 200-5076, jshop-hawaii.com.
Ever been to the KCC Farmers Market and seen the lines for the Kukui Sausage Co. booth? Fans are flocking for its savory, juicy pork sausages, in flavors that include kim chee, chorizo, Italian and even gyoza. “Everything is still made old-school style. We cut the meat and put it in the grinder—it really helps us watch our quality and consistency,” says owner Steven Horio.
Available at multiple locations, 841-8843, kukuisausageco.com.
Best Boozy Milkshake
Photo: Aaron Yoshino
Being a grownup is tough, but it does come with its perks: At The Counter, you can add a shot of booze to any of its $7 shakes or malts for $3 extra. Or go with one of the Counter’s preset options—all our favorite flavors from childhood, boosted by liquor. Go for the Thin Mint, a thick chocolate shake with Bailey’s Irish Cream and mint liqueur; or the Strawberry Shortcake, which combines Stoli Vanil vodka and amaretto with yellow cake mix, strawberries and heaps of vanilla ice cream.
4211 Wai‘alae Ave., E-1, 739-5100, thecounterburger.com/honolulu.
Best Kicked-Up Fries
Photo: David Croxford
Chili cheese fries? Been there. Poutine? Done that. When we want something really next level, we go for Real a Gastropub’s Dirty Fries, which are dusted with Pecorino, a sharp cheese that goes great with the bacon bits sprinkled throughout the dish. Throw on some fresh herbs and banana pepper slices for a little crunch and heat, and you’ve got the perfect vessel for Real’s house-made ketchup, a sweet sauce redolent of Indian curry.
1020 Auahi St., Building 1, 596-2526, realgastropub.com.
Best Li Hing Margarita
Photo: Aaron Yoshino
There may be nothing authentically Mexican about a frozen margarita infused with salty-sweet li hing. But, really, is there anything better? The li hing margarita at Ryan’s Bar & Grill is served in a giant, li hing-rimmed glass goblet with li hing mui-infused tequila and fresh lime juice blended into a thick slush that’s so much fun to drink from a straw. It’s been on the menu at Ryan’s for more than 15 years and, thanks to a daily happy hour that drops the price from $8 to $5.95, has been one of its most popular drinks, too.
1200 Ala Moana Blvd., 591-9132, ryansgrill.com.
Best Musubi Shop
Photos: David Croxford
There were two important factors in choosing the winner of this category: quality musubi (of course) and the availability of said musubi all day long. With four locations in town, Musubi Café lyasume met both requirements and then some. It sells a variety of triangle-shaped rice balls, from traditional ume to the more adventurous mentaiko (spicy cod roe) with mayo—all using premium rice imported from Hokkaido and all under $2.50 each. The most popular musubi here, though, feature Spam. Spam with avocado, bacon and egg. Spam with ume and cucumber. Spam with takuan pickles. The best part? Each location is open daily and inventory is promptly replenished.
Best Poke Bowl
Photo: David Croxford
We debated while sampling poke bowls: What constitutes a really great poke bowl? Is it the quality of the ‘ahi? The sheer poundage? The extra goodies included? Opinions varied. In the end, though, we all agreed that Aloha Cones was tops. This spot offers up an exemplary bowl of poke—your choice of shoyu, sesame, limu, wasabi masago or spicy ‘ahi, garnished with crab salad, daikon, cucumber slices and tomato. As a sign of how fresh the fish is, you can opt for sashimi instead—just imagine a hamachi sashimi bowl and try not to drool.
725 Kīna‘u St., 861-0888, alohaconeshawaii.com.
Best Salad Dressing
Photo: Aaron Yoshino
Fourth-generation farmer Kylie Matsuda-Lum started serving her family’s liliko‘i balsamic dressing on salads when Kahuku Café opened in 2011. People kept asking to take home the dressing made from liliko‘i fresh from Kahuku Farms, so they set to work to bottle it and make it shelf-stable.Buy the $6 bottles at the farm, online or Saturday mornings at the KCC farmers markets.
56-800 Kamehameha Hwy, Kahuku, 628-0639, kahukufarms.com.
Best Smoked Meat
Photo: Aaron Yoshino
Alicia’s Market’s smoked meat, which is only sold on Fridays and Saturdays, isn’t widely advertised but always quietly sells out. Six years ago, manager Chris Kam started smoking prime rib and brisket cuts with his own barbecue sauce. The brisket ($11.95 a pound) takes at least eight hours, the prime rib ($14.95 a pound) around six. It’s a Southern-style take on smoked meat, with a crusty top and a center that’s pull-apart tender and juicy (not chewy). It helps that Kam tops the chopped-up brisket with pan drippings, too.
267 Mokauea St., 841-1921, aliciasmarket.com.
If you’re looking to stay cool, refreshed and hydrated this summer, your best bet is Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade. It offers flavors packed with Hawai‘i-sourced goodies including locally grown kale, Big Island seedless watermelon and Kumu Farms basil, with new flavor combos coming all the time. “When mango season kicks in, we’ll have a bunch of different mango combinations,” says co-owner Kawika Drummond. Spring for a mason jar, and you can get refills for $5!
Multiple locations, plus farmers market pop-ups (wowwowhawaiianlemonade.com for the full schedule).
Best Late-Night Eats
Around midnight, we get hungry. Here are the best late-night spots for:
ILLUSTRATIONS: KELSEY IGE
Best Late-Night Eats: Pizza
If you’re downtown, there’s no better place than JJ Dolan’s. The kitchen closes (11:45 p.m. on weekends, 9:45 on weekdays) but you’re free to hang until 2 a.m.
1147 Bethel St., 537-4992, jjdolans.com
Best Late-Night Eats: Breakfast
Whether you’re a mega-early riser or a party-all-nighter, MAC 24/7 is there for you with its 24-hour kitchen and MAC Daddy Pancakes.
Hilton Waikīkī Beach, 2500 Kūhiō Ave., 921-5564, mac247waikiki.com.
Best Late-Night Eats: Japanese
Sushi King serves dinner Wednesday to Monday until 2 a.m., plus midnight specials are available after 9 p.m.: a jumbo platter, a chirashi special and curry rice.
2700 S. King St., 947-2836, sushikinghi.com.
Best Late-Night Eats: Karaoke
Grab some Korean pūpū and soju at Café Duck Butt and keep it going in one of the karaoke rooms until 2 a.m. The savory pancakes and mochiko chicken are the bomb.
901 Kawaiaha‘o St., 593-1880
Best Nicoise Salad
Honolulu loves all kinds of ‘ahi salads, but Chinatown’s new cool-kid restaurant Fête gets our enthusiastic vote for best nicoise, with a salad that celebrates fresh ingredients and authentic nicoise: a generous portion of nicoise olives, crisp greens, fresh ‘ahi belly, egg, green beans, potatoes, light vinaigrette. The perfect summer salad.
2 N. Hotel St., 369-1390, fetehawaii.com.
Best place to buy poke
Choices: You can get ‘ahi, salmon, shrimp and even tofu poke.
Photo: Aaron Yoshino
They’re new, only having been open since late 2015, but our readers are already in love. The premise at Da Hawaiian Poke Co.: “Aloha Your Way” create-your-own poke bowls where you select your own poke, seasoning, and toppings. The real star of the place is the ‘ahi. “We highlight the freshness of the fish by not covering it up heavily with sauces or seasonings,” says Poke partner Mark Oyama. “We go to the [fish] auction on a daily basis, pick up Grade A ‘ahi, and filet all our fish in-house.”
870 Kapahulu Ave., 425-4954, dahawaiianpokecompany.com.
Best Local Food Company
Photo: courtesy of may’s
When Palama Meat Co. created a series of bulk retail locations for consumers in the 1960s (way before Costco), it established May’s, a retail brand named for Palama Meat Co. founder Donald Lau’s wife. Since then, it’s been Hawai‘i’s local burger: At every family barbecue or camping trip, you’ll find May’s beef picnic-style and teriyaki burgers (especially the teriyaki, the recipe of which is a closely guarded secret).
Available at most supermarkets, 682-8305, mayshawaii.com.
Best Local Snack Company
Photo: David Croxford
Wholesale Unlimited is the unmistakable face of local snacks, carrying more than 400 unique items sold in stores around the island and at its main facility at Mapunapuna, and, after 51 years, it’s still going strong. We have our own Wholesale Unlimited personal favorites, but we’re curious about the rest: What’s the company’s most popular snack and seed? “Betty’s Best Cornflake Cookie and our seedless green ume are our most popular items by far,” says president Mark Honma.
960 Ahua St., 834-2900, wholesaleunlimitedhawaii.com.