Our readers have spoken.
This month we’re celebrating the big 4-0 of one of HONOLULU’s signature programs: the Hale ‘Aina Awards. You may have seen the plaques at your favorite places to eat around town; each one signals that you’re dining at one of the best restaurants in the Islands. With more than a dozen first-time winners this year, we hope you’ll discover something new.
For Best New Restaurant—one of only two Hale ‘Aina Awards not determined by online reader votes, but by HONOLULU Magazine’s editors—we unanimously selected Nami Kaze. Mari Taketa wrote this month’s feature and describes the restaurant, helmed by 25-year veteran chef Jason Peel, as “playful and unexpected, with a culinary maturity born of decades in high-end kitchens.”
Mari recently was named HONOLULU dining editor, although she’s hardly new to the local food scene. Her 15 years of writing about dining in Hawai‘i includes contributing award-winning ‘Ono stories for HONOLULU and spearheading content for Frolic Hawai‘i, where she’ll continue as editor. We’re thrilled to have her lead HONOLULU’s digital and print dining coverage at a time when local chefs are being recognized globally.
Last year, Fête’s Robynne Maii won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northwest & Pacific. This year, we named Maii and husband Chuck Bussler as our Hale ‘Aina Restaurateurs of the Year. The couple deserve recognition not just for their impressive menu offerings, but because they’ve made it a priority to support Hawai‘i’s food and restaurant industries. It was fitting for former HONOLULU food and dining editor Catherine Toth Fox to pen the feature, as she wrote about the couple’s plans to open Fête back in 2015. The story started: “Robynne Maii and Chuck Bussler aren’t names familiar to local foodies. Not yet, anyway.”
Along with these selections, this year’s Hale ‘Aina Awards honor the picks of our readers, diverse choices that we celebrate. Looking at the roster of winners, the first thing that I thought about was how many of them I hadn’t visited recently, so I started eating my way through the list. Sitting at the sleek bar in Miro Kaimukī—which took home more awards than any other single location of a restaurant this year—I got why it ranked high for service, cocktails (shoutout to head mixologist Michael Jensen) and tasting menu. Orchids’ luxurious brunch buffet presented an impressive array of indulgences (Halekūlani’s public relations manager Bonnie Bise shared a pro tip: Don’t eat sushi first or you’ll fill up on rice).
Read more about some of the other places that surprised us and see the full list of winners. You’ll get to try some of their dishes on Sept. 9 when we hold a public celebration at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum (just make sure to get tickets before they sell out, which happens every year, at hnltix.com). We hope you’ll join us in raising a glass. To the next 40!
In light of the recent Maui wildfires, HONOLULU Magazine will be donating 10% of all Hale ‘Aina Celebration ticket sales to benefit the Hawai‘i Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund.