Restaurant Guide: Four Perfect Days

We have assembled the ideal breakfast, lunch and dinner itineraries for Oahu, Kauai, Maui and the Big Island. This is a gourmand’s fantasy trip—we set aside all earthly concerns, including logistics, calories and budget. Enjoy these, our recommendations for four flawless days’ worth of Island dining.

Oahu

Breakfast

Start with a rarity in the Honolulu restaurant scene—outdoor dining. Plumeria Beach House, at the Kahala Hotel & Resort, seats you steps away from the ocean where you can spend the morning staring at the greenest green lawn imaginable, the deepest blue sea, an amazing sky and, in the distance, majestic Koko Head.

But you are here to eat, not sightsee. Tempted as we were by the full breakfast buffet ($30 for adults, $15 for children), we went with our server’s suggestion and ordered the surf & turf eggs Benedict with hash browns ($20). From bottom to top: English muffin, beef tenderloin, crab meat, two poached eggs and bearnaise sauce. The evocative, briny smell of the crab hits as the plate is set before you. The crab worked well with the beef, both a bit sweet. And we can’t say enough about the orange juice, so sweet and pulpy it seemed almost like an orange shake. 5000 Kahala Ave., 739-8760.


The humble plate lunch is elevated to new heights at Diamond Head Market & Grill.

Photo: Joss

Lunch

The plate lunch is Hawaii’s lunch, as much a part of our multicultural plantation heritage as pidgin. Think of it as pidgin you can eat. One of the interesting developments in Hawaii culinary history was how the humble plate lunch partly inspired the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement, and then was elevated by it. Case in point: Diamond Head Market & Grill, where chef-owner Kelvin Ro serves up foodie-grade plate lunches in a tiny building that once housed Burgerland—a greasy-spoon-type plate lunch place if there ever was one.

Ro has two operations going here. The indoor market side boasts a deli and bakery, serving such conventional gourmet offerings as tomato basil salmon salad, or a turkey sandwich with housemade chutney.

But we headed straight to the outdoor grill for the mixed plate—hamburger steak, teri chicken and char sui, with brown rice, tossed greens and the usual bed-o-shredded-cabbage ($8.50).The hamburger steak was thick, seasoned and grilled on the spot. Ditto the teri chicken.

And the char sui—even Chinese restaurants can render this inedibly oily, but here, you get long, thin slices that still taste like pork. All this, of course, has a terrific, fresh-grilled flavor.

Hawaiian-honey lemonade ($1.50 for a regular) was almost sweet enough to drink as a dessert, but we opted to eat a real dessert. So we grabbed a slice of red velvet cake ($3.75) from the market side of the operation.

OUR ADVICE: Hit the grill, get your lunch to go, take it to nearby Kapiolani Park so it’s still hot while you sit in the shade and enjoy. Now that’s a perfect lunch on Oahu. 3158 Monsarrat Ave., 732-0077

 


The Colorado Lamb, from Chef Mavro, is lamb loin, served with an eggplant dumpling filled with garlic and brussels sprout leaves seasoned with garam masala. Portions are small because the restaurant presents its food in courses, rather than from an a la carte menu.

Photo: Olivier Koning

Dinner

We visited during the first week of Chef Mavro’s summer menu and as he greeted us at the table, Chef George Mavrothalassitis joked that we would be his guinea pigs. As if anything could go wrong. “Actually, by the time we present a new menu, the kitchen has made each dish at least 20 times,” he explained.

At Chef Mavro, the seasonal menu is fixed, as well as the wine pairings, all fine-tuned by a tasting committee. You choose as few as three courses ($69, plus $48 for wine pairings), or, as we attempted to complete, the full 13-course “summer grand degustation menu” ($165, plus $95 for wine pairings).

Do so, and you’ve committed to an unusually focused dining experience, as if Mavro, chef de cuisine Kevin Chong and wine director/sommelier Todd Ashline were working just for you. The Grand Degustation takes two or three hours, as each course is explained and each paired wine are introduced. The pacing and portion size helps your stomach keep up with your palate, but we confess we had to take the Colorado lamb home with us. The small restaurant is quiet and intimate, so nothing distracts you from your tablemate and the courses.

And what courses! Marinated nairagi (striped marlin) and American caviar, with poached quail eggs, sunchoke chips, tomato confit, seasoned with Hanapēpē salt, paired with Domaine Laroche’s 2007 Chablis St. Martin. Wagyu strip loin with burgundy-braised veal cheek, “no eggs no butter béarnaise” boulangère potatoes and essence of Sumida watercress, paired with Clos Les Lunelles’ 2003 Cotes do Castillon. Lilikoi malassadas with guava coulis and pineapple-coconut ice cream, paired with Blandy’s five-year-old Malmsey Madeira.

And 10 others, each a little work of perfection. “It’s like food alchemy,” said our dining companion.

The summer menu continues through the third week of September. 1969 So. King St., 944-4714

 

Big Island

Breakfast

Ladies, let the fantasy begin the night before, in your Mauna Kea Beach Hotel “enhanced” guest room, perusing the enticing menu of room-service therapy, er, breakfast. Hang your order on the door, then wake up to fresh, hot coffee, iced pomegranate soda, Kohala pink grapefruit, chef’s local spinach-mushroom omelet with Boursin, house-smoked bacon, nine-grain and sourdough bread to brown in your own toaster.  For “dessert,” breakfast bread pudding with vanilla sauce, whole Waimea strawberries and a bottle of Champagne. Consume leisurely in bed, on the lānai or au naturel in the ocean-view bathtub (without the toaster).  Mandatory nap. 62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Drive, Kohala Coast, (808) 882-7222.


In cattlemen country, hearty dishes satisfy hearty appetites. Try the fried rice from Pakini Grill, in Kamuela.

Photo: Kirk Lee Aeder

Lunch

Lunch requires a driver, preferably handsome, for the trip mauka to Waimea’s latest eatery, Pakini Grill, aka “Cattlemen’s the next generation” (yes, the brands are still there from the previous restaurant). Honokaa brothers Ryan, Justin and Brandon Lee and chef Keoni Regidor serve a sassy selection of sides to share: fried rice, warm mozzarella-spinach dip, housemade spicy kim chee and takuan (Japanese pickles), miso Portuguese steamer clams in a broth so good you’ll want a spoon and 21-ounce “muscle mugs” of ice-cold draft beer. In case you’re wondering about the restaurant’s name, a pakini is a galvanized washtub like the boys’ dad would take out spear fishing, balanced on an inner tube. 65-1144 Mamalahoa Highway, Kamuela, (808) 885-3333.
 


The Kona Bay Cioppino from Huggo’s, has fresh vegetables and seafood in a tempting broth. Dance off the calories after dinner at Huggo’s On The Rocks, which has nightly entertainment.

Photo: Kirk Lee Aeder

 

 

Dinner

The Kailua-Kona romance begun in 1969 with Shirley and Hugo von Platen Luder, and continues today with son Eric. From the Alii Drive waterfront, Huggo’s offers what Hawaii restaurants covet: killer sunsets, today’s fish from right out there, great Island music and a long, delicious tradition. Treat Handsome Driver to Kona Bay Cioppino, while chef Konrad Arroyo’s “small-plates” menu tempts you with tempura-battered fern shoots, Kona lobster-ulu cakes, guava-braised baby back ribs, ginger-steamed clams or local oysters. Dare to finish the mile-high Hualalai Ice Cream Pie, and dance it off next door, barefoot in the sand, at Huggo’s On The Rocks. 78-5828 Kahakai Road, Kailua-Kona, (808) 329-1493.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kauai

Breakfast

Tip Top Cafe isn’t a ritzy resort restaurant. Far from it. Step inside this Lihue eatery and slip back into the 1960s, à la diners with vinyl booths. The hands-down favorite at this 93-year-old restaurant is the full stack of pancakes ($5.50). Try them with banana, macadamia nut and pineapple. Not a pancake person? You will be.

Jonathan Ota, a fourth-generation manager of this family-owned restaurant, gives credit to his grandfather’s secret recipe. The made-from-scratch pancake batter contains all fresh, natural ingredients. That’s all Ota will share when asked about the recipe, though some patrons speculate it must be sugar that gives the pancakes a crispy edge. Others venture that the key is a super-hot griddle, or that it’s more of a  cake mix than pancake. Besides Ota, only one person in the kitchen knows the secret. 3173 Akahi St., Lihue, (808) 245-2333.


Lunch on the beach is made possible with the feasts from Anini Beach Lunch Shak. The chef is long-time surfer Barr Surles.

Photo: Kicka White

Lunch

Roll up the sleeves of your rash guard and dig into a hands-on feast right on the beach from Anini Beach Lunch Shak. There, longtime surfer Barr Surles serves up tacos, burritos and flautas with your choice of fish, shrimp, calamari or chicken from his mobile lunch van. (Talk about a room with a view.)

We like the Baja-style House Combo ($8.50), a soft corn taco and flauta stuffed with beer-battered fried fish—usually local-caught ono—and refried beans. When we were there, Surles whispered, “It’s the best on the menu,” in between taking orders, frying fish and answering the nonstop ringing of the phone with locals calling in their orders. Surles’ tops his dishes with homemade salsa fresca and cilantro-jalapeno sauces.  Anini Road, (808) 635-7425.

 


Seared sea scallops tempt the palate at Kauai’s Bar Acuda.

Photo: Kicka White

Dinner

Imagine the casual, country feel of the Mediterranean regions of Europe. It’s dinnertime. Neighbors and family line a long table under the stars. Conversation and laughter float through the air. Wine flows. The season’s latest harvest or catch gets passed around. Now, move that scene to the cozy surf town of Hanalei. That’s what you’ll find at Bar Acuda, a tapas-style eatery with a menu inspired by chef/owner Jim Moffat’s years of travel around southern France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. His preference for simple, savory foods comes together in the Seared Sea Scallops ($16), two tender scallops pan-seared in a truffle demi-glaze and served over a bed of creamy mashed potatoes. 5-5161 Kuhio Highway, Hanalei, 808-826-7081.

 

Maui

Breakfast

The signature omelet at Market Fresh Bistro is extraordinary and full of Maui’s best produce. Three fluffy eggs are loaded with Kula basil pesto, Kula herb goat cheese, Makawao oyster mushrooms and Haiku tomatoes. It is served with wheat toast (try it with li hing mango jam from Jeff’s Jams and Jellies) and roasted potatoes, seasoned with herbs grown by the chef himself. It’s the epitome of yum. Want even more Maui? Opt to sub fresh free-range eggs laid by happy hens right up the road in Olinda. 3620 Baldwin Ave., Makawao (808) 572-4877.


The lau lau plate at Waikapu on 30 is the best deal on the island, reports our Maui food correspondent.

Photo: Ryan Siphers

 

 

Lunch

Take-out joint Waikapu on 30 opened a few years ago and its lunch line has been snaking out the door ever since. The lau lau plate ($7.95) is the best deal on the island, served with a huge pork lau lau, quintessential two-scoop rice, mac salad, lomi salmon and purple Maui sweet potato. Grab a root beer float with Roselani ice cream and drive 30 seconds up the road to eat on the lawn of the Maui Tropical Plantation, which has gorgeous flora and a pond where you can watch a multitude of different types of ducks. Protect your lau lau from hungry bills by taking a few quarters for the duck-food dispenser with you. 1486 Honoapiilani Highway, Wailuku (808) 242-1130.

 

 

 

  


The perfect ending to a perfect day on Maui: Dinner at the Ritz Carlton’s Banyan Tree restaurant.

Photo: Courtesy Ritz Carlton Kapalua

Dinner

The feeling at award-winning restaurant Banyan Tree at the Ritz Carlton is almost one of hiring a private chef to serve you dinner on your lānai, but much, much better. The Snake River Kobe Beef Rib-eye is worth every penny ($65). Served with kabocha squash, mizuna salad and a sage and rosemary demiglace, the flavors meet so perfectly you’ll have the epiphany that food is totally an art form, and one that is mastered at the Ritz. The great view of Molokai and the deep, blue ocean right before sunset don’t hurt either. One Ritz Carlton Way, Kapalua (808) 669-6200.