Shane's Hawai'i Dining Guide
Aloha -- it is much more than just a greeting or a way
to say "so long," it embodies the spirit of the Islands. The relative
isolation of Hawai'i creates an environment in which lethargy is
not only condoned, it is encouraged. In this tropical paradise, the
juxtaposition of cultures -- from Polynesia, Japan, Portugal, New England
and so on -- has created a unique manner of cooking that is unlike any
other in the world. Family-restaurants that, in the American midwest,
would feature chicken fried steak boast ramen dishes and sashimi;
fast food shops feature more fish than beef on the menu; and it is as easy to
find a Japanese-style bento boxed lunch as it is to find a Whopper.
Manapua (sticky bun) with char siu (sweet pork) is a local
favorite, and malasadas (Portuguese sweet bread crackling with
sugar) are the dessert of choice. Anything katsu is battered and
fried, and one of the most curious dishes is musubi, a cake of
sticky rice topped with sesame oil and a fried strip of
wrapped in seaweed. The confluence of culture that is this island
paradise, with incredibly fresh fish (ahi, poke and
opakapaka to name a few) creates a culinary opera.
Some observations from a malihini on O'ahu:
- NEIGHBOR ISLANDS
- If you happen to visit The Valley Isle on your trip,
try Carelli's in South Kihei (just north of the Wailea
resorts). Kula Lodge is an excellent breakfast spot in
the high country (after coming down from a stunning sunrise on
Hale'akala). Maui Tacos in Kihei boasts excellent
Mexican with a twist (best tacos in the Islands!), and Maui
Brews in Lahaina is also worth a stop. Don't miss Mama's
Fish House in Paia, one of the first towns on the road to
- NEW ARRIVALS
- A new "hot spot" has arrived in the Islands: Brew
Moon Brewpub and Restaurant. Located at Ward
Centre (the highest concentration of fine restaurants
in the Islands), Brew Moon offers fresh, hand-crafted beers
(done in a German lager style) and excellent food. This is
the newest "place to be seen" for kama'aina and
- FINE DINING
- Unlike the refined locales in San Francisco
or San Diego, Aloha attire is perfectly
suitable at these locations. Wearing a sportscoat is forgivable (so long
as it covers an Aloha shirt -- tastefully coordinated, of course -- or
a Mandarin collar; wearing a suit and a tie, however, will peg you as
a stuffy tourist unfamiliar with the ways of kama'aina....
- Golden Dragon
- For a true culinary adventure, the Golden Dragon (in the Rainbow Tower
of the Hilton Hawaiian Village) is a must. Exquisite food in a highly
refined atmosphere are the mainstays. The Dragon and the Phoenix (a
succulent mixture of lobster and chicken in a delicate sauce, served on
a sizzling platter) is sheer ambrosia, while the shrimp stir-fry with
whole macadamia nuts is heaven on the palate. However, the Beggar's
Chicken and the Peking Duck must be ordered 24 hours in advance.
Complimentary valet parking is offered, and reservations are highly
- Roy Yamaguchi, trained at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America),
has revitalized Hawai'ian cooking by accentuating the confluence of culture
that is Hawai'i. Like Mark Miller's revolution of southwestern cuisine at
the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Roy's
meticulously blends the Asian, European and American epicurean influences into
a profoundly moving experience. Well worth a visit -- even if just for
pupus and drinks.
- A Pacific Cafe
- Wonderful fish, with delectable specialties like broiled opakapaka
(pink snapper) and macadamia-nut encrusted mahi mahi (dolphin -- the
fish, i.e., "Dorado," not the mammal). In Ward Centre.
- Keo's Thai Cuisine
- Excellent Thai cooking, with several different curries and phenomenal
satay. On Kapahulu, in Ward Centre, and in other
locations in O'ahu.
- La Salle
- Nestled atop the Pagoda Hotel near Ala Moana Center, La Salle has
an excellent selection of seafood in a fine dining atmosphere.
- On Kalakaua in Waikiki, Kyoya is high-class Japanese cooking at its finest.
- CASUAL DINING
- Pasta Italia
- One of the best values on the leeward side. Formerly the
Waikele Cafe, the owners picked a brilliant new business plan: fresh,
quality Italian cooking in an area that offers little variety ("Chili's"
was the reigning king of leeward dining west of the H-2). Excellent
cooking -- their bolognese is superb -- and very reasonable
- Tokyo Noodle House
- One of our favorites during our initial stay, TNH has huge portions
of food for a very modest price. The Gomoku Ramen is a diverse selection
of vegetables and noodles, while the Mini Ramen Set is a smaller bowl of
ramen accompanied by steamed rice and gyoza (freshly-made fried dumplings
akin to Chinese potstickers -- TNH's are the best!).
- Daiichi Noodle Cafe
- A close second in the gyoza department is Daiichi
Noodle Cafe, in Aiea near the Post Office. Daiichi's Gyoza
Teishoku is an excellent value: six gyoza with miso
(bean curd) soup and a side of steamed rice. Also, Daiichi's
yakisoba (pan-fried soba [buckwheat] noodles) is delicious.
- An American-style bar-n-grill with strong Asian influences. Dishes as varied
as Singapore Shrimp Stir-Fry and Philadelphia Cheese Steak grace the menu, as
does the best beer selection we've found yet.
- Camellia Buffet
- Korean food at its finest -- cooked fresh at your table by you. The buffet
features a wide selection of kimchi and fresh meats and fish; the ahi
is good enough to eat sashimi-style. Their bulgoki (Korean barbeque;
steak marinated in shoyu, ginger, sesame oil and garlic) is fabulous. They
even have O.B. Beer! On McCully near King.
- Just downstairs from La Salle, Pagoda features some of the
best Chinese cooking on O'ahu.
- Moa Mua Tei
- All-you-can-eat sushi and sashimi for under $20. On Kapi'olani at Kalakaua,
across from the new Convention Center.
- Compadres Mexican Grill
- Mediocre Mexican canned and packaged for tourists. Not even a shadow of
- FAST FOOD
- Rainbow Drive-In
- On Kapahulu, near Waikiki. The BEST mahi mahi of any drive-in.
- Kua'aina Sandwich
- Two locations: North Shore (in historic Hale'iwa) and off Ala Moana
near Ward Centre. Excellent burgers (mo' bettah, brah!), even
better fries, and a wide selection of other sandwiches (teriyaki chicken,
mahi mahi, etc.).
- Bernard's Deli
- In Ward Centre, a true New York deli with a somewhat overpriced menu.
However, their Rueben with corned beef is outstanding, and the pastrami
combo (served with cole slaw and Russian dressing) is very good. They
feature a wide selection of gourmet soft drinks, too, including sarsaparilla.
- Waimanalo BBQ
- On the Kalanianaole Hwy, NW of Makapu'u Beach, the Waimanalo
BBQ features great BBQ and freshly-made coconut ice cream.
- Sheraton Moana Surfrider "Beach Bar"
- When lounging by the surf, be sure to try their Chi Chi (coconut
cream and vodka blended to a slushy smoothness -- mmmm! :-) Other
outstanding drink concoctions include the Iced Coco Coffee (Kahlua,
Bailey's and Frangelico), Sundowner (Galliano, Chambord and Brandy)
and Moana Sands (Chambord, Peach Schnapps).
- COFFEE HOUSES
- The Coffee Gallery
- With several locations in O'ahu, our favorite is the main shop
in Hale'iwa on the North Shore (though their large mocha is a bit
too small....). They freshly roast all of their beans at the Hale'iwa
store, so the coffee has a distinctly fresher taste there. Also,
their breakfasts are excellent: homemade granola, fresh fruits, fritatta
and omelettes, etc. (My favorite is the yogurt cup w/ a large mocha) If you happen to arrive around 10:00am on weekends, ask about
their cinnamon rolls.
- Mocha Java
- In Ward Centre, with an eclectic selection of drinks and five different
kinds of mocha -- Mocha Cappucino and Milky Way are two of the better ones.
Also, they boast outstanding breakfasts with a wide selection of healthy
and (if you so choose) vegan fare.
- Mary Catherine's European Bakery
- In Ward Warehouse, this bakery boasts wonderful baked goods --
especially the pastries. The coffee is o.k., but the quality of the
edibles more than makes up for other shortcomings.
- Border's Books Cafe
- Also at Ward Centre, their coffee shop is nestled among the highbrow
titles on the second floor. Always packed.
Be sure to try the poi!
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