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 Spam®, 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:

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 Hana.

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 malihini alike.

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 recommended.
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.

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 prices.
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 San Diego.

Rainbow Drive-In
On Kapahulu, near Waikiki. The BEST mahi mahi of any drive-in. 'Nuff said.
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).

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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