HOMESTYLE HAWAII

homestyle-hawaii

Hawaii has long been a melting pot of different people, largely as a result of immigrants coming to work at sugar and pineapple plantations that once enveloped the Islands. This influx of cultures has had a major impact on the eclectic food pairings that come out of some of Waikiki’s top kitchens. Restaurants may use ramen noodles in Italian pasta, or throw kimchi into a house salad. It makes for distinctive flavor pairings, but can also be a bit intimidating for first-time visitors. What if you just want a burger? Fear not. There are plenty of local restaurants that specialize in comforting classics made with premium ingredients.

 


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New Englanders can rejoice! Hawaii also has lobster mac and cheese made with Maine lobsters at M.A.C. 24/7 in the Hilton Waikiki Beach. M.A.C. 24/7 is a beloved Waikiki restaurant for its around-the-clock dining and over-the-top pancake challenge that pits mere humans against five pounds of pancakes with toppings.

Aside from all-day breakfast specials, M.A.C. 24/7 specializes in comfort food such as chicken and waffles or, notably, the fried Main lobster mac and cheese bites. This starter uses a seven cheese blend, truffle cheese sauce and chipotle aioli. Each plate comes with four fried morsels that can shared around the table, or hoarded for a small dish.


 

 

 

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Eat like a king with the roayal ali’i(chief) burger at the Royal Hawaiian’s beachfront restaurant, Surf Lanai. The hotel is affectionately call the Pink Lady of the Pacific, a name that proves true in the building’s pink facade, umbrellas, seat cushions and napkins. It may sound like a lot of pink, but the azure ocean waters mere steps away flawlessly offset it.

The ali’i burger uses local Hawaii Rancher’s ground beef for a jicy patty around which the rest of the burger is built.it’s capped with pepper jack cheese, avocado, onion rings and sauteed ali’i mushrooms. The burger is normally served with impeccably seasoned tavern fries, which can, and frankly should, be subbed out with parmesan truffle fries for an additional fee.


 

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Football season is finally here again, and sports enthusiasts will love dining ina a field of flat-screen 4k TVs set throughout Giovanni Pastrami, a New York-style deli, pizzeria, and sports bar. The restaurant is conveniently located in the Waikiki Beach Walk where its friendly atmosphere and extensive menu attract sports lovers and detractor alike.

The most popular menu should come as no surprise: the Pastrami Reuben. The traditional deli favorite contains a full half-pound of pastrami all carved to order. It’s served on rye bread with sauerkraut and Russian dressing. The sandwich has a tantalizing aroma that trails after it as it comes out hot from the kitchen, which is likely part of why it’s so popular. All sandwiches at Giovanni are served with a choice of sides, but its hard to go wrong with fries.


 

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Ribs may be legendary at Tony Roma’s, but its menu has much more to offer than this barbeque staple. Diners would be remiss not to start with a crispy onion loaf or a martini glass brimming with spicy kickin’ shrimp. True connoisseurs may opt for one of the signature steaks like the 14-ounce ribeye or 12-ounce New York strip.

Can’t decide on a single steak? Then have three filet medallions together for a veriety of tastes across a few mini steaks. The medallions come with loaded mashed potatoes and either coleslaw or broccoli on the side. Each medallion is treated to its own gourmet topping, such as teriyaki glaze, wild mushrooms, cabernet demi glace, Dijon Mustard Sauce or balsamic reduction. It’s the perfect way to whet your palate with an array of flavors.


 

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Round Table Pizza is a family favorite on the Mainland, renowned for consistently high quality pizza and wings. The Round Table Pizza at the Hilton Hawaiian Village is actually one of the most popular locations in the country, thanks to daily fresh-rolled pizza dough, superior ingredients, and free delivery in Waikiki.

Favorites like the King Arthur Supreme or Guinevere’s Garden are hits in Hawaii just like they are back home, but for something a tad adventurous, go for the Maui Zaui. “Hawaiian” pizza may hail from Canada, but the Maui Zaui has bit more Island flair. It start with a base of sweet and spicy Polynesian sauce that isn’t quite like any other pizza sauce, which works well with the sweet pineapple mixed with savory bacon, ham, tomato and onions. It’s a beautiful pizza to see, and it tastes even better than it looks.


 

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Eat in an airy atmosphere with a surf shack vibe at Goofy Cafe & Dine, located on Ala Moana Boulevard, just outside of the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Goofy specializes in healthy cuisine made with primarily local, organic ingredients. The result is incredibly fresh tasting fare that combines Mainland and Hawaiian favorites.

One delightful dish that marries Hawaiian and Mainland classics is the kalua pig eggs benedict. It uses local pork (when available) to make kalua pork, the tender Hawaiian pulled pulled pork usually found at a luau or in a plate lunch. Instead of a regular English muffin, diners can choose a taro or wheat roll, and the whole ensemble is topped with poached eggs and homemade hollandaise that has a hint of lilikoi (passion fruit) butter. It’s not quite what might adorn a Mainland menu, but it’s a treat nonetheless.

LIVING HIGH ON THE HOG WITH 2 LADY FARMERS

living-high-on-the-hog-with-2-lady-farmersLocal news and radio personalities in Hawaii have an aura of celebrity beyond that of typical regional anchors. Here they’re often beloved characters who have been educating and entertaining for years. So when a local radio personality turned morning news host like Billy V knows who you are, it can be both surreal and a cause for celebration.

In July 2017, pig farmers Stacy Sugai and Patsy Oshiro were tickled to see Billy V hosting a cooking segment with local chef Johan Svensson, using their pork. Billy V nodded in recognition when the chef mentioned 2 Lady Farmers by name as he crafted the “Crackling 2 Ladies Pork Shank,” the signature dish for his restaurant, BLT Market in the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach.

Local news segments and feature dishes at the Ritz were far beyond anything Stacy and Patsy ever anticipated when they teamed up to create 2 Lady Farmers.

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Sugai and Oshiro feed their pigs macadamia treats.

“Our whole emphasis was trying to get in the stores,” Sugai said.

“We didn’t even think restaurants,” Oshiro chimed in.

The two shared modest goals in part because of their modest start. Despite being high school classmates, the two women were strangers when they met five years ago as Sugai moved into the home at the former Derego pig farm.

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Oshiro shows off a piglet.

The Deregos had been well known as one of many families farming in Waianae on Oahu’s west side. While much of Oahu has developed with large housing and hotel complexes, Waianae has remained a rural outpost where there are many small locally owned farms, including several pig farms. It’s common in Waianae for pig farmers to feed their animals slop and to sell pigs to locals who drive up to the gate, rather than producing commercially viable pork.

Sugai didn’t know much about pig farming when she and her family bought the old Derego farm, but she did know that she wanted to do things a little differently. Her initial vision had been to become totally self-sufficient, but the demands of a pig farm quickly proved too great to pursue self-sufficiency. She needed to learn how to run her farm first.

Luckily for Sugai, she had great neighbors. The day she moved in, Patsy Oshiro came by with her husband to pick up a forklift. Oshiro could tell Sugai would need help.

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Manoa lettuce wraps from Goofy Cafe & Dine made with 2 Lady Farmers pork (when available).

“I felt sorry for her,” Oshiro said as she recalled how run down the farm had become, coupled with how unprepared Sugai was to run it.

Unlike Sugai, Oshiro was well versed in running a farm. She is a third-generation farmer, whose family was once the largest producer of Manoa lettuce in Hawaii. She married into pig farming and, although she acknowledges it’s hard work, she enjoys it.

Kiawe-smoked pork chop from d.k Steak House, also made with 2 Lady Farmers pork.
Kiawe-smoked pork chop from d.k Steak House, also made with 2 Lady Farmers pork.

The two women became fast friends, and Oshiro taught Sugai everything she needed to know about raising pigs. Soon Oshiro was at Sugai’s farm six days a week for several hours each day after having already worked a full day on her own farm.

Eventually Sugai got a handle on the farm, and the two friends decided to become business partners. Their goal was to get pork sold in local grocery stores.

“My thing was really wanting to get into Foodland because they’re locally owned and operated,” Sugai said.

They were able to get Foodland and Sack N Save to sell their pork under the name PS Pork (Short for Patsy and Stacy), which was a major accomplishment. Most of the pork labeled “local” in Hawaiian markets is actually raised on the Mainland then shipped in via large container ships to slaughter. 2 Lady Farmers is one of the only operations on island that breeds, raises and sells 100 percent local pork for retail.

A family dog relaxes with a piglet at the former Shinsato Farm.
A family dog relaxes with a piglet at the former Shinsato Farm.

The “locally born and raised” slogan on the PS Pork labels eventually caught the eyes of Amy and Glen Shinsato. At the time, the Shinsatos were running their own pig farm in Windward Oahu. Shinsato Farm had been family owned and operated since the 1940s. It was well known on Oahu as the only local farm to provide pork to high-end restaurants like Ed Kenney’s Town, or Kailua’s beloved Kalapawai Café. Their name was a staple of the popular farm-to-table movement in Oahu.

“The Shinsatos really worked hard at getting local pork out there,” said Sugai.

Their hard work paid off. By 2015, chances are that if you ate a local pork chop at an Oahu restaurant, it would have come from Shinsato Farm. That dominance in the restaurant market was one of the reasons Sugai and Oshiro didn’t set their sights on distribution to restaurants. The Shinsatos had it covered.

Unbeknownst to the 2 Lady Farmers though, the Shinsato family planned to sell the farm. According to the Shinsato Farm website, “Late in 2015 it had become evident, due to an illness in the family, that Shinsato Farm would have to be sold.” It was clearly a decision that weighed heavily on Amy and Glen, who had worked so hard building up restaurant clientele.

While the Shinsatos were selling their land and worrying about the future of locally raised pork on Oahu, Amy Shinsato came across PS Pork in Foodland. She contacted Sugai and Oshiro in short order to find out how they operated. Amy Shinsato realized that the 2 Lady Farmers would be a perfect match to fill the void in the market after her own farm closed.

“We specifically asked 2 Lady Farmers [to promote local pork] because they have the same philosophy and farm ethics as we have and we like how they raise their pigs. Well-raised pigs produce good pork,” according to the Shinsato Farm website.

The Shinsatos started introducing Sugai and Oshiro to their clients and teaching them the business side of commercial pig farming. When the time came to finally sell the farm, the Shinsatos gifted 40 breeding pigs to 2 Lady Farmers to ensure their line of quality stock continued.

Today, Sugai and Oshiro continue to sell pork under PS Pork to Foodland, but a large part of their business is selling to top-tier restaurants, thanks to the help from Amy and Glen Shinsato. The Shinsatos, meanwhile, are enjoying their retirement. They can still be found at the Blaisdell Center Farmers’ Market on Wednesday afternoons and the Mililani High School Farmers’ Market Sunday mornings selling raw pork and prepared pork dishes from 2 Lady Farmers.

Unlike most of the pigs raised in Waianae, Sugai and Oshiro’s pigs are grain fed with no antibiotics in their feed. Unless an animal has an infection, the only medications pigs receive at the farm are an iron supplement and two vaccines: one to avoid worms and the other to prevent lung infections. The lady farmers’ main concern is raising happy, healthy pigs. Each animal gets special attention and care, including macadamia treats and back scratches.

The love and care 2 Lady Farmers puts into each pig comes through with great tasting pork that is ethically raised here in paradise.

As a consummate animal lover, Sugai explains, “We love them as much as we can when they’re here, until they go to their purpose.”

INTERESTED IN TRYING 2 LADY FARMERS’ PORK? HERE ARE A FEW WAIKIKI RESTAURANTS THAT CARRY THEIR PRODUCTS:

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Grilling Up Good Times at THE REEF BAR & MARKET GRILL

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LONGEVITY IN RESTAURANTS is hard to accomplish in any market, but especially in the bustle and ever-changing landscape of Waikiki. It seems like every day one new trendy restaurant opens, and another closes its doors. Few eateries accomplish establishment status, and, until earlier this year, Shore Bird Beachfront Bar was one of them.

Originally founded in 1979 by friends, Shore Bird at the Outrigger Reef Hotel drew locals and visitors, including a fair amount of celebrities. The beachfront location, casual atmosphere and world famous grill made for an iconic and playful dining experience. Where else could guests claim a spot on a giant communal grill and perfect their own meals with Diamond Head in the distance?

After 38 years on the beach though, the owner was ready to retire, and the Outrigger Reef Hotel was ready to take charge of in-house dining. Shore Bird closed its doors on Sept. 30, 2017, and on Nov. 1 the new Reef Bar and Market Grill opened under the hotel’s ownership.

chef“It’s a sad day and an exciting one at the same time,” said general manager Kelly Hoen about the turnover.

There are plenty of innovative ideas and improvements to the new restaurant, but, thankfully, not everything will change. “We are going to embrace the grill,” said John Shelton, the Reef’s executive chef. Diners will still take on the task of grilling premium cuts of meat on the same grill pioneered by the Shore Bird.

drinksChef Shelton came to Hawaii from San Diego where he worked with several high-end hotel restaurants, specifically to help reimagine the space and redesign the menu. One of the enhancements he’s engineered is the addition of a full-time butcher who will also act as the spice blender for a new spice market.

For every order, the butcher will hand select prime cuts of meat that diners can pick up on their way to the grill. Those prime cuts are paired with a specially made rub from the spice market. Rubs are designed to complement each cut of meat.

“It’s not just a steak, it’s a whole experience,” said Shelton of the revised concept.

Additionally, the Reef has partnered with Kunoa Cattle Company to provide locally sourced beef and other meat products. While not all of the meat or food products can come from Hawaii, Shelton is making an effort to include Hawaiian foods, including spices and salts.

“We’re going to work on creating an amazing environment,” said Shelton. His vision for the restaurant moving forward is an appealing picture: “Ocean, grill, steaks and your chosen beverage.” Who could ask for more?

PASSIONATE DINING

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My friend Amber and I have a game we play every time we’re in Waikiki. While shopping or dining at any of the myriad locations available along the white sand shores, we keep a quiet tally, adding up how many brides we see.

Waikiki is implicitly romantic. As the former playground for Hawaiian royalty, it still holds an aura of beauty and grandeur that attracts couples from around the world. Every year thousands of lovebirds flock to Waikiki for elopements or honeymoons and it’s always a pleasure to see beautiful brides in elaborate gowns parading through the area with their grooms.

If you’ve come to Waikiki with your beloved for a wedding, honeymoon, anniversary, or just because, here are a few of the restaurants you may want to try for the best in food and romance.

 

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Miyako sits on the second story of the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel. It looks out over Kaimana Beach, a local favorite for its calm water and rel­ative lack of crowds. As the sun sets, diners at Miyako are treated to a spec­tacular view as they enjoy traditional Japanese cuisine.

The food at Miyako has impeccable presentation to accompany the ocean views. The five types of sashimi, pic­tured here, are among the restaurant’s “locally grown” specials, featuring exclusively fresh caught Hawaiian seafood. The sampler includes Kana abalone, Kahuku shrimp, yellowfin ahi, kampachi (yellowtail) and uku (blue green snapper).

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Niihau, or the Forbidden Island, has its own mystique after being privately owned for over a century. It acts almost like a time capsule, where a handful of Native Niihauans live largely as pre-European contact Hawaiians did. Although not native to Hawaii, the island has a large sheep population that is cultivated by Niihau Ranch.

d.k Steak House in Waikiki is one of the few fine dining restaurants that serves Niihau Ranch Lamb. Its lamb shank is served with creamy roasted garlic mashed potatoes, baby spinach and mushrooms. This unique delicacy is not only robust in flavor, it’s also only found in Hawaii.

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Good things come in a martini glass.  At Kaiwa, a teppan and sushi restaurant in Waikiki Beach Walk, martini glasses come filled with savory appetizers, such as ahi poke with garlic and ogo seaweed. The restaurant serves wine and spirits to accompany its appetizer cocktails, but the bar is best known for its extensive sake list.

The sushi and teppan are divine, but veering into the entree section of the menu can also be a delight.  The Black Angus filet mignon comes grilled to order and has a fine-grain texture.  For an optimum dining experience, request a sunken table in the back room, where twinkle lights provide a light glow.


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As a California native, I grew up with a certain fast food chain that has a notorious secret menu.  Newcomers would often discover the undocumented menu after months in the area then gleefully ask with a wink and a nudge if I knew about it.  I’d always known through cultural osmosis about that particular secret menu, but it never occured to me that other establishments might do the same.

I was pleasantly surprised to find recently that Wolfgang’s Steakhouse at the Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki also has at least one hidden menu item: the surf ‘n turf.  This dish pairs an 8-10-ounce prime filet tenderloin and a whole pound of cold-water lobster.  It’s just the right amount of food for a loving couple to share during a memorable night out.


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Taormina in Waikiki Beach Walk specializes in Sicilian fare and has the right ambiance for a romantic dinner. Seating options include a dining room, an outdoor terrace, and second-story tables overlooking the Beach Walk. Reservations are recommended at Taormina, but specific table requests cannot be guaranteed.

A typical dinner at Taormina may take hours between relishing different courses and sipping an appropriately paired Italian wine. The menu at Taormina is extensive, which can make for a difficult decision. One dining option is to pick from different sections and share. T he bolognese “classica” and the pesce del giorno are two disparate dishes that display the range of entrees available.

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The Moana Surfrider, the first hotel to grace Waikiki Beach, is affectionately known as the First Lady of Waikiki.  Its open verandas, wooden rocking chairs, and luxurious design, are the perfect blend of modern comfort and historic stateliness.  it’s long been a favorite wedding venue as couples are practically guaranteed gorgeous photos.

Beachhouse, the hotel’s signature restaurant, has an airy lanai that sits right on the beach.  it’s a pristine location for afternoon tea, something the restaurant specializes in.  For an evening meal, the dining room can host large parties or intimate tables for a tete-a-tete.  Try the ahi au poivre, a new menu item with local ahi, parmesan potatoes, grilled ratatouille and sauce au poivre.


 

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Seafood in Hawaii is world-renowned.  Fish and other sea creatures have fed the islands’ population for centuries and today locals and visitors alike enjoy seafood medleys in Waikiki’s top restaurants.  Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar, located in the Waikiki Beach Marriott is another Japanese-style restaurant that serves only fresh, high-quality fish.

The quality of Sansei’s seafood is evident in the number of award-winning dishes it serves. Three of those dishes, pictured here, highlight the array of options available at Sansei, such as the crab ramen with Asian truffle broth, the Asian shrimp cake, and the popular panko-crusted fresh ahi sashimi.