Before you ever landed in Hawaii, you could see it in your head: you, sitting under an umbrella on Waikiki Beach, with an island cocktail in your hand, perfectly adorned with a purple orchid and miniature umbrella. You just know this will be bliss.
But where should you go for your perfect island concoction? Break free from the typical Mai Tai and try some exotic flavors on your vacation.
Many of the eating (and drinking) establishments in Waikiki try to blend local flavors to create a uniquely Hawaiian taste. Enjoy fresh pineapple, lilikoi, guava and other luscious fruits blended creatively into martinis or margaritas.
You might also try drinks with Island-made liquors, such as Ocean Organic Vodka, Whaler’s Dark Rum or Ko Hana Rum. Step out of your comfort zone and let loose with some of these adults-only beverages.
Rumfire Sand and Sea
If you’ve got at least two people in your party, you can have one of the jumbo drink “bowls.” The Sand and Sea uses Hawaiian-made Deep Island Rum, pineapple and passion fruit juices, sweet and sour and a dash of Dekuyper Blue Curacao. This liquid aloha is garnished with fresh pineapple slices and tiny umbrellas.
Rumfire Lilikoi Cosmo
Rumfire isn’t just a spot with spectacular ocean views and the best tater tots you’ve ever had. They also have an extensive cocktail list with lots of local flair. The Lilikoi Cosmo would make Carrie Bradshaw swoon. It uses Hawaiian Ocean Organic Vodka to start the local experience and adds lilikoi puree for a sweet touch, but still offers the classic cranberry twist to give it a pink hue.
Tommy Bahama Pineapple Paradisio
This popular drink is a feast for the senses. You’ll be torn between wanting to take its picture and taking that first sip. It starts with Bacardi Pineapple, then adds in St. Germaine Elderflower, Crème de Banana, Scratch Sour, and finishes off with actual fresh-cut pineapple (in fact all drinks at Tommy Bahama are made with fresh-squeezed ingredients). The pineapple blend is superb and a great way to start (or finish!) the night.
Heavenly Big Island Honey Papaya Sangria
Heavenly is known for using high-quality local ingredients to create fresh and flavorful meals. Just imagine what that creativity can do for a cocktail. The Big Island Honey Papaya Sangria is phenomenal. This atypical sangria blends the ingredients together to a smoothie-like consistency, instead of leaving chunks of fruit. You’ll never want another traditional sangria again after trying this.
Surf Lanai Royal Mai Tai
If you’re going to have a Mai Tai in Waikiki, you might as well have the king of Mai Tai’s at the Royal Hawaiian’s Surf Lanai. All of the juices that go into this island favorite are fresh squeezed to make the flavor pop. All of the liquors involved are also top-notch including Bacardi Superior, Cointreau and Amaretto di Disaronno liqueur topped with Island-crafted Whaler’s Dark Rum.
Tiki’s Grill & Bar Pele’s Love
Oahu-crafted Ko Hana Rum and watermelon nectar- need I say more? Tiki’s Grill & Bar has more than their iconic tiki glasses and views of Waikiki Beach. Pele’s Love will make you feel the passion with fresh watermelon chunks and local rum. If Pele’s love doesn’t strike your fancy, rest assured that something on Tiki’s extensive cocktail list will.
When asked how he wanted it prepared, he’d request the cow placed on a grill. When it stopped moaning, it was ready. Rare was distinctly best in his book.
If you are also a steak-lover, your stay in Waikiki won’t disappoint. There are plenty of options available. From tri-tip to rib eye, or filet mignon to a classic Hawaiian steak plate lunch, this meat is incredibly versatile.
Whether you like your steak prepared well done or nearly raw like my grandfather, Waikiki has something to offer. Read on for more information about some of our favorite steaks in town.
TIKI’S GRILL & BAR
If you want to enjoy local live music with your meal, head down Kalakaua Ave. to Tiki’s Grill & Bar. Here traditional classics are given a local twist. Take the alae salt (red Hawaiian salt) rubbed and grilled filet mignon. This beauty is served with Kahuku sea asparagus poke, red wine Tahitian luau leaf demi-glace and a sumptuous taro puree. The melting pot of different flavors blends perfectly for a unique take on steak.
When it comes to steak, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse immediately comes to mind. Located in the Royal Hawaiian Center, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse has a classic feel with Brazilian cherry wood floors and alabaster chandeliers. Known for their 28-day dry aged steak, Wolfgang’s is practically synonymous with good steak. Try the filet mignon for a smaller portion, or go all-out with a porterhouse. Either way your taste buds will thank you.
TANAKA OF TOKYO
For a less traditional take on steak, head over to Tanaka of Tokyo. Tanaka specializes in teppan-yaki cuisine, where food is prepared on a flat iron grill right at your table. Be prepared for entertainment in addition to good food. The master chefs are adept showmen with impressive knife skills. They create fire “volcanoes” with cut onions and wow guests by twirling knives as they expertly prepare and season each dish. Using only Premium Angus beef and fresh seafood, steak at Tanaka of Tokyo isn’t just delicious, it’s an experience.
The ambiance at Hy’s transports you to another time – one where gentlemen wore tuxedos to dine and women always came prepared in white gloves. You probably won’t actually see individuals dressed so formally when you visit Hy’s (although the evening waiters do wear tuxes) but you’ll understand the urge to pretend you’re in Downton Abbey. Décor aside, the food is also amazing. Hy’s uses USDA prime beef that is aged and trimmed to perfection in house. The steaks are then grilled over fragrant Hawaiian kiawe wood for a perfect smoky flavor.
HAU TREE LANAI
Wander to the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel for beachside seating at Hau Tree Lanai. Hau Tree’s Black Angus New York Steak is Harris Ranch all-Natural Beef, grilled to perfection. It comes with a red wine reduction sauce that is not only a great accompaniment to the prime steak, you’ll also want to drink it with a straw.
TAORMINA SICILIAN CUISINE
Nestled on Lewers St. across from the Waikiki Beach Walk is Taormina Sicilian Cuisine, a delectable Italian restaurant. If you venture to “Le Carni” (meat) in the menu, you will find several choice steaks, including the prime rib eye. This meaty masterpiece is 14 oz. of grilled prime aged rib eye accompanied by the house marinade, fresh vegetables and horseradish. Most of the produce used is also locally sourced to enhance the flavor.
WAKEA the sky father, had no sons. He and his wife, Papahanaumoku, the Earth mother, had been blessed with the births of Maui and Hawaii Island, but their only human child was a daughter, Ho‘ohokukalani.
As Ho‘ohokukalani grew, so did her beauty. Soon Wakea was rapt with desire. Their union produced Wakea’s first human son, Haloanaka, but alas, the child was stillborn. They buried the child, and in that place, the first kalo (taro) plant grew.
Later, Ho‘ohokukalani and Wakea came together again, and a healthy, human boy was born. This son was Haloa, and he was the first of the Hawaiian ali‘i (chiefs). As Haloa grew, he tended the kalo plant to care for his older brother. Thus kalo is not only the staple of Hawaiian cuisine, it is also the older brother to its people.
The story of taro is dramatic. It shows the importance of the staple plant to early Hawaiian settlers. Taro is not just a plant to be cultivated, it’s a beloved yet departed older brother who needs tending by the Hawaiian people. It makes sense that this plant has been considered a family member, because its growth and processing is a labor of love.
After taking roughly a year to tend and grow, typical taro roots are ready for picking. Ancient Hawaiians used the root, or “corm,” to make the starch staple called poi. This traditional dish is made by pounding cooked corm, and adding water as necessary, until it reaches the desired, viscous consistency.
Poi may be an acquired taste to newcomers, but it is still a fundamental part of Hawaiian cuisine. It can act as a side to lomilomi salmon, or be blended into a modern acai bowl. Fresh poi has a relatively neutral flavor, which makes it easy to add to many meals.
Taro isn’t only grown for the corm. Today, as in ancient Hawaii, the taro leaves are used to wrap meats which are then baked to make laulau. Modern restaurants may not bake laulau in an underground imu (oven) as Ancient Hawaiians did, but you’ll still see pork, chicken or fish laulau on many lunch menus.
Taro usage has grown well beyond pounding poi or using the leaves for wrapping food. As a gluten-free starch, taro is also popular as a flour replacement, and is even used to make ice cream and other desserts.
Although taro use has evolved from historic Hawaiian tradition, in many ways, the art of growing taro is much the same as it has been for centuries. One part-Hawaiian farmer, Keoki Fukumitsu, also known as the “Kaloman,” grows taro on his family’s land in Kaneohe. The land has been in Fukumitsu’s family for more than 200 years, since before the reign of Kamehameha.
“I am an individual with ancient upbringing and life-style,” Fukumitsu states. “There’s just a few of us left.” It’s easy to see the truth in his statement when walking between some of the 30 separate lo‘i on his property. Lo‘i are the traditional wetland patches used to grow taro. Canals and streams that flow down from the mountains are harnessed to create marshes that feed the lo‘i. Fukumitsu grows anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen different taro varietals at any given time in his lo‘i. There are around 87 recognized varietals of taro currently in Hawaii, although there were 300 distinct strains in early Hawaii.
Polynesians are thought to have brought taro plants with them in their canoes as they traversed the Pacific before finally settling in Hawaii. Space was precious in these vessels, which shows again how cherished the plant was. It’s significance then was based on its nutrients. Now it’s valued not only for its flavor and nutrition, but also for its cultural and historic importance as the older brother to the Hawaiian people.
For Fukumitsu, the traditional form of taro farming is worth preserving. His farm serves not only to grow taro; he also opens it up so that participants can come and work the taro patches.
“I’ve had 20,000 participants on this farm,” Fukumitsu says with pride.
While there, participants get hands-on experience in what farming taro was like when the first Hawaiian settlers began forming lo‘i. Many of the participants are young men who want to get in touch with their heritage, according to Fukumitsu, but visitors are also welcome.
Cultural experiences aside, Fukumitsu still runs a working farm. It requires constant tending to produce a crop. Most of his products are sold to restaurants or food trucks. He also harvests the taro leaves for luaus and sometimes also sells to grocers.
Although Fukumitsu the Kaloman is well loved, his farm is not without enemies. In the late 1980s, taro farmers like Fukumitsu started noticing apple snails in their lo‘i, a type of freshwater snail that can actually reach the size of an apple. This invasive species feeds on the corm and young taro stalks, and has impacted many farmers like Fukumitsu. A quick walk through the lo‘i reveals many of the snails that Fukumitsu refers to as “escargot.” These snails have to be picked by hand to maintain the crop. It’s a nuisance, but one with merit if it allows farmers like Fukumitsu to continue their trade.
“Our livelihood and our lifestyle is all saturated around the taro,” says Fukumitsu. “Taro is like Mana: It’s a God-given thing.”
It’s rare to find a plant that is so deeply rooted in the cultural, spiritual and historical identity of a place in the way that taro is loved and revered in Hawaii.
Now, taro is ubiquitous on the Islands. It’s found everywhere from high-end culinary masterpieces in Waikiki to roadside food trucks selling plate lunches. Taro is the definition of a staple food in this lush land.
The love of taro goes back to its birth as the older brother who is cared for. By tending this older brother, the Hawaiian people were provided with sustenance for generations to come.
Fukumitsu plans to keep working his land and opening it up to volunteers with a renewed vigor.
“Some people take a long time to get the picture,” he says. “But when they get it, they’re unstoppable. I’m one of them.”
Interested in trying taro during your stay in Waikiki? Here are just a few options that are available at some of our favorite restaurants.
Creamy Crushed Taro and Brandy (side dish)
Bali Steak & Seafood
Red Curry Seafood Medley (includes taro)
Goofy Café and Dine
Taro Muffin and Kai-Taro Gratin (side dish)
Tiki’s Grill & Bar
Taro Buns and Taro Mash (buns on some burger options, mash is a side dish)
Tropics Bar & Grill
Maui Veggie Burger (taro patty)
Taro Buns (buns available on some burger options)
While not all restaurants in Waikiki keep taro items on their regular menu, many, such as Roy’s, will have seasonal dishes or specials where taro is center stage.