Shrimp are the perfect accompaniment to almost any dish. Bursting with salty sweetness, the “fruit of the sea” is one of the most versatile ingredients for chefs to work with and are therefore featured in a variety of ways in dishes at restaurants throughout Waikiki. Many dining establishments even go so far as to feature locally harvested shrimp, making the tasty invertebrates as fresh as they can get and adding just the perfect amount of flavorful crunch to any meal.
KUHIO BEACH GRILL
The view alone is worth a visit to this restaurant located at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort. What’s more, Kuhio Beach Grill offers something for everyone each night. The dining establishment presents hearty buffets that highlight different dining themes throughout the week. Arrive between 5 and 10 on a Wednesday or Sunday evening, for example, and create your own Hawaiian-style meal. These particular nights have a special poke bowl (raw fish salad) station where shrimp are offered as one of the many options for dressing up your dish. Indulge in the zesty local flavors of poke and opt for shrimp on a bed of matcha (green tea) seasoned rice with a sprinkle of seaweed and fresh herbs, such as green onions, to give it extra zip.
BUHO COCINA Y CANTINA
This trendy Mexican eatery is located on a rooftop in the heart of Waikiki on Kalakaua Avenue. The chic atmosphere is inviting, but the food and drinks are the real reasons to visit. Kauai Shrimp Ceviche is one example of an ideal way to embark on your dining adventure at this lively outdoor restaurant. Served with three large, crisp tortilla chips, the traditional Mexican-style ceviche is made with locally raised and harvested shrimp from the Garden Isle. Rather than prepared with heat, the shrimp are cooked by soaking them in lime juice. The juicy citric freshness of this appetizer is made even better with diced tomatoes, red onions, cilantro, avocado and cucumber.
CJ’S NEW YOUR STYLE DELICATESSEN & RESTAURANT
The ample menu here highlights many all-American plates infused with traditional local ingredients. Tucked inside the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, this is a great spot to grab a quick meal that’s guaranteed to leave you satisfyingly full. You can’t beat its robust portions of signature dishes such as Garlic Shrimp. Exploding with garlic essence, the plate includes sautéed easy-to-peel shrimp that pop with perfection in your mouth and are dressed with a “secret” garlic-wine sauce. Also included are two hefty scoops of white rice and a side of comforting macaroni salad. Just pack a breath mint for afterwards—the garlic, while divine, packs a powerful punch.
MAHINA & SUN’S
The millennial-inspired Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club hosts this one of-a-kind poolside restaurant that appeals to people of all ages. Each dish here is authentic in flavor, using only the finest ingredients, such as the Kauai Shrimp Risotto. Created with large, succulent shrimp raised on the westside of the Garden Isle, this plate is exquisite in every way. While risotto is traditionally a heavy dish, this recipe is on the lighter side: so rather than weigh you down, the delicately creamy sauce, enhanced with zesty lemon flavor, leaves you wanting more. The shrimp and rice combo is served with shaved shallots and sugar snap peas that provide an extra savory zing, while fried capers and shaved radishes resembling flower petals add even more gusto and texture to this impeccable dish.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Local 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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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:
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.
“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.
Chef 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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s no better way to fuel a busy day of frolicking in Waikiki’s warm waters and lounging in the sand than with a delectable breakfast at one of our favorite restaurants. Whether your ideal breakfast is a sweet treat, savory delight or healthy start, we’ve got you covered.
Buho is known for its extensive tequila selection, farm-fresh ingredients and an Island take on Mexican dining. Now the popular rooftop restaurant is adding breakfast to its portfolio of tasty offerings. You’ll find items standard to any Mexican breakfast, like the breakfast burrito or huevos rancheros, as well as stacks of pancakes drizzled with your favorite fixings. Don’t forget to try one of the signature breakfast drinks and feel free to indulge in bottomless mimosas on the weekend.
The SurfJack Hotel & Swim Club is quickly becoming a new hotspot in Waikiki, thanks to its lively atmosphere and vintage Hawaii décor. Such a unique hotel requires a standout restaurant, and Mahina & Sun’s is just that. The brainchild of local celebrity chef and four-time James Beard Award nominee, Ed Kenny, Mahina & Sun’s menu clearly draws inspiration from these beautiful Islands. Its breakfast menu has favors not tasted elsewhere in Waikiki, like the ulu (breadfruit) pancake. Pictured is a spread of options, including the frambled omelet, house granola, avocado toast and smoky Mary brunch cocktail.
Although its location in Waikiki at the Ilikai Hotel has only been open a few years, Cinnamon’s original Kailua location has been a local favorite for over 30 years. In that time, its name has become nearly synonymous with one thing: pancakes. Although the menu is vast and has many lunch and dinner entrées to relish, the pancakes at Cinnamon’s are simply too good to pass up. Pictured are the guava chiffon and red velvet pancakes. Both of these varieties exceed expectations and leave diners puzzling at their own gastronomic abilities to finish the stack.
Looking for breakfast any time of day? Head over to Giovanni Pastrami on Lewers Street for all of your breakfast needs. Giovanni’s is a lively place to watch the game—any game—while you dine. The corned beef-pastrami-hash benedict pictured here is a fantastic combination of a traditional hash and a New York-style benedict giving you the best of two worlds. If you can’t decide on a single breakfast item, go for the triple play, which has three mini options in one.
Tropics Bar & Grill at the Hilton Hawaiian Village is one of the few eateries in Waikiki that is literally on the beach. Its outdoor seating lets you take in a view of the ocean, complete with surfers riding the shallow waves. It’s not a bad way to start the day. The menu offers traditional breakfast fare as well as Island-inspired food like the loco moco. One favorite dish is the banana-berry baked french toast. It’s made with King’s Hawaiian bread and topped with fresh berries and lilikoi butter for a local twist.
Hawaii residents have always looked to the sea for sustenance. The readily available fish and sea creatures became integral to our food and culture. Today, Hawaii is known the world over for its incredible seafood, and Waikiki is the center of the action.
Ravish in The MODERN Honolulu is “Pacific inspired, soul infused.” That shows in the elegant mix of flavors blended into exceptional dishes. To eat like the chef, go for the chef’s choice of sashimi. The chef will select the best cuts from a fresh catch to make a choice plate of delicious fish. There are also interesting new takes on sushi in the modish menu, with options like torched salmon and vodka sauce or prime strip steak with sea urchin.
Kai Market in the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel is a popular buffet with all of the foods you dream of in a Hawaiian getaway. Week-ends, in particular, are a seafood lovers dream. Friday through Sunday nights spe-cialize in the sea’s bounty, like salmon, Kauai shrimp, assorted sushi and of course, poke. To get a little bit of everything, Kai Market is the best place to sample the cor-nucopia of the Pacific.
Uncle Bo’s may be outside of the boundaries of Waikiki proper, but, if you’re looking for a local favorite, look no further. Located on Kapahulu Avenue, Bo’s is open for dinner and late-night dining. Its extensive menu can make it hard to pick one thing, but, for a fish dish, the S.O.S. is worthwhile. The pan-roasted soup/stew hybrid comes with lobster, crab, scallops and shrimp in a creamy base and is best served with rice. You won’t want to leave room for dessert.
With three locations, two in Waikiki and one in Kahala, Arancino is convenient for any traveler. Its Napoli-style menu has all of the mouthwatering classics your heart desires from an Italian restaurant. Being in Hawaii, though, some of the conventional fare has been given a Pacific flare. The restaurant’s most popular pasta is a wonderful example. The spaghetti ai ricci di mare pairs delicate uni, or sea urchin, in a garlic wine cream sauce for an inspired dish you’ll rave about for years to come.
BALI STEAK AND SEAFOOD
It’s rare for a restaurant to perfect both flavor and presentation, but Bali Steak and Seafood does just that. Take the tempura lobster. This jumbo crustacean is served whole with its meat impeccably fried. Be sure to get a picture for your Instagram before digging in. Better yet, snap a photo as the sun sets over Waikiki beach in the background as you dine.
My grandparents used to love visiting Hawaii. They’d fly from their Central California home and explore Oahu, occasionally dipping their toes in warm waters, even though my grandmother never learned to swim. After each trip they’d regale us with stories about the food they ate and fun they had. Among their favorite destinations was the famed International Marketplace, what was then a series of local vendors set up in stalls under a banyan tree in Waikiki.
The small vendors are now long gone, but the banyan tree is still alive and well in the newly reopened International Marketplace. The new structure houses many high-end retailers, but is anchored by its restaurants, such as the new concept from local celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi, Eating House 1849.
Yamaguchi was inspired for his latest venture by the flavors of Hawaii’s plantation past, flavors he first sampled in his own grandfather’s kitchen.
“My grandfather left Japan in the early 1900s and ended up in Maui working on the plantations,” Yamaguchi says. As a child he helped in his grandfather’s market, and Yamaguchi says his “cooking has evolved from the flavors of my childhood.”
Those childhood flavors have served him well. Yamaguchi won the restigious James Beard award in 1993, and has been the visionary behind many of Hawaii’s favorite restaurants, including his namesake, Roy’s.
“Workers would share at lunch what they had,” explains Yamaguchi. “Eating House is paying tribute to those kind of cuisines.” The plantation influence is clear in Eating House 1849’s menu. The “1849” Plantation Pupu Platter consists of ribs, gyoza, lumpia and wings. This type of eclectic food could only come from bringing a diverse group of people together, something only really seen in Hawaii.
One of Yamaguchi’s favorite dishes from the menu is the plantation paella. Rather than a relatively dry rice dish, Yamaguchi’s paella draws from the thick beef stew he ate as a kid for a more brothy meal. “It’s a great dish,” he says.
In addition to the International Marketplace, there are two other Eating House 1849 locations, one in Koloa, Kauai, and another in Kapolei on Oahu.
The menus at each change based on what’s available and in season. “We plan our menus according to what we have available in Hawaii,” says Yamaguchi.
No matter the location, Eating House 1849 gives diners top-quality meals in a fun and inviting atmosphere. As with all of his restaurants, Yamaguchi says, “We keep it nice and fresh and exciting.”
No matter the location, Eating House 1849 gives diners top-quality meals in a fun and inviting atmosphere.
Nestled behind Diamond Head, with views of both Diamond Head and Koko Head craters, sits Kapi‘olani Community College (KCC), on the grounds of what was once Fort Ruger. The campus is part of the overall University of Hawaii system and keeps community at the heart of all its programs.
This community focus is found in all aspects of the school, especially the Culinary Arts Program. The program has many different initiatives that assist with everything from food sustainability to healthy school lunches. But the program itself is a service, as there are more jobs in restaurants in Hawaii from servers and line cooks to top chefs, than there are qualified individuals to fill the positions. That demand has led to a boom in an already popular program.
The Culinary Arts Program at KCC has existed for decades and has a history of turning out incredibly talented chefs, such as Alan Wong and Sam Choy. Who would have known that a humble community college in Honolulu would turn out internationally renowned chefs who have turned their locally inspired cuisine into multimillion dollar businesses? The program has long been robust, but the school is always growing and incorporating new facets into its curriculum.
“We’ve made, in the last 30 years, tremendous improvements to our program,” says department chair Ron Takahashi.
Takahashi is constantly trying to decipher where the food industry is heading and anticipating the needs of students. As a result, the school takes a holistic approach to learning not just the technical skills to excel as chefs, but also how management and serving positions function.
“Every class has particular learning outcomes,” says Takahashi. Students learn from a pool of professors with vast knowledge. “We highly value their experience over academic credentials,” says Takahashi about the faculty. “A lot of what we impart to students is lessons learned.”
It’s a dynamic learning center that emphasizes practicality and artistry as complementary, rather than opposing, forces. One of the many learning tools students have is the KCC campus restaurant, Ka ‘Ikena. Ka ‘Ikena is open for lunch and dinner, and reservations are required. Everyone working at the restaurant is a student focused on one learning objective. That could be food service, restaurant management, pastry making or any of the other regular tasks all kitchens require.
With such a robust program, it’s clear why so many of the top chefs in Waikiki and Hawaii at large hail from KCC. One of their more recent grads is chef Justin Inagaki, head chef at Hy’s Steak House in Waikiki.
While reflecting on the Culinary Arts Program, Inagaki said, “I wish I could go back to school now, the curriculum that these students are learning now is so broad and well versed.” Inagaki graduated seven years ago, and, even in that relatively short span, he’s noticed the ever-improving skill sets graduates retain.
As the head chef at one of the leading steak houses in Waikiki, Inagaki certainly doesn’t need to head back to school anytime soon, but it’s refreshing to hear his admiration for his alma mater.
“I would never be able to be where I am now without having such a great support network at KCC,” Inagaki continued. “It truly changed my perspective and made me motivated to be a chef.”
The newest motivational tool from KCC’s Culinary Arts Program is Le¯‘ahi Concept Kitchen, located in the Parc Hotel in Waikiki. It was serendipitous that the restaurant came to be. NOBU had previously occupied the space, but found a new spot when the Parc was slated to begin a renovation. The renovation hit a snag, causing a delay until next year, leaving an empty restaurant space perfect for a fresh approach to fine dining. The hotel worked with KCC to open a “pop up” restaurant until renovations could begin, and Le¯‘ahi Concept Kitchen was born.
Le¯‘ahi is a breath of fresh air in the heart of Waikiki. The prices are reasonable and surprisingly, especially in Waikiki, diners are asked not to provide gratuity. Staff members are instead paid a living wage. There is a separate 15 percent service fee on all bills, but this is a requirement imposed by the university system, and helps to keep the program running and costs low.
The menu has a mixture of small and large plates that can be eaten individually or shared. Head chef and KCC alum Eddie Mafnas brings flavors from his native Guam with items like Chamorro shrimp fritters.
Mafnas graduated from the culinary school 10 years ago and, like many of his fellow alumni, has kept incredibly busy in the local food industry ever since. He has helped open 21 restaurants in Waikiki, does private catering, owns Aloha Poke Shop, and still manages to find time to volunteer in his community by cooking for the homeless and judging keiki chef competitions. He brings that energy and passion into his creations at Le¯‘ahi.
All of the positions at the restaurant are paid, but are mostly staffed by current KCC students who want to get more hands-on experience.
“This is a step that has always been missing,” says Takahashi. He’s excited by the opportunity to let students learn completely outside the classroom.
Now open for dinner seven nights a week, with live music six of those nights, Le¯‘ahi Concept Kitchen provides a wonderful dining experience that anyone can feel good about. Diners can take advantage of four hours of free validated parking, and a low corkage fee at this BYOB establishment.
The restaurant will only be open until the Parc Hotel begins renovations in 2018, so go now while it’s open. It will also offer special menus from visiting chefs and occasional cooking lessons in the meantime.
Moving forward, Takahashi is looking for more opportunities for his students. The school is working to establish the Culinary Institute of the Pacific, and staying abreast of what’s next in the food industry.
“We try to train our people for the future,” says Takahashi. So far, they’ve done just that.
ED KENNEY IS A BUSY MAN. The successful restaurateur owns four popular restaurants, sits on several community boards and is to host the PBS culinary travel show, “Family Ingredients.” The chef has had many accolades, including being named as a finalist several times for Best Chef: West by the James Beard Foundation. Kenney’s first three restaurants, Town, Kaimuki Superette and Mud Hen Water, are all within a few blocks of each other in this vibrant community Kaimuki, and are known for fresh farm-to-table ingredients and traditional Hawaiian flavors. In April of 2016, Kenney made the leap to Waikiki when he opened Mahina & Sun’s in the Surfjack hotel. All of these restaurants go by Kenney’s mantra, “Local first, organic whenever possible, with aloha always.”
What caused you to make the leap to Waikiki from your base of restaurants in Kaimuki?
When doing some research for the Surfjack’s restaurant concept, the original owners found the style and taste of cuisine they were looking for when they dined at Town. Our Kaimuki restaurants’ ongoing mission to create community gathering places that reconnect people to the food they eat and those they eat with was aligned with their vision. Spending a lot of time in Waikiki during my childhood, it brought back a sense of nostalgia when we were asked to partner with the Surfjack. My parents were performers at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and Halekulani back before the properties became sprawling resorts, so I spent a lot of time in town watching them perform. With Mahina & Sun’s concept, we’re treating both visitors and locals to an authentic taste of Hawaii with what is offered on the seasonal menu.
What sets Mahina & Sun’s apart from your other restaurants?
Mahina & Sun’s menu has been created from the same set of values as my other restaurants, utilizing local, organic produce and sustainable seafood. We wanted to turn the restaurant into a community gathering place in Waikiki, where visitors and locals feel comfortable and “come as you are” for spontaneous cocktails, a special occasion or even just a great cup of coffee.
The theme of our menu is elevated home-cooking with an emphasis on sustainable seafood. The dishes are new and stylish, like the Surfjack, but are influenced from childhood upbringings – growing up on Oahu and my mom’s cooking – from the Portuguese Bean Soup to the spicy ahipalaha (tuna) found in the Mahina’s Bowl, most of these recipes were from my childhood.
You’re known for partnering with Hawaii farms like MA‘O Organic
Farm to showcase local ingredients. Tell me a little about why that
is so important to you individually and to the dishes you serve.
Most restaurants are proud to note locally sourced products on a menu, but, for me, it’s more important to have the physical relationships with the farms and farmers. The farmers we collaborate with, like MA‘O, are now ohana. By purchasing and consuming locally sourced product, we are committed to our community, to our farmers and to our aina. In sourcing and eating local, we look at how we are able to give back to the planet that ultimately provides us with the food we eat.
You’ve been able to cook for former First Lady Michelle Obama.
What was that experience like?
It was an honor! And, actually, it was one of my dreams to cook for her. When she planted a garden at the White House, she sent a message about nutrition and connecting oneself to the land. We both have strong beliefs regarding food education and policy. Mrs. Obama visited us at MA‘O and we provided her with a firsthand look of the farm of which we source most of our ingredients. MA‘O not only gives back to the community, but also educates our state’s youth by providing them with an opportunity to attend college while learning about the land. The Obamas also dined with us at Mahina & Sun’s over the 2016 holiday upon the former President’s approval to expand Papahanaumokuakea, making it the largest protected place in the world. This impacts the fishing industry and forces us to help protect our supply of sustainable seafood. We’re very grateful to have had them experience our menu offerings.
Many of the people who read Waikiki Menus come from out of town. Do you have any recommendations on bringing Island inspired flavors into dishes back home?
On the menu, guests will not only be able to eat local products but most important, get to try indigenous plates based from Hawaiian canoe crops such as paiai (undiluted taro) and ulu (breadfruit). Most of our menu items are listed as their traditional Hawaiian names, such as akule (big eye scad), hee (octopus) and au ku (swordfish). These offerings are not normally found in Waikiki’s popular restaurants nor are they listed in Hawaiian. It may be some vacationer’s first experience hearing the Hawaiian name as well as tasting the Hawaiian dish!