Hawaii is undoubtedly a melting pot of different cultures, and this is most obvious when exploring local cuisine. Chinatown and Waikiki have many options for foods that might seem bizarre to Mainland visitors, but are staples in other cultures. Here are a few tamer options for foods you might not find back home, but aren’t too far afield, either.
Combination Seafood Platter Bali Steak and Seafood
Many visitors come to Oahu with one unique Island food in mind: poke. This traditional Hawaiian cuisine is cubed raw fish in a variety of sauces. It can be intimidating to try something new and totally raw. So try poke in the combination seafood platter at Bali, where guests can try poke alongside more familiar seafood, such as king crab legs, lobster, shrimp, Japanese-style sashimi and fresh oysters from the Pacific Northwest.
Bibimbap Goofy Café and Dine
This Korean dish literally translates to “mixed rice.” At Goofy, a bed of brown rice is topped with fresh local vegetables, pork and a fried egg. The chili sauce is served on the side so that patrons can determine how spicy they want the dish. It also comes with a warm seaweed soup to perfectly accent the potentially spicy meal.
Washu Beef Tataki Roll Kaiwa
Tepid sushi eaters usually object to consuming raw fish. They may go for a cooked tempura roll in lieu of sashimi. Kaiwa has another option for meat lovers. The Washu Beef tataki roll uses ultra-rare seared beef on and in the roll. The marbled beef is flavorfully paired with sushi rice, cucumber, garlic and green onion.
Bangkok Red Curry Noi Thai Cuisine
Eating at Noi is as much about the experience as it is about the food. The chefs are all from Thailand, and use unique techniques in cooking and presentation. Elaborately carved vegetables made to look like flowers or birds often garnish plates. Their red curry is a chef favorite, served with a choice of meat that comes in a separate dish, still steaming on smoked kiawe wood.
Kahuku Shrimp Kai Market
Most restaurants on the Mainland serve shrimp shelled with the tail off. Some restaurants are now trending toward leaving the tail on for presentation, but that’s usually about as adventurous as it gets with serving shrimp. In Hawaii, Kahuku shrimp is often served fully intact, with the head, legs and tail. Generally these shrimp are cooked in butter and the outer shell and tail are crispy, providing contrast to the soft meat inside. You can also remove the head and tail if eating the shell has no appeal.
AZURE LOBSTER “ROLL” WITH MEYER LEMON PRESERVE AND TOBIKO
2 lobster tails (4 ounces peeled)
4 Tablespoons aioli
1 teaspoon finely chopped truffle
1/2 teaspoon truffle oil
12 each Meyer lemon
6 ounces sugar
3 Tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 ounce browned butter
1 ounce red tobiko
1 loaf brioche
1 cup clarified butter
Tarragon to taste
Skewer lobster tails and blanch in Court bouillon. Pull out right before it is fully cooked, letting heat carry over. Do not ice. Once chilled, slice into fourths. Add truffles and oil to aioli. Peel lemon leaving only zest with no pith. Blanch zest. Juice lemon and save. Put salt, sugar, juice, turmeric and zest together and bring to a simmer. Cook until soft. Blend until puree is smooth. Add water if needed. Freeze brioche. Cut brioche into 3-inch-long-by-1 1/4-inch-wide and 1/2-inch-tall slices. On slicer, cut bread on a 13-15 setting. Cut out 1-inch-diameter circles. Fry circles in the clarified butter until golden brown. Season as they come out. Toast rectangle of bread with seasoned whole butter. Brown butter and add tarragon and chervil. Strain.
Pull a large bead of aioli on top of the plate and a pool for the bread to sit on. Pull a large bead of lemon preserve on bottom right. Place bread on aioli, lobster on top of that with aioli in between slices. Single toasted brioche in lobster. With warm butter, add tobiko and drizzle over lobster. Garnish with chervil.
ROY’S HAMACHI APPETIZER
4 ounces fresh sushi-grade hamachi
1/2 cup lemon-juice concentrate
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 medium chopped onion
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
2 Thai chilis
1/4 cup olive oil
Over medium heat, cook onion, garlic and Thai chilis, then add liquids. Let sauce cool. Carefully slice hamachi to roughly bite-size pieces. Gently mix with other prepared ingredients. Garnish with edible flowers and green
BILL’S PERFECT SCRAMBLED EGGS
1 ounce heavy cream
1 Pinch sea salt
1 Tablespoon butter
Whip eggs and cream in a bowl. Heat butter in a nonstick pan. Once the butter is melted, add salt. When the salt starts to crackle in the pan, add the egg mixture. Let the egg mixture settle in the pan. As soon as it starts to harden, take a spatula and ring it around the edges of the pan until the eggs are fully cooked (approximately 5 minutes). The eggs will appear slightly runny in the pan.
ROYAL HAWAIIAN PINK HAUPIA CAKE
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8-inch baking pans.
8 ounces cake flour
6 ounces granulated sugar
3/4 Tablespoons baking powder Sift the cake flour, granulated sugar and baking powder together and set aside
4 ounces vegetable oil
4 ounces egg yolks
5 1/2 ounce water
8 ounces egg whites
4 ounces granulated sugar
Whisk oil, egg yolks and water in a bowl and gradually add dry ingredients while whisking. Mix till a smooth batter is created. Whip egg whites until foamy and gradually sprinkle in the sugar. Whip until mixture forms stiff peaks. Gently fold cake batter into egg whites. Pour into pans and bake at 350 degrees 30–40 minutes. Cool on rack.
1 (12-ounce) can coconut milk
4-6 Tablespoons sugar
6 Tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 3/4 cup water
3-4 drops red or pink food coloring
Bring coconut milk and sugar to a boil. Make a slurry with the cornstarch and water, whisk into boiling mixture. Add a few drops of pink color and continue mixing on heat for 3-5 minutes, until thick. Pour into container and cool completely.
Whip cream with sugar till medium peaks, then add pink to create a pastel color. Set aside. Mix coconut flakes with pink until desired color is reached. Set aside.
Cut the 8-inch rounds in two equal layers for a total of four layers. Put the set haupia in a stand mixer and mix until creamed. Alternate layers of cake and haupia. Ice the cake with the pink whipped cream and coat sides with pink coconut flakes.
As a Sonoma County, California, native, I am no stranger to fermentation. My dad used to make his own wine and beer in the garage of our home. Weekends often included jaunts to favorite wineries where my sister Sarah and I could play in the gardens. Only once did we mortify our parents by throwing rocks in a fishpond (I still contend Sarah started it).
Wine and the fermentation process were everywhere, driving our local economy. I assumed all 8-year-olds could cite the difference between a Zinfandel and Petite Syrah. It seemed totally normal.
While I was a child in Northern California, a place synonymous with wine production, George Killmer was half a world away in Japan and Korea, the latter locale having its own ubiquitous fermented fare: kimchi.
Kimchi is largely considered the national food of Korea. It takes many forms, but most commonly it’s a spicy fermented cabbage, traditionally served with white rice.
Killmer grew up with kimchi. He’s gone through phases when he didn’t eat it much, but now he devours it regularly. “If you don’t have kimchi,” Killmer says, “you’re having a bad day.”
Killmer is “hapa haole,” a colloquial term for someone who is part Caucasian and part another ethnicity. His mother is Korean, and his dad is a Caucasian former U.S. government contractor. Growing up, kimchi was everywhere. As a kid he even ate the spicy cabbage his mother made in oatmeal for breakfast. Her recipe for kimchi is the foundation for Jincha Kimchi, the small business he runs with his partner, Jamie-Lynn Gomes. Gomes did not have regular access to kimchi in her youth. She is part Hawaiian and graduated from Kamehameha Schools. She recalls how her mother’s Korean friend would gift a jar of kimchi once or twice a year. It was a treat, not a given. This aromatic side dish had yet to develop a place in larger restaurants or markets in the Islands.
Ready access, however, can have some drawbacks, which Killmer knew well. “When I was growing up, it was embarrassing,” he says. “It was always like, Don’t let people see the kimchi.” It was a source of shame to have something so different in his home. By this point, his family had moved stateside after time spent in Japan and Korea. Living in the Pacific Northwest as a teen, Killmer wanted to fit in. Kimchi was “stinky cabbage” that looked, tasted and smelled weird to his friends.
Then something interesting happened. Killmer became a chef who worked in the Mid-Atlantic region. He started seeing kimchi outside of Korean markets and restaurants. Suddenly it was gaining mainstream popularity with eateries for a simple reason: People liked it.
With this surge in popularity, Killmer returned to his childhood staple. It no longer held a stigma as a smelly cabbage. Killmer moved to Hawaii 10 years ago, where he met Gomes. They started Jincha Kimchi in June 2015.
Their process begins with only local, fresh produce, including Napa cabbage, ginger and garlic. “It’s the quality of our ingredients that makes our kimchi so good,” says Gomes.
It’s more than the ingredients, though. There is tremendous care in how they make each batch. It can take up to nine hours to make. Killmer says it’s something “deep in my soul,” that drives him to keep making and selling kimchi. The pair makes roughly 100 pounds of the fermented and pungent cabbage every two weeks from their 500-square-foot kitchen.
With ingredients in hand, Killmer and Gomes start making kimchi by carefully washing then cutting the cabbage. It then soaks in a saltwater brine for two to five hours, by far the most time intensive step of the process.
Killmer starts by cutting the cabbage to soak while Gomes preps a fish sauce. The sauce is made with kelp, green onions and dried anchovies that Killmer’s mother brings with her from Korea. It’s a fragrant mix.
With fresh fish sauce in hand, Gomes and Killmer begin prepping the kimchi paste with which they will slather the cabbage. Each ingredient is carefully cleaned and measured. The paste is made of garlic, ginger, herbs, fermented baby shrimp, fish sauce and, of course, dried spicy red chili peppers.
Today, most kimchi is spicy and colored bright red from chili peppers. This wasn’t always the case. Chili peppers aren’t native to Korea. It wasn’t until trade was established with the Americas in the 1500s that chili peppers became available to the world, eventually changing the nature of kimchi to its current spicy state. Traditionally, it was made seasonally based on whichever vegetables were available. It was not what modern eaters think of as kimchi.
Killmer and Gomes definitely make a modern kimchi, though they label the flavor as “local kine,” meaning it’s suited to the tastes of Hawaii residents. Kimchi in Korea tends to have a much stronger flavor, with more spice in the paste. The paste they make is spicy and savory, but not overwhelming.
Once they have the perfect paste, Killmer will check the cabbage to see if it has soaked long enough. The cabbage gets rinsed several times to remove excess salt, and then it’s massaged into the paste until evenly mixed.
At this point it’s edible, but it hasn’t had a chance to ferment yet. Fermentation takes at least two weeks, which is the minimum time they age each batch before sale. It’s left bottled in reusable mason jars in their fridge until ready.
It never tastes the same twice. Like wine, different vintages of kimchi are nuanced. They’ve taken as many controls as possible in refining the recipe, but fermentation can fluctuate, producing variations in each batch. It’s interesting to taste the changes, or even note the development in kimchi as it continues to ferment after purchase.
Kimchi in general is fermented via lactic acid bacteria, which kills off any other bacteria that would normally lead vegetables to rot. This process leaves kimchi with probiotic properties, meaning that kimchi is actually incredibly good for you. It’s also high in vitamins and may prevent certain cancers. Gomes mentions one frequent buyer who says the kimchi helps ease her rheumatoid arthritis.
This is just one process for one kind of kimchi. Jincha makes several varietals, but this is its staple, and what most people think of as kimchi. It’s a big world where kimchi is concerned, and anyone can make it.
As Killmer says, “there’s really no wrong or right way. It just comes down to if you like it or not.”
Jincha Kimchi is available at the Windward Mall farmers’ market. Visit its website for more information at www.jinchakimchi.com.
MINI PASTRAMI SLIDERS:The pastrami reuben sandwich is definitely king at Giovanni Pastrami. In fact, the restaurant went through 10,000 pounds of premium pastrami last year specifically because of how popular this delectable, half-pound sandwich is. For some though, a half-pound of pastrami is a little daunting. Fear not! The great chefs behind the reuben have miniaturized it with four bite-size sliders that have all the flavor of the full sandwich.
Round Table Pizza
KING ARTHUR SUPREME AND GOURMET VEGGIE: There are few other foods that are as versatile and universally loved as pizza. There are options for any palate and Round Table Pizza in Waikiki treats pizza like royalty with the King Arthur supreme. This pie has just about everything, including classic red sauce, three cheeses, pepperoni, Italian sausage, salami, Portuguese sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, white onions and black olives. For non-meat lovers, try the gourmet veggie. The veggie pizza has all of the fresh vegetables you know you should eat but probably don’t unless their healthy attributes are cleverly disguised in a pizza.
Beachhouse at the Moana
AFTERNOON TEA ON THE VERANDA: Tea parties aren’t solely the purview of young girls in tiaras. Adults can certainly have tea parties too. Just head to the Moana Surfrider Hotel on any given afternoon for a full tea service at Beachhouse. The fi rst- lady tea service (pictured) includes your choice of tea, sparkling rosé, fresh berries with crème fraiche and brown sugar, miniature sandwiches and stunning pastries.
AHI TUNA TACOS: These tacos are Mexican fare with an Asian twist. Crisp wonton shells replace a traditional tortilla in Tommy Bahama’s tuna tacos. Tacos come with rare tuna, Island slaw and a wasabi-avocado pur´ee. They’re a perfect snack when you’re feeling peckish, or a delicious start to any meal.
TATAS: Tater tots may make you think of elementary school lunch ladies in mesh caps, but they’ve certainly grown to a gourmet affair beyond a typical lunch lady’s abilities with Rumfi re’s tatas. These spuds are drizzled in truffl e oil then tossed with parmesan and sea salt. Eating just one isn’t an option. You’ll want to fi nish the whole basket.
Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Barum Fire
DRAGONFLY ROLL: Usually eaten with chopsticks, the dragonfly roll is a distinctly forkless bit of Japanese cuisine. This classic roll features spicy tuna and cucumber inside and Hawaiian ahi tuna, avocado, masago and sweet Thai chili aioli on top. Sansei features only top-quality ingredients in its award-winning sushi.
Errant scholars claim Marco Polo introduced noodles to Italy after a long sojourn in China. This is probably more myth than reality, but, in antiquity two geographically disparate lands were known to produce noodle dishes: Italy and China.
Today, noodle dishes are a worldwide affair, though they are typically categorized as either vaguely European or Asian in flavor. Hawaii has long been a melting pot of cultures, and Waikiki dining takes that to a new level. Restaurants here have all styles of noodles, from classically styled Italian cuisine and traditional Chinese dishes to Pacific Rim fusion.
Try some of these Island-inspired takes on one of the most popular forms of food in the world. Pro tip: Grab an entrée with fresh fish or other ocean dwellers for a noodle experience you could only find in Waikiki.
Fresco Italian Restaurant
Linguine all’aragosta e granchio: The editor and photographer for this magazine are often invited to try dishes during photo shoots. Generally, they only take a slight sampling. This pasta they not only devoured, they fought for the last bite. The Maine lobster is perfectly done and the tomato cream
sauce may actually be divine. A soy tobiko garnish is an inspired Asian twist to this Italian linguine.
Lo mein and Singapore street noodles: P.F. Chang’s is one of America’s favorite Chinese-inspired restaurants for a reason. The food is consistently tasty and the Waikiki location offers some local flair only found here. The lo mein is a tried and tested favorite. These slightly thicker noodles are tossed with soy sauce, egg, fresh veggies and your choice of beef, pork, chicken or shrimp. Singapore street noodles are a thinner rice noodle with curry sauce, chicken, shrimp and vegetables. Either dish will keep a noodle lover happy. Try one or order both to share family-style around the table.
Spaghetti and meatballs: Nothing says Italian more than spaghetti and meatballs. While not a traditional menu item, Il Lupino will add its veal, pork and beef meatballs to any pasta. These massive meatballs are in no danger of rolling away from a casual sneeze, though they are all covered in cheese. Delicious parmesan to be exact. Il Lupino’s spaghetti with meatballs leaves nothing to be desired, except perhaps a longing for a larger stomach.
Hot udon with shrimp tempura: tunning ocean views and a romantic air aren’t the only things Miyako has to offer. The traditional Japanese cuisine will make even sushi-shy individuals into sashimi (raw fish) fiends. Hot udon soup comes with thick noodles in a savory broth. It’s paired with deepfried shrimp tempura and dipping sauce. Scrumptious and satisfying, this soup-and-shrimp combo is a fully cooked option if raw fish isn’t for you.
Spaghetti alla checca: Sometimes, a simple spaghetti dish is all you need. Arancino’s Spaghetti alla checca is just that. Spaghetti noodles, fresh mozzarella, basil and a classic tomato sauce come together in this elegant and thoroughly delicious pasta. Spaghetti alla pescatora: Seafood lovers will rejoice in this spaghetti dish that features shrimp, calamari, live clams, mussels and a garlicky white wine sauce. It’s clear why this pasta is consistently a guest favorite. Be sure to bring a camera, this dish is a feast for the eyes as well.
You may know Kualoa Ranch as the site where countless movies and television shows have been filmed, including Jurassic Park, Lost and Fifty First Dates. But to many of the ranch employees, film shoots and guest tours are the public side of the ranch that exists to keep the working ranch alive and running.
“Everybody knows us for Jurassic Park,” says Taylor Kellerman, director of diversified agriculture and land stewardship. “But there’s really no other place like this.”
It’s easy to see why. With stunning views of mountains and ocean, Kualoa Ranch is easily one of the most photogenic places on Earth. The ranch is nearly 4,000 acres of undeveloped land that encompass the Hakipuu, Kualoa and Kaaawa valleys.
There are other families or trusts on Oahu that own larger parcels of land in Hawaii, but Kualoa is unique because it is still a functional ranch and nature reserve without urbanization in prime Oahu real state.
Established in 1850, the property was initially used as a sugar plantation. Ruins still stand from Oahu’s first sugar mill located near the entrance. After several years of poor rainfall, sugar planting came to a halt and cattle ranching was introduced.
Today, the ranch has more than 600 head of cattle, and harvests roughly eight animals a month. As Kellerman says, the cattle are “grass fed and grass fi nished,” meaning they are raised freerange over the grassy slopes of the ranch all the way up through harvest. Almost all cows are grass fed at some point in their lives, but not all are allowed to graze their entire lives.
The cows are rotated every fi ve to seven days through different pastures to avoid over-grazing. Most pastures offer ocean vistas or panoramic Koolau mountain range views. Given the care, location and attention they receive, these must be some of the happiest cows in the world.
Interspersed throughout the pastures are groves of papaya, bananas, pineapple and other tropical plants. The goal is to utilize as much land as is possible with diversified crops. Produce is usually sold to local markets or restaurants.
Robust chickens are rotated through groves and their eggs are collected for consumption. Their grazing is an eco-friendly way to help manage weeds and pests while providing fertilizer. This type of nature-based solution to weed and pest management is epresentative of how Kualoa Ranch solves problems. The ranch also makes its own mulch and manure in an attempt to employ the full ecosystem Kualoa Ranch has to offer.
Part of that ecosystem is the Molii fi shpond. This is one of the few remaining ancient fi shponds on Oahu. It’s an estimated 800 years old and roughly 125 acres. In these historic waters, oyster farmers grow live oysters in floating cages that never rest on the bottom of the pond. Roughly 1,000 oysters are harvested weekly for local consumers and restaurant use. It is the only Department of Health certified oyster farm on Oahu.
Like the chickens, these oysters serve a dual purpose. “Each oyster can filter 50 gallons of water,” says Kellerman.
That helps to keep the fishpond waters clean for use by future generations. The fishpond is also home to one of Kualoa Ranch’s ultural tours, where guests can enjoy the pond’s serenity while earning about Hawaiian aquaculture.
Education about farming and Hawaiian history is vital to the ranch. In addition to its tours, local school groups can come to learn about nature and some of the farming work done on the ranch. While here, local keiki (children) can visit a well-loved petting zoo where they can get a personal introduction to farm animals.
Past the petting zoo that’s used for educational purposes are several small ponds for raising Pacifi c white tiger shrimp and tilapia. One unique aspect of Kualoa shrimp is that, when restaurants or markets
call in an order, the shrimp are caught that morning and served the same day. These are some of the freshest shrimp available on Oahu.
When chefs call in an order for shrimp, oysters or tilapia, sometimes they’ll also ask for naturally occurring plants like coconut or breadfruit that grow on Kualoa Ranch but aren’t specifically farmed. “We’ll get whatever we can for you,” says Kellerman, even if that means doing some foraging to find high quality plants when requested.
Despite its size and commitment to the land, Kualoa Ranch doesn’t produce a large quantity of food.
“We grow these killer quality products, but our volume isn’t huge,” says Kellerman.
That’s why Kualoa Ranch recently started food-tasting tours to give guests the opportunity to try the different foods the ranch yields. This allows visitors to see the working side of the ranch and taste the sweet and savory results of its sustainable farming.
If you’d like to try Kualoa products, prime steaks, oysters and shrimp can be ordered online and picked up at the ranch. The gift shop will sometimes carry fresh foods, and will almost always have frozen ground beef available for purchase. Burgers from the café are all from Kualoa ground beef.
Kualoa Ranch is more than a tourist attraction or Hollywood set. Chatting with employees makes it clear many feel they work the land in stewardship to maintain a part of Hawaiian history that is quickly disappearing. The owners employ four full-time staff whose sole purpose is to maintain and improve the property, often restoring streams or fields that are in disarray. These positions are completely privately funded and are one more way Kualoa Ranch attempts to keep the land timeless so that it can be enjoyed for generations to come.
On an island where space is in high demand and limited availability, Kualoa Ranch is firm in its adherence to non-urbanization and land stewardship. The ranch has evolved to be self-sustaining now that farming isn’t as economically viable as it once was.
As Kellerman says, “Every seat on a tour that’s sold keeps the land in perpetuity.”
For over 30 years, Cinnamon’s has been a staple of Windward Oahu’s breakfast and lunch scene. Always popular with locals, the restaurant has become increasingly popular with tourists in the past five years, sometimes causing diners to wait up to two hours for a table on busy mornings.
Owners Puna and Cricket Nam found themselves in a happy predicament. With such large crowds, “it was no longer a personal feeling,” he recounts. He wanted to maintain steady business, but also reduce congestion so that everyone could get a table in a reasonable amount of time.
The solution: a second location. In November of 2014, Cinnamon’s in Waikiki opened at the Ilikai hotel. This second location carries over the original restaurant’s breakfast delights, including multiple award-winning pancakes and benedicts.
The delectable guava chiffon pancakes recently placed No. 8 in Time Out Magazine’s national best pancake ranking. You simply have to try them. Sweet and tangy guava sauce cascades over fluffy pancakes all topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Or if chocolate is more your flavor, try Puna’s favorite, the red velvet pancake, that took six months to perfect.
In addition to breakfast and lunch, the Waikiki Cinnamon’s also offers dinner, a first for the restaurant. Kalbi short ribs have quickly become a house favorite for dinner, and the restaurant includes a lighter side menu for the health conscious among us. For the non-health conscious, know that pancakes are served all day.
With gorgeous harbor views, Cinnamon’s is growing in popularity in Waikiki not only for its comfort food, but also for ambiance. Friday evenings tend to be busy as diners can view fireworks from the Hilton Hawaiian Village. It also hosts live music with background artists playing Monday through Thursday from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. Additionally, the Ilikai has live music every Friday and Saturday that can be enjoyed at Cinnamon’s from 6 to 9 p.m.
Try out Cinnamon’s for ono local grinds (delicious local foods) any day of the week. Friendly staff, good food and a beautiful setting combine for a perfect dining experience.
On any given night on Kapahulu Avenue just outside of downtown Waikiki, hungry diners mill around in front of Uncle Bo’s restaurant. When asked why they hang around for a table when there are plenty of available eateries in the area, they simply reply that Uncle Bo’s is worth the wait.
Uncle Bo’s has been dishing out lip smacking foods for 10 years now in Honolulu. It’s been popular with repeat local guests and visitors alike.
When asked about its popularity, co-owner Ho Suk Lee says, “I think locals love coming to Uncle Bo’s because they know where to find value. They know at Uncle Bo’s they will share a fun experience with ono (delicious) food and great drinks!”
A must try is the Boca Rota as a pupu (appetizer) to start. The Boca Rota is perfectly toasted cheesy garlic bread topped with sliced prime rib and sautéed mushrooms. Bo’s has a long list of pupus, each one seemingly more appetizing than the last. Gather family and friends to make a meal of sampling appetizers for a flavorful dinner.
For those who prefer entrées to small plates, try the Baked Opah Mauna Kea. Lee describes the dish as “Opah that’s baked in our secret sauce topped with wok-fried shrimp. It’s a bit spicy but savory, tender and decadent at the same time. It’s been on our menu from Day One and we love it when our guests come back for it again and again.” To end on a sweet note, order Bo’s famous Hobos, taro beignets covered in powdered sugar and served with vanilla ice cream. These are decadence at its very best.
All of this gourmet food is served in an unassuming building with an inviting interior and a well-stocked, full bar. Various wine bottles adorn one bar wall, while an undersea mural covers another wall.
Avoid waiting for a table by making a reservation in advance or arriving early. You can also head out to its second location in Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore.
In Hawaii, look out for ono grinds or “tasty food.” Eat like a local on your stay and try some of the different and unique cuisines the Islands have to offer. Here are a few dishes that you might see on menus and think: “what’s that?”
HAUPIA: In its truest form, haupia is a coconut milk based traditional Hawaiian dessert with a texture similar to flan. The white gelatinous squares are a sweet luau staple. As with most traditional fare, it’s been given a modern kick in many restaurants that serve haupia pie with added flavors like chocolate or sweet potato. Pictured is a version of haupia pie with purple sweet potato mash and a macadamia crust.
BLUE HAWAII: No drink conjures images of crystal clear waves like a Blue Hawaii. Legendary bartender Harry Yee poured the first Blue Hawaii at what is now the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Visitors often asked for local style cocktails, but in the 1950s there was no such thing as Hawaiian cocktails, leaving Yee to often create them on the spot. He made the Blue Hawaii through experimenting with Blue Curaçao, vodka and rum to concoct one of the world’s most famous exotic drinks.
HULI HULI CHICKEN: It’s hard to go wrong with a well basted grilled chicken. Huli-Huli chicken ™ is just that. It starts with a perfect sauce. Recipes vary, but usually include shoyu (soy sauce), brown sugar, ginger, garlic, ketchup and sherry. The chicken is marinated in this salty-sweet sauce then constantly basted with it while grilled. The chicken is turned regularly on the grill hence the name “huli-huli,” which means: “to turn.”
SAIMIN: Similar to Japanese ramen, saimin is a broth-based soup with egg noodles and various meats, often including fish cake. As with most local grinds, saimin is influenced by many cultures. It borrows from ramen, Chinese mein and Filipino pancit. It’s developed into a beloved comfort food in Hawaii.
POI: In ancient Hawaii, if a bowl of poi was present and uncovered for eating, any arguments had to stop in respect of this revered staple. Poi is still a prominent part of Hawaiian culture and cuisine. It’s made by cooking and then pounding the root of the taro plant while adding water until it reaches the desired viscous consistency. When fresh, poi has a relatively neutral flavor. Over time, it becomes increasingly sour, which some prefer. Try it with a hint of sugar or as a side to lomilomi salmon.
TARO CHIPS: Taro chips are a modern twist on a traditional Hawaiian staple. The root or corm of the taro plant is peeled, thinly sliced, then either fried or baked to crisp perfection. You’ll taste salt and sweet as you bite into purple-streaked goodness. These tasty snacks are found at most local grocery stores or as a side at a variety of Waikiki restaurants.
GARLIC SHRIMP: Hawaii is one of the lead suppliers of shrimp in the U.S., so it should be no surprise that a delectable dish, such as the garlic shrimp, has come to satisfy locals and visitors alike. The shrimp, best when harvested from local farms, is pan fried with fresh garlic and laid on steaming white rice, often paired with mixed greens or macaroni salad. These fragrant crustaceans combine a blend of sea taste with rich garlic butter.
SHAVE ICE: Nothing satisfies a day in the sun and sweet cravings like shave ice. Unlike Mainland snow cones, shave ice has a finer consistency and usually has your choice of ice cream or azuki beans (sweet red beans), or both as its base, and shaved ice is piled high on top. Then comes the fun part. Customers can top their shave ice with any of their favorite flavors. The popular “rainbow” is a combination of strawberry, pineapple or lemon, and vanilla. Add a “snow-cap” — a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk on top — to finish off this cold confection.
LAULAU: Laulau translates to “leaf, leaf,” named after the taro leaves used to wrap the meat. Preparation starts with putting Hawaiian salt on either pork or chicken and butterfish, known locally as walu. The meat and fish are wrapped first in taro leaves, then ti leaves to help heat the meat while it’s being steamed. Traditionally laulau was steamed in an imu, a pit dug underground with heated lava rocks, on a layer of banana leaves. The bitterness of the taro leaves paired with the saltiness of the meat and butterfish make for a unique taste dating back to ancient Hawaii. These mouth-watering bundles can be found on most Hawaiian food menus or at a luau.
LOCO MOCO: There are many foods in Hawaii that are considered ono, but nothing does delicious super-sized like the loco moco. The palate pleaser originated in Hilo where local diners desired a taste of something different. The savory dish didn’t disappoint, and can now be found across the Islands. It starts with a bed of rice, topped with a hamburger patty, crowned with your choice of eggs, and smothered in gravy. A loco moco is commonly considered a breakfast item, but can be ordered any time of day. It’s perfect for a famished visitor.
POKE: Poke, (pronounced poh kay) is ubiquitous in any local gathering. No party would be complete without a tray of the savory fresh fish. Poke means “to cut or slice,” and the dish certainly features precision blade work to create perfectly cubed chunks of raw fish that is tossed with soy sauce, onion and other spices. If raw fish isn’t your favorite, there are other types of poke, including tofu poke or shrimp poke. There are also different flavors from spicy to slightly sweet using various types of fish, although ahi is most common. With all of the types of poke available, there’s certain to be one to suit your desires.
MALASADAS: Originally from Portugal, malasadas made their way to the islands with Portuguese plantation workers in the late 1800’s. These donut-like confections are made from fried dough sprinkled with granulated sugar. Other variations have fillings such as chocolate or custard.
Spam isn’t native to Hawaii, but it certainly has found a home here. The salty canned-meat has become a local favorite, even inspiring an annual Spam Jam Festival in April. Spam musubi is the quintessential spam treat, consisting of sticky rice topped with fried spam and wrapped with nori (seaweed).
This popular Hawaiian side-dish is often paired with poi. Lomilomi salmon is a mixture of raw, salted salmon with diced tomatoes and sweet Maui onions. Sometimes it also includes pepper flakes for a little spice. This dish is usually spotted at a luau or in the poke section at grocery stores.
Plate lunch is as simple as it is delicious. It usually consists of white rice, macaroni salad, and a choice of meat. Popular meats are steak, garlic shrimp, chicken katsu or kalua pork to name a few. Some of the best plate lunches are found on food trucks around the island, including Oahu’s North Shore. If you don’t want to take the drive to the North Shore, check out Pau Hana Market on Waikiki’s Beachwalk Dr. to try food trucks in a permanent installation.
Tropics Bar & Grill has long been a beachfront favorite for visitors in Waikiki. Located in the Hilton Hawaiian Village, this restaurant has ono (delicious) food and spectacular views.
Tropics recently welcomed a new Head Chef, Michael Brookshire. Chef Michael is a Culinary Institute of America grad, and he’s worked to update the lunch menu with his own signature style.
Before coming over to Tropics, Chef Michael was with Rainbow Lanai, also at the Hilton Hawaiian Village where he oversaw the breakfast buffet. While the pace is different at Tropics with three full-service meals, he’s happy to try something new.
“I love the challenge,” Chef Michael says. One of the fi rst challenges he received was updating the lunch menu. The most popular item on the new menu has been the BLT. It features premium bacon, house-made garlic aioli, and a house-made savory tomato jam.
“That tomato jam really bumps up the flavor. We cook it for eight hours,” says Chef Michael.
Also new to the menu are several burgers, including the Paniolo Burger and the B&B Burger.
“I don’t know about you,” Chef Michael says, “but once in a while I get that craving for a burger and I go out and it’s hit or miss. But the B&B Burger is a great one and the Paniolo Burger is another one. It’s just so full of ingredients and so satisfying.”
Tropics is also known for using locally-sourced ingredients where possible, including taro chips from the Hawaiian Chip Company, the Maui Taro Burger from the Hawaii Taro Company, and other seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner oceanside at Tropics. The restaurant is open from 7:00 a.m. to 10 p.m.