Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Exotic Hawaii - Part Two

So I hope this works for any of you who have plans to go to Hawaii soon, or dream of one day making it there.  A good guidebook will cover so much more of the kinds of activities and locales that people come to Hawaii for, but here are the places that my friends and family go to as much as we possibly can.  And hopefully when someone else is paying......!

 from Lanikai over the Koolaus

Right off the plane and set in the funky industrial zone just outside of the airport, Mitch's is hugely popular with sushi fans.  Run by an Australian, it is not remotely cheap but it is unbelievably fresh and there is a wide variety of fish to choose from.  If you want the true sushi nazi experience, (with none of the fish locally sourced - because Japanese people prefer fattier fish from colder waters), there is only one place to go: Sasabune on King St. in Honolulu.  You can wear your best Hawaiian shirt here,  it's dressier than Mitch's!  Just don't expect to order from a menu.

For gourmet eating, vivid flavors and stylish surroundings Alan Wong's is the place for high-end-all-the-way Asian fusion flavors - these are not the sweet pineapple-y style dishes you might find at many places.  Instead they are lean, earthy, savory, deeply layered and sometimes challenging.  It is grown up food.  Their honey comes from Paul Theroux - yes that Paul Theroux  - who keeps bees in Pupukea on the North Shore.  Not many people know that!

Hiroshi's Eurasion Tapas, and Town are two of my favorite Honolulu restaurants.  The latter, in the hilly  Kaimuki neighborhood will surprise you with it's locally sourced, slow-food, Mediterranean-rustic cooking.  It is not for anyone who likes bland food.  Flavors are bold.  Except for their polenta (which I adore).  Sit outside and let the breezes caress you, it gets noisy indoors.

Hiroshi's could make you weak at the knees.  I'm not the only one who feels this way.  For a Hiroshi's fan, this is true (I mean best!) Asian fusion, where the mostly Japanese-Chinese elements of the dishes maintain their integrity and are married in a delicious, beautiful way with down-to-the-ground French-style preparations rich with butter.  The flavors are tangy, haunting, suave, surprising.  The textures, colors will get your heart racing.  And don't forget to talk to Chuck Furuya, the sommelier who is 1000% local, and ALSO one of the most respected and recognized in America.  Hiroshi's is beautiful, classy, in a sleek quiet location near the courts where it is EASY TO PARK in the evening!  What more could you want?!

Finally in the 'burbs, a little dressier and a good option if you're staying at the Kahala Hotel, Le Bistro is in the Niu Valley shopping center (on the way back from Hanauma Bay).  It's a nice family place for special occasions.  The appetizers are interesting and delectable.  The mains less so, but solid traditional standards, whether you are eating with your big Chinese family (steamed fish, Chinese style) or Mainland family (steak!).  The chef/owner worked at Le Bernardin, in NYC.  It shows!  This food is good!


For just gorgeous atmosphere on the beach, the Kahala Hotel, Halekulani, The Addition at the Ilikai all are recommended at sunset.

Maui, upcountry

Hawaii has a million options for eating.  Some better than others.  For quick, cheap,very good food: South Shore Grill - to take to the beach.  For lunch, at the Hawaii State Museum:  "Downtown" is a lighter veggie intensive sister to Town, above.  

The classic Hawaiian lunch is what we call "saimin".  It's basically noodle soup and if you MUST be very local, you will eat it with "SPAM".  (Yes, you are not hallucinating.  S-P-A-M!)  Me, I could never get with the spam, so I recommend you skip it and just head for a good Japanese noodle (ramen) shop.  There are plenty in Waikiki and on King St in Honolulu.

Diamond Head Road, Waikiki

For old school Dim Sum Royal Garden at the Ala Moana Hotel.   Kirin on Beretania is my auntie from Hong Kong's (and many Japanese tourists') very favorite place.  Try the lamb in the little sesame studded pouches, and the sweet black bean dessert soup.  You cannot throw a rock without hitting a Japanese restaurant in Honolulu.  Adopt yourself a Japanese tourist (that won't be hard either) and just follow him/her to dinner!  Hakone at the Prince Hotel, Tsukuji and/or Shirokiya at the Ala Moana shopping mall will offer you, at price points from "haute" (Hakone) to "hooray" a buffet style comprehensive Japanese gastronomic experience.

And if you're craving good French bread (no, really!) AND lilikoi or coconut dream cake and don't want to drive all over town, St. Germain is an excellent choice.  The chains are all over town, so you won't have to go far!

Kaena Point, Oahu

Hawaii is really more about the outdoors.  But we have excellent places to see art in gorgeous settings.  The Contemporary Museum high above Makiki has fab views on the way up, a gorgeous garden to stroll through and a David Hockney set from the Magic Flute  - I'm just remembering, no, it's L'Enfant et les Sortileges.  Honolulu Academy of Art has excellent Asian collections and some quite nice post impressionist painting in a gorgeous building with multiple charming courtyards.  The cafe, which strangely, is not open on the weekend, is one of the few places (also strangely) away from Waikiki where you can eat outside, and they offer nice salads and a killer chocoate pot de creme!

The Polynesian Cultural Center is a "standby" halfway around the island.  Run by the Mormon academy it gives you a very good overview of Pacific island cultures if you have the time.  If you love music you must make time to see slack-key genius Ledward Kaapana (a national treasure) for his rendition of "I Kona" which will give you chills and thrills and the Cazimero Brothers for that smooth, soothing, soaring Hawaiian sound that goes down so nicely with ocean breezes and mai-tais. 

Nuuanu Valley on Oahu is known for it's wide variety of temples.  Worth a look.  Maui is full of farms of every sort.  Kauai is just beautiful beautiful beautiful.  And guess what, Hawaii (the "Big Island") has volcanoes!  

Check out my other Hawaii posts for other ideas and just a little Hawaii flav-ah!  Much aloha!


  1. Not only exotic for me, but also dream. How much I want to see and experience Hawaii!

  2. Beautiful and delicious… paradise indeed!