Hawaii

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Today Hawaii is all locally grown this and boutique farms that. But not long ago the islands’ restaurants served mostly mediocre fare, using produce flown in from the mainland. The watershed moment occurred about 20 years ago, when a group of ambitious, world-class chefs formed Hawaii Regional Cuisine (www.gohawaii.com). The chefs guaranteed small farmers that they would buy the farmers’ entire crop if they grew high-quality fruits and vegetables. Those original chefs – Peter Merriman, Roy Yamaguchi, Beverly Gannon, Alan Wong, and George Mavrothalassitis, among others – sparked a culinary coup. Now Hawaii nurtures specialty farmers, fruit growers, and cheese-makers. Ranchers rear grass-fed cows and aquatic farmers raise rare varieties such as black cod. And now a generation of young chefs is taking up the torch.

Top Restaurants in Hawaii

Alan Wong's

His flagship on Oahu over 15 years ago - eons in restaurant time - but Alan Wong keeps winning awards and gathering the kind of giddy reviews usually heaped on the young guns. One of the founders of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, the farm-to-table revolution that encouraged local farmers to grow high-quality produce, Wong invents riffs on the comfort foods of the many cultures informing Hawaii's melting pot cuisine. Poke, Hawaii's version of ceviche, shows up as Poki-Pines (spiky flash-fried wontons), while loco moco (a local hamburger, rice, and egg dish) is reinterpreted as unagi meat loaf, topped with a quail egg and flavored by kabayaki sauce. President Obama chose Wong as chef for his administration's debut congressional picnic. Try to find a higher level of approval. 2009 Smart Luxury Award winner

1857 S. King St., HI, 808-949-2526, www.alanwongs.com
Tags: smart splurge | expensive | seafood | hawaiian | smart luxury winner

Bar Acuda

On the North Shore (just west of Princeville in the sleepy town of Hanalei), this welcoming spot offers vintages from a short but excellent wine list to accompany seasonal tapas cooked up behind the teak bar by surfer chef Jim Moffat, such as lobster-stuffed squid or Kanuna Farms goat cheese with North Shore honeycomb.

5-5161 Kuhio Hwy., HI, 808-826-7081, www.restaurantbaracuda.com
Tags: moderate | trendy

CanoeHouse

The acclaimed CanoeHouse boasts a koa-decorated, open-air dining room right beside the ocean. Hawaii-born chef de cuisine Dee Ann Tsurumaki, whose recent tenure at The Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong elevated its signature restaurant Felix to one of the world's top 50, focuses her menu on Asian and Pacific Rim cuisine. Distinct offerings include Singaporean sweet-sour chilli prawns and scallops and Mongolian BBQ rack of lamb. Creatively presented, the dishes complement the restaurant's stunning location.

68-1400 Mauna Lani Drive, HI, 808-881-7911, http://www.maunalani.com
Tags: expensive

Chai's Island Bistro

A tasty Pacific Rim-fusion restaurant that showcases a daily turntable of top Hawaiian musicians along with a menu featuring a unique combination of tropical fare with European flare: fresh fish features (like grilled Mahi-Mahi with Thai Red Curry sauce) are pitted against stuffed quail, escargot, and frog legs - all cooked in the open-tiled kitchen under the hungry eyes of guests.

Aloha Tower Marketplace, 1 Aloha Tower Dr., HI, 808-585-0011, www.chaisislandbistro.com
Tags: moderate | great value | polynesian

Chef Mavro

A 2003 James Beard winner, Chef George Mavrothalassitis put Oahu on the international dining map thanks to his innovative takes on island specialties, commitment to seasonality, and passion for pairing food and wine. Expect his Provençal influences and dead-on palate to shine through every dish.

1969 S. King St., HI, 808-944-4714, www.chefmavro.com
Tags: expensive | notable chef

Diamond Head Market and Grill

For one of the best grilled ahi sandwiches around, drive around the base of Diamond Head, order from the window of this casual restaurant, and bite into it at a nearby picnic table. Homemade ice cream, pies, cheese selection, wines, and other picnic fare make it a great stop for any outing.

3158 Monsarrat Ave., HI, 808-732-0077, www.diamondheadmarket.com
Tags: family | budget | great value | market

Doraku

Created by Kevin Aoki, son of Benihana founder Rocky Aoki, Doraku adds an exotic touch to well-prepared Pan Asian favorites and turns out plate after gorgeous plate of jewel-like sushi. Artisanal sakes, many of which aren't available anywhere else in the U.S., are expertly paired by one of the state's few sake sommeliers.

2233 Kalakaua Ave., HI, 808-922-3323, www.dorakusushi.com
Tags: moderate | sushi

Flatbread Company

Homemade pizza gets socially responsible at this laidback eatery in Paia. The dough, made with nothing more than spring water, organic flour, kosher salt, and cake yeast, is baked in a wood-fired clay oven, while organic tomatoes, fresh herbs, and other natural ingredients jazz up the sauce. Toppings include free-range chicken and nitrate-free pepperoni.

89 Hana Hwy., HI, 808-579-8989, www.flatbreadcompany.com
Tags: moderate | pizza

Giovanni’s White Shrimp Truck

Not quite white from the layers of affectionate graffiti scribbled across its hull over the years, it's still an essential North Shore stop in Kahuku for grilled, fresh-from-the-sea shrimp served with rice.

Mobile -- Numerous Locations, HI,
Tags: seafood | local favorite

Grandma's Coffee House

Organically grown in the fertile, volcanic soil on the slopes of Haleakala, a cup of Grandma's Maui Coffee - roasted on site - is a must for java aficionados. The bright, cheerful eatery also offers rotating lunch specials like beef stew and chicken curry. Sandwiches, loaded with fresh Kula vegetables, are perfect to pack for a hike.

153 Kula Hwy., Kula, HI, 808-878-2140, www.grandmascoffee.com
Tags: family | budget | great value | diner

Hamura's Saimin

Ramen is a local comfort food, and this beloved institution has been serving up the island’s best for 40-plus years. Pull up a seat at the counter and order some teriyaki sticks on the side.

2956 Kress St., HI, 808-245-3271
Tags: budget | local favorite | japanese

Helena’s Hawaiian Food

Since 1946, Helen Kwock Chock has been serving hungry Hawaiians a menu featuring the likes of tripe stew, luau squid, and fried butterfish that, in 2000, snagged the petite chef a James Beard Award. Menu items (combination and ala-carte) are all priced from $1-$18. Open Tuesdays through Fridays only.

2009 SMART LUXURY WINNER

Unassuming Helena's Hawaiian Food, on Oahu, serves outstanding local fare that's garnered plaudits from the James Beard Foundation. See more Smart Luxury Award winners

1240 North School St., 808.845.8044, www.helenashawaiianfood.com
Tags: great value | seafood | local favorite | smart luxury winner

Hilo Bay Café

It may be located in a nondescript mini mall, but self-taught chef Joshua Kettner’s café is worth seeking out for scrumptious standards like slow-cooked pork ribs, lobster salad and molton chocolate lava cake.

315 Makaala St., HI, 808-935-4939
Tags: family | moderate | comfort food

Huggo's on the Rocks

Few Kona restaurants have a waterfront view as appealing as that of this open-air eatery, the light version of the more upscale Huggo's restaurant next door. Lunch fare includes juicy burgers made with Angus beef and generously stacked sandwiches. If you're looking for a casual place to watch the sunset over cocktails and appetizers, this is it.

75-5828 Kahakai Rd., HI, 808-329-1493, www.hugos.com
Tags: moderate | great value | waterfront

Hula Grill

Nab a porchside seat at this oceanfront restaurant for some of the best sightlines of Waikiki without getting sand in your shoes. Breakfasts of banana-and-macadamia-nut pancakes and dinners of ribs or grilled ono with pineapple salsa have made it a local favorite.

2335 Kalakaua Ave., HI, 808-923-4852, www.hulagrillwaikiki.com
Tags: family | moderate | local favorite | signature cocktails | editor pick

Humuhumunukunukuapua'a

Brilliant sunset views add to the romantic ambiance of this resort standout (named after the state fish) that serves beautifully plated Polynesian and Hawaiian-inspired cuisine to diners in thatched huts over a saltwater lagoon. The seafood is excellent and fresh-you can even select your own lobster straight out of the lagoon.

3850 Alanui Dr., Wailea, HI, 800-888-6100, www.grandwailea.com
Tags: expensive | seafood | patio | waterfront

Indigo

This downtown Honolulu hotspot serves eclectic Eurasian fare - think goat cheese wontons with four-fruit sauce and sweet-and-sour baby back ribs with ginger soy sauce - and pairs it with a fun cocktail menu.

1121 Nu’uanu, HI, 808-521-2900, www.indigo-hawaii.com
Tags: moderate | global fusion

Joe’s Simply Delicious Food

Celebrity Chef Beverly Gannon's famous flagship restaurant is a tribute to comfort food (seafood pot pie is a staple) and her rock n' roll stage-designing hubby, Joe. The airy, deck-like interior is clothed in wooden planks and features panoramic views of the Pacific and Haleakala, as well as a 43-foot-long copper bar handcrafted by a local Maui artist. The meat loaf, pork chop, and ribs, when paired with a dirty martini, are as fantastic as the fresh fish special. Don't miss the chocolate bread pudding for dessert.

131 Wailea Ike Place, HI, 808-875-7767, www.bevgannonrestaurants.com/joes
Tags: moderate | views | notable chef

Kilauea Fish Market

As the name suggests, fresh fish, prepared any way you want it, is the specialty at this affordable, laidback eatery known for its tasty homemade sauces. Dine outside under the avocado tree.

4270 Kilauea Lighthouse Rd., HI, 808-828-6244
Tags: family | moderate | seafood | editor pick

Kintaro

The sushi bar alone is worth the stop at this fine Japanese restaurant, a standout on the islands. Tempura, sukiyaki, soba and teriyaki, all elegantly plated, are delicious.

4-370 Kuhio Hwy., HI, 808-822-3341
Tags: moderate | trendy | sushi

Ko Restaurant

Ko is the Hawaiian word for sugarcane, the emblem for this inspired restaurant that celebrates Hawaii's unique, multi-ethnic culinary tradition - a blend of Filipino, Japanese, Portuguese, Hawaiian, Chinese, and Korean influences. Chef Tylun Pang, a Hawaiian native with experience working around the globe, finds harmony in these diverse cuisines with savory offerings like shichimi with an orange-ginger miso sauce and a zesty tofu stir-fry featuring vegetables grown in Kula.

4100 Wailea Alanui Dr., HI, 808-875-4100, www.fairmont.com/kealani
Tags: asian

La Mer

At the Halekulani hotel, locals and tourists alike splurge on chef Yves Garnier's French specialties made with fresh island ingredients. Dinner begins with a glass of champagne, a fitting way to start an evening to be filled with some of the most elegant food on Oahu: where else can you find foie gras prepared two ways on the same menu, or fresh truffles simply adorned so their earthy flavor can be appreciated?

2199 Kalia Rd., HI, 808-923-2311, www.halekulani.com
Tags: smart splurge | expensive | french

Lahaina Grill

Lahaina Grill is a permanent fixture on lists of "Best Maui Restaurants," and for good reason. Inventive offerings like Maui onion-crusted seared ahi and Kona-coffee-roasted lamb paired with fine wines (choose from 350 vintages) please sophisticated palettes. Chef-owner Jurg Munch likes to use fresh, locally grown produce to create the bistro's specials. Don't skip the from-scratch triple berry pie.

127 Lahainaluna Rd., HI, 808-667-5117, www.lahainagrill.com
Tags: expensive | hawaiian

Legends Seafood House

Dim Sum at the boisterous Legends Seafood House in Chinatown is an after-church tradition for many local families - follow their lead and try to nab a seat near the kitchen so you can have first pick of plump and slightly sticky shrimp dumplings, tender pork buns, and comforting cheong fun, the toothsome rice noodle rolls that arrive piping hot and blanketed with sweet soy sauce.

100 Beretania St., HI, 808-532-1868
Tags: budget | great value | seafood

Mala Ocean Tavern

Spectacular oceanfront views and light Mediterranean-influenced plates like seared tombo bruschetta and beet and Kula goat cheese salad are the highlights of this Lahaina eatery. True to their menu concept - small plates, organic whenever possible, whole grains, no preservatives, and no hydrogenated oils - the food is tasty and healthy to boot.

1307 Front St., Lahaina, HI, 808-667-9394, www.malaoceantavern.com
Tags: moderate | editor pick

Mama's Fish House

This local hideaway set in a coconut grove on a white-sand beach near Pa'ia town is hands-down one of the island's best seafood restaurants. Old Polynesia lives in the décor, warm service, and especially in the cuisine: Try the opakapaka marinated in coconut milk and lime, Tahitian-style, served in a Maui coconut.

799 Poho Pl., HI, 808-579-9764, www.mamasfishhouse.com
Tags: smart splurge | expensive | seafood | editor pick

Mei Sum

There's a good chance you'll dine with students from the Buddhist school down the block at this tiny, quiet Dim Sum restaurant where there's no need to wait for the cart - if the restaurant isn't crowded, you're welcome to inspect the day's offerings yourself.

65 N Pauahi St., HI, 808-531-3268
Tags: budget | local favorite | dim sum

Merriman's

Located in the upcountry near Parker Ranch, this well-appointed dining room opened by Peter Merriman, a pioneer of Hawaii Regional cuisine, offers delectable entrees from the turf as well as the surf. The restaurant prides itself on using high-quality, fresh, locally grown ingredients, so the menu changes with the farmers' growing seasons. The gourmet vegetarian dishes are as popular as the prime rib and fresh seafood - you can expect a full dining room at lunch and dinner.

65-1227 Opelo Rd., HI, 808-885-6822, http://www.merrimanshawaii.com
Tags: expensive

Merriman’s Kapalua

Famed chef Peter Merriman helped pioneer Hawaii Regional Cuisine, an approach to food that honors the connection between the farmer, the cook, the community, and the earth. The Maui outpost of Merriman's renowned Big Island eatery presents a candle-lit terrace and largely organic offerings such as Hirabara Farm greens, Kama'aina clams, and fresh-caught ahi sashimi.

1 Bay Club Place, HI, 808-669-6400, www.merrimanshawaii.com
Tags: moderate | seafood | organic

Miyo's

Overlooking the Waiakea river, this humble, family-run Japanese restaurant, with its wooden tables and sliding rice paper doors, serves simple, delicious dishes like grilled salmon over salad, tonkatsu, and miso butter fish.

400 Hualani St., HI, 808-935-2273
Tags: budget | great value | japanese

Nori's Saimin and Snacks

This hidden treasure of a noodle shop is located down a non-descript driveway across from the Hilo Lanes bowling alley. Many consider it to serve the island's best saimin, a local food staple of noodles in a flavorful broth. Besides more than a dozen noodle soup options, Nori's also prepares every variety of plate lunch, a great opportunity to sample island favorites from teri beef to kalbi ribs to grilled ahi. Save room for haupia and chocolate mochi cookies.

688 Kinoole St., HI, 808-935-9133
Tags: budget

Opal Thai food

Some of Oahu's best food is served out of mobile lunchwagons and while many visitors focus on sampling the highly publicized shrimp trucks, they unfortunately overlook the island's most delicious Thai cuisine. Opal Thai, located in a circle of lunchwagons across from a McDonald's in Haleiwa, is a favorite among locals for its fresh tofu rolls, fiery papaya salad, rich curries and innovative noodle dishes—try the garlicky noodles or the drunken noodles. Sitting under a tree on the picnic bench with a cold Thai iced tea is truly a pleasure after a hot morning at the beach.

Lunchwagon lot across from McDonald's in Haleiwa, 66-460 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-381-8091
Tags: budget | great value | thai | takeout

Paia Fish Market

If you're in the town of Paia, don't miss the chance to taste a perfectly grilled fish sandwich topped with coleslaw. A casual atmosphere belies the culinary excellence of this laidback establishment, a longtime favorite of residents and visitors alike. Patrons can chow down while marveling at the beautiful gyotaku prints (an ancient oriental artwork) of the fish you'll be eating.

2 Baldwin Ave., HI, 808-579-8030, www.paiafishmarket.com
Tags: seafood | local favorite

Pineapple Grill

Mouth-watering aromas waft from the exhibition kitchen at this fabulously designed resort restaurant overlooking lovely golf greens. Fusion dishes such as lobster coconut Thai bisque and furikake-crusted calamari characterize the menu, and the chef strives to incorporate Maui-grown ingredients like poha berries from Kula and pohole ferns from Hana.

200 Kapalua Dr., HI, 808-669-9600, www.pineapplekapalua.com
Tags: expensive | seafood

Pita Paradise

This open-air café, a local favorite, serves up delicious Mediterranean fare like kebabs, falafel, lamb gyros with ziziki sauce, and Italian pasta with jumbo shrimp. The owner catches fresh fish for the daily specials, and the homemade hummus is a must-try. Still have room? Try the baklava ice cream cake.

Kihei Kalama Village, 1913 South Kihei Rd., HI, 808-875-7679
Tags: budget

Polynesia Cafe

Their motto is “gourmet food on paper plates,” and the offerings are certainly worthy of fine china. Try the macadamia nut-and-herb-crusted ahi. They also serve breakfast.

Ching Young Village, 5-5190 Hwy., HI, 808-826-1999
Tags: moderate | seafood

Postcards Café

Fresh fish and vegetarian entrees are the highlight at this excellent gourmet natural food restaurant located in a 100-year-old plantation home listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

5-5075A Kuhio Hwy., HI, 808-826-1191, www.postcardscafe.com
Tags: moderate | trendy | vegetarian

Romano's Macaroni Grill

The latest addition to the Queens' MarketPlace at Waikoloa Beach Resort is Romano's Macaroni Grill. The Tuscan-inspired, family-friendly chain restaurant wins over diners with its exhibition-style kitchen and extensive array of menu options. Tasty Italian food is hard to come by in the islands, which is why residents flock here to enjoy classic pasta dishes, brick oven pizzas, and flavorful antipasti. The food is fresh and affordable, and take-out is also available.

201 Waikoloa Beach Dr, HI, www.macaronigrill.com
Tags: family | moderate | italian

Romy's Shrimp and Prawn Shack

There are dozens of shrimp shacks on the North Shore, but there's always a line at bright-red Romy's because it's the only shack that raises its own shrimp. Place your order for shrimp or gigantic prawns (locals eat them drenched in garlic butter) and in a few minutes you'll be called to pick up the piping-hot crustaceans at the window.

56781 Kamehameha Hwy., HI, 808-232-2202, www.romyskahukuprawns.org
Tags: budget | seafood

Roy's Poipu Bar and Grill

Roy’s Hawaiian fusion, showcasing fresh island seafood like the signature basil-seared ono with Thai red curry and lobster sauce, is consistently rated among Hawaii’s top restaurants. Watch the talented chefs cook east-meets-west specialties in the open kitchen.

2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr., HI, 808-742-5000, www.roysrestaurant.com
Tags: smart splurge | expensive | notable chef | prix-fixe | hawaiian | editor pick

Roy's Waikaloa Bar and Grill

Hawaii’s most famous chef opened a new location of his namesake chain when, and it doesn’t disappoint. Favorites such as his signature Blackened Island Ahi (tuna) and Ahi Poke are served in a casual, open-air venue.

250 Waikoloa Beach Dr., HI, 808-886-4321, www.roysrestaurant.com
Tags: moderate | great value | seafood | notable chef | editor pick

Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar

One of Kapalua's most noteworthy restaurants, Sansei features D.K. Kodama's imaginative sushi using ingredients such as foie gras and roe aioli. After 10 pm on Thursday and Friday nights, the extravagant sushi rolls and appetizers are half-price - truly an unbelievable bargain. Other island outposts can be found on Oahu and the Big Island.

600 Office Rd., Kapalua Resort, HI, 808-669-6286, www.sanseihawaii.com
Tags: moderate | seafood | sushi | hotel restaurant

Simply Natural

A welcome stop on the way to or from Waipio Valley, this natural foods deli makes delicious smoothies and sandwiches with fresh, healthy ingredients. Customer favorites include the homemade baked goods, egg salad sandwiches (made with organic, free-range eggs), turkey melts (made with organic, free-range turkey), taro-banana pancakes, and organic iced chai tea. The small seating area has grown to accommodate 47, and there is live music on the first, second, and fourth Friday of the month.

45-3625 Mamane St., HI, 808-775-0119, www.hawaiisimplynatural.com
Tags: budget | great value | organic

South Shore Tiki Lounge

Sold as pies or by the slice, the pizza menu is extensive, but the winner at this kitschy joint is the grilled sausage sandwich. Choose from bratwurst, kielbasa, Portuguese sausage, and more. Wash it down with a cold beer at the bar, and stay to watch Kihei's late night scene unfold on the dance floor after 10 pm.

1913 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, HI, 808-874-6444, www.southshoretikilounge.com
Tags: budget | pizza

Tex's Drive-In

Driving along the Hamakua Coast? Stop here to refuel with Tex’s famous supersized malasadas (Portugese donuts) infused with Guava jam, chocolate pudding and chantilly cream. Also recommended: their plate lunches (salty meat served with a scoop of rice and macaroni salad).

45-690 Pkalana St., HI, 808-775-0598
Tags: family | budget | comfort food

The Beach House

On the waterfront in Poipu, chef Todd Barrett serves his take on local line-caught fish (like a Wasabi-encrusted snapper) and island produce including Kilauea tomatoes and Omao baby greens - plus a sublime molten chocolate tart.

5022 Lawai Rd., HI, 808-742-1424, www.the-beach-house.com
Tags: expensive | seafood | waterfront

The Coffee Shack

A hole-in-the-wall local favorite, come for the Kona coffee and casual fare on a cliff-top lanai with smashing views of Kealakekua Bay below.

83-5799 Mamalahoa Hwy., HI, 808-328-9555, www.coffeeshack.com
Tags: views | cafe | local favorite

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