Hawaii‘s food scene is being uprooted and revolutionized. A new breed of chefs and culinary pioneers are taking the state back to its roots with modern interpretations of dishes like laulau and poi. And as restaurants deviate from the traditional Pan-Asian cuisine that has dominated the islands for the past two decades, chefs turn their focus to simplicity and sustainability, partnering with local fishermen, ranchers, and farmers. Now, all eyes are on Hawaii.
Eating House 1849
Restaurant, Asian, Seafood, Fusion
1849 Spicy Ramen Bowl | Courtesy of Eating House 1849
Roy Yamaguchi has been a longtime leader in the Hawaiian food scene. But rather than go his usual route of Pan-Asian fusion, Yamaguchi brings something unique to the islands: Eating House 1849. Named after one of the first restaurants in Hawaii, EH pays homage to island culinary heritage with dishes such as short rib “beef luau” with sweet potato gratin and waiahole poi and beef loco moco with fried rice and kalei egg – all sourced from local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen.
A fairly new resident on Honolulu’s culinary scene, BLT Market highlights the best that Oahu has to offer in both seasonal produce and local ingredients. The menu changes daily – examples include charred octopus topped with Marcona almond gremolata and Moloka’i ribeye with Ali’i mushroom purée and truffle jus – and the restaurant dedicates itself to supporting the sustainable farming cause, partnering with local purveyors to source most of its ingredients.
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Mahina & Sun’s, the fourth eatery by Honolulu native and chef Ed Kenney, is all about highlighting local, organic ingredients by way of modernized, and perfectly executed, home-style island fare. With a group? Opt for the “family feast” (pictured): whole mochiko-fried snapper, kualoa oysters, roasted roots, pohole salad with crispy shrimp, buttered ulu with chile pepper water aioli, housemade pickles, hapa rice, and salted Macadamia nut pavlova with lilikoi and cream.
Hu Tieu Ga: J. Ludovico chicken & broth, egg, cracklings, garlic, shiitake, chrysanthemum, fresh rice noodles | Courtesy of The Pig and The Lady
From a pop-up to a brick-and-mortar establishment, The Pig and The Lady continues to draw a crowd. Headed by Chef Andrew Le and his mother, Loan Le, The Pig and The Lady fuses Loan’s Vietnamese cooking style with Andrew’s culinary skills, a melding of forces that turns out a stellar, globally inspired menu – think beef tongue marsala or uni ragu with black sesame tagliatelle – which changes every few months. But what has gained the most attention is the primal offering: roasted pig head, porchetta, or brisket served with a slew of sauces and side dishes.
Although interest in Pan-Asian cuisine has faded over the years, Chef Chai continues to shine. Known for his dedication to regional cuisine, Chai exemplifies all that is the cultural diversity of Hawaii. Using fresh Hawaiian ingredients and Asian-inspired flavors, Chef Chai dishes out upscale plates such as hokkaido scallops with truffle risotto and lobster reduction, and Asian-braised kurobuta osso bucco – a recipe from his parent’s restaurant in Thailand.
If there’s anything Hawaii does right, it’s down-home, traditional island cuisine. And Helena’s Hawaiian Food may just be the best spot in all of Oahu. Opening in 1946, Helena’s has since made a name for itself – a humble eatery serving up things like kalua pig cooked in an imu (an underground oven), laulau, lomi salmon, short ribs pipikaula-style, and haupia. All of the traditional eats are so good that they were crowned with a James Beard Award.
Celebrated chef Alan Wong has been revolutionizing island fare since opening Alan Wong’s Restaurant in 1993. He continues to strive for excellence amidst up-and-coming rival chefs, dedicated to highlighting regional cuisine, local products, and fine technique. And the innovative, thoughtful menu – inspired by the culturally diverse landscape of Hawaii – is always on point with options such as twice-cooked short rib kalbi-style with gingered shrimp and kochu jang sauce and Maui beef tenderloin with keahole lobster and foie gras nage. So if you’re looking to “taste Hawai’i,” this is it.
What’s better than brunch? Island-style brunch. At Koko Head Cafe, feast on things like breakfast congee with cinnamon-bacon croutons, kimchi-bacon-cheddar scones, bibimbap with kimchi, egg, and crispy garlic rice, or eggs haloa with poached eggs, poi biscuit, coconut luau, and sour poi hollandaise. Chef Lee Anne Wong, the culinary mastermind behind this breakfast joint, has developed an incredible media presence after her first appearance on Season One of Top Chef just over a decade ago.
Inside a hip, cool brick-lined space, Livestock Tavern strays away from the usual suspects in Hawaii with seasonally inspired American fare and hand-crafted cocktails. Located in Honolulu’s trendy Chinatown Art District, Livestock Tavern focuses on simple, comforting dishes alongside a carefully curated menu of wine, beer, and spirits. Find things like osso bucco with andouille sausage, white bean, and kale ragu, crispy turkey gizzards with wild mushroom gravy, and butternut squash-stuffed pasta with bourbon-maple brown butter and mustard greens.
Sushi Izakaya Gaku is as much of a Honolulu icon as it is a favorite amongst visitors and tourists. The menu is based on traditional Japanese eats, and diners can expect plenty of raw fish, omakase (chef-selected dishes), and seasonal specials – for example, wild yellowtail – served izakaya-style. In Japan, izakaya is a restaurant that serves small plates alongside libations. Insider’s tip: a sashimi and sushi omakase combination is not on the menu, but if you ask, you shall receive.