We just got back an eat-till-you-drop, digest-while-tanning trip from Oahu. Spent 3 days at Ko Olina (leeward side), and 3 days at Waikiki. To give you context, we're not the types to necessarily to seek out the fancy places, and ambiance is only a consideration after the fact (i.e. what do we need to wear). But I will admit though, French Laundry still remains to be my favorite restaurant of all time with Chez Panisse as a second.
Food recs at the leeward/waipahu side:
- Poke Stop - great poke from a quality of fish/shellfish standpoint, traditional and fusion marinades, and an amazing oyster po' boy (which was good as it gets in New Orleans - not so for the beignets). They have a steamed shrimp one too which we didn't try. Unfortunately, they were out of the soft shell crab. The chef, Elmer Guzman, used to be the executive chef at Sam Choy's Diamond Head. He said that he's going to start shipping poke to CA soon (mix when ready) - which we'll definitely partake in.
- Tanioka's Fish Market - great poke as well, but more traditional from a marinade standpoint.
The Poke Stop has a couple of tables outside that you can eat at. Tanioka's is takeout only. Both have 10+ types to choose from. To try as much as possible, order the small tasting (sauce size) containers. Both joints close fairly early (5 or 6 pm) and have bentos available. Locals argue over which one is better. Tanioka's being the older, more established joint. For my palate I liked Poke Stop's more as I like to taste more of the fish/shellfish.
Unfortunately, having been to Roy's probably upwards of 5 times at various locations over the last 10 years, this one (at Ko Olina) fell very very short for whatever reason.
In general, there are choices on this side of the island (e.g Hapa Grill is edible), but just not absolutely fantastic choices relative to Waikiki. (Though to be fair, we did not make it to Highway inn, Shige's or Sato's, En Fuego's which were on our list.)
Also went up to the north shore to do the Romy's vs. Giovanni's tasting. We liked Romy's more for the quality of the shrimp (freshness). Giovanni's garlic sauce was better though with smaller shrimp (which can be sweeter). Bring your own beer to both.
At Waikiki - we spent the majority of our dinners at izakaya places (you can never have too many!), having done so 2 years ago to many of the same places on our last trip. (As a reference, we also used to live in LA and frequented the Gardena/Torrance places there.)
Mr. Ojisan's- amazing chicken kara age (I've eaten many around the world - this one was lightly coated with either a spiced rice flour/potato starch equivalent and still juicy inside). They are open for lunch - where you'll see locals ordering off the lunch menu (ramen/bentos), but you can order off the dinner menu as well.
Hiroshi's Fusion tapas - we had high expectations given the hype - the wine assortment was quite extensively complementary to the food (i.e. asian fusion) and very well priced, but the food was ok for our tastes (we tried 5 dishes-poke, softshell crab, shrimp, etc.). The rice crackers served with wasabi cream (in lieu of bread) was the most memorable item. Most people were ordering dishes and steak (the restaurant is part of DK's group), so I guess we should have taken that cue...(In all fairness, I think others might enjoy the restaurant more - in my humble opinion, fusion is hard to do very well.) We went to Izakaya Nonbei for a second meal that night.
Izakaya Nonbei - fried kampachi, oden, cucumber salad. This is a very homey type spot. (Tokkuri-Tei is another one of our homey type favorites, but we couldn't get there this time).
Momomo's - Still hands down my favorite out of these izakaya places. Although the decor is quite slick, the food is fantastic. Ahi poke, garlic shrimp (small and sweet! and arguably better than Romy's or Giovanni's depending on your preferences), teba-saki (hubby loved this dish, though I still prefer the one at Furaibo in Gardena/LA which is less sweet, more spice), tofu cooked at your table (make sure you DON'T listen to the waiter - remove the cover half way thru if you like a more delicate tofu as opposed to firmer), hamachi sashimi was particularly good that night, good green veggies, and the sake tasting was quite fun (of course).
Other meals (mostly lunches) were local grindz in Waikiki:
Ono - fantastically clean-tasting (light) and fresh, hawaiian food. I absolutely love the lomi salmon there (I don't like salmon in general, but the way they do it cuts all the fishy taste out). The pig and the watercress soup (which is really chicken soup with fresh cut watercress) is also very good.
Side Street Inn (recently written up in Saveur, so I won't go into much detail)- Ahi poke (this one and Poke Stop's were tied in our minds), pork chops, green salad, ribs, fried rice. We ordered extra to take on the plane the next day.
Noodle places - we tried quite a few joints. Three of the better ones were:
Saito's - chewy fried noodles are absolutely delectable. Well balanced - not oily, over sauced, nor eggy.
Taishoken - for tsukemen and really good fried gyoza (lots of juice inside and just the right thickness of skin).
There was another place (can't remember the name) that we happened upon where it appeared to be locals only. The saimin was just right, though the waitress was not particularly helpful in recommendations given the extensive menu. (Think burgers, noodles, traditional plates). It's located on the cross street just south of Mr. Ojisan's towards the west.
After eating so much it was hard to hit the sweet places, but someone we always did make room for malasadas at Leonard's - for breakfast, and after lunch/dinner dessert. We never made it to Champion's though, so we'll have to do the comparison on the next trip. It's just that Leonard's is so convenient located on Kapahulu - the main drag on which you'll find Ono, Nonbei, Ojisan, L&L, etc.
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