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Most of the eating was done in Honolulu with a few places hit during a self-driving circle tour.
Hau Tree Lanai: Being that we stayed at the New Otani Kaimana hotel where the restaurant is located, we ended up for breakfast here a few times. Really wonderful views on Kaimana Beach, especially as the sun rose. We even caught a few rainbows here. And great service, with staff members who go out of their way to make you feel at home, and remember you on subsequent days. The prices are high, but you’re paying both for generous portions and a nice view. I had some poi pancakes (which didn’t really taste like poi) with sausage (links and Portguese and a slice of spam) and scrambled eggs, plus a quarter pineapple. The choice of lilikoi, maple, or coconut syrup for pancakes is a nice touch.
On another day, we tried the French toast with macadamia nuts, shredded coconut, and berries (good but kind of standard) as well as the fried egg and scrambled eggs breakfast, opting for kimchee fried rice. The fried rice and egg plate was huge with a ton of kimchee, cauliflower, and other vegetables tossed into the fried rice. I liked Grandma G’s kimchee fried rice slightly more, as this felt a bit too healthy for what I was craving.
Koko Head Cafe: Wonderful menu and excellent food. Started with some hot coffee and a glass of lilikoi juice. Yum. I loved my breakfast bibimbap! A big pile of bacon, Portuguese sausage, heritage ham, kimchi, soy-mirin shiitake mushrooms, ong choy, sesame carrots & bean sprouts, sunny up egg, served over crispy garlic rice in a hot skillet. A wonderful mixture of textures and flavors, and I loved scraping the crispy bits of rice off the skillet. My husband also liked his Volcano eggs, baked eggs, spicy tomato based sauce, cheddar cheese, with Portuguese sausage. It was kind of like a Hawaiian version of eggs in purgatory / shakshuka. We would definitely be regulars if we lived nearby. Lots of other tasty things on the menu.
Morning Glass Coffee: Two Egg-a-muffins and two Hawaiian coffees of the day (orange caturra peaberry). Great vibe, nice service. The breakfast sandwiches are made of a housemade english muffin, applewood smoked bacon, tomato jam, an over easy egg, gruyere cheese, and baby arugula. The over easy egg gets everywhere when you bit into it! So be warned. It’s totally delicious, though. The tomato jam and arugula help offset the richness of the cheese and egg really well. We would definitely be regulars here as well if we lived in Honolulu.
We also hit up the KCC Farmers Market for breakfast one day - see below.
Ono Seafood: Tried to go, found they were closed until Weds 1/6. Ugh!
Da Hawaiian Poke Company: Tried to go, then found they were closed until Tues 1/5. I started to sense…a pattern.
Poke Stop: This is a counter inside of Hawaii’s Favorite Kitchens, next to Rainbow Drive In. We did two medium poke bowls. One sesame ahi over sushi rice, the other shoyu over sushi rice. The sesame ahi was good, and had a bit of heat to it, that built up over time, but unfortunately, the shoyu ahi poke was way too salty. We didn’t finish it, and the sushi rice didn’t help (white rice may have). They also go pretty heavy on the seaweed, which I know some people like, but isn’t my preference. Overall, OK, not great.
Hawaii Sushi: This unassuming sushi and poke shop is across the street from Pioneer Saloon. They usually have a special of the day that goes fast (such as salmon poke bowls for $6, but only 30 of them). We ordered one ahi poke bowl and one ahi avocado poke bowl and sat outside. The poke was fresh, tasty, and well balanced in terms of shoyu, onions, seaweed, etc. and served with ginger and wasabi on the side. I enjoyed my bowl a lot, and the daily special is really a steal.
Kahuku Superette: Famous, and for a reason! Their sauce has an interesting level of funk/depth. They only offer shoyu ahi, limu ahi, spicy ahi, and tako poke varieties. We ordered a medium with rice, to share, which netted out at 0.8 lb of food. They basically dump a bunch of rice into a container with poke on top. Tasty, but kind of a light lunch. We should have ordered the large. Also many of the ahi cubes were quite large and still stuck together, and required some maneuvering to eat. I think I prefer a more finely chopped poke. But the flavors were great.
Fresh Ahi Off the Boat: A tiny mom and pop shop with customizable poke bowls where you can choose white, brown, black, or sushi rice, and a number of creative toppings from tempura flakes, masago, natto, kimchee, and more. Fairly new. We ordered two bowls off the menu, and they both came with the choice of miso soup or salad. I had the Tsunami bowl with with shoyu poke, teriyaki sauce and spicy mayo glaze, radish sprouts, raw cucumber, red onions, jalapeño slice, and a generous heaping of shredded nori, over white rice. This was delicious. Loved the combo of shoyu, teriyaki, and spicy mayo glaze, mixed with crunchy elements like red onion and sprouts. My husband got a the local bowl with lomi salmon, kalua pork, and his choice of poke. He chose the spicy ahi poke, a nice helping of creamy and spicy tuna, minced very small, like a spicy tuna roll. I would definitely go back, and I like that they are open late-ish for dinner (until 9pm)!
MALASADAS & SHAVE ICE
Malasadas at Leonard’s Bakery: We ordered four malasada puffs to share: haupia, dobash (chocolate), macadamia, and pineapple (the flavor of the month). The line looks long but moves quickly. Our four malasada puffs were served warm. Two of the four were good and generously filled, but then we discovered that the other two were quickly skimpy on the filling. I barely got any chocolate custard in my half of the chocolate one! Ugh. I like that they are warm but this was disappointing.
Montserrat Ave Shave Ice: This all natural fruit shave ice place is a tiny stand in an alleyway. And tastes almost virtuous, since it’s not super sugary. Portions are very much on the smaller side. My husband tried yuzu-strawberry with condensed milk on top and loved it; my coconut-pineapple was good, but not amazing. I guess I was looking for a sugar bomb. Also, they also try to layer in the flavors as they make the shave ice into your cup. This place is good but perhaps a bit too “healthy” for me!
Matsumoto’s Shave Ice: The line looks crazy long but moves very quickly. This operation is incredibly efficient. Order from the register, get a paper bowl, step down, give someone your paper bowl, pay, step down, and there’s your shave ice. Ordered a large with vanilla ice cream (they only seem to offer one flavor of ice cream), with guava, lilikoi, and pina colada, and condensed milk. The ice is soft, the syrups are fruity, and the ice cream is good. I just wish the wooden spoons were easier to eat with. This was excellent shave ice!
Waiola Shave Ice: Went to the original location on Waiola St., which, as it turns out, is way better than the Kapahulu Ave one. Duly noted. Ordered an extra large bowl with snow cap and ice cream (vanilla only - I wish more places offered macadamia nut). One side lilikoi syrup, the other side pina colada. They also had lilikoi cream as a topping, which seemed intriguing. This was also excellent shave ice, and shaved so finely that it started to melt right away. This is probably our favorite during this trip on Oahu, though we never made it to Uncle Clay’s.
KCC FARMERS MARKET
Koko Crater Coffee Roasters: We ended up here twice due to its very convenience location and quick line - pay, get handed a cup, serve yourself. Good, strong coffee. I believe we had the Kona Market Blend.
Kale Tempura Sliders from Otsuji Farms: This popular dish consists of tempura pieces of kale, topped with guacamole, fresh raw ahi, and is drizzled with spicy mayo and a sweet eel like sauce, and topped with scallions. Ordered but it took a while to get mine; there were several people waiting for their orders and it took about ten minutes. The kale had been battered and fried already but they were behind on cutting the fresh ahi for the topping. The plate came with five medium sized sliders, a generous portion of sweet and spicy sauce on top. Tasty but a bit too filling as I had wanted to try other food like local shrimp.
Breakfast plate from Grandma G’s: Eggs, fried rice, Portguese sausage hit the spot.
Le Banh Mi Smoked Saigon from Pig and Lady: The line wasn’t too bad when we arrived. Their smoked banh mi was amazing: pork belly, head cheese, Vietnamese ham, chicken liver pate, fried poached egg, pickles, cucumbers, and cilantro.
Lilikoi pineapple juice in a mason jar from Hawaiian Crown: We got some of their fresh juice in a mason jar since it had started to get quite warm. Delicious. Returned the jar after we were done (not sure what you are supposed to do).
Lewers Lounge: It was chilly that night in Oahu and we were actually dressed for Lewers Lounge (long pants + closed toe shoes for the husband), but it was closed due to President Obama having dinner at Orchids. D’oh! Thanks, Obama.
House without a Key: Went here instead. It was a little misty and chilly outside, so we didn’t stay long. Drinks were good, service was great, live music and hula was excellent. Too bad the weather was “cold” for Oahu.
Pint & Jigger: A really interesting cocktail menu here, with a skew towards the complex, bitter, and boozy. We stopped in for a quick drink before dinner, had great service and a great time, and came back a few days later to try more drinks. I loved the Misbehavin, a shaken and refreshing cocktail made with their house infused Maraca cherry spirit, lilikoi, lemon bitters, and lime juice. Another great drink was the mesquite smoked Manhattan, make with Buffalo Trace bourbon, Carpano Antica vermouth, orange and Angostura bitters. Whenever the bartender was making one, you could smell the smoke throughout the bar area. We also tried some of their signature “Old Favorites.” The Drawn & Quartered was an unusual cocktail with equal parts Campari, a ton of Angostura bitters, lime juice, housemade apricot syrup, and then a splash of soda water. That’s two full ounces of bitters for those who are counting. A fantastic mix of flavors and it’s easy to see why it’s one of their classics. I also really liked the Smoking Gun, their take on a margarita, reposado tequila, blood orange, fresh lilikoi and smoked macadamia nut syrup, served with a rim of salt and more smoked macadamia nuts. Really wonderful and creative.
Pig and Lady: See below.
Ono Hawaiian Food: Tried to go, found they were closed until 1/4.
Haili’s Hawaiian Food: Was also dark when we drove by. Ugh!
Hau Tree Lanai: Our final lunch on the island before heading off to the airport was surprisingly good. Loved the furikake ahi burger served with seasoned steak fries. A pesto-marinated tuna filet, cooked medium rare, caused with furikake, served with lettuce and tomato on a white kaiser bun. Simple, tasty.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food: Arrived around 11:40am to a 30-45 minute wait, which really turned out to be 50 minutes, for our party of 3. We shared a D plate (kalua pork, squid luau, pipikaula ribs, and lomi salmon) with two scoops rice, and added on fried ahi, lau lau, chicken long rice, and macaroni salad. Kind of annoying that you have to add those items on, but, whatever. This was a good amount of food for 3 people--not too much. But if you're hungry, I'd order one of the letter plates on their own. The fried ahi was a little dry, but the other food was excellent. The pipikalua ribs were meaty and fatty and very flavorful. I also loved their chicken long rice. Very gingery and soothing, almost like comfort food. The laulau was great - also very flavorful. And I simply adored their squid luau. We scraped all of the bowls clean, and ended up paying only $45 with tip for the three of us. This was good, but next time I’d get takeout.
The Pig & Lady: Best meal we had on the island. Hip, Vietnamese inspired, and completely, totally, utterly packed the Saturday after New Year’s. Arrived starving, and it took a while to get seated due to the crowds. We loved the food. For drinks, I had a Cobra Commander, which was avocado infused mezcal, with Sriracha ice, rose, and lime. It was good but a bit much due to the Sriracha ice and strong flavors of the meal. The P&L sour with bourbon, lime, apricot, and tamarind was simpler and seemed to match better with the food. The All in the Reflexes was also very good: rum agricole, coconut, lime, chili pepper, and basil. Overall some of the drinks seem to be a bit complicated here, and hard to match with the food.
The brussels sprouts appeared swimming in a bed of brown butter and fish sauce, with tiny bits of local citrus and pineapple. A flavor profile I didn’t think would work, but paid off in spades. The French Dip banh mi and Manila clams doesn’t really make sense on paper, either. But really works. It consists of 12 hr roasted brisket, sauteed bean sprouts, thai basil chimmichurri, cilantro braised clams & taro stem in yuzu pho broth. The broth was fragrant and flavorful. The clams were fresh and juicy. And their sandwiches are always an awesome combination of flavors and textures, and the sandwich was even better dipped into the broth/juice from the clams. Overall, it just worked really well.
And finally… The Works. We were getting full by this point, with only 2 dishes. But this one really put me over the edge. A huge portion of tender, medium-rare grilled beef short rib steak, generous helpings of tender escargot scattered about the dish, with bone marrow poured on top, and then topped with puffed rice and drowned in thai chili jaew. Eaten with betel leaves on the side. And a side of chicken fat rice, served with tiny fried chicken skin bits on top. My friend who lives in Vietnam says this is the best thing he’s ever eaten in a long time (and he used to live in NY). So, so good.
Nanzan GiroGiro: A really fun experience and remains an excellent value at $58 for 6 courses and an extra $8 for dessert. The execution of the dishes was perfect, and the flavors were delicious, but subtle. Perhaps slightly shorter menu than previous meals here. But still worth it. We started with a nice piece of sea eel in a water chestnut soup, with a hint of wasabi, topped with mushrooms and pine nuts. The next pairing of perfectly cooked red snapper and yuba in soup was very complimentary. I loved the somen noodle dish, topped with trout roe and shiso, and a very fresh scallop. The main dish was beef with a foie gras manju (fantastic) with a white miso soup and yuzu kosho. This was excellent. In contrast, the next dish, while good, seemed a but one note, a seared piece of duck breast with sesame sauce and sesame tofu (very sesame heavy). Lastly, the final savory dish was grilled black cod (again, coked perfectly) with a very interesting piece of tempura shirako (very rich), some white rice, floating bits of seaweed, and some housemade pickles for digestion. We opted to add on dessert, a plated trio of items which consisted of a very nice strawberry-red bean ice cream, a macaron of pumpkin and vanilla, a tiny piece of orange-cranberry cake (not very sweet). It was also one of the few non-Waikiki, non-hotel restaurants open on New Year’s Day.
Alan Wong’s: This was probably our second favorite after The Pig & Lady. We both opted for the menu tasting. Started off with hot focaccia bread made in house and really delicious butter (served at room temperature, I forget the origin of the butter, but it was very high quality). The “soup and sandwich” was a true highlight of the meal. Chilled tomato soup in a martini glass, with a hot and crispy kale pork grilled cheese sandwich balanced on top. Oh, and there’s foie gras in the sandwich as well. Perfect. Served on the side was a chopped stack of ahi tuna and avocados, on top of crispy won ton bits. Tasty, but not as good as the soup and sandwich. I also really enjoyed the Keahole lobster and shrimp lasanga, with the noodles cooked perfectly al dente, and presented more as a cylinder of noodles than the traditional flat rectangle. The ginger crusted onaga was also very good, moist and flaky, served with mushrooms and corn, in a miso and sesame sauce. By the time the twice cooked short rib with leafy greens rolled around, I was starting to get full and couldn’t quite finish my portion, even though I polished off the succulent ginger shrimp on the site. Lastly, one of the most photogenic dishes of all time: the coconut, consisting of coconut sorbet presented in a shell of chocolate and shredded coconut, surrounded by tropical fruits and lilikoi sauce. This dessert was awesome and incredibly filling! The sorbet was creamy and paired well with the lilikoi sauce. A very strong finish to an excellent meal.
MW: I enjoyed my meal here but not as much as some other places on Oahu. We started with sharing 3 wagyu beef and mushroom sliders. These were juicy and flavorful, but it’s always annoying to share a dish with 3 pieces between two people. It also seemed to take a long time to arrive. I ordered the mochi encrusted opakapaka served with some noodles, kimchee, and other pickles, and a small dish of dipping sauce for the noodles. I really enjoyed the fish, especially the mochi flour breading. My husband enjoyed his Jidori chicken, served on a bed of fideos with Kauai shrimp and local tomatoes, snap peas, and fennel. It was tasty but tasted more Italian than Hawaiian. The best part of the meal was our dessert: the “floating island.” A disk of frozen lilikoi souffle, topped with lilikoi sorbet, tropical fruits, a poached meringue, and a pineapple elderflower consomme. This is a dessert for lilikoi lovers. Each component was exquisite, down to the tiny pieces of local fruits: pineapple, banana, and more. And it was also gorgeous to look at. Would definitely eat this again, and again, and again….
If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Unfortunately, didn’t get to quite as many places as we wanted to due to many places being closed for multiple days over the new year.
1145 12th Ave
2955 E Manoa Rd
747 Kapahulu Ave
94-050 Farrington Hwy
95-1840 Meheula Pkwy
3111 Castle St
3308 Kanaina Ave
3046 Monsarrat Ave
56-505 Kamehameha Hwy
815 Ke’eaumoku St
2135 Waiola St
159 Kaʻiulani Ave
760 Palani Ave
1240 N School St
83 N King St
1857 S King St
255 Beach Walk
1329 S King St
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