The idea of listing Hawaii's best restaurants is as far fetched as say, sharing the state's best beaches. The diversity of Hawaii’s population is reflected in an equally wide range of restaurants and other food service operations catering to every taste imaginable.
Simply put, there are far too many restaurants and tastes out there to think that any kind of ranking would be meaningful if even possible. So, instead, I'll simply try to share some of our family's favorite Hawaii restaurants and why they're special to us. Hope you'll agree and enjoy them as much as we do!
This Tempura Ahi Roll from John Dominis Restaurant in Honolulu is a sample of the fusion dishes borne out of Hawaii's multi-ethnic community, a great catalyst for exotic dishes to please the most fickle diner!
As a family with two young children, we look for places that serve up great food at reasonable prices and don’t require dressing up… after all, loosely fitted shirts, shorts, and slippers are the preferred attire for us beach folks! You'll also see a few fine dining restaurants that even we frugal folk feel are worth splurging on. Another thing, you won't find any of the big names you'll find in different places on the mainland... although we love many of them! Instead, you'll find the places that are unique to Hawaii and contribute to making our islands the gourmets' paradise they are!
Here are the categories...
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• Shorts & Slippers Kinds of Places- Informal, but as we say in Hawaii, "real ono" dining... chances are you probably have enough cash on you to pay the bill.
• Snacks & Munchies- We're always eating in Hawaii... here are the places we like to go in between meals!
• Moderate to Fine Dining- A very wide category... in some instances you can still wear shorts and slippers, but bring your charge card, just in case. These are the eateries that put Hawaii on the culinary map!
Without a doubt, Oahu offers the lion's share of restaurants to choose from especially for those looking for ethnic favorites like Chinese dim sum, Korean bar-b-que (cook-your-own tables), or authentic Hawaiian food like kalua pig, squid luau, lau lau, etc.
Shorts & Slippers Kinds of Places...
Bob Barr's Smokin Bob Barr-B-Q - Kaneohe, OahuIt was one of those evenings I talked the family out of their heart-set dinner at the Windward Mall suggesting we try this rib joint I'd heard about. My last visit to the area in the industrial side of Kaneohe was to have my muffler repaired at Barr's Muffler shop. I had heard Bob Barr opened a restaurant in the extra building space on his lot and figuring that his muffler work was good, perhaps his ribs might follow in suit!
Dawn was game for an adventure as we drove into this unlikely spot for a restaurant but both daughters were awfully quiet. Long story short, we ordered what would become a very, very pleasant surprise!
Our dishes included Texas-style barbequed pork, chilli, and a chicken quesadilla. I, of course, ordered the ribs. Each of the women loved their dish... but the ribs, the ribs were some of the best I've had anywhere... including Texas!
The single rib I got was the largest rib I've ever enjoyed and the meat was cut to allow bite-sized chunks to be forked and dipped in the accompanying sauce (Barr's own recipe, of course!)
This is one spot that all four of us enjoyed equally and thank goodness Kristen had her camera for these pictures. It's been a couple of weeks since we first discovered this wonderful spot and the girls are already asking Dawn, wouln't she want to go there for her birthday this week?
Smokin Bob Barr-B-Q • 46-132 Kahuhipa Street • Tel: 235-4004
Cinnamon's Restaurant - Kailua, Oahuis one of our all-time favorites. Another Kailua eatery, here’s a place that was picked top breakfast spot in all of Oahu by readers of the Honolulu Advertiser, Hawaii’s largest newspaper. As far as restaurants go it's casual dining, moderate pricing, and very cozy.
Here you’ll find some truly great eggs benedicts and an ever-changing menu featuring creatively delicious omelettes and pancakes which remind you how wonderful it is to live in Hawaii! Before the kids, we had breakfast here every weekend before heading out for windsurfing. The service is great, too, with some of the friendliest folks to make you feel like you really belong here! A real dining experience, Hawaiian style.
Visit their website and take a look at some of their awards and write-ups about them and you’ll see their appeal goes far beyond the Kailua community!
Kua Aina Burgers-(Haleiwa Town on the North Shore)The original north shore burger restaurant, Kua Aina, is still there just as it was in the eighties.
Although it's moved from its original location, it's still right on the main drag as you crawl through Haleiwa town! Combining some of the thickest juicy beef burgers with all kinds of local and traditional fare, Kua Aina is definitely a place to stop in while you're over on Oahu's north shore. And if you're in town, there's also a Kua Aina Burger in the Ward Center in Kakaako.
Snacks & Munchies
Island Snow here in Kailua offers some great shaved ice. You've probably heard of Matsumoto's shaved Ice in Haleiwa town (Oahu's North Shore) reputed to be the best shaved ice in the state... maybe the world, perhaps? But this is our neighborhood store and, we think, every bit as good. They've got great flavors in addition to the standard fare... like lychee, mango, passion fruit, and even li-hing mui, and a lot more.
Of course, you can get your shaved ice with ice cream and azuki beans if you'd like, too! If all of this souds strange, just find the nearest shaved ice store you can find and start enjoying this popular local treat. Island Snow is located on Kailua Road, a block before it intersects with North Kalaheo Avenue.
Moderate to Fine Dining
Indigo-Hawaiiis one of the original establishments that can be credited with starting the renaissance of Honolulu's Chinatown district by offering it's unique ambiance and dishes that present common Asian cuisine at a truly fine-dining level.
Before long, this once seedy part of town was witness to scores of folks leaving their cars to the valet and running into what looks to be a scene right out of the 1992 Academy Award winning "Indochine"!
In Hawaii, a literal ethnic melting pot that's had generations to stew, it's not easy to to stand out as a culinary fusion hot-spot but Chef Glenn Chu has more than succeeded in bringing a truly unique flavor to this competitive arena. Indigo-Hawaii's dishes like Hanoi Shrimp Summer Rolls (above) and the Toasted Mustard and Coarse Black Pepper Crusted Ahi Steak (below), will turn your trip to Chinatown into a real culinary experience!
When Indigo opened back in 1994, our family would dine there with such enjoyment that Linda and Bobby, my sister and her fiance, ended up having their wedding and reception right there at the restaurant!
But, hey, you don't have to wait for an occasion like that to enjoy the spectrum of delights they serve due to their now popular buffets and specials!
My favorites? The Lemon Grass Lamb Shanks... slowly braised with minted tangerine sauce... or the Shanghai Mahogany Duck with Soft Bao Buns!
Take a look at the menu on the Indigo-Hawaii website and see what perks your appetite!
John Dominis Restaurant - Ala Moana, Oahu is a restaurant you'll probably want to try. It's not a low- to moderate priced restaurant and, certainly, one we don't dine at very often as it's a bit more than we can afford once a week... but this is one of my favorites not just for the food but for the ambiance!
Located on the entrance to Kewalo Basin, John Dominis offers one of the best ocean views of any restaurant with boats going in and out of the channel at a distance which seems like you could "jump ship!"
The presentation of fresh seafood at John Dominis makes ordering very exciting and the preparation follows in suit. Each of their fresh fish dishes can be ordered in one of five delicious preparations...
Onaga prepared Oriental-style with a shoyu sauce is one of our favorites!
sauteed, flame broiled, baked in parchment paper (my favorite), steamed Oriental-style, or baked crab crusted... all of which are very good! You will enjoy the dinner as much as you will enjoy the wonderful view and surroundings of this restaurant!
Makino Chaya, to us local folks, means serious "grinding" as all comers to this popular all-you-can-eat buffet will find!
When my buddy, Paul Goo (inventor of the Tsunami Video Surf Simulator) called me to join him for lunch it was a great opportunity to grab my camera and head to the Aloha Tower Marketplace for one of our favorite buffets! I've wanted to write this one up on the site but until today had no pictures to share.
Catering to the Asian taste preferences combined with the local love for all-you-can-eat opportunities, Makino Chaya offers an enormous spread of delicious entrees to choose from ranging from sushi, tempura, to king crab, seafood, and steak cooked to order!
The spread begins with a presentation of different sushi, enough for an impressive meal in itself then transitions into various seafood, meat, and other entrees which create a wonderful dilemma about what to pile onto your plate first.
In the evening, the menu is expanded to include items that you can order off the menu in addition to the already scrumptious spread that's there for the picking!
Lunch is at $13.98 and dinner at $29.98 per person and whether or not that's inexpensive or not, I guess, depends on what and how much you eat!
Here's the first of our three servings we had that day. Think we got our money's worth? I think so!
Drop in when you're feeling like eating till you drop. They've got two locations... one in the Aloha Tower Marketplace (that's the one we always go to!) and one in Pearl City.
Seaside Restaurant & Aqua Farm - Hilo-Hawaii is rated as one of the top seafood restaurants on the Big Island due in large to their home-grown entrees.
Some of their most popular fish dishes like aholehole (pictured), moi, and mullet come from the pond surrounding the dining facility that looks more like a well-aged home than a restaurant! These popular island fish are served in a number of ways one of my favorites being simply fried crisp!
Those preferring the traditional seafood will find entrees like lobster, crab, prawns, etc. Set your reservations before sunset so you can see the pond from whence your entree came. It's one of my favorite stops whenever I'm on the Big Island!
Secret Recipes-From Your Favorite Restaurants!
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Here's a great site by buddy and fellow kayak fisherman, Aku, featuring Hawaii's restaurants! Check them out.. AkuEats.com