Resto blurbs

NEW AND NOTED

Encore Saloon
10 N Hotel St between Nu‘uanu Avene and Smith Street
Mexican, affordable
This instantly became my spot for last-minute get togethers from my first visit. Daniel Kaaialii, who was a partner in the much-missed Cocina (part of the first wave of creative bait that was Kamehameha Schools’s marketing strategy to get people to head to #ourkakaako), opened this great, woody spot laden with mezcal and tacos in November 2016. The food is more modest without Cocina chef Quinten Frye, but fabulous in the context of bar food, and I love the negroni slushies. The back garden with picnic tables are the perfect party venue on a clear night. Doesn’t take reservations, but if you get there early, you can usually find a spot.

Senia
75 N King St between Smith and Maunakea streets, Chinatown, 200-5412
The best restaurant in town. It was so highly anticipated that the New York Times’ T Magazine announced it was open in August 2016, and then it didn’t actually open until December. Oops. It’s really two restaurants in one—choose from the eight-seat chef’s counter ($185 tasting menu) or the “dining room” of normal seating with a well edited menu that goes from the best chicken liver mousse in town to a hunk of roasted, sliced kurobuta pork for four. I’ve done the chef’s counter once, and the dining room three times, and so far I prefer the dining room.

WHEN PEOPLE ASK YOU FOR RESTO TIPS…

Cactus Bistro
767 Kailua Rd at Hamakua Drive, Davis Building, Kailua; 261-1000
“I’ll be in Kailua, where can I eat?” Head to O‘ahu’s first pan-Latino restaurant. Wild boar empanadas, goat cheese croquetas, duck “carnitas” (actually a pretty good confit) are menu favorites. A nice change of flavor pace for the island. Reservations a must. Noise level: Don’t bother trying to talk.

Hank’s Haute Dogs
324 Coral St between Auahi Street and Ala Moana Boulevard; 532-4265
Second location: Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, Ka‘anapali Parkway, Lahania; 808-661-0031
Who doesn’t love hot dogs? And from classic Chicago-style Vienna franks to a duck-n-foie gras sausage special, here you get the best.
Read my review in the Advertiser.

Himalayan Kitchen
1137 11th Ave between Wai‘alae Ave and Harding (second floor, behind Big City Diner), 735-1122
Three-quarters Indian, one-quarter Nepalese, affordable.
Read the review

Ichiriki
510 Pi’ikoi, between Kona and Hopaka streets, across from Ala Moana Center; 589-2299
Parking in lot behind restaurant

Japanese, mid-priced
Where I go for DIY, communal cooking. I like the spicy pirikara nabe.
Read my review in the Advertiser.

Kaiwa
Waikiki Beach Walk, 226 Lewers St, second floor, 924-1555
Sophisticated, contemporary Japanese in a hep setting; medium to expensive.
Read my review in the Honolulu Advertiser.

Livestock Tavern
49 N. Hotel St at Smith St, Chinatown, 537-2577
Savvy copycat restaurateurs Jesse Cruz and Dusty Grable, the partners behind the popular Lucky Belly, take a detour from gyoza-n-ramen Asian comfort food and apply their formula to American bistro stylings.

Mini Garden Orient Cuisine
2065 S Beretania St; 808-946-3828
I give up on trying to find good Chinese food in Honolulu (believe me, after a trip to Shanghai, you’ll say the same thing), so I go for the nostalgia factor. When I was really small, I ate a lot of shrimp Canton and sour cabbage from McCully Chop Suey. Those were my haole Dad’s favorite dishes (always a little white takeaway box of extra sweet and sour sauce). This no-frills Mini Garden (I don’t go to the Chinatown location cause last time I was there it smelled like a cat litter box was sitting next to me) has the best sour cabbage. Heck, it’s hard to even find that dish anymore. And when I work late, I swing by here for an order to take home. It’s
good for a cheap, satisfying sit-down dinner too.

The Pig and the Lady
83 N King St between Maunakea and Smith streets, 585-8255
At this DIY-chic brunch-lunch-dinner-cocktails spot in Chinatown, Andrew Le plays with Vietnamese and other cuisines, turning banh mi into a “French dip” with pho broth and riffing on global regional dishes like Italian porchetta and Dutch pancakes.
Read my review in Modern Luxury Hawai‘i.

Prima
108 Hekili St, next to Foodland, Kailua; 808.888.8933
The powerhouse trio originally behind Prima—Alejandro Briceño, Kevin Lee, and Lindsey Ozawa—are no longer associated with the restaurant. While the already pared-down menu remains the same, the quality has flagged. The main reason to go is the pizza now. The last time I had the panna cotta with pickled fennel, which was once one of the best panna cottas in town, it was like whipped tofu—that had been left uncovered in the fridge overnight.
I wrote about it for Honolulu Magazine‘s Biting Commentary blog when it opened in 2011. The review.

Sushi Izakaya Gaku
1329 S. King St, ewa of Keeaumoku Street, 589-1329
Japanese, mid-priced, SO worth it. Top ingredients used to make crisply executed dishes.
My go-to sushi and izakaya spot. Must-order: spicy hamachi tartar.
Read my review in the Advertiser.

Taormina
227 Lewers St between Kalakaua Ave and Helumoa Road;
926-5050
Upscale Sicilian by an Italophile Japanese chef. From veal parm to pasta con sarde, Taormina delivers a good facsimile of southern Italian cuisine.
Read my review in the Advertiser.

Town
3435 Wai‘alae Ave at 9th Ave, 735-5900
One of my favorite restaurants. Deceptively simple food—they claim the menu changes every day but so many people have must-have favorites that it’s hard for chefs Ed Kenney and Dave Caldiero to make any real updates to the menu. Signature ‘ahi tartare on risotto cakes are an homage to a Tokkuri-Tei dish, but these Mediterranean-accented takes outstrip their inspiration. Fish is always flawless.

Read my post.
Read why it has one of my five favorite HNL resto atmospheres in the Honolulu Weekly.

12th Avenue Grill
1120 12th Ave; 808-732-9469
Contemporary American, mid-priced to expensive
Before there was Town, there was this contemporary American bistro, where chef-owner Kevin Hanney’s specials were always instant winnahs. In 2013, it moved down the street (making way for Koko Head Cafe in it’s old space) to more spacious digs, with executive chef Jason Schoonover keeping diners entertained with dishes like pork belly confit and smoked and steamed kampachi. Specials are still the way to go. (And the pork chop with apple chutney is still on the menu!)
I voted this spot one of Food + Wine’s “places to go” (along with Town) in January 2006.

Vino
Restaurant Row, 500 Ala Moana Blvd at South Street, 524-8466
Italian, Italianish, mid-priced
Two words: Keith Endo. Oh, two more words: Chuck Furuya. Together, the chef and master sommelier, make a winning team that combines eh-you local chahm with  wordly sophistication. Chuck may flick corks at your head and tell sixth-grader jokes, but he’s also our wine Yoda who hangs with Kermit Lynch and famous Euro winemakers and cooks whose names you wouldn’t know even if I remembered them. Endo’s take on salade niçoise, made with fresh ‘ahi, is one of my top 5 salads on the island. There is constantly new stuff to try on the seasonally changing menu. And as with Hiroshi next door, the specials are always worth trying. The oven-roasted Mary’s chicken in a pancetta-and-chicken jus is practically like milk-fed veal. You won’t leave one morsel of the housemade chitarra pasta tossed with bits of dungeness crab,
jalapeno, basil, sweet corn, and lobster-uni buerre blanc. Lobster-uni buerre blanc (cue Homer Simpson moaning).

CLOSED

Cocina
667 Auahi St between Keawe and Coral street
San Antonio transplant Quinten Frye brought a whole new flavor profile to Honolulu when he opened its first contemporary Mexican eatery in the newly cool Kaka‘ako neighborhood. Now locals can’t stop eating headcheese carnitas tacos with poblano-orange relish and pork belly huarache with charred tomato jam. After winning accolades as opening chef of Salt Kitchen & Bar (and earning a James Beard Award nomination), Frye went on a four-month culinary expedition of the state of Guanajuato before creating this counter-seating taco stand where you can also get lime- and spice-saturated Mexican-style grilled corn and a fried avocado. [Note: Frye has left the islands and is now in the kitchen at Big Bear Cafe in Washington, DC, though he remains connected with Cocina.] I hear that this storefront’s days are numbered, so get your tacos while you can.

Matsugen
255 Beachwalk Ave., 926-0255
House-made soba, izakaya, affordable
Where I go for soba. An offshoot of Tokyo soba shrine. The owners are who Jean-Georges Vongerichten chose to partner with to open his own New York soba house.
Read my review in the Advertiser.

Salt Kitchen + Tasting Bar [CLOSED OCTOBER 2014]
3605 Wai‘alae Ave between Koko Head Avenue and 12th Avenue; 744-7567
Top-flight small-plates eating accompanied by bespoke cocktails and well-edited wine list. Read my review in Modern Luxury Hawai‘i.

Soul de Cuba
1121 Bethel St, between Pauahi and Hotel streets, across from Hawaii Theatre, 545-cuba
Cuban, mid-priced
When this spot opened in 2006, I was lukewarm about it—I had lived in New York for 10 years and eaten a lot of Cuban food and just wasn’t that impressed. But it’s the only thing we’ve got! And they make great cocktails, have A-list rums, and have an all-around enjoyable vibe. I now have to go for a regular fix of ropa vieja, Soul de Cuba chicken, and guava empanadas. Cuban sandwiches and ceviche are pretty good too.

Vino [CLOSED 21 MAY 2015]
Restaurant Row, 500 Ala Moana Blvd at South Street, 524-8466
Italian, Italianish, mid-priced
Two words: Keith Endo. Oh, two more words: Chuck Furuya. Together, the chef and master sommelier, make a winning team that combines eh-you local chahm with  wordly sophistication. Chuck may flick corks at your head and tell sixth-grader jokes, but he’s also our wine Yoda who hangs with Kermit Lynch and famous Euro winemakers and cooks whose names you wouldn’t know even if I remembered them. Endo’s take on salade niçoise, made with fresh ‘ahi, is one of my top 5 salads on the island. There is constantly new stuff to try on the seasonally changing menu. And as with Hiroshi next door, the specials are always worth trying. The oven-roasted Mary’s chicken in a pancetta-and-chicken jus is practically like milk-fed veal. You won’t leave one morsel of the housemade chitarra pasta tossed with bits of dungeness crab,
jalapeno, basil, sweet corn, and lobster-uni buerre blanc. Lobster-uni buerre blanc (cue Homer Simpson moaning).

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One comment

  1. Aloha! My name is Maria Kashem and I am a marketing intern with Honolulu Magazine. I am in the process of compiling a media contact list, and I would love to add Eatizen Jane to our list of contacts. Please send me a contact person and email for reference!
    Thank you!
    Maria Kashem

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