2016 was a really good year for the Honolulu restaurant scene with lots of brand-spanking-new spots making names for themselves. From hard-to-find Mexican and Vietnamese fusion to top-notch breakfast and “trust the chef” sushi, we’ve rounded up the year’s best new restaurants so you know where it’s at!
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Not only is the name catchy, but the food is equally addicting as well. The Loaded Baked Potato Beignets, Hurricane Style Creamed Corn, and The Beet Box are all examples of Andrew Le’s expertise of fusing together traditional Vietnamese flavors with other cultures and truly succeeding in creating unique and delicious dishes that keep you wanting to come back for more. And for those of you looking for a fun adult beverage -- slushie flavors change weekly and are topped with your choice of tequila, vodka, gin, or rum -- bottom’s up!
As one of the pioneers of Hawaiian fusion cuisine, Roy Yamaguchi has become a master of blending local ingredients with various cultures and flavors. His newest restaurant offers the simplicity and comfort of dishes from Hawaii’s plantation era. The Plantation Paella contains local favorites, tako (octopus) and Portuguese sausage, which brings a different but definitely great take on the traditional rice dish -- yum!
Koa Cafe is the newest spinoff from the popular local breakfast chain, Koa Pancake House. It offers innovative twists on traditional breakfast items, such as the Guava Lava mochi waffles (think chewy, sweet...oh-so-delicious), and the Angry Benedict (pieces of tender kalbi, tangy kim chee, and spicy sriracha drizzled on top) leave you wondering why these aren’t staple offerings at all restaurants. Get an order of the freshly squeezed (seriously, it’s squeezed to order) orange juice, a satisfyingly sweet accompaniment to your meal.
Good Mexican food is hard to find in Honolulu, but rest assured there’s a new restaurant that is filling the void with legit Mexican food with bold, bright spices and flavors that pack a punch. Freshly fried, thick tortilla chips, stack up well with the housemade salsa roja. And the Baja Fish tacos are amazing -- crunchy, but not oily, lightly dressed slaw, and pickled red onions -- so good, you won’t want to share!
Mahina and Sun’s features locally sourced ingredients with a laid-back, relaxing ambiance that caters to residents and tourists alike. The standout dish is the Ahi Palaha -- perfectly seared ahi (mostly raw, to savor the freshness of the fish), atop a bed of 12-grain rice salad and various veggies, and covered in an awesome limu salsa verde. If you have room for dessert, the chocolate mochi with black sesame ice cream is divine and for sure worth the calories!
As the name suggests, The Rice Place has dishes that of course feature rice! But not just rice (as in grains), but also in noodle form, and rice flour crepes. The most interesting dish is the Noodles and Rolls -- the rice noodles are soft and flat (almost like a blanket) that can be wrapped around the crispy Imperial Roll and then placed into the lettuce leaf. Another tasty option is the Winner Winner Chicken Dinner, the poached chicken pairs well with the pickled daikon and carrots and the curry rice.
Moku Kitchen in SALT at Kakaako is the perfect place to hang out after a long day at work -- delicious food, tons of booze options, and great live music helps melts the stress away. Gotta get an order of the garlic truffle oil fries, the amazingly tender rotisserie roasted prime rib, tasty kalua pork with mac nut pesto, and sweet strawberry pie to finish your meal off right!
Sushi restaurants sometimes offer an omakase meal aka “trust the chef” which is a good way to try things that you didn’t even know existed, or force you to try something you think you wouldn’t like but actually it tastes pretty damn good. At Sushi Murayama, the omakase is legend..wait for it...dary -- due to the chef’s attention to detail in the beautiful presentations of food, as well as, his delicate balancing of flavors that highlight (but not mask) the fresh fish. If you opt to order off the menu, the Wagyu Musubi (not on the menu) is decadent, melts in your mouth, and is worth the hefty price tag of $30. For the adventurous eaters, order the natto sundae for dessert -- somehow the strange combination of the natto, shiso, vanilla ice cream, corn flakes, and Jack Daniels sauce unexpectedly works well together, don’t knock it until you try it!
Situated in downtown, it’s a great place to gather after work, or right before a show at the Hawaii Theater. Tasty small plates of elevated bar food to nosh on with tons of craft beers on tap makes this a gastropub lovers dream. You can’t go wrong by ordering the Ancho Chili Candied Bacon for that balanced salty-sweet bite, or the Pipikaula Poke for a beef jerky-esque dish with a hint of spice and jalapeno and pickled onions -- both pair perfectly with your cold beverage of choice!
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1. Piggy Smalls1200 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu
2. Eating House 1849 by Roy Yamaguchi2330 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu
3. Koa Cafe2700 S King St D102, Honolulu
4. Encore Saloon10 N Hotel St, Honolulu
5. Mahina and Sun's412 Lewers St, Honolulu
6. The Rice Place725 Kapiolani Blvd Suite C119B, Honolulu
7. Moku Kitchen660 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu
8. Sushi Murayama808 Sheridan St, Unit 307, Honolulu
9. Palate Craft & Eatery1121 Bethel St, Honolulu
Ward Village’s Piggy Smalls is The Pig & The Lady’s younger, cooler sibling. Incepted by the same team of creators, Piggy Smalls offers an eccentric take on Vietnamese and East Asian food, like Laotian fried chicken with money sauce, kaffir lime, roasted peanut, and fried shallots, Hanoi shrimp cold rice vermicelli noodles with aromatic dill, shiso, rau rum, and mint spices, house pickles, roasted peanut, and mam tom bac sauce, and the Babi Guling special with turmeric, Thai ginger, macadamia nuts, and lemongrass accompanied by pork chicharrones and blood sausage, inspired by the traditional Balinese roast suckling pig dish. With an abundance of natural light and minimalist wall art, Piggy Smalls allows you to focus on what matters most: slurping the tangy food right off your plate.
Eating House 1849 echoes the ethos of Hawaii’s earliest 19th-century restaurants, which exploited what was available from local farmers, ranchers, foragers, and fishermen. From old plantation house décor, plank wood floors, and open-air walls that look out over the Pacific, Eating House’s famed Chef Roy Yamaguchi gleans inspiration for a menu that blends flavors of a plantation town, in categories like “Pupu (Island Tapas),” “Garden Fresh,” “Noodles & Rice,” and “Land and Sea.” You’ll navigate the tremendous selection by starting with a couple of small plates like kiawe-smoked Sichuan baby back ribs with waimanolo cilantro and doughy pork and shrimp gyoza with spicy XO sauce. Continue with the Plantation Paella with prawns, clams, and chicken and finish off with Hawaiian Ranchers Beef Loco Moco with fried rice, kalei egg, and Hawaiian mushroom.
Koa Café in Moiliili is a fast-casual breakfast joint that cooks up traditional first-meal-of-the-day dishes with unexpected, modern Asian twists, displayed on an illuminated screen behind the counter, like a gritty Chinese takeout joint. Here, buttermilk pancakes are substituted with butter mochi pancakes topped with glazed nuts and fresh berries, and steak and eggs with a 6oz kalbi steak, eggs any style, and kimchee quinoa. The Koa Cristo, the restaurant’s version of a Monte Cristo, stands out for its use of vinha d’alhos (a welcome stand-in for ham), Gouda, jalapeno aioli, and secret maple dip. Try and get there early to beat the crowds.
In true saloon fashion, Encore Saloon’s highlights are its cocktails, made with a whopping selection of over 30 tequilas and mezcals. But don’t be mistaken -- the food is no afterthought here, and with Mexican street food bites like esquites corn with chile powder, cotija cheese, and lime mayo and pork carnitas, you’re sure to enjoy your snacks as much as your Mexican martini (served with blanco, triple sec, fresh lime juice, and an olive). With indoor and outdoor seating, you should find plenty of space to spread out (even after you’ve consumed two orders of churros for dessert).
Like the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in which it's housed, Mahina & Sun’s in Waikiki sports a retro-chic look, showcased in everything from its funky light fixtures to its wallpaper patterned with the hang-loose symbol. The vintage-inspired decor was contributed mostly by local artists, matching the community-first menu: Mahina and Sun's elegant Hawaiian plates never contain imported ingredients, using only locally and sustainably sourced fish and produce. A standout is the Ahi Palaha: seared ahi (mostly raw, to preserve the freshness of the fish) placed atop a bed of 12-grain rice salad and covered in limu salsa verde. For dessert, the chocolate mochi with black sesame ice cream is a must.
If you're going to name your restaurant "The Rice Place," you better do the grain justice -- and oh, does this casual cafe in Kapiolani treat it well. From rice noodles to rice flour crepes to fried rice bowls, the menu here is brimming with comforting, starchy dishes. Perhaps the most interesting is the Noodles and Rolls, in which soft, flat, blanket-like rice noodles can be wrapped around a crispy Imperial Roll and placed into a lettuce leaf. Another go-to is the Winner Winner Chicken Dinner, in which poached chicken is paired with curry rice and pickled daikon & carrots.
While the design of Moku Kitchen, which sports plenty of sleek wooden accents and a honeycombed ceiling, has a distinct Asian feel, the cuisine stretches beyond standards like pot stickers and banh mi (though, those are both available), featuring everything from tacos and poke to wood-fired pizzas and burgers. Two stars among the bunch are the flavor-packed duck tacos with a memorable habanero pineapple salsa and the spicy hapa poke with ono, ahi, and chili peppers. Moku is also home to a 46ft bar that boasts 36 craft beers and a unique wine keg system that offers 12 biodynamic and sustainable wines on tap. When it comes to cocktails, you'll want to try the Monkeypod Mai Tai, which is well-balanced with a touch of tartness from the honey-lilikoi foam.
This low-key sushi spot in Keeamoku offers an exceptional omakase experience, thanks to Chef Ryuji's careful attention to detail and delicate balancing of bold flavors that highlight (but never mask) the fresh fish. Try to nab a seat at the sushi bar directly in front of him to watch the magic happen. You can trust that Ryuji will bring you his best, but if you prefer a la carte to omasake, the move is to order the off-menu Wagyu Musubi, which melts in your mouth and is worth the hefty price tag. End your meal adventurously with the natto sundae -- its unique combination of natto, shiso, vanilla ice cream, corn flakes, and Jack Daniels sauce plays together unexpectedly well.
Situated across from the Hawaii Theater, Palate is an ideal spot to head before or after a show for some small plates of elevated bar food, a solid lineup of craft cocktails, and 16 local and imported craft beers rotating on tap. Alongside a tall glass of malty brown ale from Maui Brewing Company, you'll want to nosh on the Ancho Chili Candied Bacon for a perfectly salty-sweet bite, rye bourbon-sautéed cremini mushrooms, or the semi-spicy Pipikaula Poke with jalapeño, pickled onions, and soy. Considering it's from the team who brought you Real a Gastropub and Brew'd, it's no surprise this friendly watering hole has become a downtown destination.