Olivier Koning

Ed Kenney

Mahina and Sun’s

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Once a commercial real estate agent, Ed Kenney found his path to the kitchen while spending a year backpacking across the globe and came home to study at the Culinary Institute of the Pacific. After honing his skills in restaurants across the island, Kenney opened Town, his first Kaimuki restaurant in 2005, and today Kenney is James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef (for three years in a row), hosts the PBS series Family Ingredients and has cooked for First Lady Michelle Obama.

It’s no surprise that the Honolulu-born chef who helped pioneer Hawaii’s farm-to-table movement in the early 2000s continues to create eye-popping and mouth-watering plates at his fourth restaurant in the artistic Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in Waikiki this year. His menus at Town, Kaimuki Superette and Mud Hen Water follow his mantra “local first, organic whenever possible, with aloha always,” featuring dishes from the land, garden and sea, and his newest iteration continues to honor his approach with dishes featuring Hawaiian wild boar and aku (skipjack tuna) tartare. Exclusive to Mahina and Sun’s is his family-style Mahina’s Family Feast, featuring mochiko-fried, whole deep sea snapper, Kualoa oysters, roasted roots from MA’O farms, pohole salad, buttered ‘ulu with chile pepper water aioli, house pickles, hapa rice and salted mac nut pavlova—featuring some of the best of the Kenney’s interpretation of fresh, local fare.

Courtesy of Bloomingdale's

Jon Matsubara

Forty Carrots

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Every Bloomingdale’s Forty Carrots restaurant across the globe is known for their standard, casual fare—soups, salads, sandwiches. But its Honolulu iteration, Jon Matsubara shakes things up with not just local ingredients, but a menu inspired by the islands. At the Honolulu store, you’ll find hibachi-grilled Kauai shrimp, ahi and pork bowls, Hawaiian-style sandwiches made with Kahalu roasted pork—menu items you won’t find at any other Forty Carrots in the world.

Before taking the helm at the department store restaurant chain and giving it an island-style makeover, the local chef had made his mark on the island food scene long ago, garnering local and national recognition for his work at Azure and Japengo. The Punahou graduate earned his degree in Native American history before continuing on to law school. It was during that time when he realized his passion wasn’t in studying torts, but rather, cooking food. After serving as a busboy at Alan Wong’s and Roy’s Restaurants, Mastubara went on to cook in famous New York kitchens and graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York with distinction before returning home.

© AGUPlus

Hisashi Uehara

AGU Ramen

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Debating on who has the best ramen on the island is, and will always be, a matter of contention, but there’s no denying that the chewy noodles and savory broth at this local noodle shop has, at some point, reawakened your ramen cravings with his jidori chicken broth, black garlic oil tonkotsu broth and house made char siu pork. This year, the man behind the popular ramen shop has expanded his warm offerings across the island, with chains popping up in Kapolei, Pearlridge and Waikiki and even a trio of ramen shops in Texas.

Born in Okinawa, Uehara moved to Hawaii at the age of 14 before relocating to California for college. There, he studied under a Japanese chef and before long, opened an izakaya and yakitori restaurant in LA. After returning to the islands, Uehara worked for the popular restaurant chain Gyotaku and after a few years, opened his first AGU in 2013.

Roy Yamaguchi

Roy Yamaguchi

Eating House 1849

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When talking food history in the islands, it’s hard to imagine what our present would look like without Roy Yamaguchi. In the early 90s, the Tokyo-born chef was one of twelve chefs behind Hawaii Regional Cuisine, which helped bring the focus from imported ingredients and continental recipes to locally sourced products and recipes, to make restaurant fare more of a reflection of the community. Yamaguchi garnered multiple local and national awards, opened more than 20 Roy’s Restaurants worldwide, competed in Top Chef Masters, and was awarded the James Beard “Best Pacific Northwest Chef” Award.

A busy year for the celebrity chef, Yamaguchi opened his second and third Eating House 1849 restaurants in Oahu (the original location opened in Kauai in 2015) and Roy’s Beach House in Turtle Bay Resort. The Eating House 1849 pays homage Peter Fernandez, who opened the first restaurant in Hawaii during the plantation days in the mid-1800s, showcasing the islands’ culinary history and diversity with a modern flair. Meanwhile, his new North Shore restaurant is parked beachside, with signature favorites like misoyaki butterfish and dark chocolate souffle on the menu in addition to new menu items, still sourced from local farmers and fishermen, of course.

Dale Sandlin

Peter Merriman

Moku Kitchen

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Another founding member of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, Peter Merriman added his first Honolulu restaurant to his growing collection of restaurants in the islands. Like Monkeypod Kitchen in Ko Olina, the casual restaurant includes craft beers on tap, and a kiawe wood-burning pizza oven, and like its sister restaurant, everything on the menu is made from scratch and locally sourced with fresh ingredients. Exclusive to this location is rotisserie grill and biodynamic wine, served on tap.

Born in Pittsburgh, Merriman got an early introduction to cooking from his mother, who was a food writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. After graduating from college with a degree in political science, he studied with Rockefeller’s Rock Resorts and cooked in resorts across America and Europe. The opening of the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel on Hawaii island brought him to the islands in the early ’80s, where he started as a pastry chef and worked his way up to Executive Chef. It was then, where Merriman began pioneering to feature regional cuisine in restaurants, made with regional ingredients, and eating in Hawaii has been all the better for it.

MINA Group

Michael Mina and Benjamin Jenkins

Stripsteak Waikiki

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When James Beard Award-winning chef opened his 29th restaurant, and his first in Hawaii, it had been a long time coming. He’d visited the islands for years and had wanted to open a restaurant, but plans had always fallen through. This year, Mina debuted his third Stripsteak restaurant in the newly renovated International Marketplace in Waikiki, with local adaptations. The eatery features his signature hand-sliced cuts of high-quality Japanese, Australian and American beef, slow poached in butter then seared on the grill, but also deviates from his original concept, with smaller, lighter plates and a menu inspired by island ingredients, with a Japanese influence. Longtime Mina Group chef Benjamin Jenkins collaborated with building the seasonal menu and helms the restaurant as Executive Chef. In addition, the restaurant also features an Ohana Family-Style menu, with family and luau-sized seafood towers, a tasting menu and shared dishes big enough to share with family, friends and friends who have become family.

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1. Mahina and Sun's 412 Lewers St, Honolulu, HI 96815

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.

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2. Forty Carrots 1450 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96814

Every Forty Carrots restaurant at Bloomingdale's stores across the globe is known for its frozen yogurt and soup-salad-sandwich lineup, but at this Honolulu outpost, Chef Jon Matsubara shakes things up with a locally sourced menu inspired by the islands. Inside the sleek Ala Moana spot, you’ll find hibachi-grilled Kauai shrimp, ahi and pork bowls, and Hawaiian-style sandwiches made with Kahalu-roasted pork -- all of which you won’t find at any other Forty Carrots in the world. Of course, you'll want to top off your meal with a heaping scoop of mango froyo (drizzle it with honey for an extra touch of sweetness) before you get back to shopping.

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3. Agu Ramen 1200 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96814

The secret behind the popularity of this Tonkotsu ramen house in Moiliili is in its slow-cooked pork broth, which is topped with black garlic oil and crispy garlic chips, giving the succulent meat even bolder flavor. A low-key local chain, it offers more than 15 varieties of ramen -- from chicken to vegetarian to pork -- and they all hit the mark, particularly specialties like the Char Siu Tonkotsu: a heaping bowl of thinly sliced house char siu, shio ramen, and a mountain of your choice of negi, zaasai, or spicy kimchi.

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4. Eating House 1849 by Roy Yamaguchi 2330 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96815

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.

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5. Moku Kitchen 660 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96813

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.

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6. Stripsteak Waikiki 2330 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96815

Chef Michael Mina's third Stripsteak restaurant in the US and his first opening in Hawaii, this sleek and sprawling outpost is housed in the International Marketplace in Waikiki, where Mina's signature hand-sliced cuts of high-quality Japanese, Australian, and American beef are slow-poached in butter and seared on the grill. Deviating from his other steakhouses, there are Japanese-inspired small plates on the menu here, including citrus-steamed fish with xo yard-long beans, ginger, scallions, and tamari soy, as well as an Ohana-style menu with luau-sized seafood towers, a tasting menu, and shareable plates big enough for the whole family.