Hawaii Restaurant Recap
The MLRG crew recently visited Hawaii for some well-deserved R&R (and crashed a few great restaurants while we were in the area). This isn’t meant to be a complete dining guide for Hawaii — we just went for 8 days –just a recap of the places we visited and a brief opinion on each.
Alan Wong’s, Honolulu
Flat-out phenomenal Hawaiian Regional Cuisine. This was one of the absolute hardest ordering decisions I have ever made — should I have gone with the mochi-crusted opakapaka (pink snapper) with wild mushroom risotto, the Maui Cattle Co. filet mignon with seared fois gras, or the ginger-crusted onaga (ruby snapper) with miso-sesame vinaigrette? In the end, I chose the opakapaka, partially because two others in my party got those other two I mentioned. They were all great. The “chocolate sampler” for dessert wasn’t bad either.
21 Degrees North, Turtle Bay Resort (North Shore)
Although I only visited for a few days, I can say easily that this is the best fine dining restaurant on Oahu’s North Shore. (In fact, it may be the only fine dining restaurant on the North Shore.) Although not as good as Wong’s, it was certainly a fine experience. I had the Nori (sushi seaweed) Wrapped Moi (threadfish) Filet, seared with peanut oil, shiitake mushrooms, jasmine rice & yellow thai curry coconut cream sauce, which was delicious. I only wish this place had a view of the ocean instead of the hotel pool.
Bay Club, Turtle Bay Resort (North Shore)
Don’t be fooled by the appetizing pizzas pictured on the website for this horrendous place — we took one look at the actual pizzas we ordered and realized that a trip to the supermarket was in order. Absolutely horrible.
Hale’iwa Joe’s, Hale’iwa (North Shore)
Supposedly the best restaurant in the quaint surfer town of Hale’iwa (pronounced Holly-eva), we gave Joe’s a try after the Sunset on the Beach Festival. While it didn’t compare to the two fine dining places mentioned above, the catch was fresh and the atmosphere was laid-back and fun. I was a bit disappointed that my “Fresh Baked” fish’s macadamia-crust was more of a dust than a crust, but overall this was a fine place for a casual dinner on the North Shore.
Kua A’ina Sandwich, Hale’iwa (North Shore)
Popular burger joint is definitely worth a stop on your way through Hale’iwa. Although it is a “sandwich shop”, the specialty is definitely the burger. Get a regular cheeseburger or try an island favorite like avocado or pineapple atop this juicy treat.
Another note about Hale’iwa: “Shave Ice” is a popular frozen treat on Hawaii, and nowhere is this more the case than Hale’iwa. While we were there, the world famous Matsumoto’s had a line around the corner, so we settled for nearby Aoki’s. Boy, am I glad we did not wait in line — Shave Ice is nothing but a lame snow cone. The ice cream and sweet adzuki beans were interesting, but the syrupy-sweet ice on top was barely palatable, even on a hot day.
The Beach House, Koloa
With the recent closing of A Pacific Cafe in Kapa’a, The Beach House quickly vaults to the top of the list of best (and most expensive) Kaua’i restaurants. Backed by a stunning oceanfront view, this place is worth the visit (although not nearly as good as Alan Wong’s). I went with the “Pacific”, which that particular night was thyme-marinated fresh yellowtail dressed in a tasty pineapple truffle vinaigrette. Some companions selected the fire-roasted Ahi, which came with furikake mashed potatoes and a black bean / ginger lime beurre blanc that was out of this world. We also had a phenomenal bottle of Turley Zinfandel ($68) worth trying.
Plantation Gardens, Po’ipu
Located within a garden of lush foliage and coi ponds on Kiahuna Plantation, Plantation Gardens was one of our favorite restaurants. We enjoyed a late dinner on the quaint, comfortable front porch — a great southern-meets-island setting. I tried the house-smoked pork tenderloin, which was grilled with a sweet, succulent plum sauce and caramelized pineapples. My companion had an interesting ‘ahi, grilled with a red-pepper cream sauce. Both dishes were excellent.
Roy’s Poi’pu Bar & Grill, Po’ipu
The Kaua’i outpost of popular Roy’s restaurant empire is located within Po’ipu Shopping Village. There are a limited amount of fine dining options in the South Shore area, and Roy’s certainly fits the bill for that kind of experience… It just isn’t spectacular. We started off with Roy’s famous blackened ‘ahi (which burned off any remaining nose hair that I had), and I had an interesting monchong dish. Roy’s specials change almost nightly.
I can say with no hesitation that I had the greatest hot dog of my life at PukaDog. There isn’t much on the menu, but this is THE must-stop restaurant on Kaua’i. Order your 1/4 pound dog as a polish sausage or veggie, select mild, spicy or hot sauce, and then, the real secret, select from a number of fresh-fruit relishes (mango, papaya, pineapple, coconut, banana, or star fruit). The dog is served in a special bun that, due to a hole on only one side, acts as a little pocked for the glorious sausage. I went with a Polish, Mild, Mango and every bite was a little slice of paradise. Top it off with a glass of hand-squeezed lemonade, sit back, and enjoy the PukaBliss.
This bustling pizza joint beckons the window shopper in Old Town Koloa with enticing aromas and a great location. The pizza, however, is incredibly bland and disappointing. The service is also quite gruff. Skip this one…
Polynesia Café, Hanalei
Located in the great little town of Hanalei, we stopped at this restaurant for a quick lunch. Although I found the Ching Young Village to be dirtier and generally less appealing than Hanalei Center across the street, I enjoyed both sandwiches we had at PC. It was the only place I had Kalua Pork on the islands, and I rather enjoyed it — similar to pulled pork but with a slightly different flavor.
Banana Joe’s Fruit Stand, Kilauea
This place serves smoothies and freezes (100% frozen fruit is blended to an ice cream like consistency). Interestingly, there is only one flavor per day of each — whatever is in season. I had a mango-banana-pineapple smoothie that was absolutely incredible… If you stop at one fruit stand in Hawaii, make it Banana Joe’s.
Lappert’s Ice Cream & Coffee, Koloa
Cool little ice cream shop in Old Town Koloa that also serves great coffee. Try the Kaua’i Pie, a coffee ice cream mixed with toasted coconut, chocolate fudge and macadamia nuts. (And don’t forget some Kona coffee!)
Po’ipu Tropical Burgers, Po’ipu
Also located in the shopping village, we checked this place out one morning for breakfast. I had banana-mac pancakes that were solid, if nothing special. Stop in for a quick breakfast or lunch.