Dining reviews from our recent HI trip (Oahu and Big Island) - LONG
We were in HI (Oahu & Big Island) for a week in late May. Here are a few reviews of the places we were able to check out (found largely with helpful input from folks on this board).
Ono Hawaiian Foods - possibly the best meal our entire time on the island. After arriving from a long flight that afternoon, we were starving -- fantastic, cheap, totally worth the 15 minute wait for a table (the food comes out soooo fast after ordering!).
Haleiwa Joe's - North Shore - I was prepared for this to be a touristy dive with just mediocre food but was blown away by the quality of a cajun seared ahi sandwich with wasabi ranch -- the baguette was fresh and crusty, and the tuna was fantastic and enormously fresh/tender.
Genki Sushi - Waikiki - we were disappointed with the "chainy"-ness of this place, and the fact that we watched them make nigiri sushi rice "balls" with a machine and spoon pre-made stuff on top. No, no, no, no - that's quite a turnoff when you have to WATCH that happen. The sashimi we ordered was good - overall fish quality, at least, was good, but I felt in the spicy tuna and poke rolls that the fish mixtures had been premade hours before.
Leonards Malasadas - went just down the street from Genki. First taste of malasadas - pretty darn good while hot; a little too rich (especially the custard-filled kinds) when cold.
L&L Hawaiian BBQ - not sure if this is in the same chain as L&L Drive In. Basically fast food Hawaiian. The kalua pig and lau laus were pretty good for a fast food joint.
Chinatown - unfortunately we weren't able to find a place which served Chinese barbecued duck/char siu/roast pork in noodles (most of the BBQ places were carry out meat only), until we walked into one of the markets and found the food court (surprisingly good and very, very cheap).
Kozo Sushi - on the last day before heading to the airport, we thought we'd try sushi again since we were a bit disappointed with Genki. Kozo wasn't what I expected -- essentially fast food sushi, but it was quite fresh and definitely cheap eats (plus around the corner from the Pearl City Walmart, so we could stock up on touristy gifts to bring home.
Big Island -
Merriman's - very disappointed despite going in with high expectations. The salad was FANTASTIC. Fresh arugula, shitakes, mango, heirloom tomatoes, goat cheese. Absolutely fresh and spot on delicious. Unfortunately, they fell short with the steak. My small portion filet ($34.95) was indeed a smaller portion (probably no more than 4 oz) -- first go round my medium rare order was prepared medium well. When I pointed it out, the waiter apologized and put in an order for a second steak prepared medium rare. While I was waiting (and working on the very fresh corn and mashed potatoes), a fat green caterpillar (no kidding) crawled out of the parsley garnish and started inching his way along the edge of my plate. It was ALIVE. When I pointed it out to the waiter, he was appropriately embarrassed, said he'd have a talk with the kitchen staff, took the plate away, and brought out my redone steak with new sides (appropriately medium rare). The second round was indeed very tasty, but I was still a bit in shock after watching the caterpillar crawl around my plate. Unfortunately, despite the fact that this was a special occasion, I never received an apology from anyone other than the waiter (wouldn't you expect a manager to come out and apologize for a LIVE insect that was served on a plate at a high-end place like this?). The free birthday dessert was good, but I couldn't help but be disappointed overall after a very strong start with the salad (the whole experience could have been really, really great - I would even have forgiven the redo on the steak doneness since that part was handled quite smoothly).
Luau at Marriott Waikoloa - entertainment was enjoyable; food was decent but nothing overwhelming with the exception of a single fantastic salad -- fern tips with baby shrimp? I think there was a bit of soy and sesame oil in the dressing. I'd never had fern tips before and they were beautifully tender and reminded me a bit of steamed baby chinese broccoli stems.
Hilo Bay Cafe - fantastic and a complete surprise. Found it with the guidebook and CH recommendations but we were unprepared that a place in such a non-descript strip mall could be so delicious and creative. Beautiful heirloom tomato & fresh mozarella salad, and the chef agreed to make a half portion of the seafood risotto (terrific fresh seafood with a sizable ono filet in the center, but very very rich, so a half portion was perfect). My BF found his ribs to be only ok, but perhaps ribs weren't the best option when other fresh ingredients abounded.
Nori's Saimin & Snacks - pretty good. Saimin, we found, was not too different from ramen. The restaurant air conditioning was broken while we were there. We'd been out in the sun all day so it didn't help to sit in a stuffy place, but the food was good and pretty darn cheap.
Thanks again to this board for your help in finding these great places!
Just a note: the two places you went for sushi are "low-end chains". Genki sushi is a kaiten sushi chain, so I am not sure what you were expecting. Kozo sushi is exactly what you described - fast food sushi (and I love the tuna salad rolls - YUM!).
That's a bummer about Merrimans. I understand what the other posters are saying about the fresh food and I agree, to a point. But, they should wash their greens better and once you pointed out the caterpillar, I would have expected a little bit of a big deal to be made including an apology from the manager. Very strange.
Don't know what the deal is with management apologies in the islands? As I had expressed my recent experience at Big City Diner last year in another thread, the management never came out personally to address the problem with the bad service we received. Are they really that busy or afraid of customer confrontations? I assuming they want repeat business from satisfied customers?
I appreciate your reviews. Regarding the caterpillar incident, keep in mind that when working with fresh food, sometimes nature's creatures get in the way. While finding a caterpillar on my plate would be off-putting at best, I look at alternatives: boiling the c**p out of everything to be sure nothing lives (including taste and nutrients) or spraying everything to death (literally) with pesticides, to me even more disgusting. Merriman's uses fresh food, including many herbs grown right outside the door. In a busy restaurant, a green thing among green things is going to get overlooked on occasion. Nature happens.
Glad you had a good time in the islands. I also thought the lau lau plate at L&L was pretty good for a local chain. Ono's was my favorite too as well as the Happy Noodle House in Chinatown located inside the Oahu Market. Oh, too bad you missed the juicy roast duck they served there. Was kind of disappointed too with the custard filled malasadas at Leonard's. Was kind of rich and not too tasty cold. I liked the regular cinnamon sugar the best when it was piping hot. Good post.
Glad that Haleiwa Joe's was hitting on all cylinders for you. We had the opposite experience, but that is history.
Sad to hear about Merriman's, as it has come most highly recommended, and we have yet to do it. Considering the recs., I am very, very saddened. Still, next trip to the Big Island, we'll have to do it, or face the wrath of Alan Wong. I WILL report on that experience, and try not to go in with preconceptions.
Thanks for reporting on the lu`au at the Marriott, as many ask for lu`au recs., and there are usually not enough to help them. It's nice to have a full review, so they can choose for themselves.
Mahalo for taking the time to post. I think that many folk will be helped, provided that they do a "search this board," and find your reviews.