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Adventurous NYC 'hound planning Oahu eats - help!

As I begin to search the boards, I realize that a week will not nearly be enough time to chow (and swim and hike) my way through the island. And so, as I begin planning, I thought it best to throw out a few requests for suggestions. I'm seeking to spend most of my time off the beaten path. That said, here are my priorities for food experiences -

1. local, local, local! Any farms / farm stands/ restaurants known for sourcing 100% local ingredients? Where can I eat something right off the tree/right out of the ocean?

2. New talent - any young up and coming chefs worth checking out (even if a little hit or miss sometimes)?

3. In my experience, the best adventures are often the cheap eats (NYC street vendors, hole in the wall dumpling shops in Chinatown, porchetta sandwiches on a hidden street in Rome, jerk chicken on the side of the road in Jamaica). What recommendations do you have along these lines?

4. Solo dining: I'm a female traveling alone. I love dining at the bar where you get to watch all the action. Recommendations? Fine dining is great as long as it's not stuffy/conservative. Rum shacks are cool, too. I'm pretty adventurous and can handle my own.

5. Authentic/unique - the term is the most used and abused and of course it's always debatable. But it would be great to experience cuisine that is unique to the island.

BONUS POINTS: destination food that I can bike/hike to. Now that's cool!

If anyone has any hotel/B&B/cabana recommendations I'd be glad to receive an email at olninenickel AT gmail DOT com.


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  1. It sounds like LOCAL is the emphasis in your culinary journey.... I highly recommend that you check out the Saturday morning farmer's market at KCC (Kapiolani Community College), right at the base of Diamond Head. It starts at 7:30 and ends before noon, but you should try to be there earlier in the morning than later. Excellent display of local, fresh fruits and vegetables along with lots of fun cooked items (like bento, fried green tomatoes, etc.) If you can't make it then, the Kailua (windward side)Farmer's Market has a smaller version on Thursday evenings. Lychees are in season right now.

    For fine dining (in a non-stuffy atmosphere), check out the chef's counter at Alan Wong's. A really good write-up can be found here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/531301

    You will quickly realize that Hawai'i is truly a place of fusion; it's totally reflected in the food. Good luck with your adventures!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Aleka

      Ah, I should have mentioned that I'll be there during the last week in September. Lychees in season must be so cool.

    2. 1) For local food,* try Town in Kaimuki (or you can try Downtown for lunch and a trip to the state art museum). Both source locally. Also, the KCC market I think ends at 11, unless that has changed recently.

      * note that "local" has a more prominent meaning in Hawai'i, as in "the local culture," someone who is from here, and represents the mix of cultures and ethnicities that is Hawai'i.

      3) For cheap eats, walk around Chinatown and get some char sui on Maunakea street, or try anything in the Maunakea Marketplace food market. Since you get it less out east, try the ong choi (water spinach), which is great with shrimp in thai preparations.

      5) Go to Sidestreet Inn for authentic, souped-up local food in a very local setting -- you can watch the latest game and drink great wine (or beer) at the same time. For authentic Hawaiian food, try Helena's on school street in Kalihi, or, closer to Waikiki, to Ono's Hawaiian foods. Try everything. Especially butterfish (you can get this elsewhere to, and its amazing), a laulau (pork or chicken baked in taro leaf), poke, kalua pig, lomi salmon, and chicken longrice. okay, that's almost everything.

      3 Replies
      1. re: elinw

        Is Helenas still open? I thought I'd read that they had closed?

      2. some of these threads are getting old, but they give some good overviews

        (oahu report) http://www.chowhound.com/topics/442201
        (best hole in the wall) http://www.chowhound.com/topics/421684
        (cheap eats Honolulu) http://www.chowhound.com/topics/424931
        (Oahu Cheap & Tasty) http://www.chowhound.com/topics/259032
        (Best Fish) http://www.chowhound.com/topics/468012

        Good recommendations have been given above. In addition to Town, I would specifically add Nico's for fresh fish, and Kakaako Kitchen for casual but good local fare.

        1. thanks for the tips so far, 'hounds. I'll work on a real list now and then submit it for review!

          1. 1) The only place I know that makes a big point about this is town (3435 Wai'alae Ave). I like it a lot.

            3) Kaka'ako Kitchen (1200 Ala Moana Blvd) and Hank's Haute Dogs (324 Coral St) are better-than-average take-out places within walking distance of waterfront parks.

            4) I do this all the time, but I prefer a table to the counter. I've never had any problem, except at the Pineapple Room, where the moronic teenage girls at the entrance go out of their way to give you the worst table even with a half-empty restaurant.

            5) Ono Hawaiian Foods (726 Kapahulu Ave.): Chicken or pork laulau plate.

            Leonard's Bakery (933 Kapahulu Ave.): Breakfast malasadas (to go).

            House Without A Key (Halekulani Hotel, 2199 Kalia Rd.): Sunset cocktails with live Hawaiian music and hula dancing on a waterfront lawn.

            1 Reply
            1. re: residenthawaii

              As for HWAK, I can only recommend them for the pu`pus and the drinks in a wonderful venue, with exquisite Hawaiian music live on the tiny stage. I am so much more a fan of upstairs at La Mer, or across the property at Orchids. Dine before, or after. Take this in for the ambiance, which is great.

              Have not had quite the same experience at Pineapple Room, but, unless it's the New Wave Lu`au, it is less of an experience. One MUST do King St. If they are in the Ala Moana complex, I would more likely recommend Mariposa, though I am a die-hard fan of Chef Wong.


            2. Unfortunately, I can only help you with #4 & #5. For a dining experience, I strongly recommend that you do Alan Wong's chef's counter (King St.). It is hustle and bustle, but is one of the best chef's tables, that we'ver ever done, regardless of the number of Michelin stars. You have two great views - the kitchen, just over the counter and the dining room. Unfortunately, the "other" view, King St, will not be featured on any postcards. If you're dining alone, the staff will definitely see that you are catered to. If the service slips at all, just tell Kathy that Bill Hunt from Phoenix sent you and that you're on a mission, since he, and his lovely wife, will not be able to dine there in '08. If that doesn't kick it "up a notch," then I hang my head in shame.

              Chef Wong's cuisine takes traditional Hawaiian cuisine and vaults it to a much higher level. He is one of the founders of the Hawaiian resurgence in culinary arts. Many of the recipes started in little beach huts and have been passed down, basically to Ohana (family), and Alan takes these to a new level.

              Depending on when you're there, check to see if his New Wave Lu`au is taking place. It's usually at his Pineapple Room in the Ala Moana Center in Macy's. Do not let that location stop you. If the timing is right, you can have our places for this, "not-to-be-missed event."

              Enjoy, and go slowly. Take it all in and do not be too quick to judge anything, or move too quickly to miss anything. There is so much to Hawai`i, beyond what any travel brochure can ever do justice to. The cuisine now, is much different than what it was, on a commercial basis, only 20 years ago. Much of the historical cuisine has been revived by Chefs Wong, Gannon, Choy and the rest. OK, it has been adapted, but the roots are in history and well worth seeking out.

              Aloha, and please do not forget that you will owe a review of all of your dining.


              1. thanks to all for the continued recommendations! (and certainly I will post about my chow travels, though they won't happen until the last week of September '08). I'm a New England girl through and through and I'm most familiar with our regional fare, American "bistro" dining, plus some European, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean cuisines. My Asian food knowledge is limited to a few regions and my knowledge is not deep. I'm excited to explore Hawai'i and its history through these chow experiences -- it will be completely new for me.

                9 Replies
                1. re: MB fka MB

                  You should be. Hawaii is unique in many ways, and then carries such an international infusion on the other, that dining there is not quite like anyplace else. Oh, there are many common elements, but then many of the chefs borrow on these, and use them in Hawaiian cuisine.

                  You'll find more of this infusion (fusion cuisine by some definitions), more in Honolulu, but there are some unique Hawaiian aspects there, as well.

                  Do not let the busy, international aspect of Honolulu deter you. It is a wonderful place, albeit filled with toruists from around the globe. The dining is exquisite, whether it's a tiny hole-in-the-wall, or a major acclaimed restaurant like Alan Wong's, La Mer, or Chef Mavro's. And, there are some great hiking trails, just on the outskirts of Honolulu.

                  Remember that each island is unique and special, and that each side of every island is different. This encompasses the culture, the cuisine and so very much more. Just outside of Honolulu, that international city, there are still farm communities, that do not appear to have changed much in the last 50 years. Be open to it all. Remember, you are on "Island Time," where no one is in a hurry, unless you're driving on the H-1, H-2 or the H-3.

                  Make sure that you give yourself enough time to travel the Island, as completely as you can. Plan some time driving to the West to Makaha. It is different out there and the diners and strip-mall spots can be great. It's not on the way to anywhere, unless you're going to do 4-wheeling, but worth the day. There are some secluded beaches, that most tourists will never see, plus some home-grown Hawaiian food.

                  Next, plan a loop trip to the North Shore (Haleiwa), then drive around the Island. You can connect back, should time get away from you, but a slow trip all of the way around to Makapu`u point and then down to Hawai`i Kai is worth the effort. Explore all the roads along the way, and take your time. In Haeleiwa and in Kane`ohe, there are some great little dives, where the food is terrific. I'd highly recommend getting a room on the North Shore for a night, so your trip is not rushed.

                  Talk to the locals. At first, they might not seem so welcoming. Once they find out that you really care about them and are interested in their culture, they'll probably invite you to a local lu`au.

                  The Hawaiian people have had a difficult time. Not all has been rosey for them. Still, with genuine interest and sensitivity, you might well encounter cuisine that 99.9% of the tourists will never know. Just remember, never get in a hurry.



                  [Edit] One thing that you do not want to do is leave any valuables in your auto, especailly at the hiking trailheads. This is one of the few problems, that tourists are likely to face. Vandalism of unattended autos, especially at trailheads, is a big deal. Do not leave a purse, a camera, or anything in the car. It's also prudent to not leave your maps on the seat, as this indicates a tourist and an easy target. Since I have sung the praises, I need to point this out to you, as it is a real problem.

                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    thanks for all the extra tips on where to explore for off the beaten path chow. I've been traveling to the caribbean - some very small islands - and I grew up part time on Nantucket, so I totally get "island time."

                    as I get closer to my trip and have an itinerary, I'll post again to get some critique of my chow-destinations.

                    1. re: MB fka MB

                      That would be great. I can fill in blanks on the higher-end fare, and others can help you with other. There are many locals (different Islands, but Hawaiian in spirit), who know the mom-n-pops really well. I do not.



                    2. re: Bill Hunt

                      Next, plan a loop trip to the North Shore (Haleiwa), then drive around the Island. You can connect back, should time get away from you, but a slow trip all of the way around to Makapu`u point and then down to Hawai`i Kai is worth the effort. Explore all the roads along the way, and take your time. In Haeleiwa and in Kane`ohe, there are some great little dives, where the food is terrific. I'd highly recommend getting a room on the North Shore for a night, so your trip is not rushed.

                      Bill - I'm interested in what little dives you like in Kaneohe.

                      1. re: manomin

                        We usually just stop in, when the time and the look are both right. I'd have to dig deeply, to come up with some names, but will see if I have notes on these. Usually, we'll be driving and comment, "look, we ate there 15 years ago, and it's still going great... "

                        We usually stop in at the Hygenic Grocery, just because of the name.

                        Same for a tour of "downtown," when we went looking for a friend's new home, "hey, remember when we stopped in there for lunch? Great, wasn't it?" That sort of thing. Wish I had done reviews of each, and had notes on all, but this has been going on since the early '80s. Often, the name is different, but the look is good and was what drew us in, to begin with. In years past, we've done B&B's in Kane`ohe, so we've spent a little bit of time just hanging in the area. If I can find the photographs, I think I may be able to at least give some names. Unfotunately, much of this was prior to digital capture.

                        As I opined to the OP, I hope that the locals, and not a Mainlander, like me, can fill in these gaps better. Afterall, what would a Mainlander know about local cuisine?



                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          I have to say that living in Kaneohe with what I find fairly slim pickings in terms of restaurants it has made me a terrific cook!
                          There is a good mexican restaurant here El Mariachi that does
                          great things with seafood. Friends of mine own a B&B here and I
                          should ask them where they tell people to go.

                          1. re: manomin

                            I *should* be able to come up with the name of the B&B's, and then will do what I can to put together the spots, that we found enjoyable to dine.

                            While I love the Waikiki area, for dining, I enjoy both the Windward side and th North Shore for the wonderful respite from the hustle-n-bustle, that they both provide.

                            Over the decades, there have been a few minor Mexican spots that got good recs., but do not recall having dined ate any.

                            Do not recall El Mariachi, but it might be too new for me to know. What is the address?


                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              45-1151 Kamehameha Hwy. It has been open a couple years. It is behind the Ã…loha gas station next to Saigon Noodle House and
                              the free pregnancy test place and the CatWalk designer consignment store. This is the corner of Kamehameha and Kauhuhipa street close to Windward mall. Very very close by is the Haleiwa Joe's which has indifferent service but the food is o.k. We always carry out from there.I do like Sumo Ramen every now and then and sometimes carry out from the I Love Country Cafe in the mall. Having lived in town for many years being on this side the last 15 has been wonderful.

                      2. re: Bill Hunt

                        Next, plan a loop trip to the North Shore (Haleiwa), then drive around the Island. You can connect back, should time get away from you, but a slow trip all of the way around to Makapu`u point and then down to Hawai`i Kai is worth the effort. Explore all the roads along the way, and take your time. In Haeleiwa and in Kane`ohe, there are some great little dives, where the food is terrific. I'd highly recommend getting a room on the North Shore for a night, so your trip is not rushed.

                        Bill - I'm interested in what little dives you like in Kaneohe. I agree with your advice on leaving things in cars however common sense pretty much dictates this anywhere.

                    3. You've gotten so much excellent information and suggestions - only a few things I can add -

                      If you have time to kill before check-in after arriving or before your flight out, check out Mitch's sushi bar by the airport. And don't miss the Lobster Van Van if it's on special.

                      3660 has a bar that you can eat at - it might get a little lonely, but the food is worth it. We had a great bartendress (can't remember her name) hang out with us, which made it much more fun, so hopefully the same will occur...

                      I think it's fun to pick a food - poke, saimin, lomi lomi, or even seared ahi (I'm sure others here can offer suggestions) & try it at as many places as possible to compare and contrast and become an unofficial expert on your choice of food.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: torta basilica

                        And I say to go with anything that Torta says. Only time we disagree is because of "good nights," and "bad nights." She gets to Hawai`i more often than I, also. That counts for a lot.