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Jan 7, 2013 01:43 PM

Boston Hound in need of advice for Honolulu trip 16-25th Jan

Aloha HI hounds! My husband & I are going to Honolulu for a long overdue vacation and are looking fwd to some fantastic food experiences! I have family in Kaimuki, and have been to Honolulu about half a dozen times, so know my way around a bit, BUT it's been a good 8 yrs since my last trip, & I know things have changed. We'll have a car at our disposal for the entire trip, so we can pretty much go anywhere we please. Based on some research (on this board & elsewhere), I have a few questions which I hope you'll indulge...

1. I want to take my husband out for his bday (a Friday) for a memorable dinner (meaning: something we won't necessarily get in new england), but don't necessarily want to break the bank (though I'm sorely tempted): $250ish is ok, $500 is probably not :)

2. Chinatown: What's a 'must visit' for you when you go? I am embarassed to say that I didn't go on my last trip, so really have no clue anymore.

3. Best/favorite place for plate lunch (I've planned on Rainbow, but curious what you all have to say on the matter)?

4. Uncle's vs. Nico's - My Auntie and Uncle are firmly in the 'Uncle's' camp, but again, curious.

5. Almost embarrassed to ask, but I have to: What is the deal with that 'Hole in the Wall' food tour? Is it really worth $100pp, or should we just scour the boards and pick our own adventures (as we usually do)? Everyone (friends, TA users) just raves about it, but I am really skeptical.

A few things I know we'll aready be doing (based on my prev. experiences):
-KCC farmer's market (as we'll have access to a kitchen, so can cook later on)
-Rainbow (for nostalgia's sake, as went w/ family when we were little - hoping it's still worth it).
-OPH (for same reasons as above--God, I love that coco syrup!)
-Mai Tais (but willing to change to try another view-worthy palce if cocktails are better)

Mahalo in advance, & I promise to do a VERY detailed trip report of our 8 days upon our return :)

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  1. 1. At $250 for a couple you are a little bit low for most of the top places if you want the wine pairings menus. Hopefully Bill Hunt will chip his 2¢ worth on that score. If you want to stay in Kaimuki then consider Cafe Miro or 3660, although they are a step down than the others mentioned. You might also consider Hau Tree Lanai depending on the weather that week. Just looked at the Tasting menu at La Mer, 175/person plus $86 for wine pairings. Alan Wong's doesn't list their prices. Mavro's price varies depending on the size meal you want grand, 6 course or 4 course. Check their website. The 4 course is just about your price range.

    2. Chinatown still has great chinese food. Little Village Noodle House is still very good, and a place called Lucky Belly has garnered a lot of attention.

    3. For plate lunch its gonna be hard to beat Rainbow for nostalgia's sake, their food has not changed at all. They do have mini tour busses full of asian tourists stopping now and then, but not as many as Leonard's bakery. In addition to Rainbow I would give serious consideration to Sugoi's over on Dillingham (the old Gem). Garlic chicken is broke-da-mouth. I used to always suggest Kakaako Kitchen for upscale plate lunch, but its been getting mixed reviews lately. I avoid L&L drive in like the plague - but some people like it. Heavy mayo and MSG in every dish. For a non traditional Plate Lunch try the fish taco/kalbi combo plate at South Shore Grill.

    4) Uncles has a wider variety, slightly pricier. I still prefer Nico's, can't beat the furikake crusted ahi (damn auto correct tried to turn that into fruitcake crusted ahi) You won't go wrong with either, so maybe you will have to try both.

    5) I've heard the Hole in the Wall tour is really quite OK. You can probably do as well with Auntie and Uncle, but would you bother? It is pricey for what you get, but you don't have to worry about parking, etc.

    Other: Old Pancake House (either one) hasn't changed. As long as you are in Kaimuki, give the Macadamia Pancakes with Haupia syrup at Big City Diner a try one morning. I thought the cocktails at Mai Tai's were good, the price scary, but anyplace along the beach in Waikiki is going to be the same.

    Lucky Belly is the newest 'in' place. Salt in Kaimuki still gets good reviews but it has calmed down a bit, so more enjoyable as far as I'm concerned, and Town is still one of the best things Kaimuki has to offer.

    I still think Side Street Inn is the best bet for a 'heavy pupus' meal, and the drinks are really good. I have a slight preference for the original Hoapaka location, but the ambiance is nicer in Kapahulu.

    2 Replies
    1. re: KaimukiMan

      1. I would second KaimukiMan on the Alan Wong's, Chef Mavro recommendations. You don't need to do the tasting menu at Alan Wong's and you don't need to do the grand degustation menu at Chef Mavro's. You should be able to hit your price point while still having a very nice meal.

      2. Custard pie from Lee's Bakery? Roast pork from Fong's or Nam Fong? Baked manapua from Royal Kitchen? Steamed manapua from Char Hung Sut? Vietnamese from To Chau, Cuu Long, 99 Coffee Shop or Saigon? Thang's or Summer Frappe for fruit smoothies?

      4. I'm partial to Nico's partly because the price is lower so better value. Both serve fresh fish, so either one I don't think you can go wrong. Check out their menus before hand to see which appeals to you more.

      5. I would just create my own adventures especially since you are already somewhat familiar with Oahu. Those hole in the wall type places have been there for years and wouldn't have changed from your previous trips.

      1. re: KaimukiMan

        WOW, thanks K'man for the detailed feedback! Plenty more places for me to look into. So glad to hear many of the nostalgic faves of my youth are still as good (or great) as I remember. I think we'll def. end up going to both for 4) - Must have that ahi!

        And killersmile, thanks for the Chinatown recs, I am now drooling at my computer (my stomach is also growling).

      2. For the b'day meal, I'd suggest Mavro; elegant décor and atmosphere, and they are very nice about allowing you to switch menu items to customize your meal.

        I don't think there is any place in Boston like La Marianna...

        2 Replies
        1. re: Joebob

          That is a good rec., Chef Mavro's. They also offer, for most courses, two different levels of wines - regular, and premium. With but a few exceptions, I have found the pairings to be good, to great.

          For high-end dining, and service on O`ahu, I also like La Mer. The new chef seems to be doing quite well. They also have a very active wine program, with some interesting half-bottles.

          Though we had one bad experience, we were impressed by our recent visit to Michel's at the Colony Surf. Thanks to the pressure from Russkar, and others, we did return, and the food was great, the service excellent, and the wine list, very manageable. I do not recall the check now, but it was less than with La Mer, and probably a bit below Chef Mavro's. Glad that we returned.


          1. re: Joebob

            ooh, just looked La Mariana up and it's def. going on the list.

            And given the overwhelming praise for marvo, I think that may be my pick. Thank you so much for the continued recs!! :)

          2. Would also chime in and recommend Mavro. Was there on Saturday. We both had 4 course prix fixe. Really liked the abalone, catch of the day with ratatouille was OK, guinea fowl (from CA) was good, malasadas were awesome. Some local ingredients on the four course, seemed like there were a few more Mainland items on the 6: Colorado lamb or Hudson Valley foie. And they also could add French black truffles to some dishes.

            You can do substitutions from the 6 course but each has a fee, so $8 here and $11 there may add up. Especially if you get wine. If you want to do an all local four course (abalone, fish of the day, malasadas plus 1 sub, maybe the lobster) you could do so, I think.

            6 Replies
            1. re: kathryn

              Yes, that is exactly what drew me to Marvo - the local-focused 4 course. And the ability to be flexible on the wine.

              1. re: kathryn

                <<malasadas were awesome>>

                While I am certainly not the ultimate guide on malasadas, I have always felt that Chef Mavro does the best job, to my palate.

                Missed them on the Dec. trip, but that was because of about 5 nights of hedonistic dining, and then doing the "Big Kahuna" Tasting Menu, with a cheese course. Who could even think about a dessert?


                1. re: Bill Hunt


                  As I remember, the dessert we ate at Mavro (except for the wines)was the best thing we had. Was that your memory?



                  1. re: Joebob

                    My husband wasn't really a big fan of lilikoi until this past trip to Oahu. We also tried malasadas for the first time and became hooked. So the lilikoi malasadas at Mavro were just up his alley... So much that when we noticed the Japanese 3-top behind us barely touching theirs, we wanted to steal their malasadas!

                    1. re: kathryn

                      Over the years, I have given the nod to Chef Mavro's for their malasadas, and they have never failed to come through. Unfortunately, I do not recall either JoeBob, or my lovely, young wife, having them for their dessert.

                      Still, and historically, they have been at the very top of MY list.


                    2. re: Joebob

                      As I think that I was doing cheeses, and then sponging from your and my wife's desserts (plus after many glasses of wine), not sure that my memory is the best. Still, and not being a "dessert guy," I do recall that the confections were great! Remember, there WAS wine involved...


                2. As K'man pointed out, when one adds the wine pairings, the prices do go up. At La Mer, last month, our tab came to about US $350/person, with the wines.

                  However, an alternative for a couple, could be half-bottles. We often do those, so one does have the option for more wines, but also direct control over the prices. Some restaurants do have a good half-bottle selection, but only at the upper-end. A half-bottle yields two full glasses of wine, so equal to four of my pours - 2 each.

                  Also, as wine is such a big part of our dining, it is tough for me to pick total prices, since we will head to a Montrachet for a Chardonnay, in lieu of a much less expensive domestic (US) Chard.

                  Also, at restaurants, like Chef Mavro's, we usually do two, slightly different "sommelier's pairings," the "regular, and the "premium." That allows us, as a couple, to sample two wines for most courses.

                  Just some thoughts.

                  Travel safely, and enjoy - aloha,


                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Good point about the half bottles, always forget about those; a nice compromise between sticking with only one full bottle and going all out with the flight. Same with the 'regular' vs 'premium' pairings, this is good to know, as wine is a weakness for us too! Thank you so much for the insights, much appreciated.

                    1. re: MrsRoHo

                      As we are so often a "couple," and not all wine B-T-G lists are really well-thought out, we so very often go to halves. Even if we do, say two 0.750's, or the B-T-G selections, I always thank the sommelier for having the halves.

                      We just did a lovely restaurant in San Francisco, and ended up with five halves on the table - as we were walking three blocks, and no driving involved. We really, really appreciate that option.

                      Same with having a "Regular Sommelier's Pairing," and a "Premium." More tastes available, and we almost always do one of each. I wish that more restaurants would offer two levels of wines.


                  2. Glad to hear that Michel's at the Colony Surf is good again. My dad and I had many a good lunch there 'back in the day', lubricated with many a bottle of wine. How he got any work done on those afternoons beats me. I don't think there is anywhere on Oahu any more that you can dine closer to the water.

                    I have always enjoyed LaMariana, but have been told its better to stick to 'bar food' (heavy pupu's) than actually having dinner. Sad, so sad. Tiki's in Waikiki is nice enough, but in no way is it a real tiki bar the way LaMariana is. You just know Thurston Howell III has standing reservations for two on friday night.

                    Has anyone done Hoku's at the Kahala recently? Since the OP is staying in Kaimuki, that could be a good choice. They could also consider Ruskar's other favorite, Le Bistro in Niu Valley. And if they are gonna do Roy's then the Hawaii Kai location is definitely an option.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                      Michel's was excellent. I am glad that others pressed me to give then another go. I could not fault any aspect - food, wine or service. Totally a different experience, and I felt the need to report it.


                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Good to hear Michel's got the Hunt Seal of Approval :)

                        1. re: scottca075

                          It took a bit, and I have to admit that Russkar (and a few others) was behind it, but I am glad that they worked so hard. The evening was a complete delight. I almost felt that Russkar had called ahead, and gathered the staff, just for us?

                          It was the total opposite of our previous visit.

                          That is one of the problems with so little time in Hawai`i. We have favorites, and then try to add a couple more spots. If they do not fulfill (for whatever reason), our expectations, they might not make it back into the rotation for years. A good reason to go with recs. and reviews from a pro, living in the area, who will likely do 2 - 3 visits, before typing a single word, and then will visit a few more times, before doing a complete review. Wish that I had that time, but do not, even in my hometown of Phoenix, as we travel so danged much. There have been places, that we really wanted to try, that have come and gone. Just too little time.