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This is not your grandmother's department store restaurant. It's überchef Alan Wong's more casual second spot, where the chef de cuisine plays intriguing riffs on local food themes. Warning: the spicy chili-fried soybeans are addicting. The house burger, made with locally raised grass-fed beef, bacon, cheddar cheese, hoisin-mayonnaise spread, and avocado, won a local tasting hands-down. Service is very professional; reservations are recommended. www.alanwongs.com. Credit cards accepted. No dinner Sun.
Chinese restaurants tend to be interchangeable, but this one—named for the local pidgin term for Chinese (literally translated this is Chinese's Chinese Restaurant)—is worth the drive from Honolulu for its focus on healthier cooking techniques and use of local ingredients, its seasonal specials such as cold soups and salads made from locally raised produce, and its exceptional East-West desserts. The menu offers all the usual suspects, but ask the owner and chef Raymond Siu, a former hotel pastry chef, if he's got anything different and interesting in the kitchen, or call ahead to ask for a special menu. www.pahke.com. Credit cards accepted.
Perched along the seawall at historic Gray's Beach, Orchids is beloved by power breakfasters, ladies who lunch, and family groups celebrating at the elaborate Sunday brunch. La Mer, upstairs, is better known for the evening, but we have found dinner at Orchids equally enjoyable. The louvered walls are open to the breezes, the orchids add splashes of color, the seafood is perfectly prepared, and the wine list is intriguing. Plus, it is more casual and a bit less expensive than La Mer. Whatever meal you have here, finish with the hotel's signature coconut layer cake. Collard shirts are required for gentlemen. www.halekulani.com. Reservations essential. Credit cards accepted.
The adventurous in search of a real local food experience should head to this no-frills hangout. You know it has to be good if residents are waiting in line to get in. Here you can sample poi (a paste made from pounded taro root), lomilomi salmon (salmon massaged until tender and served with minced onions and tomatoes), laulau, kalua pork (roasted in an underground oven), and haupia (a gelatinlike dessert made from coconut milk). Appropriately enough, the Hawaiian word ono means "delicious." Reservations not accepted. No credit cards. Closed Sun.
In a pavilion literally on the sand, this casual but refined restaurant wowed critics from the moment it opened, both with its idyllic location on Kuilima Cove and with chef Fred DeAngelo's reliably wonderful food. Ola means "life, living, healthy," an apt name for a place that combines a commitment to freshness and wholesomeness with a discriminating and innovative palate in such dishes as a vegan risotto made with local mushrooms and orzo pasta, slow-poached salmon with caramelized cane sugar and Okinawan sweet potatoes. It is absolutely worth the drive. olaislife.com. Credit cards accepted.
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Oahu: Ocean House Restaurant
Kauai: Plantation Gardens