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Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Though tiny in size, this landmark Chinatown cheesecake shop has made a big impression on locals with its selection of both traditional (think raspberry, chocolate, and a plain that's anything but) and unusual seasonal varieties. Depending upon the time of year you might find peppermint, mango, pineapple, or even bacon and maple varities. Otto makes his specialty cakes to take away or to enjoy with homemade strawberry ginger lemonade in his tiny café. www.ottocake.com.
This edgy urban eatery attracts a hip local crowd by serving familiar noodle dishes with a modern twist. Try the Belly Bowl with smoked bacon, sausage, and pork belly in a savory broth loaded with noodles. At dinner, the pupu menu features unexpected delicacies like steak tartar with quail eggs or spicy shishito peppers. The service here is unpretentious and attentive, and you can also order your food to go. Arrive by 11:30 if you want a table for lunch; this place quickly fills up with the downtown crowd.
Rarely do you find a café that serves as a wine bar, breakfast spot, gourmet deli, tapas bar, and restaurant with a wide variety of Mediterranean entrées, but the Kalapawai Café and Deli has established just that. The green-and-white Kailua landmark is a central meeting spot for Windward residents. Come in on your way to the beach for a cup of coffee and bagel and stop back for a gourmet sandwich or salad at lunchtime. Happy-hour tapas plates include hummus and flatbread or bacon-wrapped figs. Dinner entrées have suggested wine pairings. www.kalapawaimarket.com.
Great Mexican food is hard to find in Hawaii, so if you're looking for something authentic, the drive to Cholo's in the North Shore town of Haleiwa will be worth it. The fish tacos are made with sashimi grade ahi—caught just off shore and brought in from Haleiwa Pier—and the margaritas are made with locally sourced fruit. (You won't find a sweeter fresh mango margarita anywhere.) Early birds should check out the morning menu here; the restaurant opens at 9 am and serves different variations of the breakfast burrito. www.cholos.mx.
Created by a trio of well-traveled friends who enjoy the foods of Southeast Asia, Spices is alluringly decorated in spicelike oranges and reds and offers a lunch and dinner menu far from the beaten path, even in a city rich in the cuisine of this region. Leave room for dessert, as their exotic ice cream is to die for. They claim inspiration but not authenticity and use Island ingredients to everyone's advantage. The menu is vegetarian-friendly. www.spiceshawaii.com. Credit cards accepted. Closed Mon.
Part of a chain of unfussy retro diners, Big City offers a short course in local-style breakfasts—rice instead of potatoes, option of fish or Portuguese sausage instead of bacon, roasted macadamia nut pancakes smothered in haupia (coconut) sauce—with generous portions, low prices, and pronounced flavors. Lunch and dinner focus on local-style comfort food—baby back ribs, kimchee fried rice—and burgers. There are always daily specials. www.bigcitydinerhawaii.com. Credit cards accepted.
One of relatively few restaurants to serve the complete menu until 2 am (Sunday only until 10 pm), Yanagi is a full-service Japanese restaurant offering not only sushi and sashimi around a small bar, but also teishoku (combination menus), tempura, stews, and grill-it-yourself shabu-shabu. The fish here can be depended on for freshness and variety. Try the baked volcano roll stuffed with crab meat, the spicy shrip tempura roll, or if you're brave, the abalone sashimi—straight out of the tank. yanagisushi-hawaii.com. Credit cards accepted.
Korean is spoken here, in cooking style and in language, but you can make yourself understood with the help of menu translations and pointing. Mikawon is one of few grill-it-yourself restaurants to use real, charcoal-burning grills, considered the sine qua non of this Korean style of cooking which has been adopted by Japan. Their specialty is wang galbi—ribs seasoned in the style of Su Won, Korea, a mellower style than the usual soy sauce-soaked kal bi ribs. Credit cards accepted.
Diners can get a uniquely New York-style steak dinner with gruff New York-style service, but in a uniquely open-air, Waikiki-style restaurant. Located on the third floor of the Royal Hawaiian Center, this classic steak house serves up excellent steaks, thanks to an in-house dry-aging room. Even nonsteak items are of the highest quality; people come in just for crab cakes or the famous slabs of Canadian bacon. Stop by for happy hour to get some good deals. wolfgangssteakhouse.net.
An island dream, this buffet restaurant is made up of pavilions overlooking a network of ponds (once natural streams flowing from mountain to sea). The Island-style comfort food includes the trademark Willows curry along with Hawaiian dishes such as laulau (a steamed bundle of ti leaves containing pork, butterfish, and taro tops) and kalua pig. willowshawaii.com. Reservations essential. Credit cards accepted.
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