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Hawaii (Big) Island
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Pahuia means aquarium, so it's fitting that a 9- by 4-foot aquarium in the entrance casts a dreamy light through this exquisite restaurant. Presentation is paramount, and the cuisine is first rate. Asian-influenced dishes stand out for their layers of flavor. Chef Jacob Anaya creates something spectacular with each plate. Opt for a tasting menu of up to seven small items or go for a full entrée-you'll be happy with whatever you choose. The chef changes the menu four times a year and focuses on showcasing local ingredients. You're likely to find unique preparations of your favorite dishes, such as baby abalone, white shrimp, Keahole lobster, Big Island moi, Hawaiian snapper, lamb, and prime beef. Breakfasts are superb; the lemon ricotta pancakes are so good they should be illegal. Reserve a table on the patio and you may be able to spot whales while dining. Pricey, but worth the splurge, at least once. www.fourseasons.com/hualalai. Credit cards accepted. No lunch.
Across the street from the Kona Inn Shopping Village, this Mexican restaurant is a good bet for nachos and margaritas on a lazy afternoon, or to watch the passersby below you on Alii Drive. The food is marginal, however, and some of the items on the menu are expensive. At 5 pm, the banyan tree across the street is filled with hundreds of chirping birds, a veritable happy hour in bird land. Credit cards accepted.
What this restaurant lacks in ambience it certainly makes up for in quality and price. We're talking about light and crispy tempura; tender, moist teriyaki chicken; and about 25 specialty sushi rolls that, on average, will cost you a mere $5 per roll. If you're a sushi lover, be sure to try the "hospital roll" with shrimp tempura, cream cheese, cucumber, and spicy ahi, or the "volcano roll," a California roll topped with flying fish eggs, dried fish shavings, green onions, and spicy mayo. Don't let the low price tag fool you—the service is friendly and the food here is fresh, filling, and delicious. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 2 pm, and 5 pm to 9 pm. Credit cards accepted. Closed Sun.
Located inside the Fairmont Orchid at the garden level, this restaurant appeals to both steak and seafood lovers. Chef Darren Ogasawara has completely revamped the former Norio's menu, highlighting everything from Australian A6 Wagyu rib eye (seasoned with five different kinds of Hawaiian sea salt) to the delicious hamachi-and-avocado sashimi served with ponzu-garlic sauce. Everything on the menu is made from scratch, including the sauces, plus the fish is as fresh as it gets. www.fairmont.com/orchid. Credit cards accepted. Closed Tues. and Wed. No lunch.
Though it sits right on the edge of the hotel's golf course, this is not just a restaurant for golfers. A short walk from the main entrance to the hotel, the newly renovated, spacious dining room has seating both inside and out, and service is quick and correct. Number 3 serves up a great lunch menu with dishes such as ahi sashimi and beer-battered fresh-fish tacos. www.maunakeabeachhotel.com. Credit cards accepted. No dinner.
It may not be beachfront with a view of the sunset, but this addition to the Shops at Mauna Lani is worth a visit for its casual Japanese pub food with a touch of local inspiration. Chef Norio Yamamoto's tasty lunch and dinner menu includes his signature tuna tataki, crispy whole moi, hamachi kama (broiled Japanese yellowtail cheek) and seafood papaya (shrimp and scallops with veggies baked in a papaya). There are excellent sizzling plate items like short ribs and rib-eye steak, hot and cold noodle dishes, and, of course, the outstanding sushi. Most people make a meal out of sharing several small plate items so you can sample a bit of everything. Save room for the tempura banana drizzled with chocolate and caramel for dessert. It's best to make a reservation; you can also get some of the menu to go. www.monsterasushi.com. Credit cards accepted.
Chef Michael Minshull has arrived, and with him comes a refined and lightened menu to which he's adding new favorites. This superpricey restaurant at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel unveils a beautiful koa-and-mahagony bar, plus a huge, glass-fronted wine cellar that houses an award-winning selection of more than 4,500 premium wines. Signature dishes range from Kobe beef to Colorado rack of lamb. Try the rich and buttery lobster bisque. Be sure to sample one of the delicious martinis served in a cone-shaped glass embedded in a bowl of crushed ice. www.monetteshawaii.com.
A welcome addition to the South Kona dining scene, Mi's is a classy, white-tablecloth establishment in a hole-in-the-wall location next to a liquor store on the mountain (mauka) side of Highway 11. The restaurant's husband-and-wife owners prepare homemade pastas and focaccia daily. Daily specials are always delicious and usually include a lasagna, focaccia, and risotto option. The homemade herb-cheese ravioli is rich and delicious, and even the salad options are a notch above, with ingredients such as candied macadamia nuts, roasted beets, and sautéed haricots verts. Homemade desserts are worth saving room for, particularly the banana-rum flambé. www.misitalianbistro.com. Credit cards accepted.
From Peter Merriman, one of Hawaii's star chefs, comes a more affordable alternative to his upscale Waimea and Maui restaurants. The Mediterranean-influenced menu includes a variety of pasta dishes, tasty appetizers, and salads teeming with fresh ingredients from nearby Waimea farms. Its outdoor patio beckons locals and visitors alike. It's open daily for lunch, followed by happy hour from 3 pm to 5:30 pm, then dinner until 8:45 pm. merrimanshawaii.com/market_cafe.htm. Credit cards accepted.
By far one of the best restaurants in Waimea, this is the signature restaurant of Peter Merriman, one of the pioneers of Hawaiian regional cuisine. Merriman's is the home of the original wok-charred ahi, usually served with buttery Wainaku corn. If you prefer meat, try the Kahua Ranch lamb, raised locally to the restaurant's specifications, or the prime bone-in New York steak, grilled to order. The extensive wine list is impressive and includes many selections poured by the glass. Be forewarned: Merriman's is pricey, so prepare to splurge. www.merrimanshawaii.com. Reservations essential. Credit cards accepted.
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Oahu: Hau Tree Lanai
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