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Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Many Islanders—and many Hollywood stars—got their first taste of pad thai noodles, lemongrass, and coconut milk curry at one of Keo Sananikone's restaurants. This one, perched right at the entrance to Waikiki, characterizes his formula: a bright, clean space awash in flowers with intriguing menu titles and reasonable prices. Evil Jungle Prince, a stir-fry redolent of Thai basil, flecked with chilis and rich with coconut milk, is a classic; also try the apple bananas (smaller, sweeter variety of banana) in coconut milk. The Eastern and Western breakfasts are popular. keosthaicuisine.com. Credit cards accepted.
When you're sightseeing between Hanauma Bay and Makapuu, the food pickings are slim. But every day, 365 days a year, there's Keneke's in Waimanalo town. It's the home of inexpensive plate lunches, shave ice, and Scriptural graffiti on the walls (Keith "Keneke" Ward, the burly, weight-lifting, second-generation owner of the place, is a born-again Christian). The food is diet busting, piled high, and mostly pretty good, particularly the Asian-style barbecue (including teriyaki chicken or beef and Korean kal bi (barbecue), and Filipino guisantes (pork and peas in tomato gravy) and adobo (piquant pork stew). If you want a treat, try the shave ice with ice cream. There is also a location in Punaluu on the Windward side of the island. www.kenekes.net. Reservations not accepted.
Russell Siu was the first of the local-boy fine dining chefs to open a place of the sort he enjoys when he's off-duty, serving high-quality plate lunches (house-made sauce instead of from-a-mix brown gravy, for example). Here you can get your two scoops of either brown or white rice, green salad instead of the usual macaroni salad, grilled fresh fish specials, and vegetarian fare. Breakfast is especially good, with combos like corned-beef hash and eggs, and exceptional baked goods. kakaakokitchen.com. Reservations not accepted. Credit cards accepted.
Rarely do you find a café that serves as a wine bar, breakfast spot, gourmet takeout deli, tapas bar, and restaurant with a wide variety of Mediterranean entrées, but owner Don Dymond of Kalapawai Café and Deli has established just that with this green-and-white landmark that is a central meeting spot for Windward residents. Come in on your way to the beach for a cup of coffee and bagel, stop back for a gourmet sandwich or salad at lunchtime. Happy-hour tapas plates include hummus and flat bread or figs wrapped in bacon. All dinner entrées have suggested wine pairings. www.kalapawaimarket.com. Reservations not accepted. Credit cards accepted.
This casual little spot introduced Honolulu to okonomiyaki, the famous savory pancakes that are a specialty of Osaka, with mix-and-match ingredients scrambled together on a griddle, then drizzled with various piquant sauces. They also specialize in unusual appetizers such as fried lotus root with cheese and a cracker-like crust or a wasabi-tinged tossed salad with crab and avocado. The combinations may at times strike you as bizarre, but you can always order simpler grilled dishes such as sliced pork wrapped around enoki mushrooms, slices of Wagyu beef, or eggplant with shaved bonito (dried mackerel). Credit cards accepted.
This is the first "farm-to-table" buffet on Oahu (or the other Islands), and it's quite a surprise to find it in a hotel like the Sheraton Waikiki. Local chef Darren Demaya helped to bring this concept to life, creating recipes that use as much local produce as possible. The dinner menu changes daily, and you get the added bonus of an open-air luau-style show. Be sure to take a look at their "living wall" of herbs, which are plucked as needed during the preparation of very small buffet servings such as kurobuta pork loin with lehua honey mustard glaze or Chinese salt and pepper head-on Kahuku shrimp. Kai has created a following with locals as well as tourists for the high quality of food and friendliness of the service. Credit cards accepted. No lunch.
If the Rat Pack reconvened for big steaks and a bigger red, they'd feel right at home at Hy's, which has changed little in the last 30 years. The formula: prime-grade beef, old-style service, a men's-club atmosphere (but ladies very welcome), and a wine list recognized for excellence by Wine Spectator. Specialties include Beef Wellington, Caesar salad, and those tableside flambéed desserts rarely seen these days. www.hyshawaii.com. Reservations essential. Credit cards accepted. No lunch.
At this restaurant owned by Indians of Malaysian origin, dosai, griddle breads made of rice and lentil flour, are filled variously with savory and sweet ingredients. Like most such restaurants, this one is very vegetarian-friendly, serving up dals (lentil stews), curries, and samosas. www.indiacafehawaii.com. Credit cards accepted. No lunch Mon.--Thurs.
The placid younger sister of boisterous Duke's, downstairs, this restaurant and bar resembles a plantation-period summer home: open to the air, outfitted with kitschy decor, stone-flagged floors, warm wood, and floral prints. The food is carefully prepared and familiar—standard breakfast items, steaks and grilled seafood at dinner—but with local and Asian touches that add interest. There's a fabulous Diamond Head view. www.hulagrillwaikiki.com. Credit cards accepted. No lunch.
The cool courtyards and varied galleries of the Honolulu Museum of Art are well worth a visit and, afterward, so is this popular lunch restaurant. The café overflows onto a lanai from which you can ponder Asian statuary and a burbling water feature while you wait for your salade niçoise or signature Piadina sandwich (a fresh-baked flatbread round stuffed with arugula, tomatoes, basil, and cheese). www.honolulumuseum.org. No dinner.
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