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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.
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