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If you need proof that To Chau is highly regarded for its authentic pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup), just check the lines that form in front every morning of the week. It's said that the broth is the key, and it won't break the bank for you to find out, as the average check is less than $10. The restaurant is open only until 2:30 pm, but you may be turned away if the food runs out earlier. Reservations not accepted. No credit cards. No dinner.
On the second floor of a busy hotel, Tiki's is the kind of place people come to Waikiki for: a retro-South Pacific spot designed for fun. It has a back-of-the-bar faux volcano, an open-air lounge with live local-style music, indoor-outdoor dining, and a view of the beach across the street. The menu of contemporary island cuisine, revamped by chef Ronnie Nasuti, includes Asian-influenced seven-spice salmon, sophisticated interpretations of plate-lunch standards, and exceptional desserts. Try their mai tais, which come in a variety of flavors. tikisgrill.com. Credit cards accepted.
Dishes inspired by the romantic Mediterranean resort town of Taormina are served at this elegant restaurant on the Waikiki Beach Walk. In addition to Sicilian-inspired primi piatti (first-course dishes, usually pasta) such as uni (sea urchin) pasta and a light cream risotto with grilled scallops and prawns, the menu features a variety of local fish done with Italian flair. The artfully presented antipasti misti (mixed appetizers) should not be missed. Try the cannoli with a touch of coconut in the filling to round out your meal. The wine list is extensive. taorminarestaurant.com. Reservations essential. Credit cards accepted.
Across from Sunset Beach and famous for its chocolate haupia pie (layered coconut and chocolate puddings topped with whipped cream), Ted's Bakery is also favored by surfers and area residents for quick breakfasts, sandwiches, or plate lunches, to-go or eaten at the handful of umbrella-shaded tables outside. www.tedsbakery.com. Reservations not accepted. Credit cards accepted.
Long lines of hungry locals are the telltale sign that you've stumbled upon Tangö, a dining destination at the swanky Hokua condominiums. Unflappable restaurateur Göran Streng seems to have bypassed the usual growing pains of a new restaurant, instead rewarding his customers' palates with an unfussy menu and polished service. Minimalist yet contemporary decor comes in the form of blond and birch woods, earthy complements to the cloud-like white lampshades. Silver birch branches divide spaces. Streng's dishes pay homage to his Scandinavian background, with touches of Pacific Rim and Asian influences. Dinner standouts include Swedish gravlax with crispy skin, moi (or Pacific Threadfin), a flaky white fish served with fennel coulis, and a burger that stands heads above usual unremarkable bovine renditions. Dinner prices are reasonable (especially by Hawaii standards), but for an additional $6.50, diners can tack on a soup or salad, and a dessert, like lilikoi (passion fruit) sorbet. Reservations are only available only for dinner, and don't expect a super-touristy experience—Streng caters mostly to his discriminating city-dwelling clientele. www.tangocafehawaii.com. Reservations essential. Credit cards accepted.
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Oahu: Ocean House Restaurant
Kauai: Plantation Gardens