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You know it's good if, despite being in a hotel, a Chinese restaurant still draws more locals than tourists as customers. Royal Garden is known as one of the best dim sum spots in town, and people don't mind paying a little more for the quality they get. Just point to the steamed and baked morsels that look good; chances are, they're as good as they look.
This restaurant overlooking Ala Wai Yacht Harbor is a multifaceted success, with exceptional high-end lunches and dinners, daily breakfast buffets, weekly dinner seafood buffets, and sold-out weekend brunches. With a truly global mix of offerings, the overall style is Eurasian. Their ever-changing prix-fixe buffet includes offerings such as Australian rack of lamb, Kahuku prawns, and medallions of New York Angus beef. Feel free to order a la carte as well. www.princeresortshawaii.com. Credit cards accepted.
This is not your grandmother's department store restaurant. It's überchef Alan Wong's more casual second spot, where the chef de cuisine plays intriguing riffs on local food themes. Warning: the spicy chili-fried soybeans are addicting. The house burger, made with locally raised grass-fed beef, bacon, cheddar cheese, hoisin-mayonnaise spread, and avocado, won a local tasting hands-down. Service is very professional; reservations are recommended. www.alanwongs.com. Credit cards accepted. No dinner Sun.
Chinese restaurants tend to be interchangeable, but this one—named for the local pidgin term for Chinese (literally translated this is Chinese's Chinese Restaurant)—is worth the drive from Honolulu for its focus on healthier cooking techniques and use of local ingredients, its seasonal specials such as cold soups and salads made from locally raised produce, and its exceptional East-West desserts. The menu offers all the usual suspects, but ask the owner and chef Raymond Siu, a former hotel pastry chef, if he's got anything different and interesting in the kitchen, or call ahead to ask for a special menu. www.pahke.com. Credit cards accepted.
Perched along the seawall at historic Gray's Beach, Orchids is beloved by power breakfasters, ladies who lunch, and family groups celebrating at the elaborate Sunday brunch. La Mer, upstairs, is better known for the evening, but we have found dinner at Orchids equally enjoyable. The louvered walls are open to the breezes, the orchids add splashes of color, the seafood is perfectly prepared, and the wine list is intriguing. Plus, it is more casual and a bit less expensive than La Mer. Whatever meal you have here, finish with the hotel's signature coconut layer cake. Collard shirts are required for gentlemen. www.halekulani.com. Reservations essential. Credit cards accepted.
The adventurous in search of a real local food experience should head to this no-frills hangout. You know it has to be good if residents are waiting in line to get in. Here you can sample poi (a paste made from pounded taro root), lomilomi salmon (salmon massaged until tender and served with minced onions and tomatoes), laulau, kalua pork (roasted in an underground oven), and haupia (a gelatinlike dessert made from coconut milk). Appropriately enough, the Hawaiian word ono means "delicious." Reservations not accepted. No credit cards. Closed Sun.
In a pavilion literally on the sand, this casual but refined restaurant wowed critics from the moment it opened, both with its idyllic location on Kuilima Cove and with chef Fred DeAngelo's reliably wonderful food. Ola means "life, living, healthy," an apt name for a place that combines a commitment to freshness and wholesomeness with a discriminating and innovative palate in such dishes as a vegan risotto made with local mushrooms and orzo pasta, slow-poached salmon with caramelized cane sugar and Okinawan sweet potatoes. It is absolutely worth the drive. olaislife.com. Credit cards accepted.
Guests are greeted on the front porch at this re-creation of a 1900s plantation home. Tables and booths are spaced for views. The menu puts forth the bounty of the Pacific with such dishes as crusted opah, coconut lobster skewers, and seared peppered scallops. For beef lovers, there's the slow-roasted prime rib. If you're an early riser, you can also enjoy their daily breakfast or Sunday brunch offerings. www.oceanhousewaikiki.com. Credit cards accepted. No lunch.
Famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa is the master of innovative Japanese cuisine, and his Hawaiian outpost is definitely a Waikiki hot spot. Fish is the obvious centerpiece, with entrees such as Tasmanian ocean trout with crispy spinach and yuzu soy, seafood harumaki with caviar and Maui onion salsa, and even Nobu's version of fish-and-chips. Cold dishes include tuna tataki (seared raw fish slices) with ponzu, yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño, and whitefish sashimi with dried miso. The warm decor and sexy lighting means there isn't a bad seat in the house. www.noburestaurants.com. Credit cards accepted.
Lyon-born chef Nico Chaiz opened Nico's in 2004 in a small, takeout-style restaurant with limited seating just a few steps from the city's fish auction. The concept—and Nico's fresh, original dishes at reasonable prices—has been such a success that it has recently moved into a larger, cooler, more stylish space at the same pier. The restaurant's chief clientele is still rough-hewn dock workers and fishermen, but you'll also see a hip, young crowd here for the beers on tap and signature cocktails. You can still get upscale plate lunches (and dinners) such as seaweed-crusted tuna steaks, garlic shrimp, and poke, as well as soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and pizzas. A new fish market at Nico's is open from 6:30 am to 6 pm Monday through Saturday, and from 10 to 4 on Sunday. nicospier38.com. Reservations not accepted. Credit cards accepted.
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