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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.
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.
This small sushi bar is a favorite of locals, offering amazingly fresh sashimi and interesting cooked dishes at reasonable prices. But more important, it's BYOB here, so you can bond with the gregarious owner-chef, Morio, by sharing what you're drinking. If you're able to get a reservation here, then count yourself lucky; most seats at the bar require a month's notice, but you may be able to get table seating. For a special treat, order the omakase (chef's choice) at the time of reservation. They offer two seatings: at 6 pm and 8:30 pm. Reservations essential. Closed Sun. No lunch.
Located in the heart of the financial district, Murphy's boasts an All-American menu of award-winning burgers and steaks without that Waikiki price tag. The restaurant has been featured on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network as a place that specializes in comfort food for the weary traveler. The Blarney Burger with Guinness-infused cheddar cheese is a must. murphyshawaii.com. Credit cards accepted.
Iron Chef Morimoto of Food Network fame is a big part of the dining scene in Honolulu. The menu is made up primarily of sushi and cooked seafood, with a couple of expensive cuts of steak thrown in as well as a wide selection of appetizers, all heavily weighted toward seafood. If you're adventurous, try the omakase (chef's choice) menu, which changes daily. Try the tofu, which is made fresh right at your table. You can choose to sit at the sushi bar, the regular bar, or at a table, but try to get a seat outside, as the room gets pretty noisy. This has become a popular spot for brunch, as well, with a view overlooking the yacht harbor. morimotowaikiki.com. Credit cards accepted.
This microscopic sushi bar (15 seats) is an adjunct of a wholesale seafood market operated by gregarious South African expatriate Douglas Mitchell, who oversees the sushi chefs and keeps customers chatting. The fish, air-freighted from around the world, is ultrafresh, well cut, and nicely presented. You can spend as much or as little as you like—$40 for a half-dozen pieces of prime bluefin tuna belly, or just a few dollars for pickled plum sushi. www.mitchsushi.com. Reservations essential. Credit cards accepted.
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