Marilyn Clark is a Hawaii destination specialist with Lighthouse Travel in Huntington Beach, Calif. // © 2014 Marilyn Clark
Florida-raised Marilyn Clark developed an early interest in travel during summer driving vacations with her family. Her mother made each trip an adventure, stopping along the way at interesting sites, and Clark took notes about what she wanted to see and do on future trips.
By the time she landed her first job as an airline reservationist, the travel bug had bitten her for good.
In 2001, Clark launched Lighthouse Travel in Huntington Beach, Calif. A certified specialist in many destinations, she’s particularly enamored with Hawaii and Italy, two places that are rich in her favorite things: history, culture, food, wine and music.
Here Clark chats with TravelAge West about Hawaii’s appetizing culinary travel scene.
Why are you passionate about culinary travel in Hawaii?
I think a good vacation should satisfy all of the senses, including taste. When I visit the islands, I can enjoy a number of different dining experiences in a very laid-back and natural environment. Not only are my taste buds and other senses tantalized by food from a number of different cultures, I can relax and re-connect with friends or family who are sharing the experience with me.
How have you seen Hawaii culinary travel change over the years?
Hawaii culinary travel got a huge boost in 1991 when 12 innovative chefs pioneered Hawaii Regional Cuisine (HRC). More recently, culinary tourism has been energized again by a new generation of food pioneers who have put their own twist on HRC.
In the past, HRC was mainly a fine dining experience. Now, many chefs are serving locally sourced dishes at reasonable prices, opening the doors for more people to experience them.
Hawaii can be an expensive destination. How can travelers on a budget enjoy Hawaii's culinary scene?
Hawaii dining doesn't have to be expensive. There are numerous mom-and-pop shops and plate lunch restaurants around the islands that serve delicious, inexpensive food. Visitors can also eat well without spending a lot at food trucks and stands, and they can buy fresh, cheap food at farmers' markets.
What are a few of your current favorite places to eat in Hawaii?
Keei Cafe on Hawaii Island is a relaxing family-owned restaurant that prepares delicious dishes using local ingredients whenever possible. Monico's Taqueria on Kauai offers tasty Mexican food at good prices.
At Capische, in Hotel Wailea on Maui, meals featuring ingredients from the hotel's gardens are served in beautiful and quiet surroundings. Lanai City Grille at Hotel Lanai features small-town charm and a very innovative menu. On Oahu, two places I love for their creative HRC-style dishes are Town and Chef Chai.
Besides eating at restaurants, what are some specific Hawaii culinary activities you like to recommend to your clients?
If there is a food and wine festival during their stay, I always recommend that my clients attend. I urge them to try a farm or ranch tour, many of which let participants pick their own fruits and vegetables. Food tours are also fun and tasty experiences.
And don't forget the food trucks. The first three that come to mind are Outrigger Pizza Company on Maui, Pat's Taqueria on Kauai and Camille's on Wheels on Oahu. Eat the Street, a monthly food truck rally in Honolulu, is another must-do for cheap meals in entertaining surroundings.