The Pig & The Lady adds a modern twist to traditional Vietnamese food. // © 2016 Craig Fujii
Feature image (above): Mud Hen Water enlivens Honolulu’s Kaimuki neighborhood with innovative Asian-fusion fare. // © 2016 Mud Hen Water
When people from other countries moved to Hawaii to work on its plantations in the 19th century, they brought along their comfort foods. The flavors of their homeland eased the transition to a new life in an unknown place.
Today, multicultural menus are the hallmark of Hawaii’s dining scene. As chefs around the islands honor their ancestral dishes, they incorporate ingredients from Hawaii’s land and sea, resulting in an exotic range of restaurants.
“One of the best ways to experience Hawaii is to eat with us,” said Jay Talwar, chief marketing officer for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. “Dining in Hawaii gives visitors an opportunity to learn about our many cultures while sampling our diverse cuisine.”
Following are some of Hawaii’s trending international eateries, perfect for helping clients plan their meals in paradise.
Moon and Turtle
Ultra-fresh Hawaii Island products hold forth at this Asian-fusion Hilo restaurant, so the menu constantly changes to reflect what’s in season. On any given night, diners might encounter "ama ebi" (spot prawns) with soy citronette; pastrami-cured "ono" (wahoo) sashimi with pea shoots; and panko-crusted pork with braised taro-leaf puree and local tomatoes.
Norio’s Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar: A Fairmont Orchid gem, Norio’s transforms Hawaiian fish into delectable sushi such as the spicy “bigeye” tuna roll. Among its other dishes with Hawaii Island roots are Kona lobster tails, crispy chicken from Punachicks Farm and roasted Hamakua mushrooms with truffle butter.
Tuk-Tuk Thai Food
Locals swear by the carryout cuisine of this rolling Thai food truck parked in Volcano Village. Making the most of meat, seafood and produce from area vendors, the chef concocts savory dishes such as "tom kha" soup with coconut; curry with pineapple; stir-fried eggplant; and green papaya salad. Wash it all down with some sweet Thai iced tea.
Tapas prevail at this Mediterranean restaurant, allowing clients to share plates and enjoy multiple tastes. The bounty of Kauai fishermen and farmers makes its way into dishes such as tomato bruschetta with balsamic, leeks and garlic-rubbed grilled bread; grilled flank steak skewers with black-pepper-pineapple jam; and butter-braised ono with white beans, crispy prosciutto and pesto.
Eating House 1849
Flavors of Hawaii’s many cultures intermingle in this plantation-style Poipu standout. Using products from local growers, fishermen and foragers, famed chef Roy Yamaguchi creates food inspired by the destination’s past such as Portuguese bean and Kauai kale soup; pork and shrimp pot stickers with Korean chili vinaigrette; and Canton-esque vegetable noodles.
French chef Jean-Marie Josselin recognizes international influences and regional ingredients in this east Kauai Asian-fusion bistro. The delicious results include Thai muffins with ginger, red curry and coconut butter; a Korean "bibimbap" mixed rice dish with seared tuna belly, green papaya salad and a crispy egg; and Japanese green-bean tempura with fennel and garlic sauce.
Frida’s Mexican Beach House Restaurant
An innovative Mexican-Latin eatery from chef Mark Ellman and his family, this waterfront Lahaina lure introduces diners to dishes from Mexico and Central and South America. Must-try menu items include "zarandeado," a traditional grilled fish; Spanish octopus; mezcal oyster shooters; and ahi tuna "albondigas" soup.
At once elegant and relaxed, this open-air mecca at Four Seasons Resort Lanai infuses classical Japanese fare with the ingenuity of chef Nobu Matsuhisa. For starters, order the sashimi tacos with tuna or lobster. Special hot dishes include spicy garlic shrimp and lobster tempura with a sweet-and-sour "amazu" sauce. Sake arrives in a bottle or bamboo box.
Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar
Chef D.K. Kodama has created a mini-empire of cutting-edge Japanese eateries around Hawaii, with Maui locations in Kapalua and Kihei. His menus are praised for imaginative sushi dishes such as "ahi tataki" (briefly seared tuna) with sweet Maui onions and the signature panko-crusted ahi roll. Check out his award-winning Japanese calamari salad with Maui greens.
Jing Du Noodle
Flat, handmade, shaved noodles are the star ingredient of this popular Northern Chinese spot in Honolulu’s Chinatown. Chefs follow an old family recipe for the noodles, which are crafted to absorb the liquid to perfection, then enhance them with hearty broths, meat, seafood, vegetables, herbs and spices. Don’t miss the marinated, flash-fried, braised pork ribs with fish cake.
Mud Hen Water
In the Honolulu neighborhood of Kaimuki, chef Ed Kenney takes an Asian-inspired approach to Hawaii-sourced ingredients. His ever-changing menu has been known to feature cold ginger rabbit with green onions, pistachios and puffed rice; and "opah" (moonfish) with steamed green bananas, local veggies and coconut cream.
The Pig & The Lady
In Honolulu’s Chinatown, chef Andrew Le puts a contemporary Vietnamese-fusion spin on foods he enjoyed as a child. Residents love his pho with Big Island beef, smoked bacon, fried shallots, fresh ginger and other piquant seasonings. At lunch, fans pack the house for treats such as Hai Nam chicken with three sauces: sesame/soy, ginger/scallion and garlic/chili.