The pristine white sand and languid waves of Waikiki are both a blessing and a curse to Hawaiian tourists. Abundant flights as well as new, and newly renovated, hotels guarantee the crowds will continue to flock to this capital of the Hawaiian Islands. TripAdvisor predicts Honolulu will be on the number #2 US travel destination according to its 2011 Readers Poll. But in a place better known for Cheeseburger in Paradise than Umami Burger, looking for dinner that does not come with a complimentary souvenir cup can be a vexing task for quality food loving travelers drawn to Hawaii’s cheap flights and near perfect year round temperatures. Here are five Honolulu restaurants to please the discerning eater.
Il Lupino, Ste 110, 2233 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96815-2574: A sibling of upstairs steakhouse Wolfgang’s, Il Lupino, or the little wolf, couldn’t be more different in cuisine and sensibility. Silken pastas are made by hand and served in rich sauces of mushrooms and cream or long simmered tomato and basil among other traditional Italian specialties. Designed as a more casual wine bar off shoot to Wolfgang’s, the first of a proposed mini-national chain succeeds in the atmosphere with a large outdoor patio that beckons for lazy evenings of sampling the diverse and reasonably priced wine selection. Tommy Bahamas shirts and slippers are as welcome as dressier resort attire.
Side Street Inn, 1225 Hopaka Street Honolulu, HI 96814-4302: Tucked down a small alley way, Side Street Inn may be hard to find, but it is no secret to locals. Crowds flock to Side Street from early evening until the wee hours of the morning when it is not uncommon for native luminary chefs to drop by for after-work eats. Not known for holding back on portions, Side Street Inn is best enjoyed among friends. Monstrous plates of “tapas” style food come bounding from the unglamorous kitchen to be passed hand-to-hand. The famous pork chop, lightly breaded and fried, should not be missed. Kalbi short ribs with kimchi, fried rice, and crispy spring rolls are all worth the inevitable food coma. Just don’t plan on donning a bathing suit immediately after.
Tokkuri-Tei, 449 Kapahulu AveHonolulu, HI 96815: Is Tokkuri-Tei an izakaya with great sushi or a sushi restaurant with penchant for good Japanese bar food and a liquor habit? Either way, Tokkuri-Tei has developed enough of a following that they recently relocated a third time to accommodate even more patrons hungry for their large and tasty portions of Japanese specialties. Sashimi is some of the biggest and freshest in town. Sake pours generously overflow. And for those not inclined to raw fish, a large selection of small bites like yaki tori, tempura, and pork wrapped enoki will satisfy a range of food cravings.
Town, 435 Waialae Avenue, Honolulu, Hawaii: If the super sized portions around the city have left you with a food hangover, head to Town. A quaint neighborhood restaurant in the Kaimuki district of Honolulu, the farmhouse feel of the well-lit corner space is a world away from the chaos of Waikiki. Portions at Town are human-sized rather than super-sized. A meal of hand cut homemade pasta and a salad of local greens will leave you satisfied rather than stuffed, a rare and pleasant feeling in a chain restaurant town.
The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong, 1450 Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu, HI 96813: Should you find yourself in a tourist trap like the giant mall known as Ala Moana Center, find respite at Alan Wong’s Pineapple Room. Tucked behind the women’s clothing in Macy’s, The Pineapple Room puts out the fresh, seasonal, local Pan Asian food that Alan Wong helped pioneer as part of the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine movement but at prices far more affordable that his eponymous fine dining restaurant. On a recent visit a chilled local tomato soup with cucumber, avocado, and shrimp burst with ripe tomato flavor that one could only find in peak season on the mainland. Salt and pepper crusted fried calamari salad were crisp but not greasy, mixed with local Nalo greens and somen, it was a simple and delightful example of authentic modern Hawaiian cuisine in the midst of a building full of Hawaiian pretenders. A side of aloha is free of charge.