Oahu Good Eats

Even though we had three amazing and delicious sit-down dinners, I feel like some of the best eats we had were from little stops all over the island of Oahu. Often times, it is these little stops along the way that makes the trips more fun and exciting. It’s also these little stops that offer the most authentic, Hawaiian island feel.

Our first full day on Oahu took us away from city and along the coast line up to the North Shore. We made our first top at the Dole Plantation, where we stopped for some light souvenir shopping (Dole’s pineapple macadamia nut cookies are by far, the best) and Dole Whip! Every single time we’ve been on the island, we’ve had Dole Whip. It is just that good! I’ve had the Dole Whip at Disney and my cousin has had the Dole Whip at Leonard’s but none of them compare to the one at the Dole Plantation. The whip is creamy and sweet – not overly tart at all. Most people write off the Dole Plantation as a tourist trap but we will always make a stop for the Dole Whip.

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Along the way back from visiting the North Shore, we hit up the famous shrimp trucks. I’ve had Fumi’s and my cousin has had Romy’s – we both agree that Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck is the best. The shrimp is de-veined and headless – perfect for eating. All the shrimps are pretty much the same size and you get a heaping portion of rice with garlic sauce with each order. The garlic is definitely the strongest here – you’ll smell it in your car for days! Be sure to get a side of their mac salad, it’s pretty darn good to go with the delicious Shrimp Scampi.

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Dinner that same night was a hurried stop at Pa’ina’s Café for some delicious poke. They close at 6pm on weekends so we had to rush back from the North Shore to pick up some poke bowls. We ran in at 5:45pm and managed to order their Ahi Tuna Crunch Poke Bowl (XL). The portion sizes are unreal – the amount of ahi tuna inside my poke bowl was so generous that two of us couldn’t even finish it. The ahi was super fresh and tasted oh-so-good. Be warned though – the crunchies can get soft if you don’t eat the poke bowl right away.

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Another hidden gem that I absolutely love is Nisshodo Mochiya, which my cousin introduced us to the first time we visited Oahu. It’s located inside a warehouse and you literally cannot find it unless you have a GPS or someone to show you. Nisshodo sells homemade mochi products, but my favorite is their Chi Chi Dango, small pieces of plain mochi that are squishy, soft, and just a little sweet. They’re super affordable and very easy to just gobble down an entire pound.

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I don’t have a picture of this – because I keep gobbling them down before I take a picture, but the Poi Doughnuts at Kamehameha Bakery are literally one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. It doesn’t taste like taro at all – it just tastes like sweet, pillowy heaven. The doughnuts are so soft – even after a 10 hour plane ride back to NYC.

Jump into your car and venture off into the tiny pit stops along the road – they have the best eats and the most authentic Oahu feel. While I love a sit-down meal with waiter service – I also really love discovering delicious, cheap eats.

Hawaii Edition Pt. 3 – Alan Wong’s Restaurant

Since we opted out of a luau (we’re been to two already) and probably saved around $300, we decided to splurge a little bit and enjoy a fancy dinner out instead. After a lot of research, I settled on Alan Wong’s Restaurant, Gold winner of Honolulu Magazine’s Hale ‘Aina Award for Best Oahu Restaurant. I tried to make reservations on OpenTable about three weeks in advance but was only able to snag a 7:45pm reservation. A bit late for our standards since we were running on East Coast time, but it’ll have to do.

The location of the restaurant is a bit weird and out of place – it’s on the 3rdfloor of an office building in a not-so-nice part of town. It’s definitely not in the Waikiki tourist area. We arrived about 15 minutes early but they seated us right away. The drink menu was provided on an iPad and the food menu was provided in the traditional paper version. I liked this because I could tap around on the iPad to read drink descriptions.

We all decided to do the “A Tasting of the Classics” tasting menu at $85.00 a person.  A bit pricey, but you definitely get a lot of food with the tasting menu. I don’t think we would’ve gotten to try as many items if we ordered a la carte.

Our two appetizer courses arrived together on one plate. On the left is the Chopped Ahi Sashimi and Avocado Salsa Stack, served on top of crispy won ton flakes with spicy aioli and wasabi soy sauce. On the right is the “Soup and Sandwich”. The Chilled Vine Ripened Tomato Soup is served in a martini glass, designed to be sipped with each bite of the Grilled Cheese, which is made out of Hawai’I Island Goat Diary Mozzarella Cheese, Foie Gras, and Kalua Pig. I thoroughly enjoyed both appetizers but I think the grilled cheese was my favorite. The sandwich was savory and so scrumptious.

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Our first entrée course was the Butter Poached Kona Cold Lobster served on top of Keahole Abalone, Eryngii Mushrooms, and Green Onion Oil. The lobster was poached to perfection and the abalone was very tasty. As a Chinese person, I can attest to how much we love our abalone! My favorite, though, was the green onion oil. It was very fragrant and flavorful without overpowering the lobster.

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Our second entrée course was the Ginger Crusted Onaga, or Long-Tail Red Snapper. The snapper was served on top of a Miso Sesame Vinaigrette, Mushrooms, and Corn. I really enjoyed the miso sesame vinaigrette along with the corn. I didn’t care much for the ginger, which I thought was a bit strong, but I enjoyed the dish. I think I like Orchids Red Snapper dish better, but this one was quite good as well.

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Our third and last entrée course was an uphill battle. By now, we were all pretty full. It doesn’t sound like a lot of food since most of the courses are smaller versions, but it gets very filling, very fast. The Twice Cooked Short Ribs, Braised in Soy and Grilled “Kalbi” Style was a very impressive dish. It is served with a dash of kochujang sauce on the side and with a gingered shrimp. The shrimp was sweet and the short ribs were savory. It was a nice contrast. The short ribs were very tender and barely required any chewing on our parts. I think I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more if I wasn’t so full!

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Our dessert was their signature, The Coconut. It features coconut sorbet in a chocolate shell served with tropical fruits and lilikoi, or passionfruit, sauce. Even though I was filled to the brim, I somehow managed to devour this dessert. That’s how good it was! It also attests to how light and refreshing this dessert is because I still have no idea how I finished all the sorbet and fruit.

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Service was impeccable. Our waiter was always checking up on us after every course was presented (most of the time someone else brought our dishes over). He also made sure to ask us if we had any dietary restrictions or allergies before we started our meal. The supporting wait staff was also very on point – our dishes were always cleared quickly after we finished and utensils were replaced in a timely manner.  Besides the slightly out-of-the-way location, I can’t fault my dinner at Alan Wong’s at all.

Hawaii Edition Pt. 2: Orchids at the Halekulani

Since we were so busy in May – with my sister taking finals and gearing up for graduation and some family affairs, I asked my mom if she would be okay with postponing our annual Mother’s Day dinner until our week on Oahu. I had found the perfect restaurant for me to treat her to – Orchids at the Halekulani Hotel. She was, of course, okay with it and I quickly made reservations on OpenTable.

Fast forward to our first night at the Hilton Hawaiian Village – after a day spent at the beach and pool, we showered and dressed for our nighttime stroll over to Halekulani Hotel. We used the Beachwalk, which stretches from the HHV to the Outrigger Reef, right next to the Halekulani. We were actually early for our reservation at Orchids but they were able to seat us anyways. My request on OpenTable for a patio table was fulfilled and we were seated just in time to catch the sunset.IMG_7867

Our waiter was super nice and helped us take loads of pictures against the backdrop of Diamond Head. It was such an amazing view – Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach on one end and the sunset on the other. There was a light breeze from being so close to the ocean – everything just seemed perfect.

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We started with a lovely amuse bouche of potato chowder, followed by a breadbasket with three spread options: pomegranate with olive oil, butter with Hawaiian pink salt and butter with Hawaiian black salt. All were quite tasty – I particularly liked the butter with Hawaiian pink salt.

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We decided on appetizers to share so we ordered three. They arrived all at the same time but I’ll talk about them separately. First is the Shrimp and Avocado ($18.00) with spiced macadamia nuts and orange dressing. This was, by far, the best appetizer of the night. The avocado was fresh and the shrimp was super sweet. The orange added a sweet and tart element to the dish. I highly recommend this appetizer!

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Next is the Tuna and Foie Gras Croquette ($20.00) served with a tomatillo salsa and green apple-frisee salad. The tomatillo salsa was a bit odd but I loved the croquettes. It tasted like smooth tuna salad!

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Our last appetizer was their Orchids Salad ($14.00), which features Hirabara greens with seasonal fruit and pomegranate vinaigrette. The pomegranate vinaigrette was sweet and tart – matching the flavor of our first appetizer. The watermelon was also very sweet – you could tell it was in season there. This was a very light and refreshing appetizer to begin our meal.

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Both my sister and I went with their Steamed Onaga Orchids Style ($38.00). Onaga, or Long Tail Red Snapper, is steamed with shitake mushrooms. The sauce is made with green onions sizzled in sesame oil and soy sauce. The result was a soft, buttery snapper that practically melted in your mouth. The green onions, sesame oil and soy sauce combination really appealed to my Asian palate. I loved this dish! I can definitely see why it’s considered their signature dish.

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My mom went with their Lobster & Beef Cheeks ($54.00) with butter poached lobster and braised beef cheeks. The dish is served with a side of potato-wasabi puree, which I thought was divine. There was a hint of heat in the potato puree but not so much that it was overwhelming. I could eat a bowl of the puree!

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For dessert, we all split the Halekulani’s Signature Coconut Cake ($11.00). You can’t go to any of the Halekulani’s restaurants and not order this cake! The chiffon cake was as light as a cloud! The coconut-amaretto cream and whipped cream was not too sweet – just enough to be considered dessert. I’m a huge fan of coconut so this was a special treat for me.

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Service was impeccable and I really loved the way our waiter interacted with our table. Both our waiter and busboy were very attentive and we felt like we were treated with the utmost service. I highly recommend Orchids – whether it’s for a celebratory meal or just a night out. The ambiance and view cannot be beat.

Hawaii Edition Pt. 1: Monkeypod

When it came time to decide where to go for our annual vacation, I immediately knew I wanted to go to Hawaii again. I loved our first two times there and couldn’t wait to go back to tackle my To-Do list. My cousin also had just brought a house so we wanted to visit her as well. It seemed like the perfect decision! Although I had planned dinner for the days we’d be staying at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, I left the days we’d be spending with my cousin and her husband to her. She’s been there for about five years now so she definitely knew best on all the good places to eat.

The day we landed in Honolulu, she had made Happy Hour reservations for Monkeypod, located in Ko Olina. Monkeypod, which specializes in serving dishes made from local, organic and sustainable ingredients, runs their Happy Hour every day from 3:00-5:00 and then again at 9:00 – 11:00. All appetizers are 50% off, all pizzas are $9 and draft beers are discounted. Definitely make reservations if you’re interested in dining during Happy Hour because it was packed when we arrived.

We decided on appetizers to share and then entrees. We sampled the Lobster Deviled Eggs ($14.95 regular price), which feature Big Island lobster and Mikilua Farms organic, free-range eggs. The deviled eggs are okay – I didn’t think they were quite vinegary enough! It also came in an awkward amount for the table – we had five people but the dish only came with four.

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The Pumpkin Patch Ravioli ($13.95, regular price) was the highlight of the night, in my opinion. The ravioli is made with a Kiawe-roasted squash and goat cheese filling and topped with organic spinach, toasted, walnut sage, and pesto. The filling was so smooth and flavorful – I think next time I’ll order this appetizer as my entrée. We also split the Hamakua Wild Mushroom & Truffle Pizza ($18.95, regular price), which is a white sauce pizza topped with wild mushroom, truffle, parmesan and fresh thyme. The pizza was a really good size to share – we all ended up with one slice to try. It’s also a very good size for an individual pizza if a pizza is all you want. The truffle was super fragrant and meshed well with the wild mushroom and white sauce.

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Our last appetizer was the Garlic Truffle Fries ($9.95, regular price), which feature fresh French fries topped with parmesan cheese and served with whole grain mustard aioli and homemade ketchup. The fries were very tasty and piping hot. I really liked the mustard aioli because it had a bit of a kick without being spicy.

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For my entrée, I had the Kale and Wild Mushroom Gnocchi ($21.95). The dish features homemade gnocchi topped with Ma’o Farm organic kale, Hamakua Wild Mushrooms, tomato coulis and goat cheese. This was one of the best gnocchi dishes I have ever had – the gnocchi was light and pillowy. It practically melted in my mouth and tasted so good with the kale and goat cheese mixture. I highly recommend this dish.

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We were all so full after all the appetizers and entrees and that we couldn’t fit dessert. Next time, I’ll save a little room to try out their dessert menu. Service was quick and efficient – definitely on point considering it was Happy Hour. I must return for those pumpkin raviolis!

Onomea

When I first heard about Onomea opening in Williamsburg, I quickly put it on my “To-Go” list. I’ve been to Hawaii two times now and I love everything about the cuisine and lifestyle there. I’m always craving Longboards, Hawaiian Sun POG, Loco Moco and Poke – especially the Loco Moco. I’ve even tried to recreate it myself but my beef patties never end up as good!

After months of saying we were going pay a visit to Onomea, we finally set a date and went through with it. We ended up inviting a friend to come along since he’s never had Hawaiian food before. We arrived around 6:30pm and was seated right away with menus. It’s a pretty small menu with just a few options in each category but don’t let that fool you! The food here is delicious!

They have three beer options – it’s not much but I was seriously conflicted. I’ve had both Longboard and Big Wave before in Hawaii so it was really a matter of which I missed more! We all decided to go with Longboards ($7.00 each) though because it is Kona Brewing Company’s most popular beer.

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I ordered the Poke ($13.00), which is Ahi Tuna with white onions, seaweed, green onions and sesame. I’ve had tons of Poke before and I thought this one was pretty good. It was a decent sized serving and the seasoning was on point.

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A friend ordered the Spam Musubi ($5.00), which is spam and rice wrapped in seaweed. Spam Musubi is a super common snack in Hawaii and I’ve tried to replicate it without any success. This one was a very tasty version. The spam was nicely seasoned and served warm. I just wish there was a little bit more rice like the Hawaii versions!

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I ordered the Loco Moco ($14.00), which featured a Teriyaki burger served on a bed of rice with a sunnyside egg and topped with gravy. Loco Moco is also super popular and common on Hawaii so I’ve had plenty of these too. It’s one of the top foods that I miss from Hawaii because it’s just so tasty and hearty. It’s comfort food at it’s finest and this one really hit the spot. The burger patty was cooked nicely and wasn’t tough at all. The gravy was on point! I really liked that it was sweet and salty at the same time – there was a nice tang to it.

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Our friend ordered the “Hawaiian Size It” option for an extra $5.00 and I have to say it’s a great deal. For an extra $5.00 you get an extra order! He managed to finish all of it – I have no idea how but he really enjoyed the gravy and patty!

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The Boyfriend went with the Teri Burger ($11.00), just to try something else. The Teri Burger is a Teriyaki beef patty on a toasted bun with mayo and lettuce with your choice of fries or salad. I had a few bites and it was pretty good. The burger was juicy and flavorful.

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We were all pretty full but you know me, I always have room for dessert! They had two gelato flavors as well as a Coconut Custard with toasted coconut shavings. It’s a big dessert so definitely more than enough for sharing. There’s a nice layer of jelly on the bottom, which I really liked.

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Service was attentive and we were constantly asked if we needed anything else. The vibe is really nice too – everything is all blue and earthy. The music is constant island jams and it just feels very laid back. I can’t wait to be back again to satisfy my Hawaiian food cravings! Now if only they could get some Dole Whip!

Hanamizuki

The cool thing about starting a new job in a new neighborhood is that you get to explore and learn where all the good places to eat are. Whether you’re eating by yourself, with friends or with coworkers, there are always new places to discover. I recently discovered Hanamizuki, which sells Japanese rice balls. It’s right smack in the middle of wholesale clothing and jewelry stores so it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking!

They do an Omusbi Plate combo for $9.50 and you get your choice of 2 rice balls and miso soup combined with their appetizer of the day and Japanese pickles. There are 8 rice ball choices and 4 miso soup choices – all of them sound super delicious!

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I went with the Hawaiian, which had spam, dried tomato, chili and nori – seaweed, and the Sweet Potato, which had Japanese sweet potato, hijiki-seaweed, deep fried tofu and black sesame. For my miso soup, I went with the Gnocchi, which had tofu-gnocchi, arugula, black peppers and extra-virgin olive oil.

I really liked the miso soup – the gnocchi was very moist and chewy. The arugula was also made the soup very fresh and light. The rice balls were a bit on the small side but they’re pretty filling once you get through eating both of them! I thought the Hawaiian wasn’t as good as some other spam musubis I’ve had but it was pretty tasty. I really liked the Sweet Potato rice ball because it was sweet and salty at the same time.

The workers were very friendly and I hear the desserts are coming in soon so that’s definitely something to look forward to. They also serve Columbe coffee!

Tommy Bahama

When I first stumbled unto Tommy Bahama, I was a bit skeptical since it’s considered a chain restaurant – a higher end chain restaurant, but still a chain restaurant nonetheless. But it’s been a year since being in Hawaii or somewhere tropical, so I was really craving something with an island feel. So when my mother asked me where I wanted to eat for my birthday, I quickly made reservations for the Tommy Bahama in Midtown Manhattan.

The restaurant is located on top of the clothing store so you have to take the stairs up. We arrived a bit early and we were seated right away in a nice booth table. Our waiter greeted us right away and offered to get us started with drinks. We ordered two drinks and decided to see which one we liked more after it arrived. We had the Bahama Mama ($12.00) and Manhattan’s Best Mai Tai ($14.00). The Bahama Mama was definitely the lighter of the two and pretty fruity. The Mai Tai was very strong but still good nonetheless.

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We opted to split three appetizers instead of each ordering one individually. First up was the Ahi Tuna Tacos ($12.50), which is served with a fried wonton shell, Asian slaw and wasabi creme on top. These were so good! The wonton shell was hard enough to withstand biting but not as hard as regular taco shells. The wasabi creme was very flavorful without being spicy.

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Next up was the Ahi Poke Napolean ($16.50), which features chunks of Ahi Tuna tossed with capers, guacamole and served with flatbread. I’ve been missing poke since we left Hawaii so this was definitely my favorite appetizer of the night. They did not skimp on the tuna at all – there was definitely enough tuna and guac to go round. Just like the tacos, the tuna was super fresh and I quickly gobbled up more than my share.

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Since we needed some veggies, we opted for the Bungalow Salad ($8.00), which features romaine lettuce tossed with toasted almonds and macadamia nuts, feta cheese, sun-dried blueberries and a meyer lemon vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was very light and fresh and paired very well with the other ingredients. We even used the bread to soak it up after we finished the veggies.

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And speaking of the bread – they’re baked to order and served with a honey butter, which made it taste like a cinnamon roll!

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For my entree, I went with the Kona Coffee Crusted Ribeye ($29.00), which is served with a warm potato salad and a light salad. The salad and potatoes definitely helped balance out the savory steak. I’ve only had Kona Coffee steak before once before and this one really put up a good fight. It was tender and flavorful. The portion size is also insanely large!

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My mother went with the Macadamia Nut Encrusted Red Snapper ($29.50), which is served with almond rice and a wasabi-soy beurre blanc. The portion size for this dish was also insanely large. The mac nut crust was very crunchy and crispy. I also thoroughly enjoyed the almond rice, which was fragrant and tasty.

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For dessert, we opted to split two. At Tommy Bahama, your waiter brings over a tray with all the desserts on it to show you which ones they have. I really like that they do this because I’m a visual eater and I loved being able to pick based on what each dessert looked like. I decided on the Pineapple Creme Brulee ($9.00), which features a Tahitian Vanilla Bean and white chocolate mousse that’s served inside an actual pineapple. It was smooth, just the right amount of sweet and oh so good.

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My sister picked the Malted Chocolate Pie ($10.00), which featured a mocha mousse surrounded by a chocolate cookie crust and topped with English toffee crumble. This dessert was really rich and heavy – the complete opposite of the creme brulee. It was good, but after a few bites, it became a bit too much. This is definitely a dessert so share.

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I really enjoyed my dinner at Tommy Bahama. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the food was and how well done all the dishes were. I don’t think I had one thing that I didn’t like! The service was attentive and our waiter was able to answer all of our questions about the dishes. I love it when waiters really know their own products. I highly recommend Tommy Bahama if you’re ever feeling like getting away from the hustle & bustle of the city and relaxing with some island-themed food!