Tuesday, April 23, 2013

hawaii | food & drink

hawaiian cocktails
One of my favorite things to do on vacation is...eat. And drink. I like to do these things anyway, and I especially love trying local cuisine and restaurants in a new city. (Plus, vacation calories don't count, right?) I have the best luck when I research dining establishments ahead of time - this prevents wandering into a touristy spot that usually doesn't have very good food - however, it can be fun to discover a delicious local hole-in-the-wall, too, particularly in Hawaii where the best food is casual. (I ate a ridiculous amount of fish/shrimp tacos - my favorite.)

So...cocktails. Yes, I had my share of them in Oahu. It's hard to pick favorites because anything made with pineapple, coconut, mango, guava, passionfruit, or a combination thereof, is my favorite! (Oh, and don't forget the rum!) I also had an interesting and delicious drink called a Brazilian Purple Lady - made with gin and jabuticaba - a Brazilian fruit that I had never even heard of before. We tried some local brews, too, including a coconut porter, but mixed drinks are definitely my preference on vacation.

Now onto the eats. Lots of fresh seafood, fresh fruit, baked goods, and asian-influenced dishes:
hawaiian food
Our favorite places to eat (and drink) in Oahu:

In Waikiki/Honolulu:

MAC 24-7 - This restaurant was in our hotel. Lucky us - the food here was great, as were the cocktails. This place is also home of the Pancake Challenge as seen on Man v. Food. The challenge is for one person to eat three steering-wheel-sized pancakes in 90 minutes. No thanks! But the regular-sized portions of breakfast food were delicious. As was the Guava Lemonade and the Guavalicious cocktail, which yes, I've already mentioned a million times and will probably mention a million more times because I'm obsessed with guava.

RUMFIRE - This is the patio bar at the Sheraton Waikiki and it is AMAZING. The atmosphere is fantastic - loungy with huge sculptural fire bowls adorning the patio, a breathtaking view, and delicious drinks. Highly recommend this place.

THE BEACH BAR - This was the patio bar at the Moana Surfrider Hotel and let me tell you, this place is what vacationing in Hawaii is all about. Spend an evening sitting under the Banyan Trees, sipping a cocktail and looking out at the ocean and you will be jelly for the rest of the night. This was the most relaxing place we went to.

HULA DOG - OMG. Can a hot dog be amazing? Yes, it can, and the dogs at Hula Dog are delicious! Picture this: a Polish sausage with mango relish, Hawaiian mustard, and lemon-garlic sauce inside a taro-bacon roll. (Bonus: taro rolls are PURPLE!) Seriously, this hot dog was life-changing and Larry is still upset that I ate at this place without him.

ARANCINO - I avoided this place for a few days because I scoffed at the idea of eating Italian food in Hawaii. But one morning when I was running out of breakfast options, I stopped there for a savory Italian crepe stuffed with potatoes, rosemary, and prosciutto. Perfection!

INDIGO - This is a worthwhile stop just for the atmosphere - you feel like you've stepped into a jungle in Asia. The food was good (cocktails not great) and it's supposed to be one of Obama's chosen restaurants in Honolulu. Plus, it's a good reason to take a cab and get out of Waikiki for the evening, though our driver told us it isn't located in the best neighborhood, so we didn't explore the area.

TOWN - If you're looking for a nice restaurant with a unique menu and great food made with fresh local organic ingredients, this is the place. It's a cab ride away from Waikiki (I would definitely suggest taking a cab as it was a weird area) and a meal here with friends makes for a lovely evening. A couple of quotes from their website that sum up their menu and philosophy: "Local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always" and "Find the shortest, simplest way between the earth, the hands and the mouth."

LEONARD'S BAKERY - Three words: Mango Custard Malasadas. A malasada is a Portuguese donut (and I love all things donut!) A malasada is also awesome, especially when filled with mango custard.

On the Windward Side:

BUZZ'S STEAKHOUSE - This place was a bit of a surprise. It was a typical steakhouse, dark inside and lacking in atmosphere. The menu offerings were quite pedestrian. (Do I sound like a snob yet?) I mean it had a salad bar. (How about now?) We were prepared to be underwhelmed. But the steak and fish we split between us (DIY surf & turf) were surprisingly good. Perhaps the best piece of fish we'd ever had. No fancy sauces or reductions, just a piece of fresh fish - simple and perfectly cooked.

CACTUS - Now this was the kind of place we were looking for - an interesting Central/South American menu and delicious food made with local ingredients. We would've had to eat here several times to be able to try all the dishes that caught our eye on the menu.

PRIMA - This was the best pizza I've ever had. Totally unexpected and amazing!

KALAPAWAI MARKET - This was actually just a little souvenir/beach shop, but there's a sandwich counter in the back and the food was surprisingly good - the perfect spot to grab a quick lunch after a morning on the beach or to get eats for a picnic.

ISLAND SNOW - This is reportedly President Obama's favorite place on the island to get shave ice. I'd never had shave ice before and was surprised at how fluffy and creamy it was. (It is not the same thing as a snow cone.) Delicious! Also, do not be confused by their website/storefont - it looks like a surf shop and it is - but they also sell amazing shave ice.

CREPES NO KA 'OI - All I have to say is this: I never turn down the opportunity to eat a crepe.

THE GROVE - We had our last dinner on the island here and it was a winner. I had poke here for the first time and it was amazing (odd since I've never been a fan of sushi). The rest of the menu was equally delicious, and even though I was sad to be leaving the island, it was the perfect end to our trip.

On the North Shore:

GIOVANNI'S SHRIMP TRUCK - This is a food truck. It's not fancy. It pops up on every tourist list of must-try places to eat. The food is simple, but it's fun and worth a stop for a quick lunch if you're driving around the North Shore.

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And for anyone planning a trip to Oahu (or in case I ever am lucky enough to go back), I thought I'd share the rest of my restaurant research. A few places that were highly recommended but we didn't get a chance to try:

EGGS N THINGS - The line was always SO long here...but they have COCONUT PANCAKES!
ALAN WONG'S - Supposed to be the best fine dining experience in Oahu.
PINT + JIGGER - Gastropub in Honolulu. 21 beers on tap.
SALT - Tasting bar with local ingredients and signature cocktails.
LILIHA BAKERY - You had me at coco puffs.

Stay tuned for the rest of the vacation story and to see whether I was able to fit into my wedding dress after stuffing my face with such delicious Hawaiian treats...