Nine Hawaiian Restaurants You Don't Have to Cross an Ocean to Try
Ravi Kapur, the chef behind San Francisco’s Liholiho Yacht Club, never intended to open a Hawaiian restaurant. But after years working in Californian and Southwestern kitchens, the Oahu native wanted to create food that he felt connected him to his roots. Across the country, Hawaiian chefs like Kapur are showing mainlanders that there’s more to the state’s culinary traditions than resort luau fare. “It’s a complex, multiethnic cuisine,” says Oahuan Kiki Aranita, cofounder of the Philadelphia food truck Poi Dog, who breaks down the islands’ cooking into two types: native specialties like poi (a pudding-like taro dish) and poke (raw-fish salad), and “local” food, which describes recipes and ingredients introduced by migrant workers who came to labor on the state’s sugar and pineapple plantations. Here are the dishes to look for and where to try them.
TrendingPoke | LIHOLIHO YACHT CLUB | San Francisco
Any neo-Hawaiian place worth its alaea salt has poke on the menu, but Kapur’s is the ultimate version. Cubes of pristine Pacific ahi under a gloss of sesame oil and tamari are charged with ginger, jalapeño, and scallion and served on top of ink-black nori crackers. liholihoyachtclub.com.
Portuguese Bean Soup | HULA GIRL | Arlington, Virginia
Owner Mikala Brennan’s version of this robust bean-and-sausage stew is a riff on her mother’s recipe. Ham hocks add smoky backbone, while kidney beans, elbow macaroni, and linguiça, a sausage imported from Portugal, provide rib-sticking heft. hulagirlbarandgrill.com.
Butter Mochi | POI DOG | Philadelphia
Cakelike butter mochi gets its springy chew from mochiko, a glutinous-rice flour introduced to Hawaii by Okinawan immigrants. Though butter mochi is traditionally unflavored and made in rectangular trays, Aranita’s are flower-shaped and come in flavors like matcha and Kona coffee. poidogphilly.com.
Kalua Pork | NOREETUH | New York City
“Kalua pig is a staple at every luau,” says chef Chung Chow, an Oahu native and Thomas Keller–trained Per Se alum. Though it’s typically a whole pig swaddled in banana leaves and slow-cooked in a pit, Chow’s take is an Italian-influenced kalua-pig cavatelli: mesquite-rubbed and braised pork tossed with durum pasta, pickled cabbage, and Parmesan. noreetuh.com.
Malasadas | MA’ONO FRIED CHICKEN & WHISKY | Seattle
These pillowy sugared doughnuts originated as a pre-Lent indulgence for Catholic Portuguese plantation laborers. Ma’ono chef-owner Mark Fuller, who grew up buying malasadas at bakeries and convenience stores in Kauai, serves the treats at brunch with a tart, butter-baked apple filling. maono.springhillnorthwest.com.
Lomilomi Salmon | KAMA’AINA | Forest Grove, Oregon
“You can’t have a family gathering without lomilomi salmon,” says Oahuan-turned-Oregonian chef Kevin Yamada. Lomilomi means “to massage,” a reference to the way salt is rubbed into the fish for overnight curing. As with poke, the salmon gets diced, then mixed with chopped tomatoes, sweet onions, and scallions. kamaainacfoh.com.
Spam Musubi | MAHALO | Chicago
With its parasol-topped cocktails and pineapple-print wallpaper, Mahalo couldn’t be more different from the Hawaiian roadside stands that sell musubi, a sushi-inspired snack made with Spam, which came to the islands with the GIs during World War II. The flavors here are spot-on, though Mahalo’s version is breaded and fried for added appeal. mahalochicago.com.
Haupia | ONO GRINDS | San Diego
Fifth-generation Hawaiian Chris Wriston grew up eating this creamy coconut pudding at weddings and other big family parties. Unlike on the islands, where haupia is usually served plain and cut into squares, Wriston’s version at Ono Grinds gets a little something extra in the form of a macadamia cookie crust and a drizzle of guava syrup. onogrindsgrill.com.