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Where Honolulu’s Chefs (and Critics) Dine

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Where Honolulu’s Chefs (and Critics) Dine
Honolulu's Chefs Dine

When a chef and a food reviewer agree on the finest restaurants in a city, it’s worth noting.

Nadine Kam is the Honolulu Star-food Advertiser’s reviewer.

Chef: George Mavrothalassitis, Chef Mavro is the brainchild of one of Hawaii’s most well-known restaurateurs.

Where should tourists go to sample traditional Hawaiian fare?

GM Helena’s Hawaiian Food is ranked first. There are influences from China, Japan, and the Philippines, as well as Polynesia.

NK Visit Waiahole Poi Factory, a roadside establishment outside of town that serves all the traditional Hawaiian fare: laulau [pork wrapped in taro leaves], squid luau [made with young taro leaves], kalua pork [cooked in an underground oven], chicken long rice [Hawaiian-style soup], and, of course, poi [mashed cooked taro]. Because few foreigners first enjoy poi, a sweeter kulolo prepared with taro and coconut milk may be a better choice. This is the only establishment that I am aware of that offers Sweet Lady of Waiahole, a kulolo dessert topped with haupia ice cream. The name is derived from the name of a local lady who sold fruits and vegetables.

What is your favorite fine-dining establishment?

GM I own Hawaii’s best fine-dining establishment [Chef Mavro], but who would believe me now that I’ve said it? For the tenth straight year, we have earned the highest American rating, the AAA Five Diamond distinction. However, if I were to suggest another restaurant, it would be that of my buddy Alan Wong, who specializes in Hawaii Regional Cuisine.

NK Chef Mavro offers the ideal balance of cuisine, wine, service, and ambiance. His menu varies seasonally; you cannot go wrong with his sumptuous nine-course tasting menu, which include bouillabaisse as it is eaten in his home Marseille, creamy egg poutargue, and Big Island Keahole crab.

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Where would you go to find excellent poke?

Everywhere, General Motors! Poke is a Hawaiian dish. However, Tamashiro Market, Japan’s largest fish market, has an incredible variety of poke. One thing — we never add avocado on it in Hawaii.

NK If you like it traditional, travel all the way to Kahuku Superette (56-505 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku; +1 808 293 9878), an inconspicuous convenience store serving arguably of the island’s finest ahi [tuna] poke.

And what about shaving ice?

GM Waiola Shave Ice (2135 Waiola Street; +1 808 949 2269) is located only a few blocks from my business and is frequented by my whole crew. Personally, I’m not a fan of syrup on ice.

NK There are two shave ice schools in this area. The first is the sugar-syrup original. I’d choose Shimazu Shave Ice (3111 Castle Street; +1 808 744 0465) in this category for its sheer range of flavors – 76 to date. Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha is the polar opposite, serving natural fruit purées over ice.

Which restaurant is the greatest for sushi?

GM Because I like a variety of sushi restaurants, if you ask me the same question in two weeks, my response will be different. However, my current favorite restaurant is Sushi ii (655 Keeaumoku Street; +1 808 942 5350). They only use the finest ingredients – it’s incredible.

NK Among the best is Maru Sushi, the second location of chef Takeshi Kawasaki’s Michelin-starred original in Japan. He uses seafood from local waters and Hokkaido; if you speak Japanese or are fortunate enough to be accompanied by someone who does, you will learn a lot.

What restaurants do you frequent in Chinatown?

GM I enjoy Chinese cuisine and go to Legend Seafood Restaurant for the best dim sum. I’m going to surprise you – tripe is my favorite meal, and chicken feet is my second favorite. I like chicken feet: the texture and preparation method used by the Chinese are amazing. In France, we discard them, but the Chinese and I adore them.

NK Almost all of the fashionable [non-Chinese] eateries have relocated [to the neighborhood]. There are many excellent examples, including Senia, The Pig and the Lady, Fête, and Yakitori Hachiebi. My Chinese soul frequently directs me back to Chinatown’s origins, to Fook Lam in the Chinatown Cultural Plaza (100 N Beretania Street; +1 808 523 9168) for dim sum or a new favorite, or to Spicy Pavilion (+1 808 888 8306) in the Cultural Plaza, where diners unfamiliar with tongue-numbing Sichuan pepper eat at their own risk.

Where do you get the finest steak?

GM My favorite is Hy’s Steak House, which serves very high-quality steak.

NK I’m recommending Hy’s Steak House, which cooks its steaks over kiawe wood. You may have your porterhouse or bone-in rib eye with a black truffle demi-glaze — truffle is one of my favorite ingredients. I also like striploin with au poivre sauce and cracked black peppercorns.

What is your breakfast recommendation?

The General Manager’s House Without A Key is located in the Halekulani hotel. It may be the world’s finest breakfast. Additionally, the Hau Tree Lanai at The New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel is stunning, and you’re almost dining on the beach.

NK While the finest breakfasts here require a wait, The Nook is well worth the wait.

How about a shot of caffeine?

GM On Hawaii, we cultivate a lot of coffee: in Kona, Maui, and on the North Shore. My preferred location to consume it is at Honolulu Coffee. It’s fantastic — and very unlike Starbucks!

NK Regrettably, coffee is not a habit of mine.

Where would you go for amazing cocktails and a jaw-dropping view?

Again, General Manager, Halekulani’s House Without A Key. At sunset, the vista is incredible.

The Royal Hawaiian Resort’s NK Mai Tai Bar stands true to its name, offering seven variations on the Hawaii-associated classic. Other cocktails, served beachside, highlight the flavors of fresh local produce with accents of Thai basil, lemongrass, honey, and makrut lime.

Is there a restaurant in your neighborhood that no one knows about but should?

Ethel’s Grill, General Manager (232 Kalihi Street; +1 808 847 6467). It’s authentic Japanese cuisine at its finest. The ahi tataki is outstanding, as is the oxtail soup and the poke.

NK I believe that Fish Hook Cafe is often neglected due to its placement at a boutique hotel off Waikiki’s main strip. Chef Elmer Guzman is accomplishing remarkable things. Among his more unusual creations are an egg shooter with calamansi, soy, and lime sauce, a Caesar salad dressed in Filipino shrimp paste, and avocado toast 2.0 with buttered lobster and tarragon aoli on bacon-fat-rubbed toast. It everything works out somehow!

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