Above: Spiced pineapple margarita cocktail of mezcal, silver tequila, pineapple liqueur, jalapeno, lime juice and agave syrup at Brown's Beach House, Oahu

Hawaiian Restaurant Discoveries

Hawaii’s abundance of fresh seafood is always a pleasure. But in the last several years, local produce has also started to shine on restaurant menus. The archipelago’s rich volcanic soil is suited to taro and pineapples, but just about anything else will grow well. In addition to a rainbow of tropical fruits, look for buttery ali‘i mushrooms, mild Maui onions and high-quality local beef and pork. And a bevy of Hawaiian craft breweries and distilleries ensure that no one goes thirsty.

The state’s most sophisticated and stylish restaurants are mostly in and around Honolulu. Elsewhere, the food tends to be simpler and the atmosphere more casual. Restaurants in high-end resorts are, of course, often exceptions to this rule



Outdoor seating at Fête, Oahu - Photo by Andrew Harper editor
Coconut Kauai prawns with curry leaves, butter, parsley, black pepper, lime and lemon, accompanied by ginger-scallion fried rice at Fête - Photo by Andrew Harper editor

Located in the rapidly gentrifying Chinatown, the oldest quarter of Honolulu, Fête has a small and fashionable dining room surrounded by exposed brick walls, as well as a shady sidewalk patio where we lunched. We enjoyed the people-watching — this neighborhood draws its fair share of eccentrics — but the powerfully flavorful food is the real draw. We started with a tartare of local beef with spicy mustard, capers, fried shallots and a dollop of creamy béarnaise, accompanied by addictive grilled sourdough spread with anchovy butter. Although the twice-fried half chicken is the most popular main course on the menu, I couldn’t resist the Kauai prawns. They were a joy: big and sweet, bathed in a butter-peppercorn sauce accented with crunchy coconut flakes and fried curry leaves. To help soak up the wonderfully rich sauce, I recommend a side of ginger-scallion rice. The wine list has a lengthy selection of bottles and a creative by-the-glass list. The Valenti “Ciuri di Lava,” an orange Carricante from the slope of Mount Etna, seemed most appropriate, considering the volcanic soil beneath us. Fête is an ideal lunch stop before or after a tour of nearby Iolani Palace. Closed Sunday.

2 North Hotel Street, Honolulu. Tel. (808) 369-1390

La Vie

Heart of Palm at La Vie, Oahu - La Vie
Venison at La Vie, Oahu - La Vie

Since we were still restricting ourselves to outdoor dining, this formal French restaurant in Waikiki seemed especially appealing, since it occupies a wide indoor-outdoor space on the eighth floor of the Ritz-Carlton Residences. Tables along the edge of the covered terrace have views of the ocean, interrupted only by some tropical gardens. The well-trained staff knew the menu inside and out — even the young man filling our water glasses was able to make educated cocktail recommendations. I very much enjoyed the complex Atomic Blonde cocktail, based on Old Tom gin, as well as the restaurant’s riff on a mai tai, mixed with local rhum agricole, which proved fresh and not oversweet. Patrons can order three or four courses, choosing whatever they like from the menu. I started with baby Kona abalone, resembling iridescent mussels in a classic sauce of parsley butter and Pernod, accompanied by pickled ramps. My main course of dry-aged yellowtail was actually quite moist, capped with a crunchy skin. It was surrounded by a smooth sauce of sorrel cream, and citrusy wilted tatsoi (a relative of bok choy) came on the side. My dessert of gâteau Ispahan, an almond sponge cake layered with subtle lychee cream and topped with raspberry gelée, was excellent. Overall, La Vie’s combination of French recipes and local ingredients yielded delicious results. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Above: Spiced pineapple margarita cocktail of mezcal, silver tequila, pineapple liqueur, jalapeno, lime juice and agave syrup at Brown's Beach House, Oahu

Read More from Our Trip:

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