I tend to feel a bit of foodie guilt when I travel. Although meals are an integral part of most vacations, I am not adventurous in seeking my meals and I don't make food the focus of my trips. I don't go too far off the beaten path to find that spot only the locals and a few lucky outsiders know about. I don't rent a place with a kitchen and then shop the local markets to produce my own version of fresh homemade specialties.
My priorities on vacation are seeing as many interesting sights as I can and indulging in whatever activities are available to me. I will eat a hotel breakfast so I don't lose too much of my morning. I'll eat lunch wherever I can grab it. At the end of a long day, I will try to pick an interesting restaurant to eat at, but it's usually something convenient to my hotel. I have been known to end up in places that cater heavily to tourists, even if I'm not aware of it at the time. I sometimes eat unknowingly eat at national chains (just ones I don't know about because they aren't in my neck of the woods). I even go to Starbucks. I can at least say I never eat at McDonalds, The Olive Garden, Applebees, or any similar sort of places.
I ate at a mix of places in Hawaii. Most of my meals were excellent, whether they were touristy or not. Food may not have been the star of my vacation, but it was a stellar supporting player. Since I enjoyed the food so much, it certainly deserves a starring role on the blog.
Day 1: We arrived at our hotel in Waikiki, the Outrigger Reef on the Beach in the evening. During our 10.5 hour flight we were served a meal and multiple snacks, so I wasn't terribly hungry, but I was also eager to start snarfing the local chow. We chose the hotel's casual poolside restaurant The Kani Ka Pila Grill.
The open-air bar and restaurant faced the street rather than the ocean, but had tables around the nicely-landscaped pool and more tables in a torchlit garden behind the bar.
Day 2: We tried another hotel restaurant, The Shore Bird, for the breakfast buffet. It was pretty standard stuff: Pastries, eggs, French toast (on Hawaiian bread), home fries, and lots of fruit. The fresh pineapple is as outstanding as you expect Hawaiian pineapple to be. They also had a carving station that served up some of the best ham I ever had. The only ham I ever ate that was better was the heritage ham I served at Christmas.
We spent the afternoon of Day 2 on a bus tour that took us around various points on the North Shore. The area is known for its food trucks and small casual food shacks. Our tour took us to one called Fumi's.
The standout feature of Fumi's is that they raise their own shrimp in these ponds. Pretty cool.
For dinner that night we went to Cheeseburger, a Hawaii-based chain that serves much more than cheeseburgers. We went to the location at the Beach Walk, a small strip of stores and restaurants a block from our hotel. Even though we weren't trying out the authentic local dives, we can at least say we left the hotel.
I found this cookbook in the Pearl Harbor gift shop. I decided not to buy it.
For dinner we returned to the Beach Walk and tried a place called The Yard House. This was hardly a traditional Hawaiian restaurant, but it just looked like a fun place to have dinner. It is named in honor of those yard-long beer glasses they drink in England. They had a vast selection of beers on tap.
I had no idea until I came home that this was a national chain (although not a large one). They do seem to change the menu at different locations to showcase local specialties.
We ordered dessert this night. This was a giant s'mores brownie. The brownie sat on a graham cracker crust and was topped with toasted marshmallows. Kevin wasn't crazy about it. We opted to share dessert and I let him order, but he said he wasn't sure what made him order this as he doesn't really like marshmallows.
We had lunch at the Volcano House, the restaurant in the park. I had a Hawaiian "bento". I finally was able to eat my kalua pork. Like the adobo pork from the first night, it was a bit too salty and not enough of other seasonings. I guess that really is typical. There were also the typical accompaniments of sticky rice and macaroni salad along with a green salad and some fresh fruit. The white thing in the corner was dessert. I can only compare it to a flan or a panna cotta flavored with fresh coconut.
This was the view from our table.
Day 5 - It was Sunday and the brunch crowd flooded the Shore Bird, so we decided to try our luck at Kani Ka Pila instead. Kevin didn't feel like exploring the neighborhood for other options.
I tried another Hawaiian classic, the loco moco. For those not acquainted with this dish, it's an egg on top of a hamburger on top of rice. Then it's covered in gravy. I don't know if it should be considered comfort food or stoner food. Maybe it's a little of both? It's so wrong, but it's so right!
Il Lupino, an Italian restaurant. I was a bit skeptical. I didn't come all the way to Hawaii to eat Italian food. How good could Italian food be on the other side of the planet?
The answer: It can be good. I can be very good. This may be some of the best Italian food I have had outside of Italy.
It's a beautiful restaurant that sits at the far end of one of the malls on Kalakaua Avenue, the main drag on Waikiki. It's spacious and charming.
I went all out with my meal ordering a salad, a pasta course, and main course. Even my server was surprised I ordered all that.
Arugula and pear salad started the meal. It's only flaw was it was too heavy on the greens. The flavors didn't balance enough. This seems common in many restaurant arugula salads though. It's more economical to fill a plate with greens I guess.
Next I had bucatini amatriciana. I love amatriciana sauce, but every time I have had it, the meat was always pancetta, or even Canadian bacon. Traditionally it's supposed to be made with guanciale. Well, this version had the guanciale. The pasta was delicious and surprisingly spicy. It was also a bigger portion than I expected.
Lappert's within the massive shopping complex at Hilton Hawaiian Village, the hotel adjacent to the Outrigger. Again, it's a chain, but a local one.
This is Kauai Pie. It's coffee with fudge, coconut, and macadamia nuts. You have to love Lapperts' use of nuts and coconut in so many of their flavors.
We had dinner at Roy's. Roy Yamaguchi is Hawaii's answer to a celebrity chef. I didn't realize that this was another national chain. There aren't any locations anywhere near where I live, so I had never heard of it. I had simply been reading so much hype about it in the local media in Oahu, I felt I had to try it. The problem with celebrity-chef-owned restaurants is they can have a great menu, but the execution often needs serious QC. I wasn't sure what to expect, but Hawaii makes you feel optimistic. It's funny what an effect the place has on you.
The restaurant sits on a corner with a large outdoor patio.
We arrived at our hotel, the Koa Kea in the early afternoon. It was raining and our room wasn't ready yet, so we hung out at the bar for lunch and drinks.
My cocktail contained sparkling wine, peach vodka, and melon liqueur.
Red Salt. It's considered a really high end place in the neighborhood and we only had dinner there once. Too pricey. They had a $50 burger topped with foie gras and lobster. I call that overkill.
The restaurant is named for the local red salt (obviously) and they provide a small container of it with the bread and butter. I decided to try it. I liked it so much I bought a container of it at the hotel gift shop before I went home.
Kevin wanted more ice cream. The ice cream was a quartet of gelati. Kevin really only wanted one of the flavors. They accommodated him and brought a shareable portion. I initially thought the square containers were cubic ice cream scoops.
Day 8 - We didn't rent a car on Kauai (not a good decision) so we were limited in our neighborhood food options as we had to take a bit of a walk to a small shopping center that had only a few food establishments. There was an even bigger center about a mile and a half down the road with an even better selection, but without a car, it might as well not be there. Since we never wanted to waste our mornings walking, we always had breakfast at Red Salt.
Our first Kauai morning I had a breakfast burrito. This thing was ridiculous. It was pancetta hash, eggs, and gruyere in a wrap. They offered ketchup and sriracha for dipping. I guess the salad on the side was there to make you feel less guilty. I seriously didn't need to eat anything else the rest of the day.
Red Salt's other temptations include pineapple-lemon souffle pancakes, which I didn't try because they take 30 minutes to prepare, and macadamia nut waffles, which were a bit tough, but were improved with coconut syrup.
Even though I didn't want to eat, when the bus tour of Waimea canyon stopped at a local market this day, I bought a masalada. These are popular Portuguese doughnuts commonly eaten in Hawaii. I had a coconut one. I was dying to dry one.
Our driver took us to a place on a golf course for lunch. He seemed like the kind of guy who would know all the shacks and food trucks, but tour companies don't often contract with places like that.
It was perfectly acceptable as veggie wraps go. The folks who ordered fish and chips were quite happy.
I couldn't eat dinner that night. I had just reached my eating limit. Kevin had dinner in the bar and I ended up eating the pickles that came with his hamburger though. I probably ate half his french fries too. Oops.
Day 9 - After another breakfast at Red Salt, I spent my morning on an ATV jungle tour that provided a rather ordinary sandwich lunch.
It's funny what they call a "Polish Sausage" in Hawaii. They were fairly similar to most hot dogs I eat regularly. When someone says "Polish Sausage" to me, I think of Hilshire Farms kielbasa.
We came back to the hotel and went to the bar for a nightcap and dessert. That dessert I had been so keen on trying: chocolate macadamia nut torte.
Day 10 - We had both our lunch and dinner on a dinner cruise to the Na'Pali Coast. I suppose you could say it was appetizers and dinner (the crew certainly did) but the cruise went from 2PM-5PM so I considered the appetizers to be my lunch. We started with cheese and crackers, crudites, and dips, and there was always wine, beer, and mai tais available.
For dinner they brought out the salads and either pulled pork or tuna sandwiches. I always love my pulled pork.