Buzzworthy Eating and Drinking in Hawaii

Heliforaging, poi biscuits, and Organic Shave Ice are Hawaii’s hottest culinary trends.


Photo by Vicky Juarez

Given that their local and seasonal staples include sun-ripened tropical fruit, wild pork, and super-fresh seafood, bars and restaurants in Hawaii almost can’t help but be buzzworthy.

In terms of ingredients, ancestries, and styles, “chefs and mixologists here have so many options,” mused Alexis Eaton, director of public relations for Maui’s Fairmont Kea Lani resort.

“I mean, this is a place where they don’t just put a pineapple slice in your cocktail. They grill it first.”

Then maybe they make that grilled fruit into syrup. To mix with organic local Ocean Vodka or Kō Hana rum. And local kiawe-smoked sea salt. To pair with chicharrón donburi. And/or, in countless other tropical-island ways, to go that extra mile.

Locals line up outside Honolulu’s hipster-magnet Scratch Kitchen & Meatery, which puts a spicy Mexi-Medi-Creole spin on coconut-cream haupia and island-bred beef. Also in Honolulu, the Koko Head Café serves frosted-flake gelato, poi biscuits, cinnamon-bacon-cheddar jook, and wasabi cocktails; while The Pig & the Lady takes Hawaii’s historic multiculturality to dizzying, wild-betel-leaf-and-octopus-sausage heights — serving squid-ink farfalle with chrysanthemum and Asian pear and nori chips with crème fraîche.

Hawaii’s hottest new trend, Eaton said, “is interactive eating” that gets guests involved in the process of food collection, education, and preparation before even taking their first sip or bite.

Such adventures range from “Ahi on the Rocks” — a popular pupu or starter at the Fairmont Kea Lani’s Kō Restaurant that lets guests sear ahi-tuna chunks tableside on hot rocks — to guests grilling their own steaks surfside at Waikiki’s Reef Bar & Market Grill all the way to Soar + Savor “heliforaging” excursions operated by the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, in which guests fly in a helicopter with executive chef Isaac Bancaco over spectacular shoreline to a private rainforest where they learn about local culture, history, and topography while foraging ingredients to be prepared during an intimate cooking class and meal at the resort’s Ka’ana Kitchen restaurant.

Interactive eating is hardly new to Hawaii, where the lu’au tradition began in 1819, when King Kamehameha II dissolved an ancient taboo prohibiting men and women from dining together. Launched this spring, the Andaz Maui’s Feast at Makapu combines family-style beach and lawn dining, festivities, and storytelling based around a strong sense of place and kuleana, the spirit of taking personal responsibility.

Some spots spur buzz by merging flavor, scenery, and style. Sporting a floor-to-ceiling hula-dancer mural by a famous island artist along with unique 270-degree ocean views, Hula Hulas opened last fall in Hilo on the Big Island. Its chef Amy DiBiase employs a “slippah chic” approach that turns local classics such as ’ulu fries, ti-leaf-wrapped sunfish, and huli huli chicken into panoramically plated works of art.

A trans-Pacific trend thriving in Hawaii is food trucks — such as Oahu’s Banán, which serves dairy-free banana-based soft serve, and Kauai’s The Fresh Shave, from which ex-Northern California husband-and-wife team Priscilla and Daniel Soule serve hand-scraped organic shave ice naturally flavored with such dye-free delectables as macadamia nuts, Kaua’i Coffee cold-brew syrup, and fresh local fruits — from creamy-sweet Latundan bananas to lychees and beyond.

“We are excited to share our mission of healthy and sustainable eating with folks from all over the world,” said Priscilla Soule.

“We like to say that real food is good food and good food grows from the ‘aina” — that is, the land, which in the Hawaiian language denotes not just dirt but its deep relationship with its human occupants.

Another growing trend is wellness — as evinced by the Fairmont’s juice bar and the “skinny cocktails” menu in its lobby bar, Luana.

“More and more bars and restaurants are growing their own on-site gardens,” Eaton said, “because customers are asking about sourcing.”

Answering such questions is fun and easy in an island paradise whose avocados grow “as big as dinosaur eggs,” Eaton laughed, and where old gods are still worshiped at ancient shrines, and your next meal might be swimming past your window right now.

Hawaii Highlights

The Pig & the Lady

83 N King St., Honolulu, 808-585-8255,

Kō Restaurant

4100 Wailea Alanui Drive, Kihei, 808-875-2210,

Soar + Savor

3550 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, 808-573-1234,

Hula Hulas

93 Banyan Drive, Hilo, 808-932-4545,

The Fresh Shave

3540 Koloa Road, Kalaheo, 808-631-2222,

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