Something's cooking at the Waikiki Sand Villa Hotel, once home to The Noodle Shop and the comedy/music trio of Frank de Lima and Na Kolohe. At some point the property went quiet, but now, all of a sudden, there's been a burst of activity.
The Japan-based Pier thirty group breezed into town in the fall with one of the most ambitious plans I've heard in a long time: Open 300 restaurants across the United States within 10 years, 20 of them in Hawaii -- all different concepts -- to open in five to six years.
Before I began writing about restaurants, I thought it was normal to eat a varied diet. I like trying new things, and I thought everyone else was the same way. But over the years I've met many people who are satisfied with the tried and true and rarely step out of their comfort zones.
There's nothing like starting the new year with a bang to set the tone for the rest of the year. So I'm grateful that Yakiniku House Futago came to town, as a nice gift, opening on Christmas Day in Kapahulu. "Futago" is the Japanese word for "twins," in reference to the chain's youthful founders, Sunchol and Sunbong Lee.
There's something new happening in the food world nearly every day, but with print space limited, it would take a month to catch up on "Bite Size" bits cataloging the new and small, so to clear the decks for the new year, here's a roundup of recent intros:
As the year comes to a close, here's a look at the way we ate in 2014. Koko Head Cafe made cornflake French toast and Ohayou Eggs a morning staple for those in Kaimuki. Tucker & Bevvy and Bills brought a taste of Aussie breakfast to Kapahulu Avenue and Waikiki, respectively.
One major holiday down, three more to go through New Year 2015. If you haven't yet had your fill of Halloween candy, you'll have many more reasons to indulge over the holidays, whether your downfall is turkey with Portuguese sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cookies, pumpkin pie, fruitcake or eggnog.
People love pizza, so even with competition within five blocks in downtown Honolulu bounded by Maunakea, Hotel, Bethel and Beretania streets, you can find an audience for pizza at Rosarina, Bar 35, JJ Dolan's and Fresh Cafe.
Today's restaurants can feel like TV productions with the dominant mindset that it's the high concept that sells. So we have "channels" delivering the "all-day breakfast" or touting "all organic all the time," and while those are great ideas, food in the service of a concept can feel rather soulless.
We speak of a nation's cuisine as a single common entity, but traversing a country from north to south or east to west, you will find an amazing variation in food based on regional tastes, terroir and geography that allows particular ingredients to flourish.
Certain food cravings and memories that endure over time cannot be sated, for whatever reason -- a restaurant closure, for example, or the passing of a generation of cooks who held the family's secret recipes.
Anicea Seiko Campanale and Hailey Berkey have been friends since they were 8-year-olds growing up in California, and although their paths diverged as adults, the two reconnected and partnered to create The Nook Neighborhood Bistro in Puck's Alley.
The first time I spotted Restaurant Wada, the signage at the front of the 611 Kapahulu complex — with no breaks between words and no logos to separate it from its neighbor — gave me the impression it was a laundromat restaurant.
Kauai's loss is our gain now that the family restaurant Tiano's has moved from Lihue to Waipahu. It's a Filipino-American restaurant with the kind of breadth that, when just perusing the menu, scares me.
By geographically challenged townie calculus, Ewa Beach is the same as Kapolei, so one starts wondering how one more Italian restaurant will be able to compete with those already in place, like Assaggio and Le Nonne.
A high-profile Aussie restaurant came to town this year, aiming to please but falling flat with an international fusion menu that registered more like a nonsensical mash-up. Trying too hard can be a curse.
It's hot out there, and cool drinks and desserts provide one way to survive the sweltering summer months. Luckily, there's no shortage of cool AND healthy drinks with the growing popularity of juice bars.
I'd been waiting for Grondin to open as soon as I heard about it in December, and it's been worth the wait for such tapas-style dishes as a ceviche ($13) of Kauai shrimp with the heat of serrano peppers, and pulpo ($15), marinated octopus tossed with onion, olives, roasted red pepper and chilies, or fried plantain chips.
The first time I visited Nagomi Teppan restaurant in early January, it was a work in progress. The dining room was finished but the lounge was still under construction. So I made plans to return when the work was expected to be complete, in three weeks time.
I have three words for you: kim chee scones. They'll be your new obsession, and the place to get them is at the new Koko Head Cafe in Kaimuki, in the space that was formerly home to 12th Ave Grill, which moved to bigger digs up the street.
Izakaya Torae Torae is a prime example of why it pays to be patient while waiting for a new restaurant to find its bearings. At the one-month mark, the new restaurant continues to improve week after week, causing all my initial reservations to vanish.
Employees of Sushi Ginza Onodera had their doubts as to whether Honolulu was ready for a $250-per-person omakase, telling its Japanese owners prior to opening day that they would be fortunate to seat four people a night.
With a name like Goofy Cafe, one has to wonder what mischief the chef is up to. The reaction to the name is likely to range from glee (top of mind for people I quizzed was the Disney character) to bafflement. A lot of us take our food seriously, and "goofy" is not a word we tend to associate with food.
Over the past 20 years, Italian restaurants on Oahu have fallen into two camps: the Assaggio school of rich, garlic-saturated dishes or the Japanese school of delicate sauces accented with uni, mentaiko and other briny essences.
El Mariachi is on a roll. The restaurant has locations in Kaneohe and Aiea, and over the holidays opened an outpost in Kapolei Marketplace. What I like about this place is that they don’t shy from heat.
With 2014 comes the desire to start anew. A few months ago a friend tried Blue Tree Cafe's juice cleanse program, and I thought it would be a great start to the new year. I was interested in it not as a weight-loss regimen, but as a detoxification ritual.
In the age of fractured media, social media is a double-edged sword for businesses trying to broadcast their messages. On the one hand, in the olden days of minimal media outlets, it was easy to follow the numbers — the largest circulation and viewership — to reach mass audiences.
Hughley’s Southern Cuisine started life about six months ago as Ken Nae’s, a mash-up of owner Kenneth Hughley’s name and his mother’s, Renae. But with his wife and daughters also working the restaurant, he recently made the switch to the family name to reflect their collective effort.
Ten years ago restaurateurs had cold feet over introducing new cuisines on Oahu because diners were conservative, fearing the unknown. They were loathe to veer from ordering the same thing off the same menu with every visit to a favored restaurant.
Deciding what and where to eat is always a chore, but at least those of us who live in town-side Honolulu are lucky to have a lot of options. Imagine if you live in tiny Waialua, where dining out often means braving the two-lane traffic to Haleiwa or Wahiawa.
For young chefs, culinary education doesn’t end with the classroom, but continues on the job, and the Hawaii experience over 25 years has proven that one successful restaurant can beget exponential success.
Bella Bistro is a lot like its Kailua surroundings, laid-back and casual. The name and location at the site of the former Zia’s Caffe suggests an Italian bent, but no, it’s simply named after chef-owner David Kaminski’s and wife and manager Stephanie Pierobello’s well-fed chocolate lab, a sometime presence at the open-air restaurant.
I'm always leery of the big menu and chefs who try to take on more than they can handle. Pride aside, it's easier to win accolades as a one-hit wonder with one fabulous claim to fame than put out a full menu that is likely to include a handful of restaurant equivalents of bloopers, assuring a place in the middle of the pack in the ratings game.
In Arabic, "Kan Zaman" means "Once upon a time," and chefs Youssef Dakroub and Kamal Jemmari have teamed up to offer a taste of some of the world's earliest cuisines, from Morocco and Lebanon, to diners in downtown Honolulu.
Crab mania hit town-side last summer and this year has made it to the Leeward side with the opening of Cajun King in Waimalu Shopping Center. It's a sibling to King Street's Lobster King and Shabu Shabu King restaurants.
Honolulu has come a long way since the days that mac nuts, mahimahi, pineapple and surf ’n’ turf solely defined gracious dining. But every 20 years or so — enough time for a generational shift and rediscovery — everything old becomes new again, so maybe we’re ready to accommodate a macadamia nut revival?
The past couple of months has been a whirlwind of sticker shock as new entries into the dining scene tested the limits of how much people will pay for a meal. Maybe you know the feeling of having heart palpitations when opening a menu, then settling on the chicken.
Summer is the season for travel, but even if you can't leave home, you can live vicariously through friends who are proficient with a camera and are ready and willing to share photos of what they've seen and done on their vacations.
When it comes to Korean cuisine, Hawaii diners are a spoiled lot, accustomed to a range of grilled meats, broiled fish, spicy soups and stews and mandoo. So the Budnamujip experience may come as a shock to the system.
If you’re not looking after your health, it’s great to have Isamu and Motoko “Moco” Kubota on your side. Like a protective mom and dad, the duo in recent years have tried to look after diners’ health through various forms of vegan, vegetarian and macrobiotic cuisine.
With the opening of North Shore Kula Grille at the Turtle Bay Resort, the sustainable, Hawaiian regional movement veers even more specific with an attempt to focus on produce procured from the North Shore, though generously augmented with ingredients from Maui to Hawaii island.
Creating a healthful kitchen seems to come easily to a generation of up-and-coming chefs raised on quinoa and açai, but crossing over to greener platters represents a big step for one of Hawaii’s premier chefs.
The hottest restaurant among the Japanese-speaking set is Rinka, where you can't get in without a reservation, and even then, a twosome is likely to end up at the sushi bar, lest they take up valuable real estate at a four-top.
There comes a time in a young chef's life when he yearns to leave a comfortable nest to realize his capabilities. In the past a chef, backed by family and/or deep-pocketed investors, simply opened a restaurant. That was the expected path.
I was sad to hear that the former tenant at 905-A Keeaumoku St., Orine Sarang Chae, had closed. It was a hidden gem of a restaurant under a tree in the back of all the small restaurants lining Keeaumoku, and an alley away from Keeaumoku Supermarket.
Being spontaneous makes life interesting, but you have to take the good with the bad. On the downside, I'd tried to pop into Morio's Sushi Bistro twice to no avail because the tiny 18-seat sushi bar is always packed, a favorite among those in the know.
When I heard a new restaurant had popped up in the space of Ninniku-ya, the garlic restaurant, I headed to Kaimuki, only to overshoot my destination. I knew the general vicinity and, out of habit, was looking for the familiar old building and coconut trees wrapped with lights.
Within the heart of burgeoning Kakaako, Ngon Vietnamese Cuisine is a welcome surprise. As small as it is, it's hard to miss, situated inside Herbal Spa and Saunas, a two-building complex that stands out in bright orange amidst the dull landscape of warehouses and auto repair shops.
Doraku Sushi has opened in the Pacifica Honolulu building, making it more accessible to diners who swear they never drive into Waikiki and have never been to Hawaii's first Doraku, which opened nearly five years ago at the Royal Hawaiian Center.
After going through several incarnations under Donato Loperfido and Philippe Padovani, the space that has been Elua, then Sapori Enoteca Birreria and the solo Padovani’s Grill, the restaurant in the Uraku Tower welcomed a new tenant over the holidays.
In years past I’ve talked about being bored by the monotony of seeing virtually the same dishes at every category of restaurant while waiting for someone to show some imagination and introduce something new to the dining scene.
For a certain subset of diners, the opening of Sakura Restaurant and Pupu Bar will come as a relief from the excitement of the past couple of years, now that diners need to be adept with a computer, smartphone or electronic tablet to keep up with all the food trucks, pop-ups and other startups about town.
Like our sports and reality television, dining has gone extreme, from the "Man vs. Food" pigouts that involve watching people tackle restaurants' most massive dishes, to following the latest culinary adventurer willing to feast on insects, rodents or anything else that repulses most diners.
Eggs 'n Things Waikiki has been a beloved institution since it opened in 1974, particularly for a generation of Wave Waikiki patrons who found the late-night breakfast spot perfect for recharging depleted food reserves and sobering up before driving home.
You'll forgive the "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to the menu at HASR Bistro. After waiting five years for the space adjoining HASR Wine Shop, owner Terry Kakazu had a lot of time to dream up ideas for a restaurant that would dovetail with her wine store and vice versa.
Before the planet started heating up, temperatures here started falling in October to the point where we could dig out favorite sweaters and jackets from our closets. But in recent years the heat has continued well into December.