comscore 2019 ‘Ilima Awards Restaurants: T-Z | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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2019 ‘Ilima Awards Restaurants: T-Z

  • JOE GUINTO / JGUINTO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The shrimp and tonkatsu combo comes with premium rice and miso soup at Tonkatsu Tamafuji.

    JOE GUINTO / JGUINTO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    The shrimp and tonkatsu combo comes with premium rice and miso soup at Tonkatsu Tamafuji.

Tai Pan Dim Sum

Tai Pan is a Chinatown institution, packed every day with people willing to wait in line for shared tables with strangers, just to enjoy a bite of dim sum. Selections are all good, with the most popular being chicken feet, and a range of look fun rolls with seafood or meat options. Other favorites are shumai (Chinese dumplings) and dan tat (egg custard tarts). One of the more unique — and pretty — items is the crispy carrot, a burnt-orange, carrot-shaped, deep-fried mochi with custard filling. Beyond dim sum, beef chow fun and egg noodle plates are top choices. — Chinatown Cultural Plaza, 100 N. Beretania St.; 599-8899. Breakfast, lunch. $

Tango Contemporary Cafe

Tango is always an elegant dining option, with meals in the hands of chef/owner Goran V. Streng, who worked in prestige kitchens including the Halekulani’s La Mer and Raffles Hotel in Singapore. His most outstanding dishes are elevated by his Scandinavian background and global, fusion-friendly experience. Breakfast includes Pytt I Panna, Swedish for “stuff in a pan,” such as shredded duck confit hash sauteed with potatoes and onion. Lunch is a shortlist of sandwiches, salads and some heavier fare, such as seafood stew in a tomato-saffron broth or hand-cut fettuccine with alii mushrooms and garlic cream sauce. Must-tries in the evening include the Hama­kua mushroom risotto and crispy-skin branzino, with a tomato- fennel coulis. — 1288 Ala Moana Blvd, 593-7288. Breakfast and lunch (weekdays), brunch (weekends), dinner. $$-$$$

Taormina Sicilian Cuisine

Hiroyuki Mimura is among a number of Japan-based chefs who have mastered Italian cuisine. Highlights from his menu: seafood bruschetta; chicken alla griglia (in garlic and herbs); ricci di mare pasta with sea urchin; and truffle carbonara with truffles from Italy. For a good sampling of the diverse flavors of Southern Italy, choose the four-course lunch or five-course dinner options. Seasonal menus highlight local ingredients, such as summer mangoes. — Waikiki Beach Walk, 227 Lewers St.; 926-5050. Lunch, dinner. $$$-$$$$

Teppanyaki Ginza Onodera

You’ll never forget a dining experience here, thanks to the reverence the chefs have for quality ingredients such as A5 Kuroge wagyu (they’ll show you the certificate). This restaurant is one of only nine in the nation that serves certified Kobe beef, presented in elegant prix-fixe menus alongside similar upscale fare. Courses might include foie gras with madeira sauce, sea bass with tapenade, king crab-stuffed tomato or steamed Kona abalone, all cooked before your eyes on the teppan grill and beautifully presented with accents of 3-year-old aged soy sauce and subtle rubs of Himalayan sea salt. The menu changes four times a year. With only 19 seats available, reservations are required. — 1726 S. King St.; 784-0567. Dinner. $$$$

Thai Lao

Thai Lao’s three locations offer a raft of choices beyond Evil Jungle Prince and green papaya salad. Venture beyond the standards and you’ll be rewarded with some new favorites from the Thai repertoire: A roasted eggplant salad, for example, includes minced pork and shrimp with tomatoes; deep-fried fish is delicious in red curry sauce with bell peppers, onions and long beans. The daring might venture toward kao peak — rice noodles, chicken and blood served in a chicken broth. — Multiple locations. Lunch, dinner. $$

Thai Valley Cuisine

This Hawaii Kai eatery run by owner Carole Thirakoun delivers a number of vegetarian dishes and gluten- free choices in addition to meat and seafood stir-fries. Top selections are the Chiang Mai salad laab (with choice of protein), BBQ beef salad (with rib-eye and herbs), pad ki mao (a rice-noodle alternative) and yellow curry with fresh turmeric. — Kalama Village Shopping Center, 501 Kealahou St.; 395-9746. Lunch, dinner. $$

The Street Honolulu: a Michael Mina Social House

The idea behind this Waikiki food hall is to bring multiple “street-food” vendors under one roof. But with celebrity chef Michael Mina behind the concept, this isn’t your average street food. Cuisines range from Italian and Mexican to Japanese and all-American burgers. Mina’s own Little Lafa turns out flavorful Egyptian flatbreads and mezze platters. For liquid refreshment, step up to the Myna Bird tiki bar. — International Market Place, 2330 Kalakaua Ave.; 377-4402. Lunch, dinner. $$

Thelma’s Restaurant

Larry and Thelma Torres have provided a Filipino food fix since 1991. Top sellers include Thelma’s Special of lechon kawali (crisp roast pork with tomato, onion and soy sauce), oxtail kare kare (peanut stew) and sari sari (pork, shrimp, eggplant, squash and ong choi). Versions of kare kare with pig’s feet or beef are also popular. Breakfast from 5:30 a.m. includes standard American fare such as hotcakes, plus Filipino specialties of longanisa (sweet sausage) and eggs, adobo-fried rice omelet, and marinated bangus (fish) and eggs. — Westgate Shopping Center, 94-366 Pupupani St., Waipahu; 677-0443. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. $-$$

Tiano’s

The cozy, family-friendly eatery, with locations in Ewa Beach, Waipahu and Kunia, pleases diverse palates with traditional American, local and Filipino cuisines. First-rate Filipino dishes include pork sisig, the tastiest parts of the pig chopped up and served with bell peppers and onions, served sizzling on a cast-iron platter and topped with a raw egg; and crispy lechon kawali, fried pork belly tossed with tomatoes and onions in a soy-vinegar sauce. Tender and juicy prime rib is served with brown gravy and horseradish, or as a generous component of prime rib pasta, tossed with mushrooms and bell peppers. Save room for the banana rollets, aka banana lumpia, drizzled with caramel and dusted with cinnamon. — Multiple locations. Lunch, dinner. $$

Tiki’s Grill & Bar

Tiki’s crowd-pleasing Pacific Rim menu is served in a relaxed bar setting. Sample such lunch specialties as Tiki’s coconut- and-panko crusted shrimp, prime rib poke, kalbi gyoza or guava-glazed babyback ribs. The dinner menu adds seafood dishes from miso butterfish to Thai-style shrimp puttanesca in a marriage of East and West. A highlight of the drink menu is a 1944 mai tai paying homage to the cocktail’s origin, and live bands add to weekend festivities. — Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, 2570 Kalakaua Ave.; 923-8454. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night. $$-$$$

Tim Ho Wan

Leung Fai Keung and Mak Kwai Pui wanted to bring inexpensive, Michelin star-worthy cuisine to the masses and earned their star in 2010, giving Tim Ho Wan status as the “World’s Most Inexpensive Michelin-Starred Restaurant.” You’ll taste the difference in the fresh, high-quality ingredients that go into basics of har gow (shrimp dumplings), shrimp-chive dumplings, steamed beef balls and pork-shrimp siu mai impressively filled with chunky pork and generous quantities of diced shrimp. Beyond dumplings you’ll find single-serve rice bowls of steamed chicken, pork spareribs and chicken feet. The signature baked barbecued pork bun is a marvel of barely-there pastry, with a crisp “snow mountain” baked sugar crust that disappears like a cloud, revealing the sweet pork filling inside. — Royal Hawaiian Center, 888-6088. Lunch, dinner. $$

Tokkuri Tei

Tokkuri Tei is the Side Street Inn of izakaya/sushi bars in Honolulu — a local institution where big groups go to sate their poke and everything-but-the-kitchen sink sushi cravings. The expansive menu (the restaurant doesn’t even attempt to put the whole thing online) covers many categories of Japanese (and Japanese-adjacent) food, from sashimi and udon to ippen ryori (small bites) and teishoku (meal sets). Upscale purists might be dismayed by soggy nori on a scallop handroll or the liberal use of sugar in cooked dishes, but no other restaurant covers all the bases with the innovation and playfulness of this place. Salmon skin salad and ahi tartare on grilled rice (it inspired Ed Kenney’s version at Mahina & Sun’s) are perennial favorites. The tough, harried servers can seem like they escaped from an episode of “Survivor,” but, man, do they hustle. — Kapahulu Ave.; 732-6480. Lunch, dinner, late night. $$-$$$

Tommy Bahama Restaurant & Bar

Most people connect Tommy Bahama with island-style fashion more than dining, but great food is part of the leisurely lifestyle associated with the brand. The restaurant above the Waikiki store’s retail space has some serious culinary cred with a local farm-to-table philosophy and vibe in line with Hawaii’s reputation as a top resort destination. Look forward to seared scallop sliders, coconut shrimp and decadent lump blue crab and avocado salad to start. Heavier options range from a mahimahi Reuben to togarashi-spiced ahi. There’s live music daily from 6 to 9 p.m. on an open-air deck. Watch out for pop-up dinners in which chefs showcase their creativity and inspirations. — 298 Beach Walk, 923-8785. Lunch, dinner. $$-$$$$

Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin

Originating in Japan in 1927, this company knows a thing or two about great pork. This restaurant is a temple to tonkatsu, tender, juicy and most importantly, light-feeling fried pork cutlets. The finishing touch is a specially made katsu sauce, a blend of spices, fruits and vegetables. Favorites here are Kurobuta pork loin katsu and Bairin pork tenderloin katsu don. The Katsu LocoMoco adds a local twist. During the day, lunch sets await. — 255 Beach Walk, Waikiki; 926-8082. Lunch, dinner. $$-$$$

Tonkatsu Tamafuji

Crowds at Tamafuji herald top-tier tonkatsu at some of the best prices on Oahu. Unadorned katsu selections are the stars of the show: Try the pork loin, oyster and shrimp. Perfectly crispy on the outside and juicy and flavorful on the inside, they’re generous chunks of golden-brown goodness. The cabbage salad is bottomless and guilt-free; the soups and premium rice accompaniments are all winners. — 449 Kapahulu Ave.; 922-1212. Dinner. $$

Topped

Chef/owner Justin Sok has found an audience for his “simple, clean and fresh” approach to Korean cuisine. His Chinatown shop serves a short, simple menu of elegant specialties such as bibimbap with a choice of six toppings, from bulgogi to tofu; and modern bibimbap with Spam or jangjorim (braised beef) butter. Or go for the ssam (lettuce wraps) that you fill with kalbi, bulgogi or spicy pork. Don’t miss the Korean pancake sampler or Korean shave ice bingsoo. Sok also has a plate-lunch outpost at 2229 Kuhio Ave. with a limited menu. — 66 N. Hotel St.; 545-7997. Lunch, dinner. $$

Town

For 14 years, pioneering Town has delivered great Mediterranean-accented dishes with an emphasis on local produce, following the Italian concept of letting fresh ingredients speak for themselves. Chef de cuisine Dave Caldiero, partner of Ed Kenney in the Town Hospitality Group, makes some of the best pasta in town, from rustic hand-cut papardelle with pork ragu to more delicate goat cheese cavatelli, cupping a brown-butter broth. Small plates, like kalo fritters with preserved lime and olena aioli, yield balanced compositions of interesting flavors and ingredients. (But after a menu update, gone are the ahi tartare on risotto cakes — head to sister restaurant Mahina & Sun’s if you’re an addict.) The fresh market catch, with white beans, roasted vegetables, and tomato vinaigrette, is one of the best fish dishes around. And the nightly changing tasting menu is a good deal at $85. — 3435 Waialae Ave., Kaimuki; 735-5900. Dinner. Closed Sundays. $$$

TsuruTonTan

The name of this upscale udon restaurant echoes sounds associated with the noodles: “tsuru,” a slurping sound, “ton,” the sound of kneading and shaping the dough, and “tan,” the rhythmic sound of the knife on a cutting board as the noodles are being sliced. All the noodles served here are made in-house daily. Beyond simple bowls of beef or curry udon are more luxurious offerings of truffle cream udon with crab and mushroom, or chicken Parmesan cream udon. If you’re not in the mood for noodles, various donburi bowls, sushi and izakaya- style specialties await. — Royal Hawaiian Center, 888-8559. Lunch, dinner. $$

Uahi Island Grill

Locals and visitors alike are drawn to the fresh island flavors at Uahi. Start with panko- and furikake- crusted calamari rings or kalua pork fries, before moving on to diverse, casual bites such as an Irie chicken sandwich, tamarind burger, or such main courses as red curry fish, kalua pork made with kale in place of cabbage, or orange duck confit. — 33 Aulike St.; 266-4646. Lunch, dinner, weekend brunch. $-$$

Uncle Bobo’s Smoked BBQ

This cozy, friendly barbecue spot across the street from Swanzy Beach Park has become a Kaaawa institution, adored for its breads, baked goods and slow-cooked smoked meats — brisket, ribs, pulled pork and more. Bobo’s owners Robert and Keiko Joyce favor local and natural ingredients, with salad options and smoothies to eat in or take out; you can now take their barbecue and teriyaki sauces or tasty papaya-seed dressing home, too, or even order a bottle online. — 51-480 Kamehameha Highway, Kaaawa; 237-1000. Lunch. $-$$

Vegan Hills

Health and sustainability — along with simple elegance — are reflected in the dishes beautifully presented here. Try the Why Not Chos, organic corn chips topped with organic black bean chili and cashew cream sauce along with other fresh ingredients, or the Aloha Bowl of tofu and beets over brown rice and organic mixed greens. It’s not all serious food. For breakfast there’s gluten-free French toast, cinnamon-swirl pancakes or Banana Ya pancakes with bananas, chocolate sauce and coconut whipped cream. — 3585 Waialae Ave., Kaimuki; 200-4488. Breakfast, lunch. $-$$

Vintage Cave Cafe

A prix-fixe menu of classic Italian specialties may start with the likes of scallop carpaccio with orange sour cream or caramelized eggplant with burrata, before moving on to pastas and pizzas, or heavier fare such as grilled strip loin with yuzu pepper sauce, chicken confit or herb-crusted lamb with Marsala sauce. A daily $18 afternoon tea is a treat comprising savory bites and sweet desserts, with a choice of coffee or an extensive tea menu. Wear your best hat. — Ala Moana Center, Ewa Wing; 441-1745. Lunch, afternoon tea, dinner. $$$

Wagaya

Tadaaki and Pearl Hirose’s signature garlic tonkotsu ramen — with a broth made from organic chicken and kurobuta pork bones simmered for two days — has a warm balance of savory umami and biting black garlic. The gyoza, made fresh every day, is perfectly cooked with its soft top contrasting a crispy bottom. The vegetarian ramen has many layers of flavor with its strong miso and sesame flavors balanced in a broth you won’t believe is meatless. — 2080 S King St.; 949-0670. Lunch, dinner. $-$$

Waiahole Poi Factory

All the Hawaiian favorites are here: laulau, kalua pork, squid luau, chicken long rice, with poi of course, from the poi factory that was the root of this food stand. Even non-poi fans fall in love with the kulolo, comprising taro and the sweetness of coconut milk. The signature dessert is kulolo topped with haupia ice cream, called the Sweet Lady of Waiahole, in reference to a song about a woman who sold fruits and vegetables along the road nearby from the 1960s through ’80s. Those new to Hawaiian food can book poi and Hawaiian food demos and tastings. — 48-140 Kamehameha Highway, Waiahole; 239-2222. Lunch, early dinner. $$

Waioli Grill and Cafe

This restaurant’s name makes it sound like a Hawaii-style casual cafe, but it’s quite unique as Oahu’s first baru, or Japan-style tapas bar. Take your pick of multiple tapas-size delights from a range of pupu, fried, grilled, rice or noodle dishes. When diners complained about the portion sizes, larger main courses such as herb-marinated rib-eye, moi shioyaki and bruschetta-topped salmon were added to comply with big local appetites. Bone- marrow bibimbap is another popular option. — 611 Kapahulu Ave.; 734-5298. Dinner. $$-$$$

Wolfgang’s Steakhouse

Like most steakhouses, Wolfgang’s has a gentlemanly feel about it, but as it’s located smack dab in the middle of touristville, it’s not so dark and clubby as these places can be. It’s got a friendlier vibe. Also like most steakhouses, it can come across as forbiddingly expensive, but here’s the key: Prepare to share. The servers encourage it, which takes away any awkwardness. And the steaks, salads and sides are all big enough for two or even three. The beef is USDA Prime, impeccably prepared. Also excellent are the lamb chops, three enormous chops; share three ways or take the extras home and eat for days. — Royal Hawaiian Center, Waikiki; 922-3600. Lunch, dinner. $$$$

XO

Chef Kenny Lee (co-chef Aleina Chun parted ways with the restaurant earlier this year) cooks “what he likes to eat” — which can mean local favorites like potato skins, fried chicken and okonomiyaki, but filtered through a contemporary lens. So those potato skins become a block of gratin topped with a leathery sheet of grilled cheese, bacon bits, jalapenos, green onion and a dollop of sour cream. While Lee is ambitious and has playful ideas, some dishes reveal a need for more incubation on conceptualization and execution. For example, “ravioli” stuffed with escargot and ricotta comes out looking like a dead snake coiled on the plate. But the family-style menu always has crowd-pleasing high points, like a platter of thinly sliced, cured and smoked pork belly sweetened with berry gastrique and dotted with mini mochis for fun, textural contrast, and a vegan-friendly beet and pumpkin roulade with chimichurri and toasted quinoa. — 3434 Waialae Ave., Kaimuki; 732-3838. Dinner (closed Sundays). $$-$$$

Yacchaba

Yacchaba specializes in smoked items called iburi, which diners finish off on a hot stone grill at their tables, accompanied by flavored salts for dipping. The many tasty, comforting choices include tofu dishes, ramen, udon, soba and somen noodles, rice and soup and musubi. Try the tofu and avocado salad, with housemade tofu; grill-your-own saba or pork belly; and don’t sleep on the fried items, great with beer. Fried sweet corn and ebi bread are flavorful, and lighter than you might expect. — 1718 Kapiolani Blvd.; 945-0108. Dinner, late night. $$-$$$$

Yaki Yaki Miwa

This is the place for okonomiyaki enjoyed in an intimate setting. The best place to gather is around the teppan grill with its vantage of chefs preparing the classic Japanese pancake/omelet fusion of flour, grated yam, cabbage, egg and various fillings, flipping and shaping the pancakes with teko (a metal spatula) in hand. Popular selections are Miwa’s Special Tama (shrimp, squid, shank meat and potato), Super Pork and Mochi Cheese. Two variations of okonomiyaki — negiyaki (with green onions) and modanyaki (with noodles) — also are popular. Beyond okonomiyaki, daily specials range from a Kauai shrimp garlic saute to prime harami steak. — 1423 S. King St.; 983-3838. Dinner, late night. $$-$$$

Yakiniku Don-Day

Satisfy a craving for Korean meats grilled at the table, whether the urge strikes after work, late at night or early in the morning. For an easy introduction, opt for one of the meat combo choices offering three to four selections of meat, plus tofu soup, mini Korean pancakes and banchan, enough to feed two or three for $50 to $100. A la carte selections include spicy stews and soups. — 905 Keeaumoku St.; 951-1004. Dinner, late night. $$-$$$

Yakiniku Futago

Brothers Sunchol and Sunbong Lee teamed up to establish an international yakiniku empire. Their signature meat selection — out of 28 choices — is the hamideru kalbi (black wagyu), imported from Japan. The seafood selection offers shrimp, scallops and calamari. Top appetizers are the seared fatty toro kalbi with ponzu sauce and wagyu toro sushi. The restaurant has introduced early evening weekday takeout bentos ranging from $13.80 for kalbi to $85 for A5 Miyazaki wagyu. — 949 Kapahulu Ave.; 734-3956. Dinner, late night. $$$

Yakiniku Korea House

The Korea House menu gets right down to business with bulgogi-style rib-eye, pork belly, tripe, beef intestines and barbecued chicken. The deliciousness continues to the last page, featuring fried mandoo, spicy raw crab, meat jun and oyster jun. Among affordable meal deals is a combination of stone pot-cooked Korean black rice; a pot of miso, kim chee or soft tofu stew; and an option of bulgogi or fried yellow corvina. — 2494 S. Beretania St.; 944-1122. Lunch, dinner. $$-$$$

Yakiniku Seoul

Commune with friends over cook-it-yourself grilled kalbi, beef tongue, kalbi, marinated short ribs and more. Round out your meal with spicy stews and other Korean specialties such as tteokbokki, japchae, buckwheat noodles in cold soup, and bibimbap. Regulars rave about the meat jun, which is among dishes available for takeout. — 1521 S. King St.; 944-0110. Lunch, dinner. $$-$$$

Yakitori Hachibei

This restaurant is a little jewel in Chinatown. The brick-lined interior and soft lighting draw you in from the moment you step through the door. Sit at the counter if you want to watch the chef work at the yakitori grill. It’s like a ballet of food prep as he delicately rotates the skewers of chicken breast, gizzards and livers, A4 wagyu or Kauai shrimp, and vegetables. The shishito peppers stuffed with blue cheese are a favorite, as is the mozzarella maki, both excellent starters. To finish, there’s oyako donburi, chicken ramen or toasty onigiri. — 20 N. Hotel St.; 369-0088. Dinner. $$

Yanagi Sushi

Yanagi Sushi is a prime example of a restaurant that the local community would fight to defend, if ever it were wronged by a patron. Owner and chef Haruo Nakayama’s izakaya restaurant has been open since 1978, showing its mileage with 400-plus photos of actors, actresses, athletes and loyal customers posted on nearly every wall. Trademark izakaya dishes such as nigiri, various tempuras and sashimi, all shine best when paired with a choice from a wide selection of sake, beer and soju. If it’s late at night, and you and some friends need a drink and some sushi rolls, maybe some fried baby tako and a plate of blackened ahi sashimi with ponzu sauce — Yanagi’s late-night menu is perfect for midnight foodies. You might encounter a crowd, but the wait is generally short. They’re veterans at getting you fed and back on your way home. — 762 Kapiolani Blvd., 597-1525. Lunch, dinner, late night. $$

Young’s Fish Market

This iconic eatery delivers mouth-watering, hearty portions of Hawaiian goodness that keep many an opu content. Take out or eat in the classic meals ala carte, on generous combo plates or in a bento that’s perfect for smaller appetites. Selections include juicy laulau (choose from pork, chicken, butterfish and beef), perfectly smoked kalua pig, pipikaula, chicken long rice, squid luau, beef and tripe stews — all with poi or rice, lomi salmon and sweet potato on the side. For dessert, have haupia or kulolo. Other delicacies: poke, pastele, turkey tail, char siu, Chinese roast pork, naau and more. — Multiple locations. Lunch, dinner. $$

Zigu

Zigu continues the sustainable “eat local” philosophy set at sister cafes Aloha Table, Goofy Cafe and Heavenly, but the beachy vibe of those restaurants has been swapped for a more chic izakaya and sake bar concept. You will find greener twists on everything from sushi to laulau to loco moco, with no skimping on flavor. Some favorite dishes are applewood-smoked egg potato salad and deep-fried Kauai shrimp. — 413 Seaside Ave.; 212-9252. Lunch, dinner. $$-$$$

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