Highlights of Honolulu, Hawaii

We had a whirlwind trip to the main Hawaiian island of Oahu late last year (thank you Jetstar 2 for 1 sales!) and because we were only there for 4 full days, we tried to pack in as many activities and meals as we could to make the most of it. We were there over Thanksgiving weekend as well, so that was an experience in itself – but any time of the year, there’s a lot to see, do and eat in this exotic island with a melting pot of cultures (note – all prices in this post are quoted in USD).

Honolulu Coffee Co

Our first meal in Hawaii was at the Honolulu Coffee Co, nestled in the grand old Moana Surfrider, a Westin resort. It’s an airy cafe with big open windows looking onto the main strip of Waikiki and has a pretty simple menu – waffles, croissants, banana bread, quiches or acai bowls. These acai bowls are everywhere on the island and are a relatively healthy blend of the superfood acai berry in a iced smoothie form and granola or muesli, topped with fresh chopped fruit.

Acai Bowl, approx. $7

Honolulu Coffee Co’s rendition of the acai bowl was overflowing with granola and a couple of chopped bananas, but the overall flavour of the acai berry wasn’t that enticing (especially compared to the Island Vintage Coffee’s version which we tried later). We also tried their Bacon and Pancetta Croissant for a hit of savoury and were a bit intrigued at the two types of cured meat in there – it was decent, but nothing remarkable.

Bacon and Pancetta Croissant, $4.50

We were pleasantly surprised to find that Hawaiian coffee was much better than coffee we had tried on mainland US, closer to what we’re used to back in Australia. Hawaiians have a local bean called kona which is only grown in Hawaii and gives more depth of flavour, probably thanks to the volcanic soil its grown in.

Nutty Macadamia Coffee, approx. $5

Large Cappuccino, approx. $4

Honolulu Coffee Co
2365 Kalakaua Ave
Honolulu, HI, United States
Phone: +1 808-926-6162

Honolulu Coffee Company on Urbanspoon

Island Vintage Coffee Company

This popular cafe situated high above the bustle of the main strip of Waikiki has delicious coffee (we couldn’t get enough of the organic Hawaiian honey and cinnamon flavours in their addictive Hawaiian Island Latte) and also punches way above its weight in terms of the quality of the food it serves up. Our friend had raved about their Acai Bowl and it was absolutely divine, laced with honey and the right ratio of the acai berry smoothie blend to crunchy granola and chopped banana and strawberries.

Hawaiian Honey Latte, $5.45

Acai Bowl, $7.95

If you’re after a more substantial brunch option, their Spicy Salmon Poke Bowl was the best we had in Hawaii – cubes of diced fresh salmon marinated in a moreish aioli sauce with hints of sesame oil and accompanied by avocado and some black wild rice which was slightly crunchy.

Spicy Salmon Poke Bowl, $14.95

The Pacific Ahi Sandwich was also delicious; a generous smearing of smoked ahi (tuna) spread with Swiss Cheese, alfalfa sprouts, red onion and rocket, all sandwiched between toasted dark rye bread. It was a bit messy to eat though and I preferred the Poke Bowl.

Pacific Ahi Sandwich, $11.95

Island Vintage Coffee Company
2301 Kalakaua Avenue #C215
Honolulu, HI 96815 USA
Phone:?1-808-926-KONA

Island Vintage Coffee on Urbanspoon

Eggs ‘n Things

Another popular foodie destination in Honolulu is the simply named Egg & Things, which has a prime location facing Waikiki beach across the road. The large, open windows make the most of the view, which you can enjoy from your booth inside. Eggs & Things clearly are used to dealing with hungry tourists because they have an efficient ordering system where you put in your order in the line outside with the attendant at the podium, then the queue splits into 2 – ?if you have 2 people, 1 can go into the payment queue and the other can wait in the separate queue for a table.

Although the line looked a bit daunting from the outside, it was only about 15 minutes before we snagged a table and sat down to enjoy the Turkey Loco Moco, a Thanksgiving special twist on the traditional Hawaiian dish consisting of two “over easy” runny eggs on top of sliced turkey meat drizzled with brown gravy served on a bed of crunchy, starch cake of some sort. It also came with a bit of cranberry sauce to add to the spirit. Unfortunately, this was a bit of a disappointing dish as it didn’t taste like much and the textures were a bit off because of the starch cake.

Turkey Loco Moco, $11.95

The Grilled Ahi Plate with eggs was more to our taste, with a generously sized portion of fresh tuna steak grilled and served with a tasty salsa and two slightly runny eggs.

Grilled Ahi Plate with eggs, $14.95

We capped off our meal with a short stack of the ubiquitous fluffy macadamia nut pancakes we had spied on everyone else’s tables. In addition to the usual maple syrup, they had some exotic syrups on the table like guava and coconut which were interesting (we liked the guava more).

Macadamia nut pancakes (short stack), $3.95

Eggs ‘n Things
2464 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu Hawaii 96815
Phone: (808) 926-3447

Eggs 'n Things on Urbanspoon

Morimoto

We had wanted to hit up one of the more renowned restaurants in Honolulu to check out their fine dining scene and decided to try out Morimoto, the restaurant at The Modern hotel opened by Chef Masaharu Morimoto a.k.a the Iron Chef of TV show fame. On stepping into the restaurant, we were impressed by the contemporary decor which features big shells in clear perspex boxes hanging above diners, an open kitchen where you can see the chefs at work and an airy vibe in terms of service and their cavernous fitout.

The meal was kicked off with some Crispy Tempura?Rock Shrimp coated with two types of sauces: gochujang (Korean chilli) on one section and wasabi aioli on the other. The Tempura Shrimp were tasty little morsels (like popcorn shrimp) and were so flavoursome they didn’t need the extra ranch sauce served on the side with thin sticks of celery. The texture of the shrimp wasn’t particularly crispy as the sauce had softened it, but they were certainly addictive and surprisingly plentiful.?

Crispy Tempura Rock Shrimp, $18

For our other appetiser, we had chosen the decadent sounding Takoyaki with Big Island Abalone and herb butter. They looked like?regular octopus balls with a smidgen of Japanese mayo on top, some “micro cilantro” (i.e. sprig of mini coriander) but inside the rather doughy batter, was a small chunk of chewy abalone and a small piece of cherry tomato. It was a luxe twist on the conventional Japanese street snack – best to eat them while they’re still hot!

Takoyaki, $18

Our second encounter with the Hawaiian specialty dish of Loco Moco was more pleasant than our first at Eggs and Things. Morimoto’s Chef’s Loco Moco features chunks of wagyu beef, Maui onion, mushrooms and gravy and over easy egg (runny yolk, sunny side up) and rice. It’s a simple dish, but I quite liked Morimoto’s rendition. The wagyu was a bit tougher than I would have liked and masked by the gravy, but overall, it was a comforting, hearty dish that was reminiscent of Japanese curry rice.

Chef’s Loco Moco, $23

We also decided to try the Chef’s Suggested Sushi Platter which is different every night. It cost $40 for around 15 pieces of sushi, consisting of 1 maki roll (it was spicy tuna roll for us) which tasted a lot like tuna poke (sesame oil, shallots and chilli sauce) and 10 pieces of fresh seafood nigiri. First up, the maguro (tuna) was nice, it was a thick slice and very tasty. Next, there was the red snapper, toro (fatty tuna) which was not as tasty as maguro, salmon, jumbo clam, unagi (sweet eel), tamago (a sweet, fluffy egg which tasted like dessert), needlefish and mahi-mahi (which was also sweet tasting). All the sashimi served was fresh and generously sliced so you could appreciate the taste and texture, and there was a quite a selection of interesting seafood I hadn’t tried before.

Chef’s Suggested Sushi Platter, $40

We rounded off the meal with a delectable dessert called the?Chocolate Peanut Bombe. The peanut mousse was light as air, covered with candied peanut chunks and adorned with a little nub of gold leaf on top. To temper all the sweetness, there was?a thick ribbon of bitter dark chocolate running through the centre of the Bombe. It all went wonderfully with?more peanut in the form of salted peanut icecream. Delicious.

Chocolate Peanut Bombe, $12

All in all, Morimoto was a lovely dining experience, although it is a bit pricey as expected of a restaurant with a celebrity element to it. There’s better value in Waikiki (such as Sansei), but you wont be disappointed by the food and the restaurant’s sleek, upmarket decor. If you’re lucky, you may even get a corner view of the neighbouring Hilton Hawaiian Village’s fireworks if you’re there at the right time.

Morimoto
1775 Ala Moana Boulevard
Honolulu, HI 96815, United States
Phone:+1 808-943-5900

Morimoto Waikiki on Urbanspoon

Ramen Ezogiku

This Hawaiian outpost of a Japanese ramen chain is a testament to how much Japanese culture has been integrated into Hawaiian culture over the years. It’s just like any other no frills ramen joint, with a large u-shaped bench in the middle and small tables on the side and very affordable prices.

The Miso Ramen lived up to expectations, a large serving of steaming hot, flavoursome broth with plenty of springy noodles and sliced char-shu pork on top. We had ordered a combo, so it came with a small plate of 4 pan-fried pork gyoza, which were reasonable.

Miso Ramen, $8.75 + $1.75 for gyoza side

We also had the Fried Rice, which was a sizeable serving of a mound of fried rice with chunks of pork, egg, fish cake and shallots thrown in the mix. Our friend is a huge fan of the fried rice, but I preferred the ramen.

Fried Rice, $6.75?

Ramen Ezogiku
2146 Kalakaua Avenue?
Honolulu,?HI 96815?
Phone:?(808) 926-8616

Ramen Ezogiku on Urbanspoon

Lewers Lounge

We dropped into the swanky Lewers Lounge inside the plush 5 star Halekulani Hotel for some cocktails and dessert consisting of their signature Halekulani Hotel Coconut Cake. It was a tall slice of cake, with layers of light as air sponge cake and coconut infused cream in between, creating the ideal tropical indulgence.

Halekulani Coconut Cake, $11

The Lounge itself is split into 2 areas – the internal lounge has live music and a dress code (evening wear for ladies, slacks and covered shoes for the gents), while the external lounge is more laidback and doesn’t have a dress code.

You can still hear the live music through the open windows from the internal lounge, and the outside area is very relaxed and a nice place to catch up over wonderful tropical cocktails like the Pisco Sour (brandy based) and the Lost Passion (tequila, Cointreau, fresh juices topped with champagne), which are surprisingly reasonably priced considering the luxe location.

Pisco Sour, $13 and Lost Passion, $13

Lewers Lounge
Halekulani Hotel
2199 Kalia Road
Honolulu,?HI 96815?

Lewers Lounge on Urbanspoon

Marukame Udon

The canteen style udon joint that we know and love in Sydney through Mappen seems to be just as popular in Honolulu, with lines at the similarly set up Marukame Udon going out the door most days and nights when we walked past. We got in early for breakfast (only from 7am – 9am) to see what all the fuss was about and was glad to find the rather spacious dining area wasn’t that crowded.

We ordered a regular Niku Udon (sliced beef) and the more interesting Curry Udon, which was surprisingly subtly flavoured. The thick udon noodles were about the same as Mappen’s, but we found that their broth was sweeter tasting.?We also grabbed some fried sides to bulk up the meal consisting of mushroom tempura, prawn tempura, potato croquette and karaage fried chicken. The boy also couldn’t resist trying their Spam Musubi (a popular Hawaiian invention of a Spam Nigiri sushi), which he thought was decent.

?Curry Udon, $5.25 (regular)

Niku Udon, $5.75 (regular), Sides ranging from $1.50 – $1.75

After we got back to Sydney, we noticed that?Marukame Udon has opened up in Chatswood – so Mappen will have a new competitor in town!?

Marukame Udon
2310 Kuhio Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815, United States
Phone:+1 808-931-6000

Marukame Udon on Urbanspoon

Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar

We were absolutely blown away by the great value on offer at Sansei for our last proper meal of the trip. Sansei is inside the Marriott hotel and while that would ordinarily mean fairly steep prices, Sansei have very reasonable prices for their delicious Modern Japanese cuisine – it’s no wonder the place was booked out when we turned up. We sat at the cocktail bar instead, but luckily you can still order the full menu from there.

To start off, we spotted a white wine “flight” on offer called “Ivy’s Wine Picks” which consisted of 3 glasses of white wines from different regions around the world for only $9.75 and decided to split that between the 2 of us. They were lovely wines too; the boy’s favourite was the Cantina Terlano Pinot Bianco 2011 from Alto Adige in Italy, while mine was the Champalou Vouvray 2011 from the Loire Valley in France. Both were smooth and mellow, in contrast to the third wine in the flight which was the drier Mohua Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from New Zealand.

For our appetisers we had ordered the Panko Crusted Ahi Sashimi Sushi Roll from their Award Winners menu. Although the presentation left a bit to be desired, it tasted a lot better than it looked – the bread crumbed exterior gave it a nice crunch which was offset by the soft raw tuna sashimi rolled inside and complemented by a tasty soy wasabi butter sauce.

? Panko Crusted Ahi Sashimi Sushi Roll, $12.95

The meal got even better when the Seared Sea Scallops came out and we saw how gigantic they were! They were hands down the biggest scallops I have ever had (and this is after they have been seared, so they must have been even bigger before cooking…) and also incredibly fresh, seared to perfection with a moist, succulent centre. The scallops were paired with a delicious combo of ingredients sourced locally: bacon, spinach, mushrooms and topped with an apple cider vinaigrette. A very satisfying dish which was fantastic value at just $9!

Seared Sea Scallops, $9

The scallops may have been the unexpected star of the meal, but we had actually come to try d.k’s Crab Ramen with Asian Truffle Broth which is also on Sansei’s Award Winners menu. It’s easy to see why it’s a winner – it is surely the most extravagant ramen I’ve ever had, but absolutely delicious too with a delicate truffle broth that wasn’t too overpowering, letting the shredded pieces of juicy snow crab shine and springy ramen noodles as the only traditional element of the classic Japanese soup noodle in this fusion rendition. ?The addition of Thai basil and coriander (or cilantro as they call it in the USA) gave it an unexpected but pleasant flavour.

d.k’s Crab Ramen with Asian Truffle Broth, $17.95

We were still a bit peckish after all that seafood, so we ordered some Kaki Furai (a.k.a deep fried oyster) with ponzu aioli. Like our first dish, this one also was crumbed with panko on the outside, encasing some juicy oysters. But it didn’t impress me as much as the other dishes, though the boy quite enjoyed them.

Kaki Furai, $10

Sansei was a surprise gem and even with a tip, represented the tastiest and best value meal we had in Hawaii. Be sure to book in advance to avoid missing out, it’s a must visit in Waikiki!

Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar
2552 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815, United States
Phone:+1 808-931-6286

Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

The Cheesecake Factory

We ended our trip with two slices of the most decadent cheesecakes I have ever had – Ultimate Red Velvet and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. I had heard numerous recommendations for The Cheesecake Factory and had made the mistake of thinking that they were only a dessert venue – when we made our way inside, we were surprised to see that it was a full fledged restaurant and it was packed to the rafters!

The Ultimate Red Velvet cheesecake certainly lived up to its name, it was rich and moist, with plenty of icing to go around.

?Ultimate Red Velvet, $8.50

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough was even richer than the Ultimate Red Velvet (didn’t think that was possible), with chewy bits of real cookie dough moulded into the layers of the cheesecake to give you an extra sugar hit.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake, $7.95

The Cheesecake Factory
2301 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815, United States
Phone:+1 808-924-5001

The Cheesecake Factory on Urbanspoon

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