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The 50 Finest

From hip indie restos to stellar openings, top toques and savvy self-starters are embracing culinary diversity in ways we’ve never seen. An Ecuadorian-French bistro in Chinatown? Yes! A new wave of restos in posh Wailea? Please! Here, the chefs and eateries who’ve kept us coming back for more.

Michelle Karr-Ueoka dazzles both the eyes and the taste buds with her inventive desserts at MW Restaurant, her venture with chef hubby Wade Ueoka.

Colin Hazama
Those-in-the-know have watched this local chef’s career from San Francisco (Gary Danko) to Honolulu (Alan Wong’s and Hoku’s) and finally his own kitchens at The St. Regis Princeville Resort and Waikīkī’s Rumfire. Now that Hazama has gone behind the scenes as the Sheraton Waikiki’s executive sous-chef, gourmands eagerly await his appearance at this year’s Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival. 2255 Kalākaua Ave., Waikīkī, O‘ahu, 922.4422

Chris Kajioka
In Hawai‘i, Kajioka is the chef other chefs watch. With Michelin-starred eateries like New York’s Per Se and San Francisco’s Aziza on his résumé, he made buzz when he was picked to open Vintage Cave—especially since the prix fixe menu at the oh-so-haute spot cost $295. Now that Kajioka has left for some family time, Honolulu epicures are anxiously waiting to see where he ends up next.

Leanne Kamekona
A girl in a man’s world, Kamekona silenced critics at her first culinary job by butchering a 200-pound ‘ahi. Nothing’s stopped her since. Now the executive chef at Kaua‘i’s The St. Regis Princeville Resort, Kamekona garners raves for her nods to local cuisine with dishes like coconut-crab dip with smoked lū‘au leaves. 5520 Ka Haku Road, Princeville, Kaua‘i, 826.9644

Michelle Karr-Ueoka and Wade Ueoka
Pastry Chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka and Chef de Cuisine Wade Ueoka met and married while working at Alan Wong’s. When they left to open MW Restaurant last year, foodies beat a path to the door. Recent raves include James Beard semi-final nominations for Best New Restaurant and Outstanding Pastry Chef. We think it’s a match made in culinary heaven. 1538 Kapi‘olani Blvd., Ala Moana/Kapi‘olani, O‘ahu, 955.6505

Lance Kosaka
Leave it to this Alan Wong’s alum to sneak surprises into his high-end dishes. So Kosaka’s roasted garlic ribeye gets a fiery wasabi aioli treatment; the foie gras sauce for his duck two ways has an edgy mix of salted plum; and his kurobuta pork chop comes with a delectable kabocha mascarpone puree. Next up for Kosaka: Skybar, an ultrachic rooftop lounge he’s opening next to Top of Waikiki. 2270 Kalākaua Ave., Waikīkī, O‘ahu, 923.3877

George Mavrothalassitis
One look at his multisyllabic last name, and you’ll know why this Marseille-born talent goes by Mavro. And that works perfectly for us. Of late, Mavro has been impressing us with his inventions, from Hawai‘i Island abalone in sea urchin emulsion to déclinaison of foie gras. After all, his namesake resto remains the islands’ only independent AAA Five-Diamond Award-winner. It’s no surprise, then, that luxury brands turn to him for private dinners and soirees. 1969 S. King St., McCully/Mō‘ili‘ili, O‘ahu, 944.4714

Jon Matsubara
When this toque left his prestigious post at Azure last year, he set off speculation about his new job. A few months later he re-emerged at Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort and Spa as chef de cuisine at Japengo. Ever since then he’s been reinventing the menu and introducing new culinary experiences including daring tasting menus pairing dishes with Scotch. 2424 Kalākaua Ave., Waikīkī, O‘ahu, 237.6180

Mark Noguchi
This spirited chef is known as much for his infectious laughter as his sourced-from-the-land cooking. The Mavro and Town alum made headlines when he turned a sleepy dockside stand into a culinary destination. Now Noguchi is chief toque at Hawaiian Airlines’ headquarters and Snackbox, a new pop-up in Kaka‘ako that’s slated to run until the end of January 2015. After that, he aims to have a place of his own someday; until then, foodies can see his commentary on Cooking Channel’s Unique Eats. 685 Auahi St., Kaka‘ako, O‘ahu

Jojo Vasquez
When Masaharu Morimoto hand-picks you for his cooking team on Iron Chef, you know you’re at the top of your game. Vasquez’ competitive spirit, high-end techniques and emphasis on deceptively simple food also made him a virtual certainty as one of Hawai‘i’s elite chefs. His philosophy: Always shoot for your very best—so that even if you miss, you’re still at the top. 2000 Plantation Club Drive, Kapalua, Maui, 669.6299

Ka‘ana Kitchen

If you haven’t heard of Ka‘ana Kitchen, listen up. This newbie at the Andaz Maui at Wailea has been impressing diners just as much as its neighbor, Morimoto Maui. Chef Isaac Bancaco’s farm-to-table menu lists dishes according to producers of ingredients, an homage to island farmers, ranchers and fishermen. Hence why the grilled octopus with chevre is listed under Surfing Goat Dairy and the onaga, with veggies, bagna cauda and prosciutto, is under Craig Nihei and Bryan Otani, Local Farmers. We call that name recognition at its best. 3550 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, Maui, 573.1234

12th Ave Grill
Kevin Hanney knows his crowd. Ever since he relaunched his popular venue, hungry diners have been filling it nightly. We love that the menu rightly highlights local ingredients. (Get the Maui Cattle Co. short rib and the Shinsato Farm pork two ways.) Thankfully, the swoon-inducing smoked ‘ahi bruschetta has survived the move. 1120 12th Ave., Kaimukī, O‘ahu, 732.9469

Arancino at the Kahala
Posh Kahala Hotel and Resort got a face-lift when Arancino opened just off the porte cochere. Vines twine up trellises above the open-air patio, where diners sip Old World appellations while nibbling on sea-urchin pasta and tajima beef infused with lavender. The menu may be Italian-inspired, but the aesthetic is Japanese. For us, it’s all molto bene. 5000 Kāhala Ave., Kāhala, O‘ahu, 380.4400

The Pig and the Lady
Andrew Le’s plates range from elegant to whimsical, which is why we love his downtown eatery. His herb- and grapefruit-studded sashimi is a heavenly wonder for both the eye and the palate, and his pig’s head—roasted whole and served with pickles and roasted nuts to wrap in lettuce—is a one-of-a-kind gustatory must. 83 N. King St., Chinatown, O‘ahu, 585.8255

Sushi Ginza Onodera
All of Honolulu is haute for this luxurious jewel box of a sushi restaurant in Kapahulu. (There are only seven counter seats and two small private rooms.) This is the ultimate in omakase, where three tiers of menus are offered at $160, $200 and $250. Given the limited number of spots, the experience is a meditation on superb sushi. It comes as no surprise that the first location of Sushi Ginza Onodera was in Tokyo’s ultraluxe Ginza district. Other outposts will be in Paris and Hong Kong—so Honolulu is indeed luring top concepts. 808 Kapahulu Ave., Kapahulu, O‘ahu, 735.2375

While Hawai‘i’s tastes have often veered Pacific Rim, a new wave of hot spots have started to tantalize our palates. Here, the eateries who have taken us to Latin America via Paris and all along the Mediterranean.

bills Sydney
While visitors from Tokyo or London may already know of Aussie restaurateur Bill Granger, you can still enjoy this welcome addition to Waikiki while remaining blissfully unaware of his name. Here, a remarkably warm staff serves up a globally inspired menu, from savory Southeast Asian-inspired curries to a truly decadent chocolate sundae. 280 Beachwalk, Waikiki, O‘ahu, 922.1500

Grondin French Latin Kitchen
Foodies have been lining up for tables in this tiny Chinatown bistro that bridges French and Ecuadorian cuisines. The soaring ceilings and black-and-white tile floors transport us to St. Germain des Prés while we sip on smoky cocktails and marvel at the tenderness of the duck confit. Do try the charcuterie board with fresh mustard and steak au poivre with green peppercorns. 62 N. Hotel St., Chinatown, O‘ahu, 566.6768

Kan Zaman
To the credit of chefs Kamal Jemmari and Youssef Dakroub, this eatery has been packed since it opened, serving succulent tagines (stews), fragrant couscous and other dishes from Morocco and the Levant. Plus, it’s one of the shockingly few Honolulu restos outside of Waikiki with a terrace. 1028 Nu‘uanu Ave., Chinatown, O‘ahu, 554.3847

Matteo’s Osteria
Wailea added another new venue to its tasteful roster when chef Matteo Mistura recently opened this new hangout for residents and visitors alike. A veteran of the kitchens at the Four Seasons Resort Maui, the Italian native serves up creative antipasti (panko-crusted cremini mushrooms with a kale-infused ricotta puree, anyone?) and classic entrees. And don’t forget the wine—the osteria boasts the widest selection of wines by the glass on the island. 161 Wailea ‘Ike Place, Wailea, Maui, 891.8466

Sangrita Grill + Cantina
This welcome opening in West Maui is a prime example of Hawai‘i’s delicious cross-cultural currents. Popular chef Paris Nabavi goes south of the border to serve new creations and with a host of dishes from Mexico’s coastal regions. Adding the authentic factor is his right-hand chef Eduardo Pineda, who has run kitchens in Mexico City and Baja California. The Fairway Shops Ka‘anapali, 2580 Keka‘a Drive, Ka‘anapali, Maui, 662.6000

Cake Envy

Honolulu’s first cheesecake cafe is an ubercontemporary, chandeliered sweet spot in the heart of the action of Chinatown. About a dozen cheesecakes in sinful flavors like Strawberry Silk and Health Bar Crunch rotate from a menu that boats more than 60 indulgent selections. The mastermind behind the decadent operation is New York native Amy Brookes, who perfected the art of the cheesecake for 17 years before launching the business. And in a welcome change for most dessert destinations, this sweet spot is open after dark—perfect for those visiting Hawaii Theatre across the street. 1129 Bethel St., Chinatown, O‘ahu, 599.8900

After traveling between Alaska and Florida, it was a chance job offer for her husband that brought Pastry Chef Elizabeth McDonald to the Valley Isle. And Maui foodies are all the luckier for it. After a stint at Mark Ellman’s posh Mala Wailea, McDonald had the chance to move to his seaside Lahaina destination Honu. There, she’s created an array of temptingly decadent desserts. The liliko‘i tart with fresh berries is pure sunshine, while the chocolate cake, ingeniously flavored with beets, is a delightful surprise. Don’t forget to try her macarons either. They’re the perfect end to a Honu meal. 1295 Front St., Lahaina, Maui, 667.9390

Minamoto Kitchoan
Traditional Japanese confectionaries may lack the initial flash-in-the-pan wow of their Western counterparts. However, for the initiated, every meticulously crafted wagashi is reminiscent of a work of art. And no one approaches the craft so well as Minamoto Kitchoan. Remarkably, Honolulu is the only other place in the States with an outpost besides New York and San Francisco. Ala Moana Center, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., Street Level 1, O‘ahu, 947.0870

Via Gelato
Kaimuki is galvanizing its role as one of Honolulu’s most culinary rich ‘hoods. The recent opening of this brick-and-mortar spot for Melissa Bow’s coveted gelato brand is the finishing touch. After working the trendy food-truck circuit, the Punahou grad now brings her thoughtful list of handmade gelato to a hungry crowd. In a nod to the islands’ multicultural tapestry, flavors here are imaginatively diverse—from black sesame to milk tea to lychee. And take note, menu offerings often change over the day—so you may just have to stop by twice. 4211 Wai‘alae Ave., Kaimuki, O‘ahu, 542.9276

Koko Head Cafe

As new Honolulu resident Lee Anne Wong has shown on national TV, she can cook her toque off. The Top Chef alum deftly balances flavors, textures and outside-the-box touches at her first solo resto, where lines out the door are the norm. Even in eclectic Honolulu, it’s a rare place that serves up congee, miso-smoked pork omelets and kimchee bacon cheddar scones. Rarer still, Koko Head Cafe serves only brunch. That it closes at 2PM leaves us always wanting more. 1145C 12th Ave., Kaimuki, O‘ahu, 732.8920

Goofy Cafe & Dine
This new beach chic arrival is serving one of Waikīkī’s best brunches—with locally sourced ingredients at that. After all, where else can you get Shinsato pork eggs Benedict served with liliko‘i butter and Okinawan sweet potatoes in Honolulu? 1831 Ala Moana Blvd., Waikīkī, O‘ahu, 943.0077

The four-star view of Kauna‘oa Beach almost rivals this bountiful Sunday brunch, arguably the best on Hawai‘i Island. And trust us—the famous malasadas are out of this world. Mauna Kea Beach Resort, 62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Drive, Kohala Coast, Hawai‘i Island, 882.5810

Monkeypod Kitchen
Anyone out in West O‘ahu can easily lament options for a sophisticated breakfast. It’s chef Peter Merriman to the rescue, whose Monkeypod Kitchen just started to offer a well-appreciated brunch. Now, Westside weekends are meant for homemade cinnamon rolls, island faves and handcrafted cocktails on its breezy lānai. 92-1048 ‘Ōlani St., Suite 4-107, Ko Olina, O‘ahu, 380.4086

Tortilla Republic
This hot spot on Kaua‘i’s South Shore serves one of the most unique brunch options on the island. Head here on Sundays for smart takes on traditional dishes like huevos divorciados or American faves with a Mexican twist like the corn and blueberry pancakes. Add some spice with a tomate fresca with muddled cherry tomatoes, habanero hot sauce and tequila. The Shops at Kukui‘ula, 2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka, Po‘ipū, Kaua‘i, 742.8884

Fresh Cafe

There are cafes, then there is this stylish mecca, a social hub that’s become integral to Kaka‘ako’s cultural scene. Leave it to Tiffany Tanaka and her team to bring her concept to Chinatown, where they’ve taken over the space occupied by Indigo. Here, their glam squad transformed the tired interior into an urbane loft-like space, replete with colorful art and vintage books. Nosh on smart pizzas topped off with the likes of kimchee and kalbi beef. Then sip on a coffee or, come sundown, cocktails. 1121 Nu‘uanu Ave., Chinatown, O‘ahu

Brue Bar
A printing company (of all things) has opened one of the coolest places to kaffeeklatsch in Honolulu. Housed in the historic Stangenwald Building, this cafe tastefully breaks convention. In an era when most coffee drinks sound more like milkshakes, the menu here is blissfully minimalist. Savor a macchiatto or latte brewed with beans from Verve Coffee Roasters of Santa Cruz, Calif., while nibbling on Tcho chocolate or fresh pastries from Kailua’s Agnes Portuguese Bake Shop. Even simple espresso takes on a new elegance: It’s served with a shot glass of sparkling water. 119 Merchant St., Downtown Honolulu, O‘ahu, 441.4470

Kauai Juice Company
You know a neighbor island business is getting noticed when they’re shipping to Honolulu on request. The savvy urbanites have finally discovered what Garden Isle residents have been enjoying for the past year. What sets this smart business apart is its dedication to organic produce and meticulous cold-pressing, which doesn’t heat the juice like regular machines and thereby preserves the powerful enzymes. It’s a difference you can taste and feel in its juices, tonics and coveted cleanses. And it’s even more impressive for a company that started as a Kickstarter project. 4504 Kukui St., Suite 20A, Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i, 634.0886

Kokoa Bar
On the forefront of the islands’ chocolate boom is this artisanal haven—just two blocks from Waikīkī Beach. It’s the brainchild of Culinary Institute of America-trained chocolatier Richard Muszynski, who creates gorgeous, delectable chocolates, spiked with chile pepper, passion fruit and other island-grown ingredients. If you’re curious to the secret of his sweet success, he offers classes as well. Queen Kapi‘olani Hotel, 50 Kapahulu Ave., Waikīkī, O‘ahu, 922.3140

The Market By Capische
Critically acclaimed chef Brian Etheredge has given Wailea yet another reason to boast. The owner and founder of Capische has just launched a veritable chef’s pantry, which offers fresh baked breads, dry-aged steaks, fresh fish and more. If that wasn’t enough, the market even features its own private-label wines, crafted and bottled by Testarossa Winery in Northern California. Stocking up for that perfect sunset picnic has never been easier. 10 Wailea Gateway Place, Wailea, Maui, 879.2433

Asian influences have always been strong in the islands, but the past year has seen an exceptional explosion of flavors from the East. (Think traditional cuisine to inventive fusion.) Here, the spots that we’re visiting time and again.

Morimoto Maui
Foodies on Maui swooned when Masaharu Morimoto’s no-holds-barred raw tuna pizza arrived on the island, festooned with jalapenos, anchovy aioli and briny olives. On occasion, the Iron Chef himself swoops in, hands flashing as he takes a turn behind the sushi counter, ink-black ponytail a blur as he surveys his latest tropical domain between the Andaz Maui at Wailea’s pool and the wide blue sea. 3550 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, Maui, 573.1234

Gourmands with carnivore tendencies drool over this high-end yakiniku outpost of a well-known chain from Korea, where only the finest cuts of beef are delivered tableside for grilling over wood coals. When it opened last year, Budnamujip floored diners with its high prices; now, foodies are more likely to be floored by sumptuous bites of kalbi or ribeye, or the resto’s exotic, bottomless side dishes. Our recs: the signature yangnyeom kalbi, marinated in the juice of Asian pears; the pumpkin salad; fresh baby turnip kimchee; and the humble but perfect denjang soup. 871 Kapi‘olani Blvd., Kaka‘ako, O‘ahu, 593.8822

Izakaya Torae Torae
Don’t let the tats on this chef fool you. Hide Yoshimoto, a traditionally trained toque who jazzed up Doraku’s menu with his flashy sushi rolls, has brought the same rock ’n’ roll style to this trendy izakaya. Regulars swear by the signature crab and corn croquettes, luxuriant seafood shooters and possibly the best simmered pork belly on the island. A chill flight of junmai, ginjo and daiginjo sakes proves the perfect pairing. 1111 McCully St., Mo‘ili‘ili/ McCully, O‘ahu, 949.5959

This oldie-but-goodie set the standard for sexy nouveau sushi rolls, then upped its game with items like a crab salad, mango and crunchy peanut hand roll. Foodies now rave about the decadent Dungeness crab ramen, its buttery broth tinged with white truffle oil. For libations, a wine list chosen by Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya boasts more than 100 labels. Die-hards line up for early-bird and late-night specials, and you know the party’s really going when the karaoke kicks in. 2552 Kalakaua Ave., Waikiki, O‘ahu, 931.6286; 201 Waikoloa Beach Drive, Waikoloa, Hawai‘i Island, 886.6286; 600 Office Road, Kapalua, Maui, 669.6286; 1881 S. Kihei Road, Kihei, Maui, 879.0004

Sushi Shiono
Foodies flock to this hidden jewel in Kona for a good reason. It was opened by a Japanese expat and weekend fisherman who wanted to bring his authentic hometown cuisine to Hawai‘i Island. Bringing the vision to life is Executive Chef Keinosuke Kawakami, who earned his stripes at Masa and Nobu 57 in New York as well as Nobu Waikiki. His specialty: seared moi sashimi with truffle oil. 75-5799 Ali‘i Drive, Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i Island, 326.1696

‘Ulu Ocean Grill

The reflection of the sunset dancing off the sea creates the dreamy setting for Chef de Cuisine Ricardo Jarquin’s menu. The purists will want to sample top poke, sushi and sashimi. But to really see this team work wonders, dive directly into the entrees which explore wok, grilled and oven-roasted preparations. Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, 72-100 Ka‘upulehu Drive, Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i Island, 325.8000

53 By the Sea
While the dazzling ocean views may attract some to this venue in the location of the former John Dominis, there’s an even better reason to make a reservation. Executive Chef Thomas Ho has revamped the menu with a delectable range of seafood dishes that appeal to the trans-Pacific clientele with discriminating taste buds. 53 ‘Āhui St., Kaka‘ako, O‘ahu, 536.5353

Chef Shaymus Alwin has impressed us since he’s taken the helm at The Royal Hawaiian’s signature eatery. The Maine native certainly does wonders with lobster. Of course, there are other dazzling selections too, like the kiawe-smoked moonfish tartare. For the best way to experience Alwin’s ability, sign up for one of his chef’s tables, where seaworthy dishes are paired with the perfect wines. The Royal Hawaiian, 2259 Kalākaua Ave., Waikīkī, O‘ahu, 923.7311

The Dolphin
Whether you’re on Kaua‘i’s South Shore or the North Shore, you can always dine at this wildly popular destination. The star: island fish freshly caught off Kaua‘i’s shores, including ‘ōpakapaka, opah and hapu. Notably, there are no tricky sauces to mask subpar quality here. Simple preparations—think grilled with sea salt—let the natural flavors speak for themselves. 5-5016 Kūhiō Highway, Hanalei, Kaua‘i, 826.6113; The Shops at Kukui‘ula, 2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka, Po‘ipū, Kaua‘i, 742.1414

Mama’s Fish House
You’ll be ready to cue the Martin Denny soundtrack when you step into this celebrated haven on Maui’s North Shore. Go South Pacific with the Tahitian poisson cru, marinated in lime and coconut milk. Other specialties evoke an era long gone. 799 Poho Place, Pā‘ia, Maui, 579.8488

Beach Tree
Home to both Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and one of the islands’ most exclusive communities, Hualalai Resort is known for its understated discretion. At the same time, business tycoons and A-listers still need somewhere to congregate. That’s why there’s this open-air lounge and resto literally steps from the shoreline. It’s our favorite place on the island. 72-100 Ka‘upulehu Drive, Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i Island, 325.8000

Búho Cocina y Cantina
Finally! This summer, Waikiki gets its first rooftop restaurant and bar, designed by boutique L.A. firm Preen. Savor the bird’s-eye view from the fire pits or on the vine-trellised terrace. Featuring top-shelf tequilas and modern Mexican cuisine, this destination—its name is Spanish for owl—will certainly help your taste buds take flight. Waikiki Shopping Plaza, 2250 Kalakaua Ave., Fourth Floor, Waikiki, O‘ahu, 922.2846

Come for lunch, and you’ll surely run into someone you know at Neiman Marcus’ signature eatery. Not only are the ocean views enviable, so is the people-watching—from ladies who lunch to the island’s movers and shakers. Follow our advice: Reserve one of the new booths! Ala Moana Center, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., Ala Moana/Kapi‘olani, O‘ahu, 951.3420

Morimoto Waikiki
The sleek white decor—punctuated by the vibrant photos of orchids—still gets us excited. Not only is this eatery frequented by President Obama, it’s also favored by an eclectic crowd, from Moroccan royals to luxury label reps. The Modern Honolulu, 1775 Ala Moana Blvd., Waikiki, O‘ahu, 943.5900

Nobu Waikiki
While other eateries may have hit the scene since this celebri-chef destination opened in 2007, we will forever have a soft spot for Nobu Waikiki. The recently revamped menu is outstanding, and the energy in the dining room is infectious. No wonder that this mecca remains a fave for the Hawaii Five-0 cast, along with L.A entertainment moguls, well-heeled jet-setters and Honolulu culturati. If you forget to make a reservation, the lounge is the perfect place to perch in style. 2233 Helumoa Road, Waikiki, O‘ahu, 237.6999

When celebs visit the Valley Isle, they often head to Four Seasons Resort Maui, which makes this Wolfgang Puck the best place for serious star-watching. Of course, the beautiful mix of locals and visitors will make up for any lack of sightings. 3900 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, Maui, 874.8000