Vibrant and diverse, Oahu's culinary scene is evolving at a rapid rate in Honolulu – as well as across Hawaii's most populated island. Spearheaded by creative chefs who combine local, fresh ingredients with innovative flavors and cooking techniques, the island is offering a multitude of exciting and surprising dining experiences, at new establishments as well as long-time favorites.
From casual to exclusive, these 10 restaurants feature some inventive, "must-try" dishes on the island of Oahu.
Eating House 1849
Try: Plantation-Style Paella
This specialty is a fusion of classic paella and Roy Yamaguchi's grandfather's tomato-based stew. The base of this savory rice dish is an aromatic chicken, lobster and clam stock reduction and features local Portuguese sausage, Kauai shrimp and saffron spice.
Yamaguchi's grandfather was a Maui plantation worker in the early 1900s and later opened a tavern where he served a signature beef stew.
Roy Yamaguchi explained, "When I was growing up, my father would recreate my grandfather's beef stew. When we opened Eating House 1849, I wanted to take the same approach and turn the Spanish paella dish into the Plantation-Style Paella, which reminded me of the stew created by my grandfather. It's the memories of my past that inspired the paella dish and the origin of our Eating House concept."
The Reef Bar & Market Grill at Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort
Try: Vegan Scallops
Delia Romano is the executive sous chef of The Reef Bar & Market Grill at the legendary Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort. As a vegan, she has added a variety of specialties to the menu, including vegan "scallops."
Made with seared local ali'i mushrooms that are infused with fresh herbs and Hawaiian sea salt, this dish is paired with a minted lemon pea puree, roasted red pepper coulis, and garnished with toasted macadamia nuts. It's accompanied by cherry tomatoes and arugula tossed in house white balsamic vinaigrette.
Romano said, "The texture of the mushrooms gives the sensation of eating a scallop, while keeping it strictly plant-based. The brightness of the pea puree and the tartness of the arugula round out the dish. Having a venue literally on the beach and being vegan was my inspiration for this vegan "fish" dish. You get the illusion of eating scallops, but you're really dining on delicious produce from the island."
Try: Tableside Poke
The tableside poke at Merriman's restaurant is an exceptional experience, so there's no surprise that it's one of the most popular dishes at Merriman's Honolulu, where they sell about 700 orders monthly.
All of the ingredients are rolled out to the table atop a cart. The server asks about taste preferences and expertly prepares the fresh poke in front of you. Featuring sashimi grade ahi, options for this dish include avocado, sliced chives, Maui onion, ogo (Hawaiian seaweed), jalapeno, chili flakes and poke sauce. It's served with house-made taro chips.
Chef and owner Peter Merriman says, "We apply our minimalist approach and keep the flavors clean and simple, so the customer can taste the great quality of fish. Making this dish tableside allows the guest to select exactly how poke is prepared. Everybody in Hawaii has an opinion on how poke should be made, and this way, they get to have input on their own version."
Try: Charred Cabbage
Known for their exceptional culinary creations, award-winning chefs/owners Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush previously worked together at the legendary restaurant Per Se in New York. But Senia is a whole a new scene, offering a charred cabbage specialty. It's a complex and flavorful dish that combines slow-cooked cabbage, shio kombu (seasoned kelp), moringa powder, green goddess dressing and buttermilk gel.
Oahu resident Melissa Chang is a food blogger at FrolicHawaii.com and an expert on the Hawaii dining scene. She said, "One of my favorite dishes is the cabbage at Senia. Everything they serve is exquisite, but this one unusual-looking dish is what people talk about. If you close your eyes, you might not even be able to tell if it's a vegetable, because the layers of flavor create different illusions in your mouth with every bite...this dish is a testament to the chef/owners' creativity."