The fact that Hawaii is inherently romantic is yesterday’s news. Couples have long fanned their mutual flame to the tune of the islands’ plethora of stunning beaches, lovely small towns, and a climate that asks little more of you than your favorite swimsuit.
A good meal in Hawaii can take an already intimate experience to new heights. It’s a parade for the senses and an occasion you won’t soon forget. And because the place is a true destination, it’s been in the crosshairs of great culinary minds for a while now. That translates to a meal that can stand up to both landmark dates (honeymoons, anniversaries, etc.) and the dazzling surroundings (the lapping of the ocean, the whisper of palm fronds in a warm breeze).
Here are some standout Hawaiian restaurants capable of taking a meaningful meal to special new territory.
There’s so much style at play with Japanese food. Celebrity chef Morimoto is a master of presentation and his eye-catching dishes are all the better before the backdrop of this highly contemporary beach house. There are plenty of open-air options in Hawaii but this one is in a league of its own. The ambiance matches the food, at once fresh, natural, and tasteful. Oak and teak fixtures frame a gorgeous sushi bar. Elsewhere, lounge-like booths sprout up from the ground and overlook the ocean in the distance. Not many chefs can put together creations that can compete with such a view.
While the chef’s menu is always recommended, there are other bites worth exploring, like the hamachi tartare or beautiful octopus carpaccio. There’s decadence in dishes like oyster foie gras and sheer intrigue in options like sea urchin carbonara. The entrees are universally sound, including mouthwatering items like the seafood toban yaki (lobster, king crab, mussel, clam diver scallop, red miso sake broth) and Morimoto’s own creative take on pork chops and applesauce.
There’s a sexy beverage program as well, fit with an expansive sake list including flights of older offerings. Chat up your server about navigating the restaurant’s dynamic portfolio. The house cocktails are well-made and blend Asian staples like shochu and yuzu with Hawaiian ingredients like lilikoi and hibiscus. During the shorter days of winter, this is a great lunch spot. The menu is just as impressive midday, plus you hold on to the full poolside experience, sun-drenched and all.
Another great option in Maui, set in the welcoming little town of Paia, is Nylos. Extremely intimate, this little eatery puts a modern spin on some luxury ingredients like lobster, caviar, truffles, and more. Here, you just get to play passenger, following chef Jeremy Solyn and his ever-changing fixed menus. He’s a somm too, so expect some delicious wine pairings en route.
It’s tough to pass up a Big Island sunset in Kona but the town’s food scene generally isn’t quite as good as the view. Head upland to Merriman’s in Waimea, one of a small chain of award-winning Hawaiian restaurants and arguably the best. You’ll be away from the beach but closer to the purveyors of chef Peter Merriman’s tasty work.
House-made is a running theme, with from-scratch offerings like pasta, kimchee, and more. The produce funnels into fantastic salads and enjoyable side plates like pan-roasted mushrooms and misoyaki broccolini. For entrees, the steaks are highly recommended. There’s also the very Hawaiian kampachi, crusted in Macadamia nuts and hit with a miso-sake reduction. The lamb is also great, joined by rainbow chard, jalapeno whipped potatoes, and onion-mint chimichurri.
Honolulu is a city teeming with high-end food options. La Mer is among the best, set in the Halekulani hotel along historic Wakiki Beach. It’s quite decorated, touting five stars from Forbes and five diamonds from the folks at AAA. It has remained faithful to its exceptional service and dining options since it launched almost three decades ago. This is one you dress up for (and there’s a dress code to prove it, FYI).
You’ll be dining with Diamond Head for company, set just down shore. La Mer offers elegance in the classic kinda way, with expert service and some ultra-showy wines to accent any special occasion. Expect French-inspired, complex dishes packed with richness and plated uber-photogenically.
One of Kauai’s finest, JO2 sources from fertile island farms and the bounty of the surrounding ocean. French-born chef Jean-Marie Josselin combined Old World kitchen fundamentals with the tropical flair of his established Hawaiian home.
The approach here is all about freshness, with a focus on locally grown, artfully prepared heirloom veggies (including many gluten-free and vegetarian options). The small plates captivate, like poached scallop ravioli with yuzu butter sauce or the miso-marinated salmon. There are great wagyu beef dishes and interesting takes on Hawaiian classics like mahi-mahi (in this case served with a lemongrass and sesame crust alongside coconut Tom Yum broth). Save room for dessert, if you can.
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