Places that we loved the most after a year of extraordinary openings.
YesEs, Hawai’i, restaurants opened throughout 2021 as delayed projects addressed the remaining issues and we finally saw the bright side of the big P: new energy released from the upheaval of the old world order. And no, they weren’t all Instagram businesses.
Still, we need to cut 2021 a bit. In recognition of our more cautious culinary preferences, our New World Order includes a broader definition of restaurants that encompasses the Internet and take-out restaurants. And because it seemed like a long, drawn-out year, when anonymous members of the Frolic team misread the memo and chose restaurants that opened in December 2020 instead of 2021, we did a slight rolling of eyes and have included them as well.
This is not a ranking but an alphabetical list of our favorites. No one on the team knew the choices of the others until today.
It was an easy choice for me. Usually, eating such good food means dining in a hotel or in an exclusive part of town. But in newly remodeled Kaka’ako, Bar Maze is a low-key, unpretentious cocktail bar and restaurant whose food continues to surprise, dish after dish. With a chef from a two Michelin star restaurant, the flavor profiles are complex and concise, leaving me impatient for the next bite. My favorite? The pan-fried scallops topped with caviar, each ingredient of which is perfectly distinct and whose velvety sauce envelops the whole in a warm blanket of refined elegance. –Gregg Hoshida
Light but satisfying dishes arrive at a delicious pace in handcrafted bowls and plates: potato croquettes reminiscent of hash browns, but with a decadent uni, mashed potatoes and soybeans. sweet to spread on top. Triple seared wagyu beef with lettuce and perilla leaves to wrap it, a delicate touch that balances the smoothness. Ethereal shaving ice with fresh seasonal flavors to finish off your meal. The fusion of flavors and aesthetics is done both effortlessly and intentionally. At Bar Maze, the contrasts between freshness and richness take you on a roller coaster of pleasant emotions. Cocktails and mocktails add another layer of complexity, each displaying a delicate balance as Hall & Oates plays through the speakers. What sums it all up for me is a feeling of joy. –Maria burke
With a name like Bar Maze, I guess it’s technically a bar and not a restaurant, but you’ll come here as much for the food as for the cocktails. Yes, it is a bit expensive. And yes, it is often difficult to get a reservation. But it’s worth it. Every time I go I go out full, it’s not one of those places with pretty food that isn’t satisfying. I like to go for the a la carte menu (upstairs on the mezzanine) not only for the freedom to choose what I want, but because of the semi-private cabins. Chef Ki Chung’s food is so good that I find myself shamelessly scratching at every detail in a way that I probably couldn’t do in a more exposed setting. The menu is constantly changing, so it’s hard to name a favorite, but I think the wagyu donabe, served over fatty beef rice, is probably the big winner. I’m also a big fan of scallops (if they have any) with their magical butter sauce. –Melissa Chang
604, boulevard Ala Moana, barmaze.com, @ bar.maze
SEE ALSO: Omakase tasting at Kaka’ako’s Bar Maze: four courses with cocktails
Da Sugar Mill
I was drawn to the concept of planting roots–dishes like saimin Pig 2 Ways, Pastel Stew and Kunia Camp Chicken Long Rice. But I was hooked by the daily fried fish. They are always sustainable reef fish, sometimes including the invasive ta’ape. Some days you may find akule, ‘Äweoweo, and baby aku; most of the time you can find menpachi, and this is what i get–fried to order in a light flour crust and still with a soft, tender flesh and crispy fins and tail that I eat like chips. –Husband Taketa
2300 N. King St., (808) 798-3072, dasugarmill.com, @dasugarmill
SEE ALSO: Da Sugar Mill Serves Modern Twists On Old-Fashioned Plantation Dishes In Kalihi
Heyday won me over with a fun retro vibe that continues in its menu, cocktails and 70s pool bar vibe. We swing the swings around at the round bar to sit at a table under the palm trees. The cocktail menu invites to Daq-A-Oui, where Kunia’s KoHana Kea rum and lime get a splash of pastis and yellow chartreuse; and Origami Swami, which combines orange and amaro with lemon and rye. We share the sesame crusted shrimp toast, kalbi glazed meatballs, and schnitzel that tastes like the cool German cousin of tonkatsu. The other surprise: each vegetable in the primavera pasta is cooked to its best texture in a sauce that brings the dish together without flooding it. Heyday wears the thoughtful touches of FÃªte owner chef Robynne Mai’i and her restaurateur husband, Chuck Bussler. While there’s a little menu crossover with the chic downtown bistro, they conjured up a vintage outdoor oasis that’s tasty and reminiscent of an era that seemed simpler. –Robbie dingeman
431 Nohonani Street, (808) 475-6864, heydayhawaii.com, @heydayhawaii
SEE ALSO: Heyday sends it back with cocktails and groovy bites in WaikÄ«kÄ«
Supporting the local farming and ranching community, chef-owner Keaka Lee has used his creativity to blend a variety of flavors. My personal favorites are the Alla Shrimp & Bulgogi Pork Bolognese Tagliatelle (yes, that’s a main course) and the De Lechon Kawali Schnitzel. The mouth-watering flavors of Kapa Hale go straight to the soul. –Lauren Kaneshiro
4614 avenue Kilauea, (808) 888-2060, kapahale.com, @ 4614kapahale
SEE ALSO: Local ingredients, Hawaiian roots, and big-city flair make Kapa Hale one of Hawaii’s most exciting new restaurants
When it comes to my favorite restaurants, the theme that ties them all together is that they really showcase local produce. Beyond their simple use, they dress them to their best and stage them to shine. Jeff Scheer’s new Marlow restaurant does it with Neapolitan sourdough pizzas and more, just off the Kula Freeway in Pukalani, Maui.
Whether it was the crisp Upcountry air, the buzz that filled the light space, or the steaming pies that scrolled as fast as they left the 900 degree oven, this was where it was. had to be a Friday night. The pizzas are topped with vibrant flavors that you hardly come across in most other stores. From sweet tomato sauce and earthy mushrooms from Laupa’au farm to Maui-raised pork kurobuta sausage and cold cuts, you’re better off ordering a couple of pies after you climb the mountain.
If I lived in Maui I would be here whenever I get the chance, long drive or not. –Thomas obungen
30 Kupaoa Street, Pukalani, Maui, (808) 868-3366, restaurantmarlow.com, @ restaurant.marlow
SEE ALSO: Upcountry Maui Gets New Pizzeria
I’ve always liked the idea of ââSky more than the actual menu, until Hide Sakurai took it on and turned the nightclub into a raw bar. It’s one of the few places I’ve visited three times in 2021, and each time it felt like a special occasion. Yes, I love oysters and chutoro, but my favorite dish is mascarpone with truffle honey, a dessert disguised as an appetizer. The view is not bad either. –Katrina Valcourt
2270 KalÄkaua Avenue, 19th Floor, (808) 979-7590, skywaikiki.com, @skywaikiki
SEE AS ââWELL : .
Super secret izakaya
Ricky Goings’ tasting menu is casual, fun, creative and personal. His first dinner included a set of takoyaki and taco rice, resulting in a crispy ‘ulu cake stuffed with tako and chorizo ââwith taco seasoning. On his second menu, the persimmon tempura with taleggio cheese. Thanks to Goings’ sense of humor, both on the plate and behind the counter, it is a rare (but not rarefied) and rewarding experience in both flavor and ambiance. –Martha cheng
2045 avenue Kalakaua, @soopersecretizakaya
SEE ALSO: Super Secret Izakaya elevates Japanese street food to Kaiseki cuisine
At first, I didn’t understand Upstairs, which presented itself as a collaborative restaurant and sake bar. I mean what? I got it when I tasted it: Edomae bara chirashi from WaikÄ«kÄ«’s Sushi Sho ($ 35), an insanely good grilled chicken wedge from downtown Honolulu’s Yakitori Hachibei ($ 16), a selection Eclectic of sake and waiters who could cook me some great pairings. I have other recommendations from the menu, but every time I go this winning trifecta is on the table. –Husband Taketa
280 Beachwalk, (808) 922-1500, upstairshawaii.com, @upstairshawaii
SEE ALSO: Upstairs Hawai’i brings together two of Japan’s best under one roof