Poet Bill Holm writes about food that “sing[s] inside you after eating / for a long time,” food makes you feel every bone in your body, food that knows where it’s been and where it’s going. I also want food that has life in it. I dream of kale smoothies, vegan samosas and tofu stir-fries. I’m happily spoiled by Honolulu’s fast and wholesome eateries, the ones with missions to make any tree-hugger croon. Some of us know these places well. Some of us should know them better.
‘Umeke is like an old song that comes back to you in the oddest places. Just the other day, bending down to tie my shoe in a parking lot, I thought unexpectedly of my once-favorite mango salsa fish tacos. So I promptly ran over to the deli to find the new menu items and daily specials.
I’m a sucker for their kale smoothie ($3.99): locally sourced kale, banana, honey and your choice of apple juice or soy milk (I recommend the soy milk). Their burgers (grass-fed Big Island beef, turkey, veggie or even buffalo for $8.95 and up) and fish platters are also delish. I love the pineapple miso salmon ($10.95). But what keeps lots of patrons singing is their garlic-hoisin meatloaf ($9.95), made with all-natural ground turkey.
‘Umeke uses good ‘ol fashioned vegetable oil, and their veggies are organic. Sign up for a discount card for 5 percent off everything.
If you’re looking for a place that’s creative and focuses on both flavor and health, the deli in Kale’s Natural Foods is where you want to be. The cooks are always experimenting with vegan and gluten-free dishes. I go for the Mixed Macro Plate ($9.50), which changes almost daily.
Kale’s uses olive, sesame and organic coconut oil in both baked goods and hot food, and they always use local free-range organic meats. Local organic fruits and greens are from Otsuji Farm, while some other items are from the mainland.
Every day, however, expect some form of whole-grain salad, ginger miso tofu, pickled veggies, and roasted root veggies. Their wild salmon burger is seriously decadent ($9.50), and breakfast (served all day) at Kale’s is a great way to start the day. I love the Sunrise Breakfast Sandwich with vegan sausage ($5.75).
The star menu item is definitely a new temporary special, Ono Piccata ($11). Note to Kale’s: If you add this dish to your regular menu I will die happy. It’s that good.
Whole Foods Market Kahala
Whole Foods’s prepared food deli area can feel overwhelming, with crowds of people hovering over the salad bar or lined up in rows at the hot pizza counter or burrito bar. But, if you’re not sure what you’re craving, Whole Foods Kahala is your best bet for culinary variety.
They offer options from Asian stir-fries to chicken masala, from Greek couscous to spicy salmon rolls and egg specials for breakfast. A new addition to Kahala is the build-a-burger counter, where you choose what type of patty (veggie or grass-fed beef), bun and accoutrements your taste buds desire.
Whole Foods’s meat is always cruelty-free and vegetarian-fed, adhering to the 5-step Animal Welfare Rating Standards. Oils used are labeled on each dish, either canola or olive, sometimes organic. The produce is a combination of local and organic, also labeled on each dish.
Whole Foods’s best kept secret? The poke bowls–a scoop of white rice with your choice of a variety of poke ($6.99). Although commonly thought of as super-expensive, these made-to-order bars can be quite reasonable: Head over for breakfast, lunch or dinner on Wednesday and it’s only $6.99 per pound (regularly $8.99). And if you have room in your wallet or stomach, check out the gelato–you won’t regret it.
Down to Earth
As its name suggests, Down to Earth is not about frills, just good food, straight from Mother Nature. Warm, bright food greets you at the beginning of the buffet line, followed by the best salad bar I’ve seen–Down to Earth is, after all, the only all-vegetarian food chain in Hawaii–we’re talking avocado, grated beets, three varieties of sprouts, prepared salads and loads of protein choices ($9.59 per pound).
A steam table nearby offers a selection of homemade soups (large, $6.59) and other hot dishes ($9.59 per pound), including roasted potatoes, tofu and both conventional and gluten- and wheat-free pizzas. I tried the pesto pizza with roasted veggies ($4.49 per slice), which fixed my pizza craving fast–vegan style. Their Indian-inspired dishes, such as dal (lentils with spices), are my favorite offerings.
Hot dishes change constantly, and all deli foods are prepared with organic produce and use vegetable and safflower oil. There’s also a juice bar and made-to-order sandwiches. Sign up for their Customer Rewards Program and get $5 store credit for every $300 you spend.
When I walked into Kokua Market, the only natural food co-operative in Hawaii, I was surprised to find that toward the rear of the store, which is already tiny, there’s a bountiful buffet and cases for fresh oatcakes and refrigerated raw foods (inspired by Tom Gibson, Kokua’s resident raw food specialist).
New general manager, Lynette Larson, says all the prepared dishes are made from food that comes from the store. Deli manager Kevin Price and chef Carlos Jimenez work with food from the store, which is local and organic, when possible, and they use organic olive oil and high-quality safflower oil instead of canola.
What really draws me to Kokua is their playful, home-cooking vibe and creative vegetarian options such as the delicious seitan with thyme and celery and the walnut-cranberry quinoa. The meat-eater in me had to try Jimenez’s favorite, Momma’s Chicken, an amazing combination of green beans, pesto and edamame. Food this delicious and healthful is a bargain at $9.29 per pound. And if you’re feeling frisky, grab one of the local beers in the fridge near the checkout counter.