Aunty Mai’s CUISINE Open Sun-Wed 11am–2am, Thurs-Sat, 11am–3am 730 Kapahulu Ave., 737-8887 BYOB, credit cards except Amex One evening last December, while I waited outside Ono Hawaiian Foods for dinner, a small family came bustling out of the empty store next door. An older little lady was obviously running the show, waving her arms energetically as she envisioned a sign at the storefront.
While many of us have already jumped on the “Go Local” bandwagon, shopping at farmers’ markets or being gobsmacked by fresh kale from our CSA, Outstanding in the Field (OitF) takes it just a little bit, well, dirtier. Dedicated to serving meals at their source, connecting diners to the land and farmers, the table-to-farm dinner series holds its first Hawaii events this month.
Up here in pre-planned, suburban Central Oahu, where the sky seems closer to the ground and the weather is a few degrees cooler, we do our fine dining at strip malls and chain restaurants. I should explain that it’s tough out here for foodies, so I was disbelieving when my father claimed he’d found an authentic Mexican restaurant in Waipio Shopping Center, home of the likes of Outback Steakhouse and Big City Diner.
Food & Drink / The dim little foyer is silent and unpopulated, but the sign says “Open.” Following the arrow, we slide open a wooden door and here are the people, in a room splashed with sun through the big front window. Walls encrusted with tchotchkes, from red devil masks to a big black fish to jolly tip-jar Buddhas, lend a flea market, Mad Hatter air, but the dining space, though not large, feels spacious, airy and uncluttered.
I could set up tent on Monsarrat Avenue for a solid month and still wouldn’t be tired of its neighborhood dishes. There’s the Pioneer Saloon that sells Japanese bentos with wakame and shiso rice, Diamond Head Cove right across the street (serving the locally famous açai bowl) and don’t get me started on the DH market torte from Diamond Head Market.
There’s a lot to love about Kiss My Grits, a cozy little restaurant located behind Varsity Grill &Bar in Puck’s Alley. It’s as cute as a blue and white apron, it’s as American as a red and white tablecloth, but bless their little ‘ole hearts, they need a lesson in frying chicken from Paula Dean or Sean Priester of Soul Café in Kaimuki.
Food & Drink / I have a daily morning ritual. The location will vary, but the motions are the same: basking in the angelic glow of my MacBook while zoning out on my RSS Feed, catching up with inside jokes on Facebook and adding people I’ve never met before to my “People I’ve Never Met Before” circle on Google+, Twitter, rinse, repeat.
I walk past a familiar storefront in Kailua and imagine what the walls would say if they could talk: I seem to hear, “Free…We are free at last” in an elated, tear-laden whisper. I peek inside the window–situated between Foodland and Baskin-Robbins–now home to the brand-new Italian restaurant Prima and see sleek décor with a modern, minimalist appeal.
P opular deals on Groupon Honolulu: $25 worth of food for $12 from Le Cacao Bistro, $20 of pizza and drinks for $10 from Round Table Pizza, and $65 worth for $30 from Gyu-Kaku. If enough people jump on the bandwagon (and they do, in the thousands), you’ll have a set amount of time (24–48 hours) to take advantage of your score.
Aside from Sushi ii (pronounced “ee-ee,” Japanese for good), there’s probably no other restaurant in the world that has both sushi and pai‘ai on the menu. Not only that, but it’s impeccably fresh sushi–buttery uni, rich hamachi, even aku, the flavor cut with grated ginger and garlic and a touch of green onions.