The Hawaii food scene is better than ever, brimming with new exciting restaurants as well as classic local institutions. What we are seeing now is an influx of Michelin starred chefs (both foreign and domestic), mainland concepts, and emerging local talent with 4-star resumes. On the more casual end, food entrepreneurship is at an all-time high, with new businesses appearing on the food truck and greenmarket scene, wonderfully unique cafes and smaller establishments, and the blossoming of farm and food production companies showcasing locally grown, made-in-Hawaii commodities.
What does this all mean for the local economy? Hawaii has always been a tourist destination, but it is also becoming a new home for many transplants. I myself felt the “the call of aloha” and decided to move to Oahu four years ago after a lifetime in New York. With the boom in new residential and the continued growth of the tourism industry, we are seeing more culinary dining options able to flourish. As a local business owner who supports and promotes other local businesses, you can also see a trend towards sustainable practices, utilizing and showcasing locally produced food, which is huge considering Hawaii on a whole imports over 90% of its food supply. Hawaiian cuisine and local flavors are also taking center stage, as evident by the poke trend sweeping the mainland, and chefs such as Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong continuing to grow their respective brands. The next generation of chefs: Ed Kenney, Sheldon Simeon, Chris Kajioka, to name a few, are creating legacies of their own, with multiple concepts that embrace both history and culture with modern sensibility.
Even the beverage sector is creating a new buzz. Hawaii, famous for being the inspiration for tiki culture, is all grown up now. Sophisticated, reinvented versions of tropical cocktail classics such as the Mai Tai and Planter’s Punch, are appearing on menus across the islands. Mixologists like Justin Park are bringing international acclaim and innovation at his hot spot Bar Leather Apron, and Bevy owner Christian Self upping his cocktail game with a food menu to match and expansion of his bar concept to include a daytime market. Not everything is sweet and fruity… serious whisky aficionados can get their fix at any number of watering holes, including the aforementioned bars, and local institutions like The Pint and Jigger. Hawaii is solidly in the production game as well. Award winning companies like Ocean Vodka and Kohana Rum are distilling using home grown ingredients. Craft beer production is at an all-time high; Big Island Brewhaus, Lanikai Brewing Company, and Maui Brewing Company are all making incredible year round brews as well as unique seasonal varieties.
Needless to say, there is no better time to eat and drink your way through the islands. Whether you are getting your kanak attack at a mom and pop shop, or at a 4-star restaurant, the flavors and inclusive culture of the Pacific Rim shine brightly here in Hawaii, complete with rainbows, gorgeous views of nature, and the spirit of aloha.
Mahalo nui loa,
Lee Anne Wong
Chef/Partner, Koko Head Cafe