By Kathy YL Chan
One of our top buzzy destinations for 2012, Oahu never lacks for a consistent crop of new and interesting eateries to try, serving everything from inventive tapas, to Asian comfort food, to sweets that burst with tropical flavor. We've rounded up the best of the bunch for you to check out, including a popular Taiwanese-chain dumpling house, a casual spot for paninis and pizza on housemade breads, a local favorite for a traditional Hawaiian lunch, and more.
For a Wine Bar with Tapas
The newest venture from Kevin Hanney (owner of famed 12th Avenue Grill), is SALT Kitchen & Tasting Bar, one of Honolulu's few tapas and wine spots. Chic with a city vibe that feels more akin to San Francisco or New York, this warm spot has energy that's kicked up a notch, for those who want a change from the usual laid back, Honolulu atmosphere.
Must Eats: The charcuterie platter has a variety of locally-sourced meats, plus assorted pâtés, fried head cheese, and blood sausage. On the opposite end of the flavor spectrum, try the French toast bread pudding topped with sweet Kula strawberries and tarragon crème anglaise for a savory touch.
For Juicy Dumplings and Buns
The Japanese-owned Taiwanese restaurant Jin Din Rou has four locations is Asia, and recently opened their fifth in Honolulu. Xiao long bao (a variety of steamed soup dumplings) and fried buns are the focus, but noodle and rice dishes are also on the menu to round out the meal.
Must Eats: Try the classic xiao long bao, or for something a little more inventive, the tea-infused oolong xiao long bao. Also, don't miss the juicy fried pork buns, which have a crunchy bottom and are rolled in sesame seeds.
For Sandwiches on House-Made Breads
The bread at Ba-Le (a popular, local chain for banh mi, the classic Vietnamese-style sandwich), became so popular that owner Thanh Lam decided to open La Tour Café, a casual spot to showcase his excellent house-baked breads. There's a huge variety on the menu—like open-face tartines, paninis, and flatbread pizzas—plus you can purchase breads by the loaf to go.
Must Eats: The meatball bahn mi will keep you going all afternoon. Another favorite is the kalua pig flatbread, with pulled pork and lomi tomatoes.
For a Modern Plate Lunch
Tucked away from town on the shores of Kaneohe Bay, Heeia Pier General Store & Deli serves up sophisticated takes on the classic Hawaiian plate lunch of meat and assorted sides. The service can be a bit slow, but the quality of the food and friendly staff make it well worth a visit.
Must Eats: The guava chicken is prepared with a locally-made marinade and barbecued to perfection. As a side, the macaroni salad with soft taro root mixed into each scoop is positively addictive.
For Cupcakes in Tropical Flavors
The cheerful Let Them Eat Cupcakes bakery has quickly become the go-to place for locals looking to satisfy their cupcake cravings. Classics like vanilla and chocolate are on offer, as are creations with exotic Aloha State flavors.
Must Eats: Focus on Hawaiian flavors like mango, lilikoi (passion fruit), haupia (coconut pudding), guava, and the Hawaiian-favorite, li hing mui (sour plum).
Thinking of taking a trip to Oahu soon?
For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, plus the best planning advice, check out our online Oahu Travel Guide.
Photo credit: courtesy Jin Din Rou