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Where to Eat in Hawaii, According to Roy Yamaguchi

Originally published in USA Today 10 Best

Famous worldwide for his Hawaiian regional cuisine, celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi is known for his award-winning, innovative restaurants situated throughout Hawaii, as well as the mainland U.S. A culinary pioneer, Yamaguchi opened his first Roy’s restaurant 30 years ago and continues to be on the forefront of Pacific Rim gastronomy – his most recent dining destinations include Eating House 1849 in Honolulu and Humble Market Kitchin in Kihei, Maui.

Roy, along with his wife, Denise, reside on Oahu and frequently travel to visit their long-time favorite eateries, as well as check out the evolving epicurean scene throughout the islands.

Roy explains, “Hawaii has gone through an explosion of new restaurants in the last ten years. In Hawaii, the islands are small and everybody lives and works nearby. So, the distance between farming, ranching and fishing to the restaurants is extremely close. This means we have the opportunity to work with our farmers, fisherman and ranchers – and actually break bread with them, too. And that’s a fantastic experience we live with on a day-to-day basis. To me, this is pretty unique.”

So where does this devoted culinary couple enjoy eating? They recently shared some of their go-to eateries that capture the essence of Hawaiian cuisine, and revealed the reasons why they prefer dining at these wildly diverse restaurants.

Central Bakery (Oahu)

Central Bakery is an Italian restaurant in the couple’s own Kahala neighborhood that specializes in old world classics. Fans rave about the homemade pastas. Roy says, “Two dishes that I always order are incredible pastas – either the penne arrabiata or the clams and spaghetti.” Diners for something a little different can try the uni and oyster pasta.

Hy’s Steak House (Waikiki, Oahu)


Where to eat in Hawaii, according to Roy YamaguchiPhoto courtesy of Photo via Hy’s

An old-school steakhouse that has been a landmark in Waikiki for more than 40 years, Hy’s specializes in traditional steak and seafood dishes, as well as some Hawaiian-inspired offerings. The ambiance is cozy, with leather booths, live jazz and a number of loyal servers who have worked there for decades. Specialties include the filet mignon, seared scallops and prime filet of beef wellington. Roy pointed out, “Steaks here are cooked over an open flame grill in a floor-to-ceiling glass enclosure, where you can watch the chef turn the steaks to make sure they are served to order. ”


Alan Wong’s Honolulu (Oahu)


Where to eat in Hawaii, according to Roy YamaguchiPhoto courtesy of Photo via Alan Wong

An upscale, inventive establishment, Alan Wong’s Honolulu is considered one of the top restaurants in the city. This elegant destination is known for its artful and colorful presentations, such as a sandwich of kalua pig foie gras with Hawaiian goat dairy mozzarella cheese, served with chilled vine-ripened tomato soup. The most popular menu item is the ginger crusted onaga with mushrooms and corn; and their best-selling dessert is “The Coconut,” featuring a scoop of haupia sorbet in a chocolate shell, along with tropical fruit.


Hawaiian Style Café (Hawaii island)

When the Yamaguchis find themselves on the Big Island, they always make it point to stop at the laid-back Hawaiian Style Café in Waimea. A go-to breakfast and lunch hotspot, this casual café offers authentic, homemade dishes for locals and visitors alike. Known for its huge portions and budget-friendly prices, the restaurant serves dishes like banana macadamia nut pancakes and three-egg omelets (with add-ons like in-house smoked pork). This café also serves up traditional specialties that are not easily found at other eateries. Denise says, “It’s always tasty. They serve the best Hawaiian food on the island, with amazing laulau (pork wrapped in taro leaf), luau stew, kalua pig and poi.”

Sushi Murayama (Oahu)

A hidden gem in the Ala Moana 808 Center in Honolulu, the stylish and modern Sushi Murayama is one of Roy’s favorite haunts, serving some of the freshest sashimi and sushi available on the market.  Owned by veteran sushi chef, Ryuji Murayama, the expertly-prepared offerings are innovative, with an emphasis on delightful flavor and texture combinations. Along with fresh fish options that change frequently, specialties include oyster shots accompanied with quail egg, macadamia nut poke, and shrimp tempura. Roy proudly considers himself a regular and says, “The chef always has something new and different for you to try.  Once a week I like to have lunch with my good friends there. We let the chef make his Omakase favorites, and we drink some wine and have fun.”


Izakaya Nonbei (Oahu)


Where to eat in Hawaii, according to Roy YamaguchiPhoto courtesy of Photo via Izakaya Nonbei

Izakaya Nonbei is a Japanese restaurant located in Honolulu’s quiet, residential Kapahulu neighborhood. Slightly off the beaten path, yet not difficult to find, locals return over again for the crab and avocado salad, array of sashimi, zesty noodle dishes and the sizzling wafu steak.

Roast Duck Kitchen (Oahu)

This busy Chinese take-out spot in Aiea only focuses on a limited number of offerings, and locals enthusiastically line up at Roast Duck Kitchen for the flavorful specialties. Roy says, “As a kid growing up in Japan, I always enjoyed Chinese roast duck. And this cafe has the best Chinese roast duck, chicken and char siu (barbecue) pork. While their menu consists of only a few items, along with crispy gau gee (wontons) and fried rice, that’s all you’ll really  need.”

Mama’s Fish House (Maui)

Always buzzing with a mixed crowd of all ages, Mama’s Fish House is a relaxed eatery that offers a pure Hawaiian experience. Denise says, “It’s a well-known, must-visit restaurant on Maui. Having a cocktail while the sun sets and then enjoying the freshest catch served to you is one of those bucket  list moments you’ll always remember.”

Hamura Saimin (Kauai)

Hamura Saimin is a tiny noodle shop that serves up saimin – a Chinese style noodle soup that’s similar to ramen – in a counter-only setting.  Roy says, “Saimin to me is very special. Even though I was born and raised in Japan, I spent every other summer with my grandparents on Maui and always ate saimin. The flavor of it has never left me. When I first went to Kauai many years ago, I found this landmark restaurant and discovered their delicious saimin.”

Alicia’s Market (Oahu)

Alicia’s Market is in the heart of Oahu’s Kalihi neighborhood and offers an assortment of fresh and prepared Hawaiian food, including laulau, kalua pig, haupia and 15 varieties of poke. Also available are marinated kalbi ribs, teriyaki meat and chicken. Denise says, “I grew up nearby, and heard about it over the years, but never was inside until last year. It has everything and anything local you would ever want to eat. They have Chinese roast pork, roast duck and turkey tails, as well as condiments, such as several different kinds of chili pepper oil. It’s a very local place tucked inside an industrial park, but it’s on the way to the airport, so it’s a good pit stop before your flight or after you arrive the island…It’s a wonderful market to discover some local delights.”  


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