The Hawaii culinary scene continues to evolve and improve. It made us hungry to write about these fabulous testaments to excellence in Hawaii food. Nowhere is this talent more evident than in the semi-finalists announced today for the upcoming James Beard Awards. Final winners will be announced at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards Ceremony on June 10 in Chicago.
Hawaii again takes center stage in the awards with the exceptional food establishments below. There’s more than enough choice to captivate Hawaii visitors and residents with exceptional food. Stand by for reviews as we check out the ones we haven’t gotten to yet. And please share your favorites!
Emerging chef – Ki Chung, Bar Maze, Honolulu
Justin and Tom Park are the same creative minds behind the acclaimed Bar Leather Apron. They have introduced another dining and cocktail concept called Bar Maze. It combines unique culinary and cocktail experiences. The collaboration between head chef Ki Chung and head bartender Justin Park results in Bar Maze’s omakase dinner course. That’s a 5-course tasting menu that can be accompanied by either handcrafted cocktail or mocktail pairings. At Bar Maze, it’s all about the synergy between food and drink. It’s done well.
Outstanding Bakery – Breadshop, Honolulu
Breadshop has excellent bread, as well as its own cultural experience. We love the product at Breadshop and always have. But not the experience of ordering it online days in advance and picking it up at their window at a specific time. In terms of their come from, their motto is “established daily.” All baked goods are made and sold on one day, with anything remaining at day’s end given to a local food pantry. They strive for and largely achieve excellence in everything they make. Jump in early to reserve your favorites. Their sourdough creations are among our favorites.
Best Chef, Northwest and Pacific has four Hawaii semi-finalists.
Andrew Le, The Pig and the Lady, Honolulu
The Pig & The Lady is Chef Le’s Vietnamese fusion gem that is popular with locals and visitors. The Chinatown location offers top-notch dining with unique and unexpected flavors. We were initially drawn in by their food truck at KCC’s farmers market. But it’s the Chinatown spot that surpasses expectations.
Dinner reservations are challenging to get, so we opted for lunch instead. The menu of the casual eatery features fantastic dishes, including green papaya salad, fried Brussels sprouts, Bahn Mi, and vegan bun chay nuong. The most memorable part of the meal was dessert – soft-serve ice cream with a unique Asian twist, topped with molten white chocolate poured tableside.
Nae Ogawa, natuRe Waikiki, Honolulu
An island story is told through the seasonal tasting menu, curated by Nae Ogawa, who hails from Michelin famed NARISAWA (Tokyo), Bouley (New York), and La Bourse et La Vie (Paris). On offer is a six-course $120 tasting menu. There’s also their plant-based option for $100. NatuRe Waikiki says that they “bring sustainable island French cuisine to life, inviting you to savor the flavors that unfold our island’s history.” We haven’t been there yet, but we plan to get there very soon and report back.
Jason Peel, Nama Kaze, Honolulu
Nami Kaze is all about Chef Jason Peel. His culinary imagination blends the flavors of Kauai, from which he hails, with years of experience, including with Roy Yamaguchi. The restaurant offers a farm-focused philosophy that seeks to take guests on a culinary journey, featuring, first and foremost, produce from around Hawaii. Get there for brunch or dinner, Wednesday to Sunday, The brunch menu is Jason’s reinvention of traditional brunch fare. Dinner menu features izakaya-style share plates.
Jeff Scheer, Marlow, Pukalani, Maui
Found in the Kulamalu Town Center in Pukalani, Marlow is the brainchild of acclaimed Maui chef Jeff Scheer and his wife, Kaili Scheer. Marlow opened in 2021 and became popular immediately. It’s operated on a first-come, first-served basis without any reservations. Needless to say, it’s advisable to arrive early to secure a spot! This is a unique pizza restaurant, first and foremost. The idea for Marlow came from the owner’s home pizza-making. The casual and family-friendly place emphasizes locally sourced ingredients and authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas. Visit daily for dinner and Wednesday to Sunday for lunch.
Sheldon Simeon, Tiffany’s Maui, Wailuku, Maui
Tiffany’s Bar & Grill has been around since 2003. It specializes in Asian fusion cooking plus handcrafted cocktails, and the menu features fresh, local ingredients. The fare is eclectic, from steak bites to kalbi beef and oxtail soup to mochiko chicken. Everything is well prepared and popular.
Where are you most excited to dine?