Yes, that's from Kailua-Kona's Da Poke Shack, famous for being the number one rated restaurant on Yelp. I was a little skeptical going in - really? The number one restaurant in the world? Would it be over-rated? Would my expectations for number one be too high?
Nope. That meal was amazing. We had poke a couple different times in Hawai'i, and every time it was good, but this was phenomenal. We got the bowl for two - a steal at 22 bucks - and loaded it with all kinds of the freshest raw fish, including Pele's Kiss (spicy ahi) and shrimp. Two scoops of hapa rice (mixed white and brown rice), macaroni salad (ubiquitous in Hawai'i and I get why), seaweed salad and a six-pack of Kona Brewing Co.'s Castaway IPA and we were happy as clams. Seems like number one to me.
We had a lot of great meals in Hawai'i - not all of them photographed. Regrettably, I missed taking pictures of the excellent banana bread we picked up from the Ono Organic Farm stand that we hit on the Road to Hana (luckily! It's apparently only open two days of the week). Banana bread is apparently abundant on that drive, but I can't speak to the other stands, I just know ours was so moist and good.
Also not pictured: any of our 'Aha'aina Male ("wedding feast") at Duo, or the mind-blowingly delicious meal we had at Braddah Hutts (holy cow, the words fail me; I had barbecue chicken and J had shrimp pasta and that is some of the best food I've ever put in my face in my life, no joke), or the meals we cooked with fresh from the garden greens while staying at Puakea Ranch.
So, what follows is just some of our greatest hits during our tropical sojourn, but it's enough to have my mouth watering all over again.
We started off at Da Kitchen in Maui. Loco moco - typically rice, ground hamburger patty, fried egg and gravy - is a Hawaiian staple. This was taken to another level.
Chicken teriyaki, beef teriyaki, and fish tempura piled high atop three scoops of rice and finished with two fried eggs and a tangle of onions and mushrooms - with a side of macaroni salad and a boat of gravy to boot - is not the prettiest or most photogenic dish but my word was it good. Worth the ten hour plane ride, and lifted our spirits remarkably even though our luggage had been (temporarily, thank goodness) lost. With lots of carbs, runny egg yolk, perfectly cooked meat and well flavored sauce, this is total comfort food.
A few days later, my sister and her husband had arrived and we treated them to lunch at Coconut's Fish Cafe, where we all ordered their famous fish tacos and we all rejoiced. Pictured below is one massive taco; each order comes with two.
Perfectly flaky fish dressed with fresh slaw and ripe mangos - New York doesn't have fish tacos like this.
That night, at Monkeypod Kitchen, I had my first (certainly not my last) Mai Tai of the trip. This one, topped off with house-made honey-lilikoi foam, was phenomenal.
After a day snorkeling the Molokini Crater (on the Lani Kai - really great crew), we had worked up our appetites, which we took care of with some top-notch shoyu chicken and luau chicken (stewed with spinach and coconut milk) at Kihei's Surfside Spirits and Deli. Very local, mom-and-pop shop, no tourists, absolutely phenomenal chicken.
We also happened to be staying in Makena, in the southern part of Maui, during its Restaurant Week. So we hit up Tommy Bahama's for happy hour (I had a very sweet, very coconut-y, Coconut Cloud martini and I loved it) before checking out the RW offerings at Longhi's. My surf and turf - steak and fried shrimp - was delicious and perfectly cooked (and the right size portion for a three-course meal - I was stuffed by the end).
The following day we flew to Hilo, on the Big Island. J wanted to go to Puka Puka Kitchen but it wasn't open yet, so we wandered around downtown in a light drizzle for a bit - and then I spied a candy store, Sugar Coast, nearby.
I was like - well, a kid in a candy store. J teased that it was the happiest he'd seen me on the trip.
After we'd loaded up on chocolate covered gummy bears (I'd say guilty pleasure but no, no guilt at all) and crisps and nougats, Puka Puka Kitchen was open for dinner. Perfect timing!
And perfect dinner. I had the fried oyster plate. The oysters were perfectly fried and so plump and briny and juicy oysters. Served with lots of garlic fried rice and a nice big salad, so fresh and flavorful. I was in heaven. J's chicken katsu was really good too.
After spending the morning hiking some rather rigorous trails through Volcano National Park, we were pretty hungry for lunch. Cafe Ono - an organic vegetarian cafe attached to an art gallery featuring local arts and crafts - was just the ticket.
Lunch is served in a charming garden with a little pond and fanciful sculptures and adorable bird houses decking out a nearby tree. Service is friendly and sweet and guests are invited to peruse the gallery while waiting for their meals (which we did and came back with arms full of souvenirs).
I had the vegetable panini and J had lasagna. Meals also come with a yummy green salad, homemade taro chips and a soup of the day - I opted for the vegetable curry - everything so fresh and flavorful and wholesome, it was thoroughly satisfying and refreshing.
Plus, they had a goat gamboling about.
One of our last meals out was at Kohala Burger and Taco, where we stuffed ourselves silly with fish tacos, a jalapeno cheeseburger, french fries, onion rings, and a pineapple milkshake. Local beef and fish. Only half the meal is pictured here; while everything was good, that milkshake was special and those were some of the best onion rings I've ever had, worth the visit all on their own.
In addition to eating as much fish and drinking as many mai tais as possible, it was also part of my mission to eat local fruits that you can't find on the mainland.
On one of our last days in Hawi, in the northern tip of the Big Island, we encountered Kohala Grown, a small market featuring only locally grown produce (seriously local, the soursop I bought was from the shop owner's tree!) and homemade items (some jewelry and soaps and things like that), as well as farm tours.
The lady who ran the shop was so friendly and helped us pick out an abundance of different fruits - soursop (terribly ugly fruit, tastes citrusty and tart and sweet all at once) and a perfectly ripe Kona mango (best mango I've eaten), among others. She tapped a green coconut for us to drink and also introduced us to 'ulu, or breadfruit. Round and green on the outside, the starchy interior is reminiscent of a potato. On her recommendation, I cut it up and baked it for dinner one night with olive oil, salt and pepper; some of the leftovers got added to an omelet for a "potato," egg and cheese on a roll with the next day's breakfast, and the rest were fried up with some kale and chard from the garden for an easy and filling vegetable side with another meal.
Local produce education: success!
Well, that's a wrap for now. If the surf and sun and sand hadn't already convinced you that you need to go to Hawai'i, maybe these photos (maybe not the last couple . . . ) will do the trick! Definitely enjoyed all the fresh flavors and local treats during our trip. Working now on incorporating some island inspiration into my recipes - stay tuned!