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The food revolution has hit the Hawaiian islands. Options for dining out – without breaking the bank – are better than ever before. Gone are the days of tasteless vegetables and lacklustre meats, thanks to the plethora of restaurateurs, chefs, and farmers who are changing the way food is grown, produced, cooked, and sold on the islands.

Here are some of the local joints I visited during my stay. It is but a small sample of the mouthwatering local fare you can find in Honolulu and beyond.

Monarch Seafoods is a seafood distributor in Kalihi with a small but well-stocked lunch counter that is flooded at lunchtime by area workers. There is no seating, but plenty of poke (raw, marinated diced fish), excellent lunch plates featuring fish, and even a selection of desserts.

Ahi katsu from Monarch Seafoods

Ahi katsu plate from Monarch Seafoods

Monarch makes some of the best and freshest poke on the island, with numerous varieties, including tako, ahi limu, and spicy ahi. Bring a cooler and go early to get the freshest selection. Their lunch plates win points among health-conscious locals for brown rice and a very nice Nalo Farms green salad with a tasty miso creamy garlic dressing. On my last visit to Monarch, my brother and I got crab-stuffed ahi rolls and ahi katsu rolls. The ahi in the katsu dish was just barely seared around the outside and still gem-like on the inside, perfectly cooked. The crab rolls were decadent and delicious. For more pics and reads on this local standout, see Kim Lehano’s article.

Monarch Seafoods
515 Kalihi St @ Colburn
Honolulu, HI 96819
(808) 841-7877

The Food Company, tucked into the definitively suburban Enchanted Lake shopping center in Kailua, mixes up the concept of plate lunch with a good fish selection, salads, veggies, brown rice, and even pasta. Look to the colorful signboard to the left of the cash register for special dishes such as furikake mahi mahi, ahi katsu, and sesame-crusted ahi. I had a very good filet of blackened ahi laid on a bed of luscious macadamia pesto pasta. My friend Krista ordered golden brown crab cakes, hefty with crab, with brown rice and stir-fried veggies replacing the usual white rice and macaroni salad. The Food Company is also popular with locals for its surfer-sized breakfasts.

The Food Company
Enchanted Lake Shopping Center, to the right of Safeway
1020 Keolu Dr Ste D1
Kailua, HI 96734
(808) 262-6440
 

For anyone who grew up in Honolulu in the 70s and 80s, eating tasteless food imported from the mainland, the Kapi’olani Community College (KCC) Farmer’s Market is an absolute revelation. Dozens of vendors, selling locally grown produce, flowers, foods for immediate consumption, and food products, gather on Saturday mornings on the KCC campus at the foot of Diamond Head to hawk their splendid wares.

Kona abalone

Kona abalone, one of the many treats available at the KCC Farmer's Market

The KCC farmer’s market is locavore foodie heaven, bar none. You can munch on strawberry mochi, imbibe lilikoi lemonade, and partake of fried green tomatoes. Meat lovers can try kalua pork sliders or freshly grilled Portuguese sausages. Enjoy garlic ahi or mochiko chicken plate lunches and Portuguese bean soup, or join the queues to sample Kona abalone or to try the popular pesto pizza with fresh tomato and mozzarella. Devour fresh-baked scones and cookies guilt-free, because you’re supporting the KCC culinary school. For unique gifts with an island flavor, pick up tropical jams and honeys, Hawaiian coffee, or even locally made chocolate. Get there early – the market closes at 11:00 am – and enjoy the vibrant, food-loving crowds.

KCC Farmer’s Market
Saturdays 7:30-11:00 am
Kapiolani Community College, Diamond Head Campus
4303 Diamond Head Road
Honolulu, Hawai’i

Famed for the hot plate lunches and grilled sandwiches available at their outside counter, Diamond Head Market and Grill also has an outstanding bakery and fine selection of cold foods and grab-and-go fresh salads. My favorite was the salad topped with mochiko chicken; also available are grilled salmon or spicy ahi. Desserts are truly memorable and range from the genuinely local to just plain delicious. A marvelous haupia and okinawan sweet potato pie entrances the eye with creamy white and purple layers set on a brisee pastry crust. The famous blueberry cream cheese scone has won many a local and visitor’s heart. But I would just as soon go for one of the scrumptious PB&J cookie bars. Drop by, if you can snag a parking spot in the tiny front lot, and pick up a picnic lunch on your way to the beach; it’s an easy drive from here to any of the beach parks in town.

Diamond Head Market and Grill
3158 Monsarrat Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 732-0077

I’ve got to give a shout-out to my good friend Michael Gelfo, who runs the snazzy Rock Island Cafe, a fun, family-run gem in the heart of an increasingly corporate and charmless Waikiki. On any given day, one or all of the members of the effervescent Gelfo family can be found manning the stations at Rock Island, which is a delightful blend of old-fashioned American diner, complete with soda fountain, and an impressive museum of memorabilia and collectibles from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Every evening, the staff performs rock-n-roll classics on Rock Island’s small center stage. Michael’s custom-made videos featuring favorite clips from musicals and concerts provide continuous entertainment. The refreshing chocolate haupia (coconut pudding) milkshake and oven-baked fries alone are worth a stop. The cafe is nestled in King’s Village; look for the statue of Elvis out front.

Rock Island Cafe
King’s Village
131 Kaiulani Ave
Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
(808) 923-8033

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Hiking Honolulu

Just minutes from downtown Honolulu, Ala Moana, and Waikiki, the Honolulu Mauka Trail System offers a superb variety of beautiful walking and hiking trails. This system is part of Na Ala Hele, the State of Hawai’i Trail and Access System.

Na Ala Hele trailhead marker

Na Ala Hele trailhead marker

On the Honolulu Mauka system, eighteen well-maintained trails provide locals and visitors with easy access to the Ko’olau Mountain Range, one of two mountain ranges on the island of O’ahu. The trails range in distance from 0.25 miles (0.4 km) to 3.4 miles (5.5 km) and cover valley to ridge to summit. Enjoy a valley walk along a stream, a gentle hike meandering along the side of a mountain, or a pulse-pounding climb on a ridge to a summit. Experienced and fit hikers can combine several trails for longer and more intense hikes. See trail descriptions and a trail map of the Honolulu Mauka trail system.

Note: Before you do any hiking on O’ahu, I recommend that you go to the Forestry and Wildlife department, which is just past the Hawai’i Nature Center on Makiki Heights Drive in Honolulu (see map). There, you can pick up trail maps and longer descriptions of hikes on all of O’ahu’s trail systems.

During a recent trip to Honolulu, I hiked the Manoa Cliff and Pu’u Ohia trails and the Pu’u Pia trail. All are recommended for novice hikers, which includes those new to hiking in Hawai’i. Read Stuart Ball’s excellent Hawai’i hiking books, such as The Hiker’s Guide to O’ahu, for more information about what you need to know when hiking on the islands. Believe me, it’s not just like hiking on the U.S. mainland. Hiking in Hawai’i is harder for a variety of reasons. Certain precautions are crucial to maximize safety and enjoyment of your hike. But hiking in Hawai’i is also an amazing and less-traveled way to experience the pure and ancient magic of the Hawaiian islands. 

Manoa Cliff Trail

During my childhood growing up in Honolulu, many hiking trails on the island were overgrown and difficult to follow. Manoa Cliff changed my perception of hiking in Honolulu. The trail had been recently weed-whacked and cleared of overgrowth (in fact, I caught up to the weed-whacker towards the end of my hike). Like other trails on the system, the trail is clearly signed at junctions, well-graded, and easy to follow. And it’s a beautiful and easy introduction to the Honolulu Mauka Trail System, with plenty to recommend it.

The Manoa Cliff trail starts on Round Top drive, in the 4005 vicinity, about 2 miles past Pu’u Ualaka’a State Park. The small dirt parking area for the trail is on the makai side of the street (going up Round Top Drive, that’s the ocean or left side). The drive itself is very pleasant, showcasing expansive views of Honolulu, from Diamond Head Crater to downtown. Once you start seeing the brown-and-yellow Na Ala Hele trailhead markers, look out for the parking area. Park in the parking area and cross the street to the Manoa Cliff trailhead.

Views of Manoa Valley and Koolau

Views of Manoa Valley and the Ko'olau Range from Manoa Cliff trail

A brief initial climb through mahogany and guava forest was followed by a short descent down a rooty and muddy hill. Just 1/2 mile in, I started to see lovely views of Manoa Valley and the Ko’olau Range.

The trail leveled out and meandered along the side of the mountain. Native vegetation such as ohia trees, Hilo holly, and clumps of hala trees, as well as a dense bamboo grove, flourishes along the trail. Look for markers indicating the names of plants. The delightful sounds of birdsong filled the air (and drowned out the occasional roar of a garbage truck or whine of a moped from Manoa Valley below).

About a mile in was a small bench and overlook. After the bench, I passed through a native-forest restoration gate erected to keep out wild pigs, and shortly thereafter I reached the junction for the Pu’u Ohia trail.

The Pu’u Ohia trail seemed interesting, so I followed it to find peekaboo views of Kaneohe and the misty peaks of the Ko’olau range. I continued on the Pu’u Ohia trail 0.25 miles through a short but thick bamboo grove to the top of the Mt. Tantalus, where there is a Hawaiian Telephone service station and tower. From here, I was graced with a spectacular view of the Ko’olaus and Kaneohe in the distance.

view from Puu Ohia

View from top of Tantalus, on Pu'u Ohia trail

I chose to backtrack to finish the Manoa Cliff trail rather than taking the service road down on Pu’u Ohia. Back on the Manoa Cliff trail, shortly after the Pu’u Ohia junction, I reached another junction, this one for Pauoa Flats, complete with a map of the entire trail system. Continuing on Manoa Cliffs, after two downhill switchbacks, I was rewarded with views of the southwestern side of the island, looking out towards Ewa Beach and Barber’s Point.

View of southwestern Oahu

View of southwestern Oahu from end of Manoa Cliff Trail

The Manoa Cliff trail ends at a junction with the Kalawahine Trail, which leads back to Tantalus Drive. Since I was parked on Round Top, I headed back the way I came on the Manoa Cliff trail. From the Pu’u Ohia junction, with minimal photo stops, it was less than an hour’s walk back to my car. Next time, I’ll hike the Manoa Cliff trail to the Pauoa Flats trail, which ends at the Ko’olau summit and offers views of Nu’uanu Valley.

Puu Pia hike

The author surrounded by koa trees, near the summit of Pu'u Pia

Pu’u Pia
Stuart Ball describes the Pu’u Pia trail as a “short, delightful walk”, an apt and succinct description. As far as Hawai’i hikes go, it’s a shorty: only about 2 miles round-trip. This mini trail offers a pleasant hike through lovely vegetation, some of it native, and leads to the top of a hill, or pu’u, with wonderful 360-degree views of Manoa Valley, Manoa Falls, and Honolulu. It offers a unique perspective of Manoa Valley. It’s a perfect morning jaunt if you want to be back in Honolulu in time for lunch. Speaking of lunch, I have a few recommendations on that front, too. <Coming soon!>

 

 

Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail (Waia’lae Iki ridge)
Note: This trail is not part of the Honolulu Mauka Trail system, but is part of Na Ala Hele, the trail system on O’ahu, and is also easily accessed from the center of Honolulu.

Wiliwilinui Ridge trail (~5 miles roundtrip) combines a pleasant, moderate hike along a wide trail with a challenging summit ascent. In my childhood, the most exciting thing about this trail was the ascent, up the steep and slippery side of the mountain, which could only be made with the aid of ropes. When I hiked the trail in June 2010, trail workers and volunteers were setting black plastic boards in the hillside, which work to prevent erosion and serve as stairs to offer a marginally easier route to the top.

Summit ascent of Wiliwilinui

Summit ascent of Wiliwilinui trail, with ropes

Even with the stairs, the hike to the summit requires a great deal of exertion, but the reward is a panoramic view of Honolulu, Waimanalo, and Kaneohe.

The trail starts at the end of the Waia’ale Iki subdivision, off of Laukahi Street. For detailed information on this and other wonderful hikes, on O’ahu, see Stuart Ball’s excellent Hiker’s Guide to O’ahu.

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