Hoku's at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental hotel, nestled in the Waialae Kahala residential area, has assembled a loyal following despite the changes in chefs since its opening three years ago. Sushi, tandoor-oven breads with ahi poke dip, Chinese-style steamed fish, stuffed oxtail soup, herb-crusted onaga (Hawaiian snapper) atop a bed of creamed spinach and icy towers of assorted fresh seafood are signature dishes. Christophe Vessaire has just taken over Hoku's kitchen, so expect some Mediterranean influence in addition to the established Pacific Rim and European styles. There's a fresh, bright ambience, an open kitchen charged with energy and large expanses of glass allowing great views of the beach and surf.
Lunch and dinner daily. Kahala Mandarin Oriental, 5000 Kahala Ave.; telephone (808) 739-8888.
Don Ho's Island Grill at Aloha Tower Marketplace is the place to catch a glimpse of the venerable entertainer. But more importantly, it's where island entertainers who have lost their Waikiki showroom venues go to entertain and jam for local fans. The food is not great, though pizzas served on miniature surfboards are pretty good. The drinks are '50s-reminiscent (mai tais, pin~a coladas and rum-based concoctions served up in coconuts and such), and the ambience is tropical South Seas.
Lunch, dinner and late-night cocktails daily. Aloha Tower Marketplace, downtown Honolulu; tel. (808) 528-0807.
Mariposa, the fine dining restaurant in Neiman Marcus at Ala Moana Center, has attracted a following of shoppers who want to sample Pacific Rim flavors while overlooking the green and blue landscape of Ala Moana Beach Park. Chef Doug Lum puts his spin on East-West flavors along with the store's signature Texas-style dishes.
Breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner. Third floor, Neiman Marcus at Ala Moana Center; tel. (808) 951-3420.
If you're homesick for Southern California flavors and want a casual meal, head to Portluck restaurant in Hawaii Kai, East Honolulu. A playful, colorful scene that will appeal to the young and young at heart, Portluck dishes up some simple south-of-the-border and Asian crowd pleasers.
Dinner daily. Hawaii Kai Shopping Center, 377 Keahole St.; tel. (808) 394-5550.
Just opened is Cafe Monsarrat, perhaps the first restaurant in Honolulu to feature Caribbean flavors. The interior is fresh and white with bright color accents. Appetizers are the specialty here, tapas style. The Japanese owner used to have a restaurant in Florida; island-born chef Ed Kenney playfully mingles Caribbean, Japanese and island flavors.
Dinner daily. 3106 Monsarrat Ave.; tel. (808) 737-6600.
Keo's, the long-popular Thai restaurant, has moved from its Kapahulu location to Waikiki.
Open for lunch and dinner. 2028 Kuhio Ave.; tel. (808) 951-9355.