First-time guests to Baci Bistro might think that co-owner Bill Duval is psychic. On any given night, he greets visitors at the door, addressing most by name. His friendliness is hardly supernatural, though—it's a shared habit between himself and his wait staff: remembering the names of returning guests. Some of the servers have even been stocking their mental rolodexes since the bistro first opened in 1997, when designers first planted the red, puckering-lips logo around the foliage-flanked interior.
Along with the warmth of its employees, Baci Bistro's signature element is freshness. Executive chef and co-owner Reza Azeri stands by the appetizing simplicity of made-to-order meals, prepping sauces that harmonize with pastas instead of masking their flavor. Ravioli remains the house specialty, whether it's stuffed with lobster or the surprise ingredient of the day, and meat entrees decorate veal, pork, chicken, and fish with vegetables and wine sauces. The menu also allows children to mix and match their choices of sauces and noodles rather than forcing them to eat like adults, who enjoy wine sauces and wipe their mouths with business cards.
Once a month at Formaggio Grill, guests indulge in four-course meals paired with fine wines. It sounds like a typical dinner party, save one difference: no one can see a thing. The monthly event is called Dining in the Dark, and Formaggio Grill hopes that it will encourage guests to slow down, savor their dinners, and even reconsider their approaches to fine dining.
Even without the blindfolds, Formaggio Grill touts that mission with careful preparation of Mediterranean-style cuisine in a warm, welcoming space. Chefs smoke prime rib over kiawe wood and toss pastas with housemade sausage. Servers are happy to help pair entrees with selections from a list of more than 50 wines from around the world.
The restaurant envelops diners in warm reds and golds, and low light casts plush red stools and a wooden bar in a warm glow. The artwork of Ron Genta adds splashes of color to the walls, and local musicians take to the stage on the weekends to entertain patrons with smooth guitar sounds or the dulcet tones of a whale’s song.
The menu at Prima is split into two sections: Pizza and Not Pizza. In the latter, you'll find a dozen or so shareable treats, such as brussels sprouts with prosciutto and oven-roasted radicchio. But it's the pizzas here that steal the show, both on the menu and as chefs pull them from the restaurant's massive brick oven.
Inside that oven, local kiawe smoking wood cooks the handcrafted pies to thin and crispy perfection. Those include pizzas like the popular Spicy Meatball with arugula and chillies or the Funghi with cremini mushrooms and herbs. The restaurant strives to work with more local products too, as the kitchen counter, tables, and bar all consist of recycled woods and most ingredients come from local sources. It's no surprise then, that the menu changes seasonally, just like the location of Hawaii's islands. But Food & Wine editors had no trouble finding chef Kevin Lee, who they named among the magazine's 2014 Best New Chef finalists.
Hawaiian performer Chief Sielu is on a lifelong quest to educate and entertain the world about Polynesian traditions, a passion that has taken him to appearances on the BBC, MTV, and the Late Show with David Letterman. Dubbed the "coconut man," the chief immerses all comers in island culture at spectacular luaus. On stage, he and his tribe balance revelry and education with high-energy ritual and knife-dancing performances, participatory dances and art making, and a large supper of Hawaiian staples such as poi and braised surfboard fillets. If you can catch his ear, Sielu might have a lot of stories to share: in the course of his ambassadorial travels, he's lit the Olympic torch in Salt Lake City by throwing a flaming spear and been the subject of the documentary film Chief, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival.
The azure waters of Lanikai Beach. The towering edifice of Ko'olau Range. The lush wildlife of Hamakua Marsh. The town of Kailua is home to some of O'ahu's richest geographical and cultural diversity. It's also home to The Grove, a restaurant that embodies the spirit of the island itself. Seated on the comfortable lanai, guests peruse a menu of satisfying comfort food and ocean-fresh seafood while local artists fill the air with laid-back kanikapila music. Whether they're in town as locals, tourists, or members of the military, guests can expect the welcoming hospitality and extra attention that matches the area's natural beauty.
Behind Tokoname's dark-wood storefront and rustic carved sign, chefs craft of authentic Japanese fare by the light of hanging lanterns. Sushi standards such as ahi tuna nigiri and shrimp tempura share table space with more exotic seasonal items, including abalone and monkfish liver. Patrons can also opt to wash down meals with a round of sake cocktails or a beer tower for the table. During lunches at the Manoa location, chefs also drizzle chicken in homemade teriyaki sauce.