Senia co-owner and chef Chris Kajioka in the kitchen of his restaurant in Chinatown on Oʻahu.

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

If You Have Never Been to Senia in Honolulu, Here’s Why You Should

The chefs at the Honolulu restaurant are one of a few local eateries up for James Beard Awards this year.

Since it opened in December 2016, Senia (pronounced SEN-ya) has been one of the hottest restaurants on Oʻahu—and arguably in the state. It’s garnered rave reviews on food blogs and social media platforms and earned a number of awards, most recently the 2019 Hale ʻAina Award for Best Tasting Menu (Gold) and O‘ahu's Best Restaurant (Silver).

This is the fourth time Senia’s co-owners Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush have been selected as semifinalists for the prestigious James Beard Awards in the category for regional Best Chef, the James Beard Foundation announced today. The restaurant’s pastry chef, Mimi Mendoza, is a semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef. (After the James Beard judges vote, five finalists will be chosen for each category, announced on Wednesday, March 25, with the winners announced at the James Beard Awards Gala on May 4 in Chicago.)

And if you’ve never been to Senia, you may want to put this restaurant on your must-try list for your next vacation to Oʻahu. 

Kajioka and Rush have harnessed their years of working in the kitchens of some of the best restaurants in the world, including the three-Michelin-starred Per Se, Thomas Keller’s New York restaurant (where they met). They’ve brought an innovative and creative approach to food to Hawaiʻi, presenting flavor combinations and playful plating that we haven’t really seen before.

And then there’s the food.

Roasted bone marrow with a beef cheek marmalade and Hawaiian sweet rolls. Maui venison tartare paired with salsify and pistachio. Crab ravioli with saffon, fennel and serrano chile. And then there’s the famous charred cabbage, an otherworldly dish that highlights the bell-shaped Caraflex cabbage, grown on Hawaiʻi Island-based Hirabara Farms, accompanied by a Green Goddess dressing and dots of buttermilk. (It’s as delicious as it is gorgeous.)


The dessert menu here is astounding, too, created by Mendoza. Originally from San Francisco, she enrolled in culinary school in 2008 and worked in various bakeries before landing at the one-Michelin-starred Chez TZ in Mountain View, California. In 2016, she moved to Honolulu to open Senia as its executive pastry chef, devising unique pastries and desserts—including a killer cookie—that have earned her a legion of fans.


Other Hawaiʻi semifinalists are Bar Leather Apron in Honolulu for Outstanding Bar Program; and Keiji Nakazawa of Sushi Sho in Waikīkī and Sheldon Simeon of Lineage on Maui, both for Best Chef: Northwest & Pacific.

The James Beard Awards celebrates its 30th year in 2020. To see the complete list of semifinalists, click here.