The Chef’s Guide to Hawaiʻi Grinds

Ever wonder where culinary creatives dine when they’re not in the kitchen? Well, we asked for you.
Raw Organic Ahi Tuna Poke Bowl With Rice And Veggies
Photo: Getty Images

Hawaiʻi’s culinary experts dish out their hot takes, from the nonnegotiable beach snacks, to the freshest poke and the disputed age-old question, ‘What’s your favorite Island?’ While you’ll learn what to order next at Palace Saimin, (thank you, Mark Noguchi), a hearty, family-cooked meal for these chefs appears hard to beat.

Brian Hirata

Kaukau Brian Hirata 1

Photo: Courtesy of Naʻau

Brian Hirata is the creative force behind Naʻau, a pop-up dining experience on Hawaiʻi Island. Drawing inspiration from a childhood of hunting, fishing, farming and foraging in the Islands, Hirata highlights often overlooked local ingredients in the dishes at Naʻau. He hosts upscale pop-up dinners once a month across the Big Island. 

  1. Favorite Island? The Island of Hawaiʻi because it has so many different microclimates. You can play in the snow and then go surfing a few hours later. I also love being able to fish, forage and hunt all throughout the island.   
  2. The go-to spot for a poke bowl? The Poke Market in Hilo. Their poke bowls are just delicious, and they have some really cool, contemporary poke options on their menu. Some places don’t pre-season the fish ahead of time. It results in bland poke, especially when you get to the center of the bowl. However, each bite into a bowl from Poke Market is full of flavor. 
  3. Craving a comfort meal, where do you go? I love going to my Aunty Jenny’s house, where she often cooks plantation-style food. It’s very comforting, and what I grew up eating. 
  4. Headed to the beach, what snacks do you always have? Bentos are ideal, especially ones with nori chicken, cone sushi and red hot dogs.

Jeff Liles

Aloha Beer’s brewmaster Jeff Liles is an expert at pairing satisfying fare with refreshing ales. After all, the brewmaster is responsible for selecting the finest ingredients and perfecting beverage recipes at the Honolulu-based brewery and restaurant. 

  1. Favorite Island? My favorite island is Hawaiʻi island. There are so many beautiful sites and it has such incredible history. From the orchid farms outside of Hilo to the coffee plantations of Kealakekua, the Big island has such a diverse array of flora and fauna that can only be found in Hawaiʻi. The Big Island also hosts the Kona Brewers Festival! 
  2. The go-to spot for a poke bowl? I love the shoyu poke from Tamura’s. The freshness can’t be beat. They have such a great selection of poke; I can always find what I’m looking for. It’s also my neighborhood store.
  3. Craving a comfort meal, where do you go? My favorite place for comfort food is Sikdorak Korean Restaurant. I love all the different banchan and their kimchi is incredible. It’s also a BYOB restaurant, which allows me to bring in various beers to pair with their great menu selections.
  4. Headed to the beach, what snacks do you always have? There are only two snacks in my beach bag. I love the quick snack combination of spam musubi and pork hash. It’s a great way to start any beach day. 

Mark Noguchi

Gooch 1024x683

Photo: Courtesy of Mark Noguchi

Better known as “Gooch,” Mark Noguchi is an acclaimed chef born and raised on Oʻahu. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of the Pacific and the Culinary Institute of America, he gained recognition at numerous restaurants and then his own Heʻeia Kea Pier Deli and General Store. He went on to establish Pili Group, a catering and event company with his wife and business partner. In 2018, Pili Group launched Chef Hui as a way to strengthen the connections between the culinary industry and the community. During the pandemic, they worked with local organizations on #FeedThePeopleHI, distributing meal bags to feed those facing food insecurity. 

  1. Favorite Island: It’s a tough choice between Maui and Hawaiʻi Island. My mom’s family is from Hilo and I lived in Hilo, so I’d have to go with the Big Island. 
  2. The go-to spot for a poke bowl? I always grab the shoyu poke from Ernie’s Poke Market in Hilo.
  3. Craving a comfort meal, where do you go? Palace Saimin and I ordered a small wonton min, with four extra wontons and three meat sticks.
  4. Headed to the beach, what snacks do you always have? A cooler full of beverages, and some sort of okazu (Japanese small plates.)

Anthony Rush

Co-founding chef and owner Anthony Rush leads the culinary team at Senia. Since it opened in 2016, the eatery has been one of Oʻahu’s hottest restaurants. The restaurant took the gold in 2019 for the Hale ʻAina Award for Best Tasting and Menu and silver for Oʻahu’s Best Restaurant. 

  1. Favorite Island? Oʻahu because it’s home! It is as beautiful as every other island that I’ve had the good fortune to visit and it also has everything you could want: an urban center and a vibrant dining and bar scene.
  2. The go-to spot for a poke bowl? Domo Café and Pāʻina Café. Domo is our neighbor in Chinatown and they have kept us happy and fed for years. They source their fish straight from the fish market and make everything to order. At Pāʻina, I love the Spicy Tuna Crunch Bowl!
  3. Craving a comfort meal, where do you go? Podmore. Being British, their dishes taste nostalgic and comforting to me. Those flavors aren’t too readily available in Hawaiʻi. I had to open my own cocktail lounge to find my favorite comfort foods!
  4. Headed to the beach, what snacks do you always have? Coconut water, seasonal fruits and then I go for Thai food after.

Alvin Savella 

Chef Raj 1024x683

Photo: Rolland & Jessica

Maui’s Kitchen Assassin, Alvin Savella, slays the culinary scene. The executive chef for Mala Tavern, Down the Hatch and Breakwall Shave Ice Co. brings local flare using fine-tuned culinary techniques. Known for his diligent attention to detail, Savella can be found with a pair of tweezers, delicately garnishing his plates with herbs and greens. 

  1. What is your favorite Island? Maui No Ka Oi, baby!
  2. The go-to spot for a poke bowl? Besides making my own, Tamura’s.
  3. Craving comfort food, where do you go?  Home of course. I’ll always choose a big family gathering because that’s comfort food at its best.
  4. Headed to the beach, what snacks do you always have? The essentials: poke, musubi and my favorite foie gras, PB&J. Oh, and some beers.

Jeff Scheer 

Find Jeff Scheer, one of Maui’s most well-known chefs, slinging sourdough pizzas at his new Upcountry restaurant. After selling wood-fired pizzas from their backyard oven during the pandemic, Scheer and his wife opened the popular neighborhood pizzeria, Marlow. The restaurant’s pies put a spotlight on local toppings, including broccolini, tomatoes, potatoes and meats.

  1. What is your favorite Island? Maui, most definitely. It has the perfect mix of everything, except dim sum. We have to fly to Oʻahu for that.
  2. Go-to spot for a poke bowl? My father-in-law is a fisherman and his poke can’t be beaten.
  3. Craving a comfort meal, where do you go? If I’m looking for comfort food, I stay at home with my wife and kids. We live way up the mountain and we love to cook together.
  4. Headed to the beach, what snacks do you always have? Kid snacks mostly and a cooler full of Lambrusco for the adults.

Lee Anne Wong

Fob Qa 1024x683

Photo: David Croxford

The “Top Chef” alum, Lee Anne Wong is at the helm of Maui’s historic Pioneer Inn. Reimagining and revamping the restaurant, Wong transformed the Pioneer Inn Grill and Bar to Papaʻaina at the Pioneer Inn. (Papa‘aina means “eating table.”) With a contemporary touch, Wong’s puts her twist on modern local cuisine.

  1. What is your favorite Island? Kauaʻi has a special place in my heart, it’s where I met my husband. 
  2. Go-to spot for a poke bowl? ʻOno Seafood on Kapahulu. The Hawaiian Style and Wasabi Ahi are perfect. 
  3. Craving a comfort meal, where do you go? Fook Lam for dim sum. Now that I live on Maui, I make it a point to load up on dim sum whenever I’m on Oʻahu, usually bringing a giant bag home for the family.
  4. Headed to the beach, what snacks do you always have? Haven’s and Jersey Mike’s.
Categories: Restaurants