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World Eats: Honolulu, Hawaii

by Matthew Wexler
Waikiki Beach Honolulu, Hawaii

Whether you visit Oahu or one of Hawaii’s seven other major islands, ho’okipa (the spirit of hospitality) is just as important as the ingredients required to prepare your meal.

If it’s possible to taste a sunset, there’s no better locale than Oahu’s southeastern coast. Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu, bursts with a vibrant culinary scene, fueled by tourists and locals eager to experience everything from traditional island dishes to modern interpretations. The bounty of local fruits, vegetables, and seafood overflow, while slow-roasted kalua pork is a must-have for first-time visitor or returning travelers.

Whether you visit Oahu or one of Hawaii’s seven other major islands, ho’okipa (the spirit of hospitality) is just as important as the ingredients required to prepare your meal. This spirit pervades Hawaiian culture, elevating even the most casual grab-and-go meal into the bite of a lifetime.

According to World Population Review, Hawaii is the only state with an Asian majority. Most mid- to late-19th century immigrants were from China and Japan and came to work on the pineapple and sugar cane plantations. The story of chef Andrew Le and The Pig and the Lady has a much different plotline.

Le’s mother, Loan (affectionally referred to as Mama Le), fled her homeland with her husband at the end of the Vietnam War. The couple was en route to an Arkansas refugee camp, but Mama Le went into labor on the plane and gave birth to her first son when the plane stopped to refuel in Honolulu. They never left, and another American Dream was born (along with more children).

Pho at The Pig and the Lady in Honolulu, Hawaii

Pho at The Pig and the Lady
Photo: Lianne Rozzelle

The Pig and the Lady began as a pop-up with Andrew and his mom, then migrated to local farmer’s markets before Andrew opened a brick and mortar location in Chinatown in 2013. Sister restaurant Piggy Smalls followed in 2016, followed by a Pig and the Lady Tokyo outpost in late 2019.

A convergence of Andrew’s refined Culinary Institute of America training and his mother’s homestyle cooking makes The Pig and the Lady a flavor bomb experience with so much heart it’s palpable. Pho broths simmer for hours on end, creating an unmatchable depth of flavor. The classic banh mi becomes even more decadent with the richness of a fried egg, while Mama’s beef chao (ground beef congee, shallots, cilantro and chile sate) is the definition of comfort food. Menus evolve seasonally, but the Vietnamese pizza, layered rice crepes with nem nuong (Vietnamese sausage), crispy shallots, and fresh herbs, is so perfectly constructed it’s worth scheduling your trip around.

Piggy Smalls’ eclectic menu offers sharable, unique riffs of familiar favorites, such as miso-ganoush, clam frites with spiced coconut and fennel beer broth, and a whole fried snapper with eggplant nam prik and Vietnamese mac khen pepper. Cool the palate with a grown-up slushie, topped with your choice of tequila, vodka, gin, or rum. The Pig and The Lady, 83 North King St. Tel: 808-585- 8255; Piggy Smalls, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd.Tel: 808-777-3588. www.thepigandthelady.com

Fast-casual is the way to go for many travelers preferring to spend their vacation on the beach, in the water, or day-tripping around the island. Kono’s Northshore is the ideal location for a quick stop or to pick up the day’s provisions. With loads of accolades from television, magazines, and bloggers, it’s obvious that the award-winning, 12-hour slow-roasted Kalua pork is a musteat during any trip to Oahu.

Owner Stan Glander brings more than 40 years of restaurant and hospitality experience to the operation, which currently has three locations, including The Surfing Pig, which offers a more substantive, sit-down dining experience. Whichever location you choose, order the pork.

Pork and Pinneapple Wrap at Kono’s Northshore in Honolulu, Hawaii

Pork and Pinneapple Wrap at Kono’s Northshore

“We first use our unique blend of seasonings to slather the pork and ensure even coverage,” says Glander. “Then we slow roast our award-winning pork every night for 12 hours on low heat and, finally, in the morning, we pull the pig apart while it is still hot! Then we have fresh kalua pig for our customers first thing in the morning.”

Pulled pork for breakfast? Absolutely. Kono’s Haleiwa breakfast bomber, filled with pulled pork, eggs, potatoes, shredded jack and cheddar cheese and rolled up in a warm flour tour tortilla, will fuel you for the day. Arrive for lunch to experience the overstuffed sandwiches like the Old School, stuffed with pulled pork, grilled onions, slaw, and slathered with homemade guava barbecue sauce. If you’re not counting calories (and who is on vacation?), treat yourself to a mud pie milkshake for the ultimate island indulgence. Various locations. www.konosnorthshore.com

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