These Hawaiian restaurants combine Italian flavors with fresh island ingredients
The Italian restaurant scene in Oahu, Hawaii is growing, evolving, and becoming more and more eclectic, as fine dining establishments with award-winning chefs coexist with casual cafes and recently opened pizzerias.
Melissa Chang is a Hawaii-based food blogger and is considered a local expert on island dining. She says, “Italian cuisine in Hawaii has improved over the past few years as more chefs travel, broaden their horizons and learn about new techniques used by Italian chefs. On the flip side, we also see Japanese chefs immersing themselves in Italian cuisine – and when they arrive in Hawaii, they stay true to traditional Italian culinary styles.
In addition to a number of gourmet Italian restaurants, Chang also noted that several pizza restaurants have opened in Oahu during the pandemic, including Little G Café, ili ili Cash and Carry, and Fatto a Mano.
She says: “The pizza was exactly what people were looking for during the COVID shutdown – delicious Italian take-out comfort food. The pizza at these new restaurants is amazing – all of them are hand-made and each has a completely different, yet delicious crust. They’ve really improved their game, and these chefs are masters at their craft – and I see they’re obsessed with perfecting their pizza dough. We all love to taste them and they have turned me and my friends into real pizza snobs.
Oahu-based content creator Izah Blue features Hawaii restaurants on the YouTube food channel, Aroma Surf. He showcased local Italian restaurants in his videos that spotlight privately owned restaurants, cafes and food trucks on the island, as well as a glimpse of some remote areas of the tourist scene.
He says, “There is a small, tight-knit Italian community here in Hawaii that makes great Italian food of all kinds that is worth a visit. Each restaurant has its own style – some stick to the classics and some are more inventive, but I think our talented Italian chefs do it really well.
These are a number of notable Italian restaurants on the island of Oahu, and here are a few.
Originally from Genoa, Italy, Christian Testa is the Chef de Cuisine at Orchids Restaurant at the iconic Halekulani Hotel, located oceanfront on famous Waikiki Beach. Testa’s menu at Orchids reflects its Mediterranean heritage and features an abundance of local produce and seafood from the islands.
Guests return for her artfully presented classics, including several varieties of homemade pasta dishes, like a house favorite, the Lasagnette, which happens to be her grandmother’s Italian recipe and includes hot avocado, shrimp and scallops. Other notable products are squid ink spaghettini; Alaskan king crab tortelloni (with sea urchin sauce); and hand-cut maltagliati “Frutti di Mare ragu” with spinach and basil pasta.
Testa considers its menu to be authentically Mediterranean. He says, “I’m proud that all of my pasta is made from scratch. I use healthy, light ingredients in my food and focus on crisp, delicate flavors. Hawaiian herbs and vegetables are slightly different from similar varieties grown in Italy, but the combination of produce harvested on the island and an Italian style of cooking is what makes our menu so innovative and extraordinary.
Meaning ‘here and now’ in Italian, Quiora is an upscale farm-to-table restaurant located in the Ritz-Carlton Waikiki, a modern high-rise resort with a spacious veranda above Waikiki offering exceptional views of the city and the ocean beyond.
Acclaimed Quiora Chef Miranda Eckerfield has crafted a menu inspired by Italian culinary traditions and flavors, such as spaghetti carbonara with pancetta and pecorino and pork pappardelle, with whey braised pork, ricotta fresh and locally grown cherry tomatoes. Other favorites include freshly caught whole fish and house cut steaks. Food and wine pairings (including Italian grape varieties as well as others) and homemade desserts are also offered, so guests can fully enjoy the experience.
There are also surprises. In addition to old country specialties, Eckerfield also created a special lobster roll in tribute to executive chef Shaymus Alwin, who happens to be the son of a Maine lobster boat.
Named after a quaint Sicilian seaside village, Taormina is located just steps from the ocean on the Waikiki Beach promenade and offers Italian specialties made with local and seasonal ingredients. Executive Chef Hiroyuki Mimura is originally from Japan and has extensive experience using Italian techniques at award-winning restaurants in Italy.
Some of the best-selling dishes include the antipasto Seppia alla Siciliana (grilled Spanish squid with vegetables and herbal vinaigrette); and starters Norma alla Catanese (bucatini with spicy tomato sauce, pancetta and eggplant) and Sarde e Finochetti (spaghetti with sardines, fennel, anchovies and capers).
Chang is a devoted fan of the sea urchin pasta (Ricci di Mare) here and explained, “Taormina is always always delicious. Chef Hiro is committed to keeping his Italian specialties completely authentic. It also retains the original Italian names of the dishes on the menu.
Taormina’s extensive wine list features a diverse collection of award-winning vintages from all over Italy.
Chef Pasquale Allegrini opened his casual restaurant, Allegrini Mozzarella, in early 2021 in the Diamond Head Mall in Honolulu. Originally from Bari, Italy, Pasquale arrived in Hawaii a few years ago as an importer of Italian food products.
Allegrini Mozzarella is set in an unpretentious location and offers a menu with a variety of familiar Italian classics (gnocchi, lasagna, eggplant parmigiana) made with imported ingredients including burrata, mozzarella and parmesan. Homemade pasta and other specialties, such as Italian mussels and a generous salad selection are also available (including Caprese and Caesar).
The cafe also has a small market and sells a variety of packaged imported Italian specialties.
Located in a garden oasis in the sprawling Four Seasons Ko Olina resort on the Leeward Coast of Oahu, Noe is an authentic Italian restaurant that draws locals and tourists alike. Originally from Japan, celebrity chef Ryo Takatsuka has spent more than 10 years honing his culinary skills in Italy, cooking at Michelin-starred restaurants including the famous La Terrazza in Rome.
He describes his menu as “Capri meets Hawaii” and he offers elegant but tasty dishes from southern Italy. Some of Noe’s best dishes include signature tagliatelle, black truffle, and Parmigiana Reggiano; whipped ricotta with truffle honey, Marcona almonds and house focaccia; and the ahi tuna carpaccio with capers, sea asparagus and salsa verde.
In June 2021, the restaurant launched its own house brand wines, Noe Allodio (Sangiovese 2015 and Viognier 2015), in collaboration with Podere San Michele in Tuscany, Italy.
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