Celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi is known worldwide for his local Hawaiian cuisine and is known for his award-winning, innovative restaurants across Hawaii and the US mainland. A culinary pioneer, Yamaguchi opened his first Roy’s Restaurant 30 years ago and is still the pinnacle of Pacific gastronomy today – his recent dining destinations include Eating House 1849 in Honolulu and Humble Market Kitchin in Kihei, Maui.
Roy lives on Oahu with his wife, Denise, and travels frequently to visit their long-time favorite eateries and to explore the evolving food scene in the islands.
Roy explains, “Hawaii has seen an explosion of new restaurants in the past decade. In Hawaii, the islands are small and everyone lives and works nearby. The distance between agriculture, animal husbandry and fishing to the restaurants is extremely small. This gives us the opportunity to work with our farmers, fishermen and ranchers – and even break bread with them. And that is a fantastic experience that we live with every day. It’s pretty unique to me. “
Where does this devoted culinary couple prefer to eat? Recently, they shared some of their favorite restaurants that capture the essence of Hawaiian cuisine and revealed the reasons why they prefer to dine at these extremely diverse eateries.
Central Bakery (Oahu)
Central Bakery is an Italian restaurant in the couple’s own Kahala neighborhood that specializes in old-world classics. Fans rave about the homemade pasta. Roy says: “Two dishes I always order are incredible pasta – either the penne arrabiata or the mussels and spaghetti.” Guests who like it a little different can try the plain and oyster noodles.
Hy’s Steak House (Waikiki, Oahu)
Photo courtesy Photo via Hy’s
Hy’s is an old-school steakhouse that has been a Waikiki landmark for more than 40 years, specializing in traditional steak and seafood dishes, as well as some Hawaiian-inspired offerings. The ambiance is cozy, with leather booths, live jazz, and a number of loyal waiters who have worked there for decades. Specialties include filet mignon, seared scallops, and premium beef Wellington fillet. Roy emphasized, “Here steaks are cooked over an open flame grill in a floor-to-ceiling glass cabinet, where you can watch the chef turn the steaks to ensure they are served to order. “
Alan Wongs Honolulu (Oahu)
Photo courtesy Photo via Alan Wong
Alan Wong’s Honolulu is an upscale, inventive eatery and is widely recognized as one of the best restaurants in town. This elegant destination is known for its ornate and colorful presentations, such as a sandwich of kalua pork foie gras with Hawaiian goat mozzarella cheese, served with chilled vine tomato soup. The most popular menu item is the onaga with ginger crust with mushrooms and corn; and their best-selling dessert is “The Coconut,” which contains a scoop of Hauptia sorbet in a chocolate shell along with tropical fruits.
Hawaiian Style Cafe (Island of Hawaii)
When the Yamaguchis find themselves on the Big Island, they always value a stop at the laid-back Hawaiian-style café in Waimea. A popular breakfast and lunch hotspot, this casual cafe offers authentic, home-cooked dishes for locals and visitors alike. Known for its huge portions and budget-friendly prices, the restaurant serves dishes like banana and macadamia nut pancakes and three-egg omelets (with additions like homemade smoked pork). This cafe also serves traditional specialties that are not easy to find in other restaurants. Denise says: “It’s always delicious. They serve the best Hawaiian food on the island, with amazing laulau (pork in taro leaf), luau stew, kalua pork and poi. “
Sushi Murayama (Oahu)
A hidden gem in Honolulu’s Ala Moana 808 Center, stylish and contemporary Sushi Murayama is one of Roy’s favorite eateries, serving some of the freshest sashimi and sushi on the market. Owned by experienced sushi chef Ryuji Murayama, the expertly prepared offerings are innovative and focus on delicious combinations of flavors and textures. The specialties include fresh fish dishes that change frequently, oyster shots with quail egg, macadamia nut poke and shrimp tempura. Roy proudly describes himself as a regular and says: “The chef always has something new and different to try. Once a week I like to have lunch there with my good friends. We let the chef prepare his omakase favorites, drink some wine and have fun. “
Izakaya Nonbei (Oahu)
Photo courtesy Photo via Izakaya Nonbei
Izakaya Nonbei is a Japanese restaurant in the quiet residential Kapahulu area of Honolulu. A little off the beaten path but not difficult to find, the locals return for the crab and avocado salad, a selection of sashimi, savory noodle dishes, and the sizzling wafu steak.
Roast Duck Cuisine (Oahu)
This bustling Chinese takeout in Aiea focuses on a limited number of offerings, and locals love the savory specialties at the Roast Duck Kitchen. Roy says, “As a kid who grew up in Japan, I always enjoyed Chinese roast duck. And this cafe has the best Chinese roast duck, chicken and char siu (barbecue) pork. The menu consists of only a few items, along with crispy gau gee (wontons) and fried rice, but that’s all you really need. “
Mama’s Fish House (Maui)
Always full of a mixed crowd of all ages, Mama’s Fish House is a laid-back restaurant that offers a pure Hawaiian experience. Denise says, “It’s a well-known Maui restaurant that is definitely worth a visit. Sipping a cocktail while the sun goes down and then enjoying the freshest catch served to you is one of those bucket-list moments that you will always remember. “
Hamura Saimin (Kauai)
Hamura Saimin is a tiny noodle shop that serves Saimin – a Chinese-style noodle soup that is similar to ramen – in a retail store. Roy says: “Saimin is very special to me. Although I was born and raised in Japan, I used to spend every other summer with my grandparents on Maui and always ate saimin. The taste of it has never left me. When I first went to Kauai many years ago, I found this landmark eatery and discovered their delicious Saimin. “
Alicia’s Market (Oahu)
Alicia’s Market is located in the heart of Oahu’s Kalihi neighborhood and offers a variety of fresh and prepared Hawaiian foods including Laulau, Kalua Pig, Haupia and 15 types of Poke. Marinated veal ribs, teriyaki meat and chicken are also available. Denise says, “I grew up nearby and heard about it over the years, but I was never inside until last year. It has everything and everything local you could ever want to eat. They have Chinese roast pork, roast duck, and turkey tails, as well as condiments such as different types of chili pepper oil. It’s a very local place in an industrial park, but on the way to the airport, so a good pit stop before your flight or after you arrive on the island … It’s a wonderful market to discover some local delicacies. ”