How Oahu Is Becoming Hawaii's Foodie Island

Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, Benihana heir Kevin Aoki and Thomas Keller trainee Chris Kajioka are transforming the island's restaurant scene, from Honolulu to Waikiki Beach.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

One of Hollywood's favorite havens from the 1950s until the '80s, Oahu and its once-glittering Waikiki Beach in intervening years lost its luster to other Hawaiian islands like Maui. But a wave of productions (2010 was a record year with $280 million in filming revenue) including Lost and Hawaii Five-0 have meant a new generation of industry folks has been seduced by the island that started it all. "I had been to Hawaii before Five-0 but never really explored Oahu," says the show's executive producer, Peter Lenkov. "After three years and seeing every inch, it's never boring. Even if I wasn't working there, I'd be coming back as a regular visitor."

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With its melting pot of cultures and access to fresh ingredients, Oahu and the city of Honolulu (population 400,000) have gone off the culinary charts with an infusion of investment and A-list talent like Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. His Morimoto Waikiki (1775 Ala Moana Blvd.) gives traditional Japanese fare an upgrade with selections like tuna pizza on a delicate crust with anchovy aioli and jalapeno and offers flights of his own brand of impeccable sakes.

A former red-light district, Chinatown now is a red-hot scene -- think Hawaii's version of Brooklyn. Opened in 2012, Lucky Belly (50 N. Hotel St.) features local art and selections like tempura shrimp tacos with tangy yuzu mayo. Another find is Duc's Bistro (1188 Maunakea St.), beloved for its Vietnamese favorites made with hydroponically grown vegetables and local seafood.

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The once-nondescript Kaka'ako neighborhood is another rising star. At Doraku (2233 Kalakaua Ave.), the latest eatery from restaurateur Kevin Aoki, son of Benihana founder Rocky Aoki, there's a buzzing bar scene, chill soundtrack and eclectic menu items like the Cuban Beef Roll. Two doors down, newly opened Chef Chai (1009 Kapiolani Blvd.) puts a spin on island fusion cuisine with chef/owner Chai Chaowasaree's nod to his native Thailand.

Just inland from Diamond Head, make sure to hit farm-to-table favorite Town (3435 Waialae Ave. #104), where the French fries are produced by a 48-hour soaking, baking and frying process that redefines crispy.

For deluxe dining, nothing compares to Vintage Cave Honolulu (1450 Ala Moana Blvd. #2250), where Picasso originals and chandeliers fill the room and chef Chris Kajioka, who trained with Thomas Keller, serves multicourse masterpieces with price-no-object tuna flown in from Tokyo's Tsukiji Market. The private club, improbably located in the Ala Moana shopping center, has a nonmember prix fixe of $295 a person.

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The ultraluxe option is the beachfront landmark Halekulani Hotel (2199 Kalia Road; from $525 a night), favored by the likes of J.J. Abrams and Ben Affleck. Representing the new face of Honolulu are three properties: The Shoreline (342 Seaside Ave.; from $155 a night), a recently opened boutique from the Joie de Vivre group, and the aptly titled minimalist Modern Honolulu (1775 Ala Moana Blvd.; from $289 a night).

Additional reporting by Matt Jacobson.