One of my favorite hidden gems on Oahu is the Manoa Chocolate Factory Tour. Located in Kailua in the upstairs of a nondescript building, this fun and informative chocolate tour will teach you about sustainable bean-to-bar chocolate and also treat your tastebuds to the exotic world of custom chocolate.
Started in 2010 by Dylan and Tammy Butterbaugh, Manoa chocolate takes it’s name from the University of Hawaii at Manoa – where they were both college students at the time. Their philosophy is simple – create great chocolate from great cacao and make sure that every step of the way is sustainable to farmers and producers. It all starts in Hawaii, the only state that can actually grow cacao commercially. The two started with home made equipment and a love of chocolate. Today they are in the top ten of bean to bar makers in the U.S. and the largest in the state of Hawaii.
Manoa Chocolate is located above Cinnamon’s Restaurant in Kailua at 315 Uluniu Ave. It’s not an intuitive location which is great because if you can find it, you can usually walk in and get the free 30 minute tour which starts with cacao and how it is grown and then moves on to how chocolate is made before ending with chocolate tea and a sampling of their amazing offerings – made from fair trade cacao they purchase from around the world – as well as Hawaii. Chocolate is a lot like wine and there are many different factors that go into creating the complex tastes.
They have recently opened a tasting room in the Hyatt Regency in Waikiki. Private tours and tastings can be booked through their website at the Manoa Chocolate website
I’m a big fan of Nico’s at Fishmarket at Pier 38 in Honolulu and of Nico’s in Kailua – just not as big a fan as I used to be.. This is a restaurant that I’ve been eating at since a friend introduced me to it back in 2004. At that time, it was a tiny little plate lunch joint right near the fish auction. Nico, a French chef and his two fishermen friends decided to showcase some of the amazing fish coming out of the auction and ‘Voila!”
It looked like this back then…and frankly…I miss it. There were rarely lines. The poke was the best in town at a really reasonable price and the food was something we describe in Hawaii as ‘Onolicious!” Which means as delicious as it gets.
The food and poke are still top rated, but, today, it’s grown to at least four times the original size. There is always a crowd. The poke is a bit pricey for a guy like me to enjoy it on a regular basis, and the whole thing feels … well, for lack of a better word … touristy. That’s the thing. Nico’s used to be a little hole in the wall plate lunch place for locals who knew about it, but these days…it’s mostly for the tourists. Yes, you still get your food in a styrofoam pack. Yes, you still order at the counter when you go in, but it’s by design…not by necessity. this is the Furikake Crusted Ahi Tuna with Nalo Greens…oh man. Yum. Still ono.
The original Nico’s is still located at Pier 38 off of Nimitz Highway – though it moved to a larger building from the one in the old picture right below – several years ago. It now has an enclosed outdoor seating area and a bar with an upscale feel despite the styrofoam packs. They’ve opened a second location in Kailua on the Windward side. I heard recently they closed down the poke bar there…but I’ve been for the Sunday Brunch and it was good – the thing was…it didn’t feel like Nico’s over there. It felt like a decent little restaurant.
I’m happy for their success…but a little bit sad that we lost what you see above. Below is a picture from a recent trip to the Pier 38 location – I still go, but it’s not like before when I’d decide to go and feel like doing the happy dance…
Most people head to central Oahu with one thing in mind – Pineapples and the Dole Plantation. Personally, there’s a better destination that I like to stop at – it’s not as old, not as touristy, and is all about one of life’s essentials – COFFEE!
Hawaiian Coffee is kind of a big deal. Everyone has heard of Kona Coffee. Kona is famous around the world for being a deep, rich, and tasty coffee. What makes it so are the perfect growing conditions on the island of Hawaii. Well guess what? We have perfect growing conditions on Oahu too. Our climate is ideal on the central Oahu plateau. Our soil is rich volcanic soil filled with nutrients (though mellowed by a few million years from the Big Island. Also, we have old, great coffee stock.
Green World Coffee opened up about a decade ago with the idea of creating a small family run operation that would give Oahu coffee some exposure to the world. It was started by Howard Green. The Waialua Estate coffee sold by the Dole company is pretty well known, but Green World decided to go small business style. They planted their coffee, they began their roasting operation, and they opened their doors.
Green World offers a small coffee garden on site, a great little cafe where they know how to make a good cappucino, and an absolutely lovely little gift shop. You can sample a half dozen coffees from different islands and blends from the world over. They also have their famous ‘Sex and Chocolate Tea’ which is delicious but a little disturbing if you stop to wonder what is in it. Green World roasts all of their own coffees on site so when you walk in, you will feel like you have entered coffee heaven.
Ask the people working about the coffee! They love to share information about the roasting, growing, harvesting, the various stages of the coffee and much more. You’ll find these are all incredibly friendly folks who truly embody the aloha spirit.
Green World Farm is just seven acres and about three thousand coffee trees. Open daily from 7am to 5pm with extended hours on weekends. The farm is located at 71-101 Kamehameha Hwy in Wahiawa.
If you are heading North afterwards – choose now whether to get a Dole Whip at the Dole Planation or to head on up to Haleiwa and get a shave ice at Matsumotos…or just get both…nobody is going to judge you for it.
There are certain foods that you have to eat when you come to Honolulu. One of them, is the famous Malasada from Leonard’s Bakery.
A malasada is a doughnut without a hole – a little bit crispy and a little bit chewy. They’ve been in Hawaii since the late 1800s when the Portuguese emigrated in large numbers to work in the sugar cane industry. Leonard’s Bakery opened in 1952 on Kapahulu avenue where they still sit today.
The bakery was opened by Margaret and Frank Leonard Rego Sr. It was Frank’s mother’s recipe that started them out but they adapted to the Hawaiian taste and soon were making pao doce – typically a meat stuffed pastry in Portugal – with chocolate, coconut, guava, and more. The bakery is still owned by the same family and run today by Leonard Rego Jr. and his adult children.
Leonard’s is a household name in Hawaii and neighbor islanders come and head straight for the bakery. You are always welcome when you bring the pink Leonard’s box or bag with you. They’ve sold nearly 200 million malasadas since opening…so they are doing something very right.
Like Dole Whip, Shave Ice, and Macadamia nuts. Malasada’s are a must try experience when you are in Hawaii. There are trucks at various points around the island which pick up the malasada dough from the main bakery in the morning and then make malasadas until they run out in the late morning.
It’s not rocket science…but there is definitely something magical about Leonard’s Malasadas. Whle Leonard’s does offer other baked goods – the malasadas are where it’s at. There are plain sugar, cinnamon sugar, and Li-hing (a dried chinese plum powder – sugar, salt taste), and then the filled ones. Dobash (chocolate), haupia (coconut), and a variety of fruit flavors such as lilikoi, mango, and guava. The coffee – …mmm…it tastes like it has been there since 1952. Definitely FBI coffee…stick to the malasadas.
I love a good cup of coffee. One of the great things about Hawaii is that we have a rich coffee history and we grow a wide variety of different coffees here. Our climate, our soil, our location – they are all perfect for coffee. I’ll talk more about that in a coming post…
For now, I wanted to let you know about a fun coffee experience I had yesterday in Waikiki. Technically, The Honolulu Coffee Experience Center sits on the edge of Ala Moana and Waikiki, but it’s close enough to just call it Waikiki. It’s right across from the Hawaii Convention Center on Kalakaua Avenue on the western end of Waikiki.
The building used to be a Hard Rock Cafe – or maybe a Planet Hollywood – and it went through some other businesses as well. It’s one of those places I drive by all the time and never pay attention to. My friend and I meet for coffee in a new location every couple of weeks and since neither of us had been here – it was a great option.
There is ample parking on the other side from the photo above. Inside there are terrific displays to educate you about coffee, where you can see the coffee beans being roasted while you sit at the bar, and you can watch the talented pastry chefs making their treasures behind the glass wall. A small gift shop and a closed in glass room that I never really figured out the purpose of – there was an espresso machine in there and a college age girl who appeared to be doing her homework inside. I know I missed something there…
The coffee itself was nice. I had an espresso with a croissant and was pleased that it was served on a small wood tray with some mineral water – the espresso itself was tasty with very little of the bitterness I usually find at other places that start with an S. We were able to order our coffee for there so we didn’t have to throw away paper cups and contribute to the garbage issues we face on Oahu. My friend had an Americano and no complaints about it.
The seating was fun with the aforementioned bar seats in the lowered center, a few tables around the lower center edges, and then scattered tables of different sizes on the upper (ground) level and a number of umbrella covered tables outside as well. Overall, it was a nice experience and a good cup of coffee. I recommend it.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of taking one of the tastiest tours in Hawaii. Anyone who has been on one of my tours, knows how much fun it is to get to sample the different treats from all over Oahu – but it’s not often that I get the chance to go out and discover hidden gems here on my own turf! This was one of those opportunities.
My new friend, Chef Matthew Gray picked me up at the Ala Moana Hotel with his fun team of foodies and a couple of other guests. There were nine of us all together. Now, just a heads up – Matthew, Gio, and Krystal took me to some incredible places – I’d been to a few of them – but mostly – they took me to hole in the wall places that after seventeen years of callling Oahu home and more than a decade as a guide – I had never been to! You might be waiting for me to spill the beans about where they took me – but I’m not going to. I’ll give you the gist of it, share a few pictures, and describe some of the foods we ate and a few of the secrets I learned – but to get the rest – you are going to have to take this awesome tour.
Heres’s the info to Book a Tour – Tell the Chef that Vagobond sent you:
First off – I love that this wasn’t an all day tour. If you’re here on vacation you can take this tour and still have plenty of time to go out and enjoy the beach, play some golf, or even take another tour – personally though – after this tour was done, I just wanted to relax with a Mai Tai. They’ll give you some recommendations at the end for where you can do that – or you can figure it out. The tour lasted from roughly 9am to 2pm. I was the last pickup so 9:30am and the last dropoff at 2pm. We were a small group so if you are with more or less folks at different hotels than your tour time may vary a bit.
From Ala Moana we headed into Honolulu where we sampled a little bit of everything. We had baked maunapua for breakfast and from there we took a trip into Chinatown where we visited a rice noodle factory, explored the shops and stalls, and then had a delightful walking tour that ended with a wonderful urban picnic right next to a busy marketplace. The colors, smells, sounds, and tastes were overwhelming. Gio and Christina brought tasty treat after savory delight for us to sample. I’d love to spill the beans here and tell you where and what – but that wouldn’t be any fun at all.
Of course we had the rice noodles we’d just watched being made and a variety of fresh tropical fruits as well as Chinese and Korean meats and other treats with Chef Matthew’s yummy sauces (he’ll share the recipe after the tour). Finally, we went to one of the most famous bakeries in Hawaii and ended with a sugar overload before falling into food comas on the way back home.
Through the day we were entertained with history, stories, culture, and recipes. This was a lot of fun and I recommend it highly. Thanks for the great day Chef Matthew! A hui ho!
If you ask any child in Hawai’i what they want for dessert or a treat – chances are you are going to hear most of them say the same thing- shave ice.
That’s shave ice, not shaved ice because Hawaiian language doesn’t have a ‘D’ in it and our local language ‘pidgin’ officially known as Hawaiian Creole – also tends to leave the ‘d’s off words. It just flows better to say “Like get shave ice?” Instead of the mainland haole version of “Would you like to have some shaved ice?” Right?
The number one shave ice place in Hawaii is up in the little surf town of Hale’iwa. Matsumoto General Store. Back in the 1950s, Hale’iwa was more about sugar cane production than surfing and while there was a hotel (the upscale Hale’iwa Hotel) where people could come to see the ‘country’ of Oahu, mostly it was a place where people worked, went to church, went to school, and just lived. The Matsumoto General Store was a local Japanese owned place where residents could buy grocieries, toiletries, gas, and whatever else they might need.
In 1956, Momoru and Helen Matsumoto made a decision that would change the store forever. They bought a little hand cranked shave-ice maker from Japan. The Japanese had been shaving snow-fine ice to provide treats for nearly a thousand years. Momoru figured it would be a nice treat on hot days. Stanley, the son of Momoru and Helen, was five-years-old when it arrived. According to him it was the first shave ice machine in Hawai’i. The Matsumotos decided to create a different shave-ice experience than that of the Japanese.
For starters, they decided to take tropical Hawaiian flavors and mix them with sweet sugar cane syrup as well as going with the more traditional berry flavors. Soon there were pineapple, lilikoi, coconut, and mango shave ice syrups. Later they put ice cream on the bottom (which might be the most genius decision ever made in regards to shave ice). The ice cream keeps the ice from melting as quickly and absorbs the syrups as the ice above is eaten. Later still they decided to bind the flavors with a ‘snow cap’ topping of sweetened condensed milk. Other innovations included the addition of sweet azuki beans, mochi, and fresh fruit. The classic Matsumoto Shave Ice is vanilla ice cream, ice, three flavors, and the snow cap. Pick your favorite flavors or just go for the rainbow – strawberry, banana, pineapple.
Little Stanley grew up and took over the operation in 1976. At the time the North Shore was booming with surfers, tourists, and development. Matsumotos moved out of the grocery business and became almost 100% shave ice. It continued this way until the early 2000s when the building was remodeled and they brought back t-shirts, souvenirs, and country store items.
The Matsumoto Shave Ice is famous all over the world. When you get there, the line will probably be long – but don’t worry – Stanley has streamlined the process and local teens will make your shave ice with expert precision in a very short time. While you are standing in line, don’t be surprised if Stanley (usually wearing a t-shirt with a cartoon version of himself on it) comes over and starts talking story with you. He’s seen his family store and the entire North Shore change over time – but the shave ice – it’s still as good as it ever was. Maybe even better. Definitely ono.
There are few places as beautiful as Windward Oahu (East side of Oahu in Hawai’i). The Windward side offers sweeping mountain vistas, lush tropical rainforest, both rugged and serene coastline with fifty different shades of blue water, and much more. It also offers some amazing food choices…and if you have a taste of BBQ rotissarie chicken…you are in luck.
Mike’s Huli Chicken in Kahalu’u started out as a shrimp truck but has grown into much more. From Garlic Shrimp and Kiawe smoked huli-huli (turn-turn) chicken it has grown to one of the most sought after meals on Oahu. Mike Fuse is a locally grown North Shore chef who took two local ingredients – kiawe wood and Hawaiian sea salt and turned it into something that locals and visitors can’t get enough of. Trust me – make the trip to Kahalu’u on the windward side – just north of Kaneohe on the Kamehameha Hwy. It’s been featured on Diners, Dives, and Drive ins and most importantly for me – my tastebuds are always pleased with a visit there. This is a plate lunch place with the usual scoop of rice and scoop of mac salad…do not forget to get the sauce…it makes the chicken taste even better.
Huli means turn and Huli-huli means rotissarie. Plenty of celebrities, tourists, and locals have gushed about the delicious taste of Mike’s chicken and one thing they all agree on. The sauce is da best! Sometimes, Chef Mike Fuse is there handing out samples or trying out new sauce recipes which these lucky guests got to try!