Orchids at Halekulani — Photo courtesy of Halekulani
The Italian restaurant scene on Oahu, Hawaii is growing, evolving and becoming more eclectic, as fine dining establishments with award-winning chefs are coexisting with casual cafes and newly-opened pizza places.
Melissa Chang is a food blogger based in Hawaii and is considered a local expert when it comes to the islands’ dining scene. She says, “The Italian food in Hawaii has improved over the past several years, as more chefs are traveling, expanding their horizons and learning about new techniques that Italian chefs use. On the flip side of that, we’re also seeing Japanese chefs immersing themselves in Italian cooking – and when they arrive in Hawaii, they stay true to the traditional Italian culinary styles.”
In addition to a number of fine dining Italian restaurants, Chang also noted that several pizza restaurants opened on Oahu during the pandemic, including Little G Café, ili ili Cash and Carry and Fatto a Mano.
She says, “Pizza was exactly what people were looking for during the COVID shutdown – delicious, Italian-style take-out comfort food. The pizza at these new restaurants is incredible – all are hand-tossed and each one features a completely different, yet delectable crust. They really upped their game, and these chefs are masters of their craft – and I see they are obsessed with perfecting their pizza dough. We enjoy tasting all of them, and they’ve turned me and my friends into true pizza snobs.”
Oahu-based content creator Izah Blue showcases Hawaii restaurants on the YouTube food channel, Aroma Surf. He has featured some local Italian restaurants in his videos that shine a spotlight on individually-owned restaurants, cafes and food trucks on the island, as well as a glimpse into some neighborhoods away from the touristy scene.
He says, “There’s a small, close-knit Italian community here in Hawaii that makes some great Italian food of all kinds that are worth checking out. Every restaurant serves up their own style – some stick to the classics and others are more inventive, but I believe our talented Italian chefs here really do it right.”
These are a number of noteworthy Italian restaurants on the island of Oahu, and here are just a few standouts.
Chef Christian Testa — Photo courtesy of Halekulani
Originally from Genoa, Italy, Christian Testa is the Chef de Cuisine at Orchids restaurant at the iconic Halekulani Hotel, located by the ocean on the world-famous Waikiki Beach. Testa’s menu at Orchids reflects his Mediterranean heritage, and features an abundance of local produce and seafood sourced from the islands.
Guests keep returning for his artfully-presented classics, including several varieties of homemade pasta dishes, such as a house favorite, the Lasagnette, which happens to be his grandmother’s recipe from Italy and includes warm avocado, shrimp and scallops. Other standouts are squid-ink spaghettini; Alaskan king crab tortelloni (with sea urchin sauce); and hand-cut maltagliati "Frutti di Mare ragu" with spinach basil pasta.
Testa considers his menu authentically Mediterranean. He says, “I’m proud that all of my pastas are made from scratch. I use healthy, light ingredients in my food and emphasize clean, delicate flavors. The herbs and vegetables in Hawaii are slightly different from the similar varieties grown in Italy, but the combination of island-harvested produce combined with an Italian style of cooking is what makes our menu so innovative and extraordinary.”
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Tagliatelle — Photo courtesy of Quiora
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 lanai high above Waikiki offering outstanding views of the city and the ocean beyond.
Quiora’s acclaimed Chef de Cuisine, Miranda Eckerfield, developed a menu that’s inspired by Italy’s culinary traditions and flavors, such as spaghetti carbonara with pancetta, and pecorino and pork pappardelle, with whey-braised pork, fresh ricotta and locally-grown cherry tomatoes. Other favorites include whole, fresh-caught fish and house-cut steaks. Wine pairings (featuring Italian varietals as well as others) and house-made desserts are also offered, so guests can enjoy the full experience.
There are some surprises, too. In addition to the specialties from the old country, Eckerfield also created a special lobster roll as an homage to Executive Chef Shaymus Alwin, who happens to be the son of a Maine lobsterman.
Sea urchin pasta — Photo courtesy of Melissa Chang
Named after a picturesque seaside village in Sicily, Taormina is located steps from the ocean on Waikiki’s Beach Walk and offers Italian specialties made with locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. Executive chef Hiroyuki Mimura is originally from Japan and has extensive experience using Italian techniques in award-winning restaurants in Italy.
A few top-selling dishes include antipasto Seppia alla Siciliana (grilled Spanish squid with vegetables and an herb dressing); and entrees Norma alla Catanese (bucatini with spiced tomato sauce, pancetta and eggplant) and Sarde e Finochetti (spaghetti with sautéed sardines, fennel, anchovy and capers).
Chang is a devoted fan of the sea urchin pasta (Ricci di Mare) here and explained, “Taormina is always consistently delicious. Chef Hiro is committed to keeping his Italian specialties completely authentic. He also keeps the original Italian names of the dishes on the menu as well.”
The extensive wine list at Taormina features a diverse collection of award-winning vintages from throughout Italy.
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Chef Pasquale Allegrini opened his casual restaurant, Allegrini Mozzarella, in early 2021 in Honolulu’s Diamond Head shopping center. A native from Bari, Italy, Pasquale arrived in Hawaii a few years ago as an importer of Italian foods.
Allegrini Mozzarella is located in an unassuming spot and offers a menu with a variety of familiar Italian classics (gnocchi, lasagna, eggplant parmigiana) made with imported ingredients, including burrata, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses. Homemade pastas and other specialties, such as Italian-style mussels and a selection of generously-sized salads are also available (including Caprese and Caesar).
The café also features a small market and sells a variety of imported packaged Italian specialties.
Noe restaurant — Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Ko Olina
Situated in a garden oasis in the sprawling Four Seasons Ko Olina Resort on Oahu’s Leeward Coast, Noe is an authentic Italian restaurant that attracts food-loving locals as well as tourists. Originally from Japan, acclaimed chef Ryo Takatsuka spent over 10 years honing his culinary skills in Italy, cooking in highly-rated Michelin-starred restaurants, including the famed La Terrazza in Rome.
Noe Wine — Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Ko Olina
He describes his menu as “Capri meets Hawaii,” and it features elegant yet flavorful items from Southern Italy. A few of Noe’s top dishes include the signature tagliatelle, with black truffles and Parmigiana Reggiano; whipped ricotta with truffle honey, Marcona almonds and house-made focaccia; and the ahi tuna carpaccio with capers, sea asparagus and salsa verde.
In June 2021, the restaurant released their own private label wines, Noe Allodio (Sangiovese 2015 and Viognier 2015), in collaboration with Podere San Michele in Tuscany, Italy.