Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hawaii -- Lahaina, Maui and Honolulu, Oahu

Vegetarians traveling to Hawaii won't have any problem finding nice restaurants where they can eat . . . so long as they don't mind eating Japanese food almost every day!  At least that was my experience.  While Japanese restaurants predominate, you can also find a number of other Asian-themed restaurants, and of course many Hawaiian restaurants, or fusion-type restaurants that serve some combination of Hawaiian and Asian cuisine.  American, Italian, Mexican, and other restaurants exist as well, but are in the minority.  

I did plenty of research before traveling to both Lahaina (in Maui) and Honolulu (in Oahu), and I really looked forward to checking out a number of upscale vegetarian-friendly restaurants.  Unfortunately, I acquired food poisoning on my second day (word of warning:  AVOID the vegetarian lunch option on certain snorkel-sail tours -- be safe and bring your own food!), so my ability to enjoy food during my vacation in Hawaii was severely limited.  

In Maui, for example, I had high hopes for Star Noodle and Lahaina Grill, which got great reviews, but I was unable to make it to either place.  Before the food poisoning, however, I did manage to have dinner at the very touristy Hula Grill on Ka'anapali Beach, which specializes in Hawaiian cuisine and offers a hearty tofu and vegetable entree, along with a number of meat-free appetizers, salads, soups, and side dishes (gluten-free items were clearly marked; the restaurant also has a Waikiki location, but with a different menu).  I was pleased to find the tofu option, especially at a restaurant so close to my hotel.  The restaurant also has nice outdoor seating overlooking the beach.  

Organic miso tofu and local vegetables with fresh herbs, rainbow quinoa, and soy-ginger vinaigrette

Before getting sick with food poisoning, I also managed to enjoy some casual quick eats at two places that appear popular with locals.  Choice Health Bar is a vegan cafe that is known for its acai bowls, smoothies, and fresh juices.  It also serves heartier dishes for lunch and dinner.  I stopped by for a healthy snack and enjoyed an acai bowl with gluten-free granola.

Acai bowl with acai, gluten-free granola, bananas, and honey

And Maui Tacos, a local fast food chain that is now a national franchise, is popular with surfers and celebrities.  The menu includes many vegetarian options, including the specialty taco pictured below.  Customers also can help themselves to all of the hot sauce they want from the Maui Tacos salsa bar . . . but only if they can stand the heat!

Maui Vegetarian Taco with "THE WORKS":  beans, rice, potatoes, fresh mix greens, tomato, and guacamole (vegan style without cheese or sour cream)

Once I started recovering from the food poisoning, I found my way to Japengo, an upscale pan-Asian restaurant that, like Hula Grill, overlooks Ka'anapali Beach and is walking distance to many hotels.  Although I was craving the stir-fried vegetables and tofu, I decided to go easy on my poor stomach and stick with veggie sushi rolls (note that Japengo also offers a separate gluten-free menu and has a Honolulu location, but the menu there is different).   

Veggie roll with avocado, cucumber, yamagobo, kaiware, and papaya in soy wrap

Fortunately, by the time I got to Honolulu, I was feeling much better, and so that is where I found my best meal: at Nobu in Waikiki.  Although Nobu is a world-renowned restaurant with locations all over the globe, this was my first experience dining there, and I could not have been more pleased.  The service, atmosphere, and food were all first-class, and the vegetarian options were abundant.  Chef Nobu Matsuhisa serves "new style" Japanese dishes that sometimes have a South American flare.  I absolutely loved my mushroom and tofu tobanyaki and vegetable sushi rolls!
Mushroom and tofu tobanyaki

Vegetable rolls

By my last day in Hawaii, I was a little tired of eating Asian food, so on my way to the airport I stopped and had lunch at Kan Zaman, a charming Middle Eastern restaurant (located in Chinatown, ironically) that has outdoor seating in a relaxing garden setting.  After a week of tofu and veggie rolls, my Moroccan salad and falafel mezze really hit the spot!

Moroccan salad and falafel
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