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Hawaii’s Mayors Share Their Favorite Neighborhood Joints

Posted on September 11, 2009

The following is a guest blog by Melanie Kosaka of Share Your Table.

I always say if you want to get an authentic sense of a destination; eat where the locals go.  Find out from folks who have a genuine love and connection to their community, and what and where they like to eat.  What more tangible way to connect with a place, than to taste the flavors of a locale?

Thinking along those lines, I thought who better to ask for local recommendations than a few of Hawaii’s county mayors, all born and raised residents of their respective counties.

Kauai – Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr.

Hamura Saimin Stand

2956 Kress Street
Lihue, Kauai, HI 96766

Hamura's Saimin Wonton Min

Without even a pause, Mayor Carvalho picked Hamura Saimin Stand as his favorite local joint.  In sharing this bit of info with Honolulu Advertiser Food Editor, Wanda Adams, she said the Mayor is not alone, every year Hamura Saimin Stand wins their Ilima award for “Best Kauai Restaurant People’s Choice.”

Mayor Carvalho said he usually gets the extra-large Saimin Special; a steaming bowl of noodles and broth, topped with sweet pork, egg, Spam, Chinese pork dumplings and vegetables.  I had to tell the Mayor the lillikoi (passion fruit) chiffon pie is pretty good, too.  To which he mentioned Hamura’s BBQ sticks – strips of teriyaki beef threaded on a bamboo stick.

What is saimin?  It’s a uniquely Hawaiian bowl of soup noodles, a close cousin to Japanese ramen, but with Chinese influences.

In 2006, Hamura Saimin Stand was honored by the James Beard Foundation for “preserving America’s culinary heritage and diversity.”  I was at the awards that year and when their name was announced, where was Hamura’s? Back in Kauai, too busy working to come to New York for some award.

Honolulu, Oahu - Mayor Mufi Hannemann

Ethel’s Grill

232 Kalihi Street
Honolulu, HI 96819

Ethel's Tataki

“They give you miso soup, salad and tataki style sashimi with your meals” said Mayor Hannemann of Ethel’s Grill when I asked him of his favorite neighborhood joint.  Located in Kalihi, the Mayor’s childhood neighborhood, Ethel’s has been serving great home cooked food in the same spot for over 25 years. Mayor Hannemann is a known foodie, so it’s no wonder fellow Oahu residents like chef Roy Yamaguchi, Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya and Hawaii’s most famous farmer Dean Okimoto all eat at Ethel’s.

One of the Mayor’s favorites is the hamburger steak plate.  But before you start thinking beef patties with gravy and mash potatoes, remember this is a Hawaii diner.  At Ethel’s the hamburger steak is served with a light tangy soy based sauce (ponzu) and topped with kaiware sprouts and grated radish.  Ethel’s interpretation of an American classic.  The hamburger steak comes served with the aforementioned soup, salad and if you’re the mayor or a lucky regular on good day, tataki style sashimi.  Otherwise you can order a side of tataki sashimi for a moderate price.  Tataki sashimi is fish that been seared on the outside and raw on the inside.  The tataki sashimi is Ethel’s signature item.

Chef Yamaguchi, who is known to let owner Ethel Ishii give him a good talking to, always orders the tataki sashimi and Ethel’s famous oxtail soup when he’s at the diner.

Ethel’s Grill melds classic American diner sensibilities with Japanese American home cooking for an only-in-Hawaii experience.

Maui - Mayor Charmaine Tavares

Tasty Crust

1770 Mill Street
Wailuku, HI 96793


Mayor Tavares eyes light up when she mentions Tasty Crust as her favorite neighborhood joint.  “My favorite meal is breakfast and Tasty Crust serves breakfast all day long.  It’s a place we go to after bowling or meetings, a very neighborhood kind of place.”

Famous for their pancakes that are light and fluffy on the inside with a crisp outer edge, a noted Hawaii food expert said it’s rumored that 7-Up is the secret ingredient that gives Tasty Crust pancakes its famous crust.

Mayor Tavares knows a thing or two about crusts.  Her mother is one of Maui’s famous Holy Ghost Church bread ladies.  These ladies are known for making delicious Portuguese sweet egg bread.  The group started as a fundraising endeavor to pay-off church restoration loans.  But lucky for us, although the loans were paid off early, the ladies continue to bake bread as a way to help other Maui churches in need.

Now that’s a way to eat good and do good – Maui style!

Big Island – Mayor William Kenoi


400 Hualani Street
Hilo, HI 96720

“The miso soup is excellent and the tempura and salads are a cut-above any Japanese restaurant in the state”, said Mayor Kenoi in describing Miyos, a landmark Hilo restaurant.  Often cited by locals as the best Japanese restaurant on the Big Island, Miyos decor of sliding shoji screens that open to the outdoors make you feel like you’ve been transported to an earlier era in Japan.  Situated above Waikea Pond, you can take in the view of the pond and surrounding gardens when dining here.
Miyos is famous for their sesame chicken – crisp fried pieces of boneless chicken with a sesame sauce. Classic Japanese fare includes shabu shabu, a Japanese version of fondue, sashimi and sukiyaki.
The restaurant is located in the Waikea Villas Hotel and is a bit off the beaten path. But the scenery, service and food make it well worth the effort.

Explore Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Hawaii’s Big Island

Discover the Holy Ghost Portuguese Church Festival

About Melanie H. Kosaka

Melanie Kosaka is the owner and founder of ShareYourTable –a company specializing in culinary television production and interactive media.  Her credits include the James Beard award winning series, The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter, Hawaii Cooks with Roy Yamaguchi, which has been distributed in 66 countries, New American Cuisine featuring star chefs from around the United States, and GetHealthyNowHawaii.com–an online based educational product.  FDM has produced over 500 hours of cooking and lifestyle programming for national and international distribution.

Follow Melanie on Twitter at @shareyourtable

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