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hau tree lanai

Honolulu's dining scene is a melting pot of Hawaiian, Pacific and Asian cuisines. Seafood lovers will find themselves in heaven here -- shrimp, crab, oysters, mussels and various kinds of fish are on menus all over Honolulu. The most influential culinary movement of the last few decades is Hawaii Regional Cuisine; developed by Alan Wong and 11 other local chefs, this culinary movement emphasizes fresh local ingredients sourced right from the land and waters of Hawaii.

We like Hau Tree Lanai (at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel) as much for its idyllic setting -- beneath a spreading hau tree right on San Souci Beach -- as for its food. Choose from a nice selection of sandwiches, pastas, fresh island fish, and vegetarian dishes and salads, including an outstanding papaya chicken salad. At dinnertime, with lights twinkling in the branches of the hau and the rolling Pacific providing soft background music, it beckons to lovers.

Although you can order off the menu, the popular Legend Seafood Restaurant on North Beretania Street is known for its lunchtime dim sum, which loyal customers swear is as good as anything you'll find in Hong Kong. Servers roll carts filled with steamed, baked, fried and roasted delicacies by your table, and you select whatever strikes your fancy.

Buca di Beppo celebrates the hearty cooking of Italian immigrants. It's a place where you can smell the marinara sauce before you reach the door and where conversation and laughter often drown out the background music. Dishes are served family style in two portion sizes: large, for up to five people, and small, for couples or threesomes. In our opinion, the best spot in the house is the kitchen table, which actually is set in the kitchen so you can talk to the chef and watch all the action that goes on as orders are being prepared.

Only Alan Wong could turn an obscure Moiliili locale into a mecca for discerning diners. Winner of the 1996 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Pacific Northwest/Hawaii, Wong is unquestionably one of the stars of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, which promotes the use of fresh, locally grown produce, seafood and meats. Menu highlights include seared mahi mahi with wasabi sauce, garlic black pepper keahole lobster, and macadamia nut-coconut lamb chops.

La Mer, at the Halekulani Hotel, is the epitome of fine dining in Hawaii; it is the state's longest consecutively ranked AAA five-diamond restaurant. You'll enjoy spectacular views of Diamond Head and Waikiki and the soothing sounds of la mer (the sea) as you dine on dishes inspired by flavors from the south of France. A jacket or long-sleeved collared dress shirt is required for male diners.

Editors of Gourmet magazine singled out Chef Mavro as "where we would eat if we had only one night in Honolulu." Dine here and you'll agree the accolades are well deserved. The menu changes regularly; tasting menus are offered with or without wine.

For affordable local eats, check out Ono Seafood, which serves up traditional Hawaiian poke (raw fish salad), tako (octopus) and spicy ahi (yellowfin tuna).


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