When it comes down to it, most of the people I know, if they could only recommend one restaurant on Oahu to people visiting Hawaii, would recommend Side Street Inn, 1225 Hopaka Street in Honolulu, across the street from the Ewa side of the Ala Moana Shopping Center.
Side Street's chef, Colin Nishida, creates the kind of food that sophisticated gourmands and down home eating people can all love. The restaurant was featured on the Hawaii episode of Anthony Boudain's No Reservation program, with Bourdain eating dinner with many of Hawaii's most celebrated chefs. It is said that the best chefs in town go to Side Street to eat after hours.
When saying that if I could only recommend one, it's not to say that Side Street is the best restaurant in town, nor is it necessarily my favorite (although it is certainly up there; we don't go as often because it is more of a bar restaurant and it is not the best place to take children, especially young children). But if I had to pick one place that best represents what food in Hawaii is about, Side Street is that place.
When you approach the restaurant, you might get the feeling you are in the wrong place. The restaurant is literally on a side street, and near a red light section. But there is valet parking and when you get inside, you are greeted by a crowded interior teeming with people and good food. Hopefully you will be seated fairly quickly, and then you will try to make choices from a huge menu. I would suggest going with at least three people, because you will want to order several dishes.
The pork chops are legendary. Lightly dredged and fried (according to a Honolulu Star-Bulletin article, the dredging ingredients are cornstarch, flour, pepper and garlic salt), they are comfort food at its most delicious.
Also highly revered by many is the fried rice. I'm not as wild about it as others, but it is good. It has a very distinct flavor, and I am guessing that they add dashi (Japanese fish based soup stock) to it in addition to lup cheong, Chinese sausage instead of the usual char siu. They also add frozen peas and carrots, which takes the dish down a peg for me. But if you are there for the first time, you have to try it and judge for yourself.
The lilikoi (passion fruit) baby back ribs are terrific. Sweet and succulent, they are everything you hoped that Hawaii style ribs should taste like but rarely do.
There are also nods to Hawaii Regional Cuisine: try the furikake (a Japanese seaweed based condiment) encrusted mahi-mahi, or the pesto encrusted ahi. The Manila steamer clams are garlicky and buttery and served with garlic bread to sop up the scrumptious liquid that is formed during the preparation. The famous Nalo Greens (to me, the absolute best mesclun salad greens) are utilized in various ways and a fabulous addition.
I could go on and on, but by now, you have decided to go and try it for yourself. It will be a great experience.
Grace and aloha,
P. S. When I get into discussions with non-believers, the most common complaint is they are scientifically based people, and faith in God and Christ cannot be empirically proven by the scientific method. The problem is that the scientific method is not designed to measure or verify human experience. For example, if I say that I love my wife and children, how can you prove that with the scientific method? You can measure certain physiological changes when I'm with them, you might be able to isolate and categorize brain wave activity, but you cannot qualify by this method what it means to love.
Another problem is that the scientific method is inherently limited, because it is a human enterprise restricted to the finite nature of human cognition. How can something finite have the ability to measure something that is infinite?
Still another problem with the scientific method is that it requires detachment from the thing being studied, so that a more "objective" conclusion can be reached. But detachment is exactly the opposite goal of religion (which is from the Latin word, ligare - to connect - which is the same root word as ligament, which connects muscle to bone; re-ligion is to re-connect humans with God). You cannot understand religion unless you are making an active pursuit of connection with God. This would be at cross purposes with the scientific method (I do embrace the scientific method wherever it is appropriate, by the way).
In any case, I've always felt the logical, scientific perspective presented by non-believers is really a smoke screen. When it comes down to it, all of the non-believers I've spoken to begin with a logical, scientific objection to religion, but eventually reveal a highly emotional experience that turned them away.
Bill Maher's film "Religulous" illustrates this, which is ironic because Maher spends the whole film trashing religion (I highly recommend this film...it actually strengthened my faith in a strange way; although I would suspect that if you were anti-religious going in, you would be even more so at the end). Maher shares that his family attended church with his Irish Catholic father, and didn't know for many years that his mother was actually Jewish, which would have been almost scandalous in the pre-Vatican II (and at times anti-Semitic) Catholic Church. Because of a disagreement with church dogma, his father stopped taking the family to church when Bill was 13. This had to be a volatile set of circumstances for a young adolescent that would affect profoundly his views on religion.
In the film, Maher meets with a men's group from a storefront church. After one of the more regimented members, offended by Maher, stalks off, the remaining members continue the conversation. At the end, these men ask Maher if they could pray for him. He allows them to do it, keeping his eyes open and staring at the man praying for him with intense scrutiny and curiosity. At the end, he says to the remaining men, "Thank you for being Christ-like, and not just Christian."
That was a pretty extraordinary statement from one who has been so vitriolic against Christianity. I think what it comes down to is that Maher opposes extremist religious people, which is what he mostly experiences. I think he is secretly much more open to God than he lets on. I'd love to see a conversation between Maher and someone like Rob Bell - who thinks moderately and scientifically - instead of the admittedly preposterous people Maher interviews in the film. In fact, I believe most Christians also find the extremist religious people to be pretty ridiculous as well, as they are more about personal power and control than an authentic desire to do God's will.
In the end, faith in God and Christ is much more about personal experience, and not about detached, scientific observation.
You can read my blog posts faithfully, but if you never go and actually experience the restaurants or food I write about, you will never truly know what I am talking about. It's the same with faith: you can read about it, argue about it, but if you don't truly seek an authentic experience with God in Christ, you'll never know what I'm talking about.