Bruno’s restaurants radiate from a single kitchen at the original Mix Cafe at 35 Beretania St. It’s the space where Bruno Iezzi bakes the lasagnas and ciabatta for his rustic sandwiches.
A stickler for details, Iezzi turns out his own pasta made of unbleached flour that go into lasagnas comprising four layers of pasta, lovingly prepared, and interspersed with lovely vegetable purees and high-quality, savory ingredients, sometimes with a mellow puree of plum tomatoes, carrots, onions and garlic.
The most popular lasagnas include the ground-beef Bolognese and the rich portobello, or funghi, lasagna. Fish dinners are a newer offering.
Lighter fare includes sandwiches of portobello, or a combination of salmon and arugula. Complete your meal with a mixed salad of arugula, red leaf lettuce, grape tomatoes and pecans served in bags, a space-saving measure. Simply open the bag, pour in the balsamic vinaigrette dressing, shake and eat. The grab-and-go bags are also convenient for those stopping in for takeout en route home. Desserts of tiramisu and mocha mousse are served in cups, ready to go.
1120 Maunakea St.; 585-2845; open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. $
For many people, Castagnola’s Pizzeria marks a brand-new arrival on the dining scene, but the Castagnola name has some deep roots on Oahu.
George “Cass” Castagnola had been running restaurants in Hawaii since he opened his first Castagnola’s restaurant in the Manoa Marketplace . Beyond serving food that diners loved, the restaurant proved to be a classroom for many a budding restaurateur. Castagnola’s became a template for a style of Italian restaurant popular with an entire generation, and the DNA continues to run through several popular restaurants.
Accompanying Cass’ return with his sons at the helm are rollback prices dating to his early days. The trade-off is that some of the frills are gone, hence the “pizzeria” designation, though diners will be happy to find much more than pizza, which composes only a small portion of the menu.
Classic Italian comfort fare includes lasagna, eggplant Parmesan, linguine with shrimp or with sausage, peppers and potatoes and shrimp or clam linguini. Sandwich versions of some of these dishes are also available.
Restaurant Row, 500 Ala Moana Blvd.; 523-3399; open 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, and 5:30 to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. $
You’re going to have to work to find Gaan Sushi, but for sushi purists, the small gem of a restaurant may be worth the expedition. Tucked behind a nondescript black door in the Waikiki Sand Villa Hotel, you’ll find a glimmer of sushi made in the traditional Edo way of nearly 300 years ago, when people began combining fish and rice together as a convenient street and finger food.
Where the past 20 years have seen the rise of creative sushi rolls, comprising layers of sliced shellfish, fish and sauces, Gaan’s focus is on old-school sushi showcasing a single main ingredient on vinegared rice, in this case Edo red vinegar and salt that gives the rice its red tinge and stronger, rustic flavor.
Ordering the Gaan omakase is the best way to sample all the restaurant has to offer, with a balanced and thoughtful mix of warm and cool, cooked and raw dishes, at the chef’s whims.
Waikiki Sand Villa Hotel, 2375 Ala Wai Blvd. at Kanekapolei Street; 922-3399; open 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays. $$$$
Honolulu Burger Co.
Former Hilo resident Ken Takahashi takes a stand for the Big Island, having opened the first burger joint in Honolulu devoted to serving 100 percent Big Island free-range, hormone-free, grass-fed beef burgers.
He’d grown up eating such beef and taking it for granted. Nobody gave much thought to whether it was grass- or grain-fed or hormone free. The more people have learned about what goes into factory-raised animals, the more diners are welcoming alternatives.
Of course, the cost associated with smaller production is higher, so the beef has more typically been available in middle-tier to upscale restaurants, out of reach of those who just want to enjoy a simple burger when they go out.
He’s not sure whether supply will be able to keep up with demand, but said: “If I have to close for a day, so be it. I am not going to run out to the store.”
Ditto with the potato fries, hand cut every morning, served plain ($1.99/$2.99), with garlic ($3.99), truffled ($4.99) or with blue cheese ($4.49). He refuses to serve the frozen variety.
Other offerings may not be 100 percent local, such as steak in the Philly or “The Bull” sandwiches, but the burgers are a guarantee. A dash of salt is all that’s needed to showcase the beef.
1295 S. Beretania St.; 626-5202; open 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. $
To glance upon Izakaya Tairyo is to come close to witnessing an ukiyo-e print of a Japanese fishing village spring to life in 3-D. Super flat imagery of fish and ocean waves swirl around the restaurant’s rooftop and exterior, while the interior is festooned with paraphernalia of the fisherman’s trade: nets, glass floats and lobster traps.
“Tairyo” loosely translates to “big fish harvest,” though the harvest here is minimalist sushi for beginners, with the tamest of offerings: ahi, salmon, marinated mackerel, white fish, shrimp, scallop, squid and ikura. Heavier fare was represented by a grilled chicken meatball, chicken wings and skewered pork cutlet with miso sauce.
Some of the most impressive dishes are meant to be shared, such as the Fisherman’s Hot Pot featuring salmon, tofu, clams and shrimp, along with tofu, bean threads and won bok. Similarly, the steamed “Harvest From the Sea and Mountain” basket feeds two or three with its combination of pork, beef, clams, mussels and salmon.
When you’re ready for dessert, the frozen creme brulee, with the texture of cheesecake, is a standout.
514 Piikoi St.; 592-8500. Open 5 to 11 p.m. daily. $$
The cafe is an extension of the work taking place at Kahumana Organic Farm in Waianae, where beyond simply feeding people, the combination of farm, kitchen and job training site has the lofty aim of serving as a model for sustainability, mindful eating and healthy, compassionate living.
Foodies will be pleased to find dishes that are both healthful and delicious, from the humblest beet and pea soups, to plates accompanied by greens fresh from the farm. These might include Greek or Mexican veggie wraps, whole-wheat pastas served with ahi, chicken or garlic shrimp, or meatloaf comprising a mix of grass-fed beef and Swiss chard.
Tip well, as donations support Kahumana Farms endeavors.
86-660 Lualualei Homestead Road; 696-6608; open 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. $
The promise of lobster was a big draw. I envisioned lobster prepared every way imaginable, from old-fashioned thermidor, to po’ boys, bisques or even served popcorn-style, lightly dusted with flour and flash fried.
But this ain’t that place. It’s a fairly typical Chinese restaurant offering lobster stir-fried with your choice of ginger and green onion, black bean sauce, or XO sauce. The rest of the menu is given over to the likes of minute chicken, kung pao chicken, steamed pork with salted egg, etc., plus soup noodles.
And, the place is usually packed due to it s location, central to anyone who lives in a Makiki tower, and the rare commodity of a large parking lot and ample street parking. Late-nighters will be happy to find they’re open until 3 a.m. daily.
1380 S. King St.; 944-8288; open 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily. $$
Most people say they want to eat more healthfully; they have the opportunity to prove it at the Loving Hut. There’s one on Beretania Street, and another set to open on Pensacola Street. These sister restaurants make an impressive template for what a meatless future could be.
Vietnamese cooking, already high on vegetarian ingredients and palate- wakening flavors, is a natural for adding to a vegan menu, and Loving Hut offers a superb example of what can be done without a trace of meat.
Substitutions include mock shrimp made from yam root, realistic to the orange bands associated with cooked shrimp. The mock shrimp has the sweetness and bouncy texture similar to fishcake, which, combined with the flavors of soy, garlic and green onions, made a dish of Spicy Moana a reasonable facsimile of a shrimp stir-fry. No doubt we’ll grow accustomed to this, just as we have largely embraced the crab impostor surimi.
Soy protein substitutes for meat in Fabulous Pho, and in Lemongrass Hawaiiana, the lemony herb, peppers and spices coat soy protein sliced to resemble chicken or pork.
A two- or three-entree plate allows you to sample as many dishes as possible in one sitting.
1614 S. King St.; 373-6465. Open 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. week-days, and 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturdays. $. (Coming to 1102 Pensacola St.)
Pancakes & Waffles
You gotta love a restaurant that knows how to keep things simple, and what could be easier to comprehend than a love of pancakes and waffles?
With no fanfare, frills or evocative moniker necessary, Pancakes & Waffles simply states what’s important. As soon as I saw the beckoning sign, I knew I had to be there.
The breakfast diner at City Square (home of Sugoi and Koolau Farms) delivers on the pancakes and waffles, while offering much more, including a mainland favorite of fried chicken-topped waffle. It turns out local owner Jason Sung went to school in California, which left him with a craving for the combination.
Here, the waffle is topped with three large pieces of chicken, almost too much for one person. It’s not for early risers, available only after 9 a.m.
Otherwise, omelets are made with 3 1/2 eggs, and for diversity beyond eggs, waffles and pancakes, there is also chili and rice, sandwiches, kalbi and daily specials.
Due to the heavy carbs, I hear it’s especially a hit with moms-to-be.
City Square, 1284 Kalani St.; 847-7770; open 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. $
I think a lot of people were surprised when Sean Priester left his long-standing, lofty perch at the Top of Waikiki to roll out his lunchwagon Soul Patrol.
Once lunch crowds got a taste of his honey-topped cornbread, fried chicken and jambalaya, there came requests for him to put down some permanent roots. These days, the truck still makes the occasional guest appearance at community events, but the real action is at the restaurant with Southern recipes injected with “aloha and spice.”
So, in addition to buttermilk-fried chicken and chili and crabcake po’ boys, you may find a dice of daikon in his Sassy Southern Vegetarian Chili or gumbo accented with sweet potato and slices of spicy Kukui Portuguese sausage.
Jambalaya and mac-and-feta cheese with cornbread au gratin, the latter piled so high it was oozing over the side of the dish, are a couple of to-die-for specialties.
Sundays are made special with an all-day brunch menu with choices like crab cake Benedict, chorizo scrambled eggs and Southern-spiced sweet potato pancakes with bananas and maple butter.
3040 Waialae Ave.; 735-SOUL (7685); open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays. $$