For a year, my office was in a donated, second-floor Outrigger hotel room where Cheeseburger Beachwalk now sits. Back then I could get a burger at Carl’s, a steak at Chuck’s and pasta at Trattoria. But that was before Outrigger Enterprises Group invested approximately $1 billion in an extreme makeover that would turn Lewers Street from a one-time, on-the-fringe pedestrian corridor into a mega-entertainment destiny, blessing it as the “Waikiki Beach Walk.”
While I sometimes long for those old haunts, it doesn’t stop me from appreciating this rejuvenated open area. And nostalgia aside, I’ll admit I can still have my steak, burger and pasta, albeit they now hail from such places as Giovanni, Ruth’s Chris and Taormina.
For an area that is historically known as Helumoa—the previous site of Kahuamokomoko, an athletic field sacred to the ali'i (kings)—it may seem a bit strange that the only athletes seen along Lewers Street these days are the ones appearing on the large flat-screen televisions at this casual restaurant, which only happens to be a “bar” because it airs live sporting events.
The food, though, is anything but greasy bar fare. However, you’ll still need napkins when having the plump buffalo chicken wings ($13 for a pound), mini-cheeseburger sliders with fries ($13) and pastrami Reuben ($16), which consists of a towering mound of hot pastrami that’s sandwiched between rye bread with Swiss cheese and a heaping of sauerkraut for good measure.
Pasta and pizzas explain the “Giovanni” part of the restaurant, offering the traditional Bolognese and Alfredo sauces, and the meaty King Arthur pie that’s heaped with three cheeses, pepperoni, Italian sausage, salami, Portuguese sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, white onions and black olives. And if you want a gourmet breakfast for lunch or dinner, this is definitely the place to visit.
TIP: Free cheese-pizza slices with any purchase during Happy Hour, Monday-Friday, from 3 to 5 pm.
Giovanni Pastrami, 227 Lewers St., 808-923-2100
Amidst the proliferation of steak houses in Waikiki, or nationwide for that matter, Ruth’s Chris remains a stalwart in this culinary genre. And, for good reason. Its “Cowboy” bone-in rib eye still ranks high among island residents, including me, who prefer the marbling and fat content over the leaner filet.
Honestly, though, what makes Ruth’s Chris better than other restaurants of the same ilk? Is it name recognition? Perhaps. Is it service? Possibly. Is it the 1,800-F temperature of the broiler that locks in the corn-fed flavor of the USDA-Prime steak? Definitely.
As celebrity chef Tom Colicchio once told Gourmet writer Colman Andrews, “Having a steak house is ultimately about putting the best meat possible on the table, period.”
And that’s what Ruth’s Chris does, and it does it well. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a side of the restaurant’s signature, creamed spinach and house-cut french fries with that Cowboy rib eye.
TIP: A three-course “Prime Time” menu starts at $42.95, available nightly from 5 to 6.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House, 226 Lewers St., 808-440-7910
When I talk about Taormina, the most common response given comes in the form of a question: “Where’s that?” Then there’s the inevitable follow-up: “Is it R-E-A-L Italian food?” The answer is “unequivocally, yes!”
While only a handful of local eateries do justice by Italian cuisine, Taormina stands out because it pays homage to the southern area of Italy that’s considered the ankle of the boot-shaped country, otherwise known as Sicily.
The region is well-regarded for its preparation of seafood, which is reflected in Taormina’s menu. Of all the pasta options, the two more unique offerings are the squid ink linguine ($25), garnished with sliced squid, chopped fresh tomatoes, anchovy and bottarga (salted tuna roe); and the uni spaghettini ($29), which was more than likely influenced by Japanese chefs, many of whom now train or have trained in Italy.
TIP: The restaurant is located on the corner of Lewers Street and Don Ho Lane.
Taormina Sicilian Cuisine, 227 Lewers St., 808-926-5050
Now if only I still had my office on the second floor of the old Outrigger Ohana Coral Seas.