by Julia Steele
When Duke’s Waikiki opened on the beach a few years back, it was an instant hit: surf memorabilia, Hawaiian musicians, wood and thatch, sand and sunshine all combined to create one of Honolulu’s most captivating (and soon, crowded) watering holes. Now, in true Upstairs-Downstairs style, comes the Hula Grill Waikiki, set just above Duke’s in the Outrigger Waikýký. With its slate stone floors, salmon-colored Waikikiand mahogany interiors, the restaurant is a tonier counterpart to its Beach Boy-ish buddy below—in fact, the room is modeled on the residence of a plantation manager. But there’s plenty of whimsy, too, including a case filled with vintage hula girl dolls and an outrigger canoe suspended from the ceiling. And, of course, there is that world-famous view: rolling surf, the blue horizon and Diamond Head in the distance.
photo by Kent W. Hwang
As the sun sinks low and the promise of the green flash nears, inventive cocktails appear: the Lava Flow, the Sunburn, the shaken-not-stirred Waikiki Wipeout, a delicious concoction of vodka, lime and pineapple. Dinner specialties—served beside lit tiki torches—include fire-grilled ono with pineapple salsa; opah roasted Szechuan-style with sesame, chili pepper and green onion; and Steak Kiana, Hula’s version of Steak Diane, done with shiitake mushroom cream and liliko‘i butter. The cooking, by chef Mark Kowalkowski, is accomplished, with an emphasis on fresh local ingredients. And they get up early at the Hula Grill: You can watch the sun rise as you choose between pineapple-and-coconut pancakes or crab cakes eggs benedict for breakfast. All in all, as one of the young waiters said with a smile one recent morning as he refilled the coffee, "It’s great to be by the ocean."