When you say food unique to Hawaii, well, I think this can mean Pacific Rim/Hawaiian fusion (Roy's, Alan Wong, Chef Mavro, etc) or it can mean plate lunch or it can mean produce grown on or seafood local to Hawaii. Hopefully you can get a bit of all three!
I had a very hard time finding local Hawaiian food (poke, plate lunch, malasadas, etc.) in Waikiki last year. It's touristy. But once you go outside Waikiki, it's much easier to find.
Hawaii is best at Hawaiian food, Japanese, Korean, other East Asian, and much weaker in other cuisines so set your expectations appropriately. It is, after all, the most remote island chain on the planet.
However, Honolulu is a Japanese food heaven due to the many tourists who come from Japan, so hit up some sushi, ramen, izakaya, udon, kaiseki, etc. if you can. Marukame Udon is supposed to be vegetarian friendly.
It is pretty tough to eat local foods in Hawaii if you are a vegetarian. You can't have kalua pork, lau lau, chicken long rice, spam musubi, teri beef, chicken katsu, pipikaula, saimin, huli huli chicken, tuna poke, loco moco, lomi salmon, etc.
But vegetarians can have malasadas, shave ice, all manner of local fruit, local fruit jams and butters, various fruit breads (like mango bread), haupia (coconut pudding), Portuguese sweet bread, Maui onions, mochi, Roselani ice cream, Ono Pops, poi (though I personally dislike poi), mac salad, rice, local coffee, local honey, local cheese, and local chocolate.
For the local food type places, always call ahead to confirm hours. Lots of plate lunch & poke places are more lunch oriented and run out of food by the end of the day. Shave ice places in general are more of a mid-afternoon treat. Also a fair number of poke places aren't open on weekends/certain days of the week.
Leonard's malasadas, some shave ice, drinks and appetizers at House without a Key (skip the entrees), don't miss the amazing farmers markets.
While the Saturday AM KCC Farmers Market near Diamond Head is the most famous one, it's also very crowded. You need to get there around 7am, perhaps earlier if you want to park in their lot. If you go, check out Ono Pops, North Shore Farms (famous for their tomatoes and pizza), Marine Agrifuture Sea Asparagus (free samples of their sea asparagus), Grandma G’s (prepared foods), Monkeypod Jams, The Pig & the Lady, Big Island abalone, Made in Hawaii Foods (strawberry-adzuki bean mochi), and PacifiKool syrups. Especially the Pig & the Lady. They post their rotating menu online beforehand. They also have a brick and mortars location now.
Here's a great Chowhound post on Where to Eat What in Honolulu by a local:
Scroll down to the vegetarian section. Near Waikiki on the Diamond Head side is Kapahulu Ave, lots of great eating on this stretch. But I imagine you'll be skipping Ono Seafood, Ono Hawaiian, Haili's Hawaiian, Rainbow Drive In, as a vegetarian. Side Street Inn looks to have some vegetarian options.
Neptune Oyster. Lobster roll with butter. Worth the wait.
How are you getting home, plane, bus, or train? This is much easier if you're not flying and don't have to check luggage/take things through TSA.
For ingredients to cook with, you could easily do Eataly and then walk over to Kalustyan's in Murray Hill. Slightly above 23rd St but hits a lot of what you might not be able to find at home.
If you really only want to stay downtown-ish, The Meadow, paired with Union Square Greenmarket and Chelsea Market (and you can visit the High Line while you're at it)? I have a walking tour of that area on Foursquare and you're going to be on Bleecker St to go to Murray's anyway, right?
Here is a list of items that I posted in another thread, with the perishable items removed. The babka will probably keep for a little bit, like the black and white cookies, but not for too long.
- Green's babka (sold at Zabar's and at Russ & Daughters)
- A jar of pickles from Brooklyn Brine Co., Rick's Picks, or McClure's Pickles - all available at Murray's Cheeses and other stores around town
- Buttercrunch from Roni-Sue's
- Salsa from the Brooklyn Salsa Company
- A bar or two of chocolates from Mast Brothers - they have a shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and are sold at Whole Foods as well as Murray's, I like the olive oil/sea salt ones
- Handmade candy bars from Liddabit
- NYC honey from Andrew's Local Honey, which is grown on various rooftop hives throughout the city - available at various Greenmarkets
- Also at the Greenmarket:
Oak Grove for grains (and I think they have some interesting flours and pancake mix, as well as corn for popping)
Catskill Merino for hand-dyed yarn
3 Corner Field for wool, milk soap, hats, sweaters, sheepskins, etc.
Jams from Berkshire Berries (he has unusual ones like garlic jam and pepper jam) or Beth's
Deep Mountain's maple syrups
Wines from Anthony Road, Buzzard Crest
Hawthorne Valley Farm for granola
Some farmers may still have apple butter, and/or kimchi. Check GrowNYC for who'll be at the Union Square Greenmarket on what days. I like Fridays.
- William J. Greenberg Black and White cookies
- Some jams from Sarabeth's bakery
- Hot chocolate mix from Jacques Torres or MarieBelle
- A pound of coffee beans from Gimme! Coffee, Ninth Street Espresso, Abraco, maybe Stumptown which didn't originate in NYC but is very popular in NYC now
- Breuckelen Distilling Company's gin, Fire Island Beer Company or Brooklyn Brewery beer, or some local NY State or Long Island wines
- Kings County Distillery bourbon
See also these two SE gift guides for ideas:
Unfortunately, the Heath is already fully booked for their special "Feast of St. Valentine" 2/14 dinner, announced nearly a month ago. There are still VIP tickets left to the Sleep No More show (no dinner), but for the heady price of $225. No regularly priced tickets remain.
I also imagine Kee's will also be swamped with pre-orders on 2/14 and be taking very, very few walk-in orders that day.
Krug's is pretty good but very busy around lunch time. Lots of call-ahead takeout orders.
Lantern's Keep is probably the best in terms of cocktail quality. Make a reservation. Closed Sundays.
Raines Law Room takes reservations for Sundays, Monday, and Tuesdays, only. The rest of the time, it is first come, first served.
The "Prime Steak Burger" at HB Burger (pictured) that Kenji so highly reviewed is no longer on the menu. The only Pat LaFrieda burger on the menu right now is their "Double Beef" two patty, bacon, cheeseburger. It's only OK, tried it last night and found it quite underseasoned. No crust to speak of.
HB Burger no longer offers this burger on the menu.
How about this SE list from a little while back? 12 Touristy Places in New York that are Actually Good.
You'd be surprised how often people don't think things through in terms of dress code and how long tasting menu meals take! If you've never done one before, just make sure you're ready and prepared for a 3-4 hour experience, between the amuse bouches, bread service, savory courses, palate cleanser, dessert(s), petit fours, coffee, possibly a nightcap... Are you dining solo or with another person?
Many of the 3 NYT star and 4 NYT star do a prix fixe lunch, which could be a good way to tip your toe in the water. Perhaps a few of these lunches if your budget permits?
If you've never done a fancy meal before, I wouldn't necessarily jump right into having a tasting menu, y'know?
Also: I assume you have the proper attire for this... or are planning on buying it.
Some lunch ideas under $60pp, starting with the most upscale:
Jean Georges - two plates for $38, each additional plate $19, served daily.
Del Posto - $39 three course lunch with choice of Antipasto, Primo OR Secondo, and Dolce, "Enjoy a taste of pasta for the table at $10 per guest," weekdays only.
Le Bernardin - 3 course City Harvest menu for $45 per person with $5 donated to City Harvest, only in the lounge, only 2 choices per course, weekdays only.
Bouley - $55 five course tasting, Monday through Saturday.
La Grenouille - 2 courses for $52, 3 courses for $67. Tuesday through Saturday.
Cafe Boulud - 2 courses for $37, 3 courses for $43, Monday through Saturday; Sundays they serve brunch, which is 2 courses for $39, 3 courses with dessert for $49.
Marea - 2 courses for $45, daily.
Manzo - 3 courses for $29, weekdays only.
Aldea - 3 courses for $25, weekdays only.
Tocqueville - $29 for 3 courses, Monday through Saturday.
Gotham Bar and Grill - $34 Greenmarket lunch, three courses, weekdays only.
Seasonal - 3 courses for $29, Monday through Saturday.
Aquavit - 3 courses for $42, weekdays only.
Riverpark - 2 courses for $25, 3 courses for $32, weekdays only.
Maialino - $35 for 2 courses with biscotti for dessert, weekdays only, they also have a Sunday pasta tasting for $55.
Babbo - $49 for a four course tasting, only Tuesday through Saturday.
Clinton St. Baking Company - 8 am - 4pm
Joseph Leonard - Tuesday – Friday, 8 am -11:30am
Balthazar - 7:30 am - 11:30 am
Maialino - 7:30 am – 10:00 am
Lafayette - 7:30 am - 11:30 am
Shopsin's - 9:00 am - 2:00pm, closed Mondays & Tuesdays
Peels - 8:00 am - 11:00 am
It's going to be tough to get great coffee and great croissants. There are a lot of great coffee shops who don't have good/great croissants available. For example, Joe the Art of Coffee has Ceci-Cela croissants available, which are good, but not the best in town.
The best plain croissants that I've had are at Dominique Ansel (of Cronut fame) and Mille-Feuille. Dominique Ansel is much more comfortable than Mille-Feuille in terms of seating. However, the Mille-Feuille raspberry almond croissant with raspberry on top is amazing.
Stumptown at the Ace Hotel has April Bloomfield's pastries and some Momofuku Milk Bar items. You can then go relax in the hotel lobby. It's one of my favorite places to relax.
NoMad Hotel also has a rooftop restaurant but it'll probably be cold, it's hard to get reservations, and the food is pretty pricey.
The NoMad rooftop is no longer.
Orgeat is probably classified as a food product under the law and therefore liquor stores in NY can't carry it.
Kalustyan's has both Small Hand Foods (from SF) as well as BG Reynolds (from Portland) brands. I recommend these two because they are made by bartenders specifically for other bartenders and avoid artificial almond flavoring (most commercial brands of orgeat use artificial flavors). I was there about a month ago. It's towards the front of the store, on the south side shelves with all of the bitters and syrups.
The NY Times just did a very positive review of Los Tacos No. 1.
$50pp including tax, tip, and cocktail, and new and exciting? That's going to be tough. Louro would be good, but cocktails will put you over $100 total most likely.
I love Otto, especially sitting at the bar (the bartenders are great)! Actually, if you want a shot at seeing Mario Batali, I've seen him at Eataly more often than not. He also apparently visits all of his restaurants at/after closing time each night to check how they did that day. My in-laws saw him eating at Pearl Oyster Bar last year while they were having lunch.
Chef Marc Forgione won the third season of The Next Iron Chef and might be worth a look.
What about Sue Torres' Suenos? It flies a little under the radar but she's been on both Chopped and Iron Chef.
Scott Conant's Scarpetta is also excellent. He has been on both Chopped and Top Chef.
You could also try Kin Shop, The Marrow, or Perilla (Harold Dieterle won Season 1 of Top Chef).
Marc Murphy's (he's on Chopped) Landmarc restaurants are also good.
Kee's Chocolates - unusual filled chocolates like creme brulee, kaffir lime, basalmic vinegar
Mille-Feuille - croissants
Amy's Bread - simple, delicious traditional chocolate layer cake
Two Little Red Hens - Brooklyn "blackout" chocolate cupcake
Doughnut Plant - chocolate "blackout" cake doughnut
Royce' - white chocolate covered potato chips from Japan
Magnolia Bakery - their classic icebox cake
Grom - their chocolate gelato and hot chocolate (which is basically melted chocolate gelato)
Birdbath Bakery - chocolate chocolate cookie
La Churreria - fresh churros and hot chocolate, Spanish style (no cinnamon, very little sugar) or you can get chocolate stuffed churros
Blue Ribbon Bakery - chocolate bruno dessert, you can probably order it at the bar
Balthazar Bakery - a slice of their chocolate bread
Minetta Tavern - chocolate souffle, you can order it at the bar
What about macarons (Laduree, for example)? The Ispahan at Bosie Tea Parlor?
"If you do come after 9:00am, the line is much more manageable, and we'd be happy to have you."
Locanda Verde - weekday breakfast from 7:00AM to 11:00AM
The Breslin - 7:00am to 11:45am
Clinton St. Baking Company - 8am - 4pm
Joseph Leonard - breakfast Tuesday – Friday, 8am -11:30am
Sarabeth's - try the UWS, UES, and Central Park South ones for weekday breakfast from 8am-3:30pm
Barney Greengrass - note: closed Mondays, restaurant opens at 8:30am
Balthazar - 7:30 AM - 11:30 AM
Maialino - 7:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Lafayette - 7:30 am - 11:30 am
Pearl Oyster Bar?
We usually eat at Szechuan Gourmet on 39th between 5th and 6th before Town Hall. It's not that upscale, but also not a dive. You can also make a reservation.
Call Maialino to see if they are still offering their happy hour.