Those of us who visit Hawaii have one common problem - where to eat. At home we all know the nice restaurants for that special dinner, the local places for good Chinese or Italian food, and even the hole-in-the-walls which we like to think only we know about.
When we come to Hawaii we are clueless. We may read Frommer's or Fodor's and get an idea of what's available, or buy a good book like Robert and Cindy Carpenter's Hawaii Restaurant Guide.
More often we tend to eat at our hotel or someplace nearby that "seems" good or even look for the nearest Denny's or McDonalds. Too often we find ourselves spending good money for food that's simply OK or worse.
I'll always remember that the worst Chinese food my wife and I ever had was in San Francisco's Chinatown. We had no idea where to eat, so we just picked a place at random. The food was terrible!
Matthew Gray understood this problem very well. As an accomplished chef and food critic for the Honolulu Advertiser, Gray had eaten in almost every restaurant on Oahu. He knew that there were really good places to eat, but that there were also quite a few pretty bad places also.
After over ten years of experiencing the good and bad of Hawaii's restaurants, Matthew and his partner Keira Nagai, who also had worked for years in the food industry, decided to start their own business to share their knowledge of Oahu's restaurants with those of us who know far too little. Hawaii Food Tours was born.
Matthew Gray - Chef, Food Critic, Expert Guide
The concept seems pretty simple. Matthew and Keira know Oahu's best places to eat, so they can start a business to take people to handpicked restaurants. They'll charge for the service and make a nice profit. Wrong. If that were all that Matthew and Keira could offer the business would have failed in short order. Well, it's not all that they offer.
First off Matthew and Keira are just plain fun to spend time with. You could spend hours just talking with them about Hawaii, food, restaurants and Matthew's amazing background.
Before he was the top food critic on Oahu, he worked as a professional chef. In fact, Matthew was a personal chef to many Hollywood celebrities in the 80's and 90's.
He launched a successful food business, Chef Matthew's Fine Foods, and sold his products to gourmet shops and grocers all over California. Matthew's other business, Pamper & Dine, combining "massage and fine dining in your home," was profiled worldwide in People Magazine, The New York Times, and CNN, NBC and CBS television networks.
You get to tour with other people who are also looking to learn more about places to eat on Oahu. On the day of my Hole-in-the-Wall Tour, there was an older couple from Texas and three adult Hawaiians, who had grown up in California, but who return to the islands every so often to visit family.
We all came from different backgrounds and different parts of the U.S., yet we all found out just how quickly people become friends over some good food.
Gourmet Trilogy Tour
Let's get specific.
The Gourmet Trilogy Tour is designed especially for food and wine lovers. It is offered on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. In this tour you'll visit three award-winning restaurants in one evening. The first stop is for champagne and appetizers; the second stop reveals your entrée course, and finally, you head to a third restaurant for a rich and decadent dessert; each course paired with a delicious wine.
A private coach will whisk you off to each of the restaurants where you will enjoy a lavish course before progressing to your next tasty destination. The cost is $249 per person.
Their other tour and, in many ways, the most interesting, is the Hole-in-the-Wall Tour.
In this tour you get to experience four local hidden gems that most visitors never find during their time on Oahu. I'll tell you more...
Hole-in-the-Wall Tour - Hawaii Food Tours
Hawaii is the great melting pot of the United States. Nowhere else will you find so many cultures and ethnic groups all living together. While many of the cultures have mixed and mingled over the years, each culture maintains much of its ethnic heritage in its food.
When I took the tour in 2005, the Hole-in-the-Wall Tour took guests to four of the following restaurants:
- Pho Nam (Vietnamese)
- Zaffron (Indian)
- Sugoi (Local-style Bento & Plate Lunch)
- Antonio's New York Pizzeria (Pizza & Cheesecake)
- Liliha Bakery (for the Hawaii-Famous Coco Puff Pastry)
Scattered in four separate areas of metropolitan Oahu, these restaurants show you that good food is often found in the most unlikely places and that not all good food on Oahu is found in Waikiki.
It really doesn't matter if you like all of the food you sample. There will be plenty of items that you will enjoy. For example, I am not big on vegetables and much of Vietnamese cuisine is heavy on vegetables. On the other hand, I really enjoy a good plate lunch and Sugoi was the perfect spot for a great Bento box with spicy garlic chicken, beef teriyaki and hapa rice. If you've ever had pizza in Hawaii, it's usually pretty bad, but Antonio's is owned and operated by two brothers from New Haven, Connecticut who make pizza like it should be made and cheesecake and cannoli to die for, As for the Liliha Bakery.... Well, you have to taste one of their coco puffs!
This tour is offered daily from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The cost is a bargain at $99 per person.
Of course, Matthew and Keira are continually updating and changing the restaurants on this tour.
How to Book Your Hawaii Food Tour
Looking back on my Hawaii Food Tour I am reminded of how hard it often is to find a really good area tour with guides who are both knowledgeable and fun to be with. When you find that with lots of great places to eat, you've really found something special.
Hawaii Food Tours has been in business since September 2004 and they've received fabulous write-ups from numerous newspapers and magazines.
Hawaii Food Tours was voted Favorite Hawaii Activity Company or Provider by our readers in the 2012 About.com Hawaii Travel Readers' Choice Awards.
Their business continues to grow as word spreads about this exciting Oahu experience.
Matthew and Keira have talked about expanding the business to Maui, which would be perfect for this type of tour. Heck, I already have a great hole-in-the-wall place to suggest north of Ka'anapali.
If you'd like more information or want to schedule a tour, you can contact Hawaii Food Tours at 1-800-715-2468. You may speak to Matthew or Keira when you call, so tell them I said aloha.
If you're in some way handicapped or have any special needs, be kind and give them a heads-up. They'll take good care of you.