Mad Bene Pizza

A server smears the poached egg on a carbonara pizza at Thomas Obungen's pick, Mad Bene in Kapolei. 

Photo By Thomas Obungen

Frolic team picks: Best new Hawaii restaurants of 2019

Our personal picks for the best new restaurants that opened this year
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Where did this year go? It seems like yesterday we were just relishing the best meals we had in 2018 and boop! Christmas already came and went. Hello, 2020.

Once again we scrolled through our camera rolls, reflected on a year’s worth of eating and compiled our personal picks for the best new Hawaii restaurants that opened in 2019. To keep things completely random (read: This is not a ranking), we've listed them alphabetically by writer. 

See also: Frolic team picks: Best new Hawaii restaurants of 2018

Feast

feast at manoa
Jonny's Fried Chicken plate, $14 — Photo by Thomas Obungen

Aptly named Feast, the new Manoa eatery by Jon Matsubara is making some of the tastiest food I feasted on this year. JFC, Jonny's Fried Chicken with keto-friendly mac salad made with cauliflower, is totally crave-worthy and reflects the chef's intention: to make comforting, elevated food accessible. Feast's dining room is modest, but from the chicharrones to W&M-inspired hamburgers and salted chocolate cookies, every item is unpretentious and delightfully executed. — Grace Ryu

2970 E. Manoa Rd. • Manoa • 840-0488 • feastrestauranthawaii.com

See also: Manoa gets a new Feast

Minori Craft Japanese Tavern

stone pot pepper beef rice
Stone pot beef pepper rice, $13 — Photo by Thomas Obungen

I personally love Minori because it reminds me of Japan. From the decor to the nostalgic late '90s, early '00s rock music, it feels like this izakaya was built for me. The lunch menu is a great value and the attention to detail in their dishes are the reasons I keep going back. The Rice Factory rice is always amazing and completes the sizzling black pepper beef bowl. — Grant Shindo

731 Kalakaua Ave. • Ala Moana • 951-4444 • minorihawaii.com

See also: Tsukada Nojo reboots as Minori izakaya with oishii happy hour

Hamada General Store

hamada general store
Negi toro poke bowl — Photo by Gregg Hoshida

From the first time I had his salmon ochazuke at the old Pineapple Room, I have been a fan of Brandon Hamada's cooking and flavors. So it comes as no surprise that Hamada General Store is my favorite new restaurant of the year. The food of Hamada and his colleagues John Estrella and Neil Nakasone is consistently comforting, exciting and made with seemingly relaxed precision. My favorite in their evolving menu has to be the negi toro poke bowl. It's nicely composed with fresh fish, crunchy accompaniments and a savory green onion coulis to bring it all together over warm white rice. — Gregg Hoshida

885 Queen St. • Kakaako • 379-1992 • hamadageneralstore.com

Senyu Sushi

Negitoro nigiri sushi
Negi toro nigiri — Photo by Jason Chin

Senyu Sushi brings to Honolulu an elevated omakase experience that isn't stuffy, exclusive or overpriced. Every bite is a highlight of the season's best ingredients. — Jason Chin

2535 Coyne St. • Moiliili • 393-7354

See also: Senyu Sushi has a new home in Moiliili

Jolene's Market

Lobster grilled cheese — Photo by Kelli Shiroma

Jolene’s Market is the perfect blend of convenience, comfort and quirk. This Chinatown mini food hall features vendors specializing in Hong Kong-style cuisine, boba and seafood at Da Buttah Lobstah, a counter where you can get your hands on Asian-style lobster rolls and indulgent lobster grilled cheese sammies. Fresh Maine lobster rolls come with Cajun sauce, butter, cilantro and mayo. Lobster grilled cheese features ooey, gooey mozzarella and cheddar. The lobster makes this spot comforting and luxe at the same time, and my pick for best new restaurant. — Kelli Shiroma

100 N. Beretania St. • Chinatown • 540-1000

See also: Honolulu’s newest lobster roll is in Chinatown

Pork Tamago Onigiri pop-up

lee with potama musubi
PoTama! — Photo by Lee Tonouchi

I hardly check out new restaurants unless I happen to be dea. My theory is if it's any good, then it should still be around bumbye. But for this Pork Tamago Musubi pop-up from Okinawa, I made da special trip to Shirokiya Japan Village Walk!

I been always wanting for try da Okinawan version of our Spam musubi. My favorites wuz da more Okinawan-ee ones like da goya tempura Spam musubi, which wuz really ono. I wuz small kine disappointed that they ran out of da loco moco Spam musubi, but my mind is at ease cuz I heard that Potama going open one real restaurant early next year in Waikiki. Before I found out, my mind wuz already calculating how can I save up for go Okinawa. Lol. — Lee Tonouchi

Royal Hawaiian Center • 2201 Kalakaua Ave• Waikiki • porktamago.com

See also: Okinawa's Potama Spam musubi sandwiches are coming to Waikiki

Quiora

mushroom pappardelle
Mushroom pappardelle pasta, $21 small, $34 large  Photo by Thomas Obungen

I knew Quiora — the city's latest high-end, Japanese-owned Italian eatery — would be good; I didn't expect to be blown away. The food is unexpectedly rustic for a spot inside the Ritz-Carlton Waikiki: spicy, head-on garlic shrimp, creamy burrata with tomato jam, meatballs in marinara (all with grilled ciabatta for mopping up the sauces), fall-off-the-bone pork osso bucco and especially, OMG especially the mushroom pappardelle, whose silky, handmade noodles and mouthfuls of mushrooms are dressed in nothing more than butter, garlic, salt and pepper. Cocktails at Quiora are Italian-inflected and the view is killer. I've been there four times; I crave it still. — Mari Taketa

383 Kalaimoku St. • Waikiki • 729-9757

See also: Quiora's Italian fare is worth the splurge

Naau

Fish and poi — Photo by Melissa Chang

There's been a bit of buzz about Naau, which is actually a pop-up based out of Hilo. Brian Hirata — an instructor at the Hawaii Community College culinary program and previously a sous chef at The Hualalai Grille by Alan Wong — sees the younger generations as knowing less about sourcing foods and the wide range of ingredients available in Hawaii. He hunts. He fishes. He forages. Then he uses his creativity and scientific prowess to turn his bounty into works of culinary art. Through his pop-up, he teaches people about the native and invasive ingredients, and then creates a beautiful, interactive meal for them. You no longer have to go to Hilo to experience this: Hirata has been traveling to different islands and his next collab is at Pai Honolulu with Kevin Lee on Jan. 12. — Melissa Chang

www.naauhilo.com

See also: Upscale pop up in Hilo is here and Naau

Mad Bene

table of food at mad bene
Family-style dining at Kapolei's Mad Bene — Photo by Thomas Obungen

Mad Bene may have only opened in December but it is by far my favorite new restaurant this year. It took Bao Tran and his team six months to source the ingredients and equipment including fruity olive oil from Sicily, Ezzo pepperoni from Ohio and a two-stage water filtration system to soften the water to New York standards, which makes all the difference in the pasta and pizza dough. It's serious without being pretentious. Favorites on the menu include the freshly made pastas with tako ragu and 12-hour beef bolognese, the crisp NY-style pizzas and the must-have tiramisu whose recipe is courtesy of the chef's wife. I'm a townie now but I gladly drive to Kapolei for a meal at Mad Bene.  — Thomas Obungen

4450 Kapolei Parkway #540 • Kapolei • 744-7400

See also: Mad Bene's legit East Coast Italian is the best thing in Kapolei