Photo By Thomas Obungen

Frolic team picks: Best new Hawaii restaurants of 2020

Highlights from a year that saw an unexpected slew of new openings
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Against the odds, a slew of new restaurants opened across Hawaii throughout this strangest of years. The Frolic team's picks are slimmer than in years past, reflecting some team members' desire for familiar comfort dishes from familiar comforting eateries. Still, our picks for best new restaurant took in everything from saimin to haute cuisine.

Interestingly, most came from an area of Honolulu not known for new dining spots lately: Kaimuki and Kahala. This extends to restaurants named as close contenders: Foodland's new Et Al restaurant in Kahala and Coco Bloom Kitchen in Kaimuki were on the runner-up list, along with SingMaTei and King of Thai Boat Noodles, both in the Ala Moana area.

See also: Frolic team picks: Best new Hawaii restaurants of 2019

Here are our picks for best new restaurant of 2020.

12th Ave Grill DeliCafe

red manicured nails set off a sandwich stuffed with chunks of red lobster meat
Photo: Kelli Shiroma Braiotta
I love sandwiches, so the menu at 12th Ave Grill's new DeliCafe is exciting. One glance turned up so many dishes I wanted to try, including the B.L.T. lobster roll, smoked tuna melt, butter-poached lobster benedict and more. My early favorites: that B.L.T. with its four ounces of lobster meat, the $5 fries, pastrami french toast and tiramisu. The DeliCafe's spacious new outdoor dining area is another plus. Though I've eaten at indoor restaurants, I feel more relaxed outside, and I love the casual feel of the covered patio that takes up part of the parking lot — a creative pivot by a longtime institution to meet the changing needs of its community. — Kelli Shiroma Braiotta

1120 12th Ave. • Kaimuki • 732-9469 • 12thavegrill.com@12thavegrill

See also: 12th Ave Grill is now Kaimuki's new DeliCafe

Café Miro

a sliver of grilled salmon rests next to a line of foams and garnishes
Photo: Melissa Chang
There were a lot of great new restaurants that opened this year, but Miro clinched it for me because not only does it offer great food, amazing service (they change out the silverware with every course!), and hip ambience, the price is an overwhelmingly great value. At $65 for the prix fixe menu — and mind you, it's all painstakingly beautiful and delicious — it's no wonder they're packed every night. You could easily pay twice as much for that kind of food and service almost anywhere else, but somehow Miro pulls it off. It's a special occasion-style dinner, at a price that you can afford to have (almost) all the time. — Melissa Chang

3446 Waialae Ave. • 734-2737 • mirokaimuki.com@mirokaimuki

See also: Chris Kajioka's stylish Miro opens in Kaimuki

Havens

soft boiled eggs with oozy golden yolks and slices of roast pork top a takeout bowl of noodles
Photo: Rebecca Pang

On Maui, my favorite new restaurant of 2020 is Havens. This no frills, takeout-only counter inside a gas station in Kihei serves up old-school comfort food like saimin, wonton min, beef chow fun and smash burgers — all made fresh to order by Maui-born chef Zach Sato, who gained popularity this summer selling meal kits on Instagram after previous stints at Hotel Wailea and Merriman's. There’s not a ton of local food options in Kihei, so Havens is a welcome addition, especially with Sato in the kitchen. After a challenging year, eating from Havens just feels good, like a warm and needed hug. — Rebecca Pang

30 Manao Kala St., Ste. 102 (inside Shell Gas Station) • Kihei, Maui • (808) 868-2600 • @havens_kihei

See also: Maui gets a new saimin and smash burger spot

Kapa Hale

pristine hawaii island beef topped with local eryngii mushrooms crown kapa hale's beef tartare
Photo: Thomas Obungen
Kapa Hale brings excitement to Kahala in more ways than one. It's the first restaurant Keaka Lee can call his own and it tells the story of a career that began up the hill at the Culinary Institute of the Pacific, progressed through high-end kitchens on both coasts and brought him home to Hawaii. I love the juxtaposition of Lee's locally sourced produce in dishes with influences that span the globe, like Naan Ya Business and Quiche Luau. His intense focus on vegetables also stands out and makes me believe there's a lot more on the horizon. — Thomas Obungen

4614 Kilauea Ave, Suite 102 • Kahala • 888-2060 • kapahale.com • @4614kapahale

See also: Kapa Hale is one of 2020's most exciting new restaurants

Mandarin Kitchen

red-lacquered chinese pork ribs are arrayed in an aluminum tray
Photo: Noelle Chun

Mandarin Kitchen: It's all about the honey-glazed pork ribs. The only drawback is that you have to order them two days in advance, and there's a two-pound minimum, but the planning and anticipation pay off in the form of glossy, juicy slabs that are like American ribs in structure — thick and meaty, more entrée than snack — but distinctly Chinese in flavor. The beef chow fun is also good. Perhaps not as exciting, but a solid staple. — Martha Cheng

4618 Kīlauea Ave. • 739-1388 • mandarinkitchenhi.com

See also: Did you know Kahala Mall has a new roast duck shop?

Sarithra South Indian Restaurant

hands tear a large round of indian dosa-style flatbread
Photo: Thomas Obungen

The fragrant, softly fermented idli buns got me first, then the onion pakoda fritters. Dishes at Sarithra were unlike any I'd tasted in my limited exposure to Indian food. Breads and bread-like starters include eight kinds of dosa flatbreads, thicker dosas known as uthappam, layered parottas, grilled chappathi flatbreads, puffy poori deep-fried breads, and the rice-and-lentil steamed idli buns. While there are curries and biryanis, Sarithra's specialty is the food of South India. Sometimes you wait a while for your order but for me the discovery of new flavors among familiar staples, with hints of fresh ginger, unspiced coconut and the gentle tang of fermentation, is worth it. — Mari Taketa

1718 Kapiolani Blvd. • Ala Moana • 226-9672 • sarithrasouthindianrestaurant.com