A trip to Oahu isn’t quite complete without tasting a perfect Mai Tai. Nor is it complete without a chance to see hula dancers and experience the beautiful music of the island. You can spend lots of money on one of the many luaus offered on the island or head to the Royal Hawaiian Center for one of their free shows.

The four-level, open-air commercial retail complex extending across three blocks of Kalakaua Avenue offers more than high end shopping. Every Monday thru Saturday from 4-6 p.m. in the courtyard garden called The Royal Grove there is a live performance of Hawaiian piano music. The space features a beautiful landscaped garden and a bronze statue of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, great-granddaughter of King Kamehameha. When the music ends at 6pm, stay for the hula show.

After the show, wander a short distance over to the Kaulani Heritage Room to watch beautiful movies that share information about Hawaiian culture, Hawaii’s history, and the role which the Royal Hawaiian Center plays in its support of the Kamehameha Schools. The movies share history dating back to the 16th century, stories of the Island’s famous royalty King Kamehameha I and Princess Pauahi and today’s resurgence of enthusiasm to teach youngsters their native language.

There is an abundance of food choices as the dinner hour rolls around. One superb choice is Restaurant Suntory. Located on the third level of the center, the restaurant offers multiple dining rooms to choose from and serves authentic Japanese dishes, from shabu-shabu to sushi, teppanyaki and elegant kaiseki dinners. Need a translation?

    • shabu-shabu (The primary ingredient is thinly sliced meat, usually beef or pork and sometimes chicken, which is brought to the table raw for the diners to cook themselves in the nabe cooking pot)
    • teppanyaki (where chefs cook at your table Benihana style)
    • kaiseki dinners (The contemporary kaiseki is a multi course meal of small plates of food or a tasting menu as well as a type of art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food.)
Sushi at Restaurant Suntory

Photo courtesy of Restaurant Suntory

The service at Restaurant Suntory is phenomenal and the food is fresh, delicious and memorable. During my visit, I dined in the traditional Japanese dining room. The menu is extensive making decisions complicated because I simply couldn’t order everything.

Start with some green tea or cold sake and the locally caught Ahi (tuna) sashimi. Another wise choice would be the assorted sashimi plate. The sushi was tasty and fresh; we sampled the black pepper ahi, unagi (eel), hamachi (yellow tail) shake (salmon) and uni (sea urchin). Our next course was an order of vegetable tempura followed by the gindara misoyaki (miso butter fish) that was beyond delectable and the highlight of the meal.

There are only five other Restaurant Suntory locations; three in Mexico City, one in Acapulco and one in Taipei. I am seriously tempted to book my next vacation based on these restaurant locations. The bottom line is dinner at Restaurant Suntory is one you will be talking about long after you head back to the mainland or wherever your final destination may be.

After dinner, take time to explore the shops in the center. If you saved room, a light and refreshing dessert can be found at Island Vintage Shave Ice on the main level of the center. Their delicious Hawaiian Shaved Ice desserts start with a scoop of shaved ice, topped with fresh fruit of choice like mango, papaya or pineapple and then topped with a scoop of freshly made sorbet.

End your evening with one of the best Mai Tai’s found on the Island. The Royal Hawaiian Hotel built in 1927 and affectionately known to locals as the Pink Palace, has the distinction of having perfected the Mai Tai. Hence the name of their outdoor tiki bar “Mai Tai Bar”.

Located beachside, the bar offers great views of the ocean and Diamond Head. It’s a perfect place to relax and enjoy the essence of Waikiki Beach and feel the spirit of the Island.

What & Where:
Royal Hawaiian Center (2201 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu; 808.922.2299; Go here for a full listing of events)
Restaurant Suntory (2233 Kalakaua Ave, Bldg B, Third Level, B307 in the Royal Hawaiian Center; 808-922-5511
Island Vintage Shave Ice (Building B, Level 1, B-1 Kiosk in the Royal Hawaiian Center, Honolulu; (808) 922-5662)
Royal Hawaiian Hotel (2259 Kalakaua Ave Honolulu; 808-923-7311 or for Reservations: 866-716-8110; www.royal-hawaiian.com)