Rita Nazareno, the creative director of Zacarias 1925, a line of handwoven bags in chic, contemporary designs, lived in Hawaii from 1986 to 1989. Before moving back to Manila a few years ago (but not before taking her second masters at the London College of Fashion), she lived in the US where she built a successful television career for herself, winning an Emmy while she’s at it. Rita has also lived in California and Texas, while frequently doing business and shows in Europe. She is currently based in the Philippines but keeps on threatening to move back to Hawaii.
Rita’s friend, Kanoelani Turner, on the other hand, was born and raised in Hawaii but has lived in Japan and Germany. She currently lives in Aina Haina.
Both Rita and Kanoe graduated from Sacred Hearts Academy in Hawaii’s Waialae Avenue.
The two, of course, has an enduring love affair with Hawaii, which they decided to share with us in conversation, in the process giving us a quick guide to the Honolulu they adore—the new, the old, and the ones that just don’t care what people think.
RN: Honolulu has always been cool to me. The Honolulu I grew up with in high school—far from the tourists—had an air of nostalgia, of unapologetically ‘remaining.' As progressive as Hawaii is in politics, there is almost a conscious effort to stay as true to a certain time as possible. Decades has past since those days in our Catholic school sailor uniforms but some neighborhoods, like Kaimuki, have recently been infused with a new, certain type of energy—one that is groovy yet laid-back and unequivocally Hawaii.
KT: You are right about that, Rita. Kaimuki is one of those areas that has managed to keep that retro, 1950s heartbeat. The buildings haven't even changed their frontage, maybe all except a few and that is to paint the building or change the signage.
Kaimuki Crack Seed Store
RN: Every single time I pass here, it puts a smile on my face. Whether on my way to Rainbow Nails two doors down or specifically dropping by to get my fix of arare in li hing mui juice (champoy to Filipinos), this is Hawaii from decades past. A variety of rice crackers in glass jars, an ancient cash register and a fully working Icee machine—that serves li hing mui Icee—make this store the stuff of legend.
KT: You know, I only ever stepped in there because of you, Ritz. But you are right. Hawaii used to be filled with these little crack seed stores and this one is just one of the few gems remaining. Your mouth salivates just looking at the pickled, salted, sweet sour goodness of the fruits that fill the jars. Holy cow, this stuff is manna from heaven for any Asian foodie.
Zippy's Fried Chicken
RN: Zippy’s is everywhere in Hawaii. I go to either the Kaimuki one across St. Patrick’s for takeout or the Koko Marina where one gets to have a view of the water in a diner setting. Friends always get the Zip Pack (Chicken, Spam, Fried Fish, Teri Beef and rice), Chili or Loco Moco. I am a creature of habit so I always get Zippy's Golden Crispy Fried Chicken, scoop or rice and scoop of mac salad. If given a choice, that would be mine for my last meal on this earth. I’m serious about that too.
KT: It is the perfect ending to a day at the beach. The Zip Pack has just enough carbs, just enough protein and fat, minus all the healthy things that our mothers would make us eat. Don't invite your vegetarian friends on this bento outing.
RN: I had heard about XO as it was just opened by these two young chefs (from acclaimed Senia) who took over the lease of an old Chinese restaurant. The Adobo Fried Chicken is the star of the menu but a group of us all ate here and we inhaled everything, including the loaded potato gratin. The restaurant was a hit from our high school buddies to Kanoe's high school aged girls.
KT: Adobo Fried Chicken, my friends. Need we say more?
KT: Leather seats that lean all the way back, this is the way theaters should be. Plus you can bring in your own food. Once on a date, I brought an entire bottle of Veuve Cliquot and a cheese course, complete with all the accoutrements. Everyone brings in their own food. Sis, we need to go.
RN: I always download their schedule but never get to go. They have the best art-house films. I already love the programming at the cinema at Kahala Mall but The Movie Museum is for serious film enthusiasts.
Top of the Hill
RN: The Movie Museum shares a parking lot with a slew of restaurants (Restaurant Aki and Maguro-ya being some of my favorite ones), shops and bars. Top of the Hill is a pool bar. I love dive bars and it is the epitome of one. Plus, billiards is my sport. Everyone is in shorts and slippers, their dogs in tow, playing some proper billiards. No bottled water, no chi-chi fare, no Hendricks gin, no frills and I love it. Kanoe is not a fan.
KT: Here’s the thing. My first impression was unforgettable. The creak of a heavy door (that, by the way, has seen better days) and then the hit of that first smell, that smell! The stench of old beer and dirty carpet cannot be erased from my mind, my friend! Am I dreaming or did the dogs engage in barking or fighting of some sort?
RN: I had been there a few times before I took you there and I loved its character.
KT: Okay, maybe I am exaggerating slightly. Maybe. But the floor. The bottoms of my shoes stuck to floor. You are certainly not going to find Riedel glasses to accompany your Old Fashioned at this establishment.
Mud Hen Water
RN: I’ve taken quite a few friends from out of town here and they’ve loved it.
KT: This is the pinnacle of the Kaimuki cool, groovy vibe. Its the mixture of the upscale townies, a few hipster bartenders and tatted wait staff, but the drinks are innovative, strong and yummy, and the food is Ed Kenney all the way. It’s local. It’s from farmers who are all about organic, sustainable produce that represents all the immigrant population here in the island.
KT: Oh, sis, this is our vibe. Yummy, funky, yet, fresh food. Light, won't ruin your diet but good enough to make you feel like you are cheating. It’s a fresh look at local specialties minus the heavy vegetable oil and mayonnaise salads. Kaimuki Superette has something for everyone—and you must try the Happy Monday. Even you, Ritz. Its a kind of a healthy, veggie sandwich. Not entirely for vegans because it has a delicious, hard boiled egg, but Kenney includes this beet mostarda, feta, pickled veggies, all on this lovely focaccia. Broke da mouth (*pidgin phrase for unbelievably delicious).
RN: I’m such a creature of habit that I always get the grilled cheese with tomato soup. Good, clean food. And I feel so healthy every time I eat here, even if it is grilled cheese that I have.
KT: Excellent place for a delicious plate lunch on the oh-so-trendy Monsarrat. Good place to rest the tired feet in a pseudo, cowboy bar atmosphere, complete with knick knacks and clothing.
RN: The atmosphere and the extensive plate lunch menu are pretty hipster Hawaii-style. I can’t get enough.
KT: You can't get a better or fresher spicy ahi bowl than this place. Rita, you got me hooked.
RN: Our friend Jan got me hooked on this. Freshly caught local ahi. They’ve got $6 daily special bowls! How can you beat that? The Spicy Ahi Avocado bowl is the best.
RN: I was pretty persistent that you try this place, wasn’t I, Kanoe? The fluffy pancakes with bananas (or berries or tropical fruits) were absolutely perfect in this cool local yet very Japanese space. I always order for a Spam musubi to eat before I gorge on the pancakes, or make sure to take one home.
KT: Holy cow, Rita. You weren't kidding. Eggs Benedict, caramel bananas, fried rice... need I go on? All super scrumptious and well priced. Its a great stop after hiking Diamond Head. And the coffee is good.
James After Beach Club
RN: I go here all the time as I find something new amidst the vintage knick knacks. Whether it is a special JABC bandanna, a flour sack towel, a limited edition surf magazine, a cool shirt or a Hawaii graphic poster. Plus, they’ve got my favorite Marvis toothpaste
KT: A boutique with something for everyone.
KCC Farmers Market
RN: This is a must every Saturday morning. From artisanal salt to macadamia nuts with distinct flavors, plate lunches and breakfast plates such as loco moco and Portuguese sausage, poke bowls, flowers, fruits and vegetables from local farmers, this market has got everything, plus live music. Venture out towards the top of the parking lot and spend some time in the school's fantastic cactus garden.
KT: A perfect spot for the foodies in the world. And you can bring home a $5 bouquet for your sweetheart or your favorite Auntie.
AREA: NORTH SHORE
Paalaa Kai Bakery/Snow Puffies
RN: Our friend Jan took us to Paalaa Kai Bakery one afternoon we went up to North Shore. And I’ve been going every chance I get since then. The Snow Puffies, gosh darn! It is love in the form of flaky, cold custard pastry. The Bakery is a nondescript, local space with friendly Filipino manangs boxing up the Snow Puffies for customers to take to the beach or home— except they never reach the beach. Mine gets inhaled by the time the car gets going.
KT: It is worth getting your favorite black tank stained with the white, powdered sugar. Talk about flaky goodness.
KT: Butter, shrimp, garlic, rice, Mac salad. A heart attack on a plate but a must do while on the North Shore.
RN: The garlic shrimp doused in butter is worth the queue in this institution wrapped in a grafitti-laden food truck. Come as you are, eat with your hands, and savor each finger-licking bite. Seriously: the hotdog is so ono too (*pidgin for delicious).
RN: The North Shore Patagonia store is one of my favorites, especially since the brand really believes in conservation of and compassion for the environment. And the Limited Edition Hawaiian prints and PatAloha wear are a must!
KT: Well-made, sensible, yet trendy outfits and swimsuits for all ages. I love the prints and I love the great customer service. And if you just can't bring yourself to head all the way to the North Shore, they have a store located conveniently on Ward Avenue, not far from Waikiki and Ala Moana shopping center.
KT: How can you not love Kaimana? Its not your typical, touristy windward beach. This one is normally filled on the weekends with local families just enjoying the day at the beach, cooking on the grill, popping up the tent and listening to their favorite jams.
RN: My absolute favorite for snorkeling (swam with a turtle!) and hanging out. Plus Magnum’s old spot was just down the road!
KT: Touted as one of the prettiest beaches in the world. If you decide to go, head there only on the weekends to beat the traffic and the heavy crowds. You'll understand, once your feet hit the white sand, why this beach is beloved by locals and the tourists.
RN: Kanoe is right about the sand in Lanikai. And the water is just as gorgeous. This beach does not have a public restroom though.
RN: At the edge of Waikiki, I find this strip has more locals than tourists. The shallow waters with sandy bottom is fun for families. I got to see Kaimana the Monk Seal here with his mom before they parted ways. The locals know not to bother them.
RN: This is a great spot with fantastic snorkeling. More tourists here though. I found myself mostly sunbathing and staring out to the water past the sacred rocks.
SurfJack Hotel / Waikiki
KT: Anyone who has ever loved Hawaii Five-O, not the new version but the book-em Danno 1970s sideburn extravaganza TV show starring Jack Lord, will love the Surf Jack. Its decor brings a fresh face to the nostalgic era that made Don Ho famous and Hawaiian Tropics sun tan lotion a family favorite. The experience is one of a kind and the chartreuse couch, with vintage Hawaiian print pillows take us back to our grandma's era, where go-go boots, mu'u mu'us, and cigarette smoking was all. And don't miss Mahina and Suns, another of Kenney's restaurants. You need to order Mahina's family feast, complete with oysters, steamed sea snapper, crispy baby shrimps and a macadamia, and meringue dessert to make your sweet tooth swoon.
And here's more to check out: Maguro Brothers / Chinatown, Roberta Oaks / Downtown, Lucky Belly / Downtown, Pig & The Lady / Downtown, Ars Cafe and Gallery / Monsarrat, Monsarrat Shave Ice / Monsarrat, Diamond Head Grill / Monsarrat, Moanalua Gardens, Spalding House, Honolulu Museum of Art / Makiki
Photographs by Cole Turner
Additional photographs by Rita Nazareno