Text by Andy Beth Miller | Images by Jonas Maon
O‘ahu hosts a proverbial cornucopia of eateries that dig deep when it comes to creating ‘ono grinds. Gathered here are four vegetarian restaurants that are brewing, baking, and even barbecuing the best of the island’s homegrown bounty.
Tucked into an old plantation-era style complex along the charming thoroughfare of Hale‘iwa, Beet Box is the brainchild of owner Marlys Mitchell, who first forayed into the culinary world under the alias of “Burrito Babe.” Mitchell earned this moniker seven years ago when she was selling tofu curry burritos on the beach on the North Shore. “I then got a job in the old veggie café in the back of Celestial [Natural Foods], and when that closed, I opened the Beet Box Cafe [there] back in 2011,” she explains.
Beet Box became so popular that it outgrew the grocery store, moving into its own space in the building next door in 2015. Nowadays, “Our café is a fun and funky place filled with music, art, tasty, healthy food, and happy people, and with an open-kitchen concept, everyone’s in on the fun,” Mitchell says.
The dine-in and take-out eatery tries to source as much as possible—greens and sprouts, fresh turmeric, citrus, papaya, avocados, and more—from island farmers, and gets all its breads from a locally owned Kailua bakery. Vegetarian and gluten-free options also abound, with menu items including parmesan gnocchi in a delectable truffle-parmesan (faux) cream sauce, and wild mushroom flatbread, featuring local spinach, melty gouda, and house-made arugula pesto.
Beet Box Cafe is located in Hale‘iwa at 66-437 Kamehameha Hwy. For more information, visit thebeetboxcafe.com.
Situated in the middle of a village known more for its long, pristine beach for avant-garde cuisine, this quaint side-of-the-road eatery serves up salads, smoothies, and more. In Waimānalo (referred to as “Nalo” by locals) on O‘ahu’s windward side, owners Malia Smith and Kevin Vaccarello, chefs Michael Whalen and Katie Dobkin, and environmental geography specialist Scott McCoy have endeavored to provide their community with nutritious, locally grown options. According to Smith, the team’s goal is “to provide the deepest of aloha through the plant-based nutritious foods we serve, the people who serve them, the information and activities shared in our workshops and classes, the community who gathers here, and the ‘āina that graciously feeds them.”
The resourceful restaurant—which mitigates waste via compost, worm bins, and black soldier fly larvae stations—creates wholesome fare with produce from its small on-site organic garden and local farms including Otsuji Farms, Green Rows Farms, and Yogarden. It also operates as a wellness hub with yoga classes, massages, and meditation classes.
While here, dig into one of the clever vegan twists on local favorites, like the tofu poke bowl, prepared with local tofu, limu, onion, avocado, green onion, and furikake on a bed of greens with brown rice or millet, or the BBQ portobello sandwich, served with coconut slaw and a fresh-baked whole-wheat bun.
‘Ai Love Nalo is located in Waimānalo at 41-1025 Kalanianaole Hwy. For more information, visit ailovenalo.com.
Jennifer and Christina Hee, the sibling chefs of Juicy Brew, exert extra energy to source the ingredients used in their dishes at the café’s original location in the lobby of a hospital and its second on Waialae Avenue in Kaimukī. On an average week, Jennifer climbs jackfruit trees, searches for wild chaya, and stops by farms to procure produce in Waimānalo. The café’s grab-and-go menu (which includes the occasional meat) offers fresh juices and dishes featuring Jennifer’s finds. Her favorite island ingredient of the moment is ‘ulu, or breadfruit, a seasonal staple of Polynesian cuisine. “I use [it] in savory dishes like vegan breakfast burritos, and it makes an amazing gluten-free flatbread when steamed and blended with chickpea flour,” she says.
Neither of the sisters set out to be in the food industry, but after spending four years working together at now-closed vegan shop Kale’s, the two maintained a passion for sourcing from small growers with sustainable products. In 2014, the sisters were recruited to help start Juicy Brew by local orthopedic surgeon Gary Blum, who wanted to make healthy foods available at the hospital where he works. “Dr. Blum loves to cook traditional Japanese fare turned vegan, I love to forage for inspiration and use local ingredients that most people have never heard of. My sister finds joy in creating and executing the dishes for our fine-dining meals, private-jet catering, and farm-to-table weddings,” Jennifer says.
To sample their creativity, try the golden milk latte made with local turmeric and the vegan breakfast bento, or stop by for Sunday brunch at Juicy Brew’s Kaimukī location.
Juicy Brew is located in Honolulu in the lobby of Hale Pawa‘a Medical Center, 1401 S. Beretania St. and at 3392 Waialae Ave. For more information, visit juicybrewhawaii.com.
Kahuku Farms Café
Located across from Romy’s Shrimp Stand on O‘ahu’s North Shore is Kahuku Farms Café, an eatery defined by farm-fresh fare and family. This farm was founded in 1986 by two Japanese plantation families, the Matsudas and Fukuyamas, who merged their two decades-old farms into one. Together, the Matsudas and Fukuyamas aspired to share their vision of providing education, enjoyment of the land, and the experience of diversified agriculture at its finest.
Kylie Matsuda-Lum proudly perpetuates the legacy, spearheading the farm’s on-site café. “Our practice is: If we don’t grow it, we get it from our neighbors [like the Shintaku family farm], our family friends who grow beautiful, hydroponic, vine-ripened tomatoes in Hau‘ula,” she says.
Visitors can also take a grand tour of the farm, complete with a tractor-pulled wagon ride of the property and fresh fruit samplings. Or, they can participate in a one-day service-learning program for all ages involving weeding and other tasks to help make one section of the farm certified organic. During this program, volunteers learn firsthand what it means to run a farm, and at the end, receive a rewarding smoothie.
Try the café’s gluten-free grilled veggie salad made with hydroponic lettuce, or the all-natural ice creams and sorbet, made with fresh fruits and other farm-foraged ingredients and, of course, no preservatives. A keiki menu is also available, featuring a grilled sandwich with Nutella and island-grown bananas.
Kahuku Farms Café is located in Kahuku at 56-800 Kamehameha Hwy. For more information, visit kahukufarms.com.