Bites at the Museum

Take in what Hawai`i’s best museums have to offer—including the delicious offerings at their delightful cafés.

Sculptures, installations, artifacts and planetariums … Hawai`i has some of best museums around the islands’ own hidden gems, if you will. But nestled within the hallways and courtyards of these culture-rich venues, you may pick up a bit of culinary enlightenment as well. From a picnic lunch from Spalding House Café to HiSAM’s new MW eatery, Artizen, a midday museum visit might be in order.


A subtle star in the museum-café sphere, this gastronomic gem is tucked away in Big Island’s celestial center. Housed within Hilo’s `Imiloa Astronomy Center, Sky Garden Restaurant is perfect for an amiable pause for grazing while, well, gazing through the award-winning space center.

Boasting spectacular cuisine and scenery, Sky Garden overlooks scenic Hilo Bay, and is suspended among lush, tropical landscape. Owned by notable Hilo restaurateurs, Andy and Lin Cheng, Sky Garden has garnered quite a following of visitors and kama`aina alike. A true al fresco venue, dining on the garden patio only heightens the eating enjoyment.

Omelet enthusiasts appreciate Sky Garden’s bounty of fluffy egg dishes at sunrise. Diners with stronger hunger pangs favor hearty plates, such as the prime rib loco moco. Lighter fare, i.e., oatmeal, fresh fruit and croissants, suit those with smaller appetites.


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Hawai`i Island's celestial center of learning, `Imiloa Astronomy Center, boasts a star-studded café (photo by Phil Rosenberg, courtesy 'Imiloa Astronomy Center).

Sit down for lunch, and each day brings a different experience, as the thoughtfully curated buffet rotates daily. Nibble through salad compositions and condiments, and then choose a main course, or two (selections are many). While most plates are Asian-influenced, the à la carte menu and buffet bring a cornucopia of diverse cuisine. America’s beloved sandwiches and burgers? You will find those on the menu, too. Local-style noodle soups? Check. Add a side of “Cosmic Fries” while you’re at it.

By night, selections come equally scrumptious, courtesy a dinner buffet (available every day, except Sunday), combined with an expanded menu of popular island dishes. Crab, beef noodles, veggies, fried rice, meaty mains, et al.—all tiered at reasonable price points—are fit for even the choosiest foodie, keiki included.

And sweets are not to be shunned here, as sweet potato-haupia pie and liliko`i cheesecakes transform dessert evaders into sugar epicureans.

Craving a celestial café meal?

Poised as “where astronomy meets Hawaiian culture,” `Imiloa and its charming Sky Garden eatery are worth exploring.

HONOLULU MUSEUM OF ART CAFÉ Come Be Inspired … and come with a full appetite. The Honolulu Museum of Art Café—located within museum grounds—is quite the popular place to lunch for the arts crowd and business set alike. Scan the al fresco eatery at peak hours, and you’ll likely catch a glimpse of a who’s who of artists, patrons and power brokers—from part-time Honolulu resident and Los Angeles artist Billy Al Bengston, to Tori Richard CEO Josh Feldman.

Last year, the café updated its Mediterranean- and Asian-inspired offerings of salads, sandwiches and pastas with a handful of new items, including a meatloaf sandwich with shiitake mushroom tapenade, as well as a curried turkey salad that’s served with tangy plum vinaigrette. You can expect a few more changes though—longtime chef Mike Nevin, who helmed the café for almost two decades, retired just last June.

The museum tapped Jacob Silver to be its new executive chef, food and beverage director. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Silver’s worked at some of the world’s top restaurants—including Alain Ducasse’s Benoit in New York and Le Louis XV in Monaco, as well as Manhattan’s ’21’ Club. Silver’s new menu is currently in the works.

“The power of food is its ability to make people feel happy, satisfied and entertained,” Silver says. “It’s an artistic craft in that it touches people—that’s what art is for me. I’m hoping to enhance the museum visit by bringing a level of dining experience that matches what people spend the day doing here—opening their eyes to things.”

Reservations are definitely recommended, since the café fills up fast. However, should you decide to do lunch on the fly, and there are no tables to be had, you can still place an order to go—and then try to snag one of the tables along the corridors of the museum’s main courtyard.


Just a short distance from the Honolulu Museum of Art on Makiki Heights Drive, Spalding House Café offers delicious fare, incorporating ingredients grown on-property. Chef and manager Susan Lai Hipp began using the kitchen garden last spring, and her offerings have been well received.

“I use the fresh herbs daily in my soups and specials. We’ve been getting lots of eggplant from the garden as well,” says Lai Hipp, whose extra gooey “Grown-Up Grilled Cheese” fondue sandwich and innovative salads, like a kale Caesar topped with bubu arare, have a cult following.

Other enticing offerings include: baked eggplant panini; curried quinoa with seasonal veggies; and if you like deviled eggs, the café makes a version that’s to die for. Kale fans will love its take on the Caesar; the café uses curly kale in lieu of romaine, tossed with Parmesan Caesar dressing.

For those who want to take advantage of Spalding House’s gorgeous gardens, the café also offers a Lauhala and Lunch picnic service. Complete with picnic basket and tatami mats, the service-for-two sets you up with a sandwich or salad, drinks and cookies. All you need to do is find your perfect spot on the lawn.

BISHOP MUSEUM CAFÉ BY HIGHWAY INN Bishop Museum is the principal museum of the Pacific, home to the world’s largest collection of Hawaiian and Pacific artifacts. It makes sense, then, that when they were looking to improve the visitor experience at the café, the museum turned to Highway Inn.

“This is a partnership that we are proud of,” says Blair Collis, Bishop Museum president and CEO. “Highway Inn not only delivers a top-notch food experience, but it’s a local institution that is in alignment with the museum’s mission and goal to perpetuate Hawaiian culture.” The café, which opened last fall, offers a scaled-down version of the other Highway Inn locations, but there’s still a lot to keep visitors satisfied, from favorites—like beef stew, pineapple shoyu chicken and the Hawaiian plate with kalua pork and lomi salmon, to on-the-go selections—like musubis, poke bowls and sandwiches.

“It’s really a great opportunity for us to bring people and food together, as well as perpetuate Hawaiian and Hawai’i’s food history and culture in the perfect place, Bishop Museum,” adds Monica Toguchi, president and CEO of Highway Inn.


Mission Social Hall & Café, located at Mission Houses Museum, continues Pili Group’s mission “to provide ‘thoughtful’ food that pays attention to place-based resourcing.”

The café is a quiet space with a small, yet enticing menu. Here, you’ll just as likely find a museum patron stopping in for a bite as a group of office workers from nearby buildings dropping by to grab lunch. It’s no wonder; this welcoming space, walls hung with art—along with its outdoor seating beneath the trees—provides a welcome escape from the usual humdrum.

“Our vision for the menu is ‘comfort food with a nod to history,'” says Justin Reinhart, general manager for the café.

Favorites include the very popular Lu`au Stew with Roast Pork Shoulder. “[It] perfectly embodies our pursuit of comfort food with a nod to history.” Reinhart says, explaining that the stew is made with leaves of the kalo plant, a Hawaiian staple “for aeons.” Roast pork, he adds, “calls to mind one of the few animals Hawaiians chose to bring” when they first journeyed to these islands. The menu also offers daily specials fish sandwiches, sliders and even burgers have filled this spot), tasty soups (think creamy polenta or kale sweet potato) along with assorted antipasti and sweets (haupia and liliko`i li hing tart are just two examples) all work as à la carte options or as one of four combos. Quench your thirst with the mamaki iced tea or `olena lemonade.

“We’re deeply inspired by how native Hawaiians have shaped the diets of missionaries and immigrants alike. True wisdom is timeless, and it’s often baked into the cultural practices that surround our food. … It’s not about nostalgia, it’s about gratitude.”


It was with great glee that downtown noshers welcomed the recent opening of Artizen by MW at Hawai`i State Art Museum (HiSAM). The spot had been a favorite for power lunches and leisurely meals alike. So, to have this void filled, and by the people behind the very-popular MW Restaurant, was a happy moment indeed.

Light and airy, featuring artwork from HiSAM’s collections, patrons can choose a grab-and-go bento or a made-to-order entrée from the menu that changes daily.

“We want it fast—downtown people are on a time constraint,” says J. Garrett Karr, managing partner.

Depending on your needs, one can grab one of the very popular to-go bentos (kal bi or chicken are two options) at a counter that’s equipped with its own register. Those wanting to order off the menu should head to the counter at the head of the restaurant. While in line, take gander at the daily selection of desserts by Michelle Karr-Ueoka, there’s a separate menu and glass case for those. Service is at the counter, but the dining room offers seating for those wanting to linger in this oasis nestled in the bustle of city.

“We’re [following] the same concept [as at MW Restaurant],” says chef Wade Ueoka. “Hawai`i Regional Cuisine featuring local farmers, local produce, local products. Part of our philosophy is we make a lot of things from scratch, so our breads will be made from scratch. Pretty much everything gets made in-house.”

People familiar with MW will find touches here, but Karr points out that things will be different.

“It’s something new, something they haven’t seen before. You haven’t seen mixed plate sandwich,” he explains, mentioning another menu favorite. “It’s kal bi, fried chicken, spicy Korean pork—in a sandwich.”

Other menu offerings include a hot turkey sandwich, chili, tacos, Caesar salad and Portuguese bean soup.

“[The menu] is probably going to change daily. Don’t expect all the same things to be there the next day.”

Artizen offers catering, and the space can be rented out for gatherings such as dinners and pau hana parties. “Michelle and Wade are artists,” Karr says. “Anything Wade or Michelle makes is good, so … a lot of their stuff is art.”

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