Friendship, food and fun highlighted this year’s Honolulu Festival. The yearly event pulls culture, cuisine and entertainment from all over the Pacific for international goodwill.

Here’s a little know fact that will prove to you how much I love the Honolulu Festival. I had just moved here five years ago and decided to attend, along with untold thousands of other people. Like most of them, I entered my name in the box to win prizes. That year the first prize was BIG…a trip to Japan for two. And guess who won!!! Yup, me. So magic does happen here in Hawaii.

This year was the first time I attended the pre-festival Friendship Gala. This fundraiser, open to the public, and visiting participants, is a great party to get a preview of upcoming entertainment but especially, to eat amazing food. I was thrilled to be able to sample from 12 top restaurants, featuring some of the best chefs in the state. These award-winning chefs have quite a following of fans, and it was a real treat to taste what they specialize in. I can’t claim that I’m a “foodie,” but I do appreciate good food, so I hope I can help entice you to try some of these restaurants the next time you’re in the islands.

“Where to start!” That’s what hits you as soon as you walk through the door. You can follow the crowds to the most popular food booths or leisurely pick and choose all night. All the eateries have a stall with a plated pupu-sized portion (appetizer size). Your tickets gets you one sample plate. While juggling a plate(s) in one hand, you might try to eat as you make your way over to another line. Most claim a table and pile it high with everything, and then eat together. It’s all fun.

My favs: While not local, Ruth’s Chris provided a beef and potato item that was the best I’ve had in some time and made me an instant fan.

Mariposa, located in Nordstrom at Ala Moana Shopping Center, offered butterfish with black Thai rice. The rice was as rich as a scallop or lump crab and truly melted like butter in your mouth.

12th Ave Grill, situated in hip Kaimuki and voted their best neighborhood restaurant, made a bold dish consisting of lamb. It was served over creamy polenta with mashed root vegetables, possibly one of my favorite dishes of the night. Also very well liked by the crowd was the ever-favorite local “poke sampler” from famous Nico’s Pier 38.

After a tribute and introduction of the chefs, international entertainers presented a sampling of what was to come during the rest of the festival. The evening was the most fun I’ve had eating while standing up in a long time. I’d do it again.

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