Sign up for news and special offers from Dining Out
Inside Feature

Italian-American Fare That’s Made With Amore

By Ali Resich Photos By Leah Friel
December 1, 2013

See more articles from

Ever since Romano’s Macaroni Grill opened its doors at Ala Moana Center eight years ago, Hawaii’s patrons have been soothing their taste buds with the comforting charisma of its Italian-American classics. And while the popular chain of eateries boasts pastas, pizzas, insalate and so much more at its numerous locations across the country, the care and dedication put forth by Romano’s culinary team right here at home is enough to make you feel as though you’re dining at a mom ‘n’ pop trattoria.

“Everything in here is fresh, robust flavors,” says executive chef Nawai Kekoolani, when describing the key to dishing out meals with a homemade touch on a daily basis. “Quality’s important for us.”

In Kekoolani’s eyes, providing great value to customers is just as important. With a booming menu of generously sized and brightly flavored creations to choose from, there’s no doubt the chef is doing just that. Here, he shares some of the establishment’s finest selections with Dining Out.

Romano’s is no stranger to magnificent pasta dishes, especially in the seafood department. Shrimp Portofino ($19), for example, is Kekoolani’s top pick and features jumbo shrimp, angel hair pasta, spinach, porcini mushrooms and pine nuts tossed in a lemon butter caper sauce.

“It’s simple, but the flavors pop,” says the chef, who enjoys the lightness of the lemon butter fixing.

He also recommends Pasta di Mare ($22), a melange of ocean treasures perfect for seafood lovers. In each bowl, scallops, mussels and shrimp vivify a white wine and garlic pomodoro sauce.

Pasta di Mare also features fresh, al dente pasta called spaghetti alla chitarra, named for the guitar strings Italians used to use to cut the pasta into long, stringy pieces. “It’s also known as ‘guitar pasta’ in Italian,” explains bartender Chase Suzuki.

These bits of charm and warmth can be found throughout the entire entree menu, including in such popular dishes as Mama’s Trio ($21). This oh-so-sharable triad of triumphs presents chicken Parmesan on a bed of angel hair pasta, homemade lasagna Bolognese and freshly cooked chicken cannelloni. The cannelloni is stuffed with chicken, cheese, fresh pesto and pomodoro sauce, and features melted mozzarella on top.

“That’s value at it’s finest right there,” says Kekoolani.

And while you may be wonderfully satisfied from your meal, don’t even think about leaving the restaurants without trying a dessert. “We make everything in house now,” says the chef. “Before, the desserts used to be brought in.”

A dreamy Tiramisu ($8) stands out on the menu with glorious hints of mascarpone and cocoa, while espressoand Kahlua-soaked ladyfingers give the treat a delicious cake-like interior. Meanwhile, Homemade Chocolate Cake ($8) is topped with warm ganache and roasted walnuts, and it will be calling your name all evening. The chocolate cake is made from scratch daily and takes on an incredibly fluffy, moist consistency. Both desserts have a grand finale of fresh whipped cream.

“It’s important for us to be able to give that value back to our guests,” says Kekoolani. This dedication to quality is something that’s more than evident in the molto delizioso flavors, top-notch customer service and true Italian freshness of Romano’s Macaroni Grill’s cuisine.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill

Ala Moana Center, Hookipa Terrace
1450 Ala Moana Blvd.
356-8300
Open Daily, 11 A.M.-10 P.M.