Tasty, Traditional Italian Treats

Columns Foodie Fare

December 30, 2012

Story By: Christina O Connor | Photos by: Nathalie Walker

Romano’s Macaroni Grill has been wowing customers with its classic Italian dishes since opening in 2005 in Hookipa Terrace at Ala Moana Center. And it’s not just locals the restaurant has been impressing. If anything can speak to the quality of Macaroni Grill’s cuisine, it is the fact that Italians visiting the Islands have been known to frequent the restaurant.

“I had a family come in visiting from Italy for a week, and they came in four days out of that week to eat here,” recalls longtime staff member Sheldon Obra.

The restaurant’s cuisine, after all, is inspired by various regions in Italy. The menu features a wide range of appetizers, pizzas and flatbreads, pastas, and meat and fish entrees — all served in generous portions that are perfect for sharing.

As general manager Kunani Blake puts it, the restaurant constantly tries to stay on the cutting edge, often introducing new dishes.

“We like to try new and exciting things for our guests,” he says.

If you haven’t been to visit Macaroni Grill lately, you might be in for a surprise. The restaurant unveiled a set of new dishes last year, including Pasta di Mare ($22), a flavorful blend of scallops, mussels and shrimp flavored with white wine, pomodoro and garlic — all served over delectable fresh pasta.

Dishes made with fresh pasta have been one recent addition.

“The difference with fresh pasta is that it is a little more al dente,” Blake explains, “and it holds flavor well.”

One customer favorite has been Steak and Frites ($27), flavored with arugula pesto and Parmesan fries.

Macaroni Grill also offers a wide selection of salads, including Market Chop Salad ($15), which features roasted turkey, pepperoni, provolone, artichoke, balsamic vinaigrette and pumpkin seeds.

If you find all of these options a little overwhelming, then Mama’s Trio ($21) provides a perfect solution. The dish features three different items — chicken Parmesan, lasagna Bolognese and chicken cannelloni.

“It’s a hearty dish,” Blake says.

Macaroni Grill also is known to frequently offer a number of great deals. Ongoing promotions include Vino Thursday, where customers receive 25 percent off any bottle of wine all day. Happy hour runs every day from 3 to 6 p.m. and includes food deals such as pizzas for $7 and house wine and draft beers for $4. On Monday-Thursday, stop in from 4 to 6 p.m. for an unparalleled deal: The Primo Menu offers a three-course meal for just $25.

For diners who would like to enjoy their Italian treats at home or for parties, pick-up for family-style dishes that serve eight to 10 people is available.

On the Side

When Romano’s Macaroni Grill first opened in Ala Moana Center several years ago, there was a great deal of buzz surrounding it.

“It wasn’t uncommon for us to have a three-and-a-half hour wait at that time,” recalls Sheldon Obra, a staff member who has been at the restaurant since it opened. “It was insane.”

That might sound a little extreme, but the buzz certainly was understandable given Macaroni Grill’s successful track record.

The first Macaroni Grill restaurant opened in Texas, and has since expanded to include about 240 locations worldwide, including Germany, Puerto Rico, Dubai and Okinawa.

Not to mention the fact that excellence certainly seems to run in its genes, as its sister restaurant is the ever-popular Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

While customers luckily won’t encounter such long waits these days, excitement about the restaurant certainly hasn’t waned.

“I definitely like to think that our staff — and our food — bring our guests back again and again,” general manager Kunani Blake says.

Blake also attributes the restaurant’s success to its ability to continually evolve and improve.

“Macaroni Grill tries to keep moving and not be a stagnant company as far as redoing the menu and making other changes,” he says.

Just a year ago, in fact, the restaurant went through an overhaul — changing everything from its uniforms and plate wear to the menu, adding a number of fresh, light dishes.

“Corporate Macaroni Grill has a team of chefs that is constantly creating new dishes,” Obra adds, explaining that these chefs have travelled to Italy to search for inspiration and new flavors.

But much of Macaroni Grill’s charm can be found closer to home in its welcoming atmosphere and friendly staff.

“I think the restaurant has a nice, cozy, warm feeling,” Blake says. And while that warm feeling certainly is immediately apparent in the restaurant’s decor, it also extends to the welcoming attitude of the staff.

“We pride ourselves on great food and great service,” Blake says. “Those go hand in hand.”

Romano’s Macaroni Grill

Ala Moana Center, Hookipa Terrace
1450 Ala Moana Blvd.
Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Ala Moana Center, Honolulu, HI 96814

Hawaii's Best
Hawaii's Best