James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Mina can claim success across the country with bold dining concepts that debuted in San Francisco. His izakaya-style Pabu now boasts a branch in Boston; Bourbon Steak draws diners in Miami, Scottsdale and Nashville, as well as at Levi’s Stadium; and his eponymous Union Square fine dining room also has a home in Las Vegas, among other members of his Mina Group.
Although he now counts three dining outlets in Hawaii among some 33 nationwide, Mina’s dream of opening a restaurant in the islands took a while to happen — about a quarter-century, to be exact.
The Cairo-born chef was just starting to gain national renown for Aqua, the former San Francisco seafood restaurant, when he joined chef Roy Yamaguchi for a culinary event at Roy’s restaurant on Oahu in 1991.
“I immediately fell in love with everything about Hawaii, especially the people — their love of sharing and their sense of hospitality,” Mina says. “At that point, I said that I would love to have a restaurant in Hawaii. It just took a long time to get there.”
While building his network of San Francisco restaurants and their national counterparts, Mina started taking family vacations in Hawaii on a regular basis, with occasional busman’s holidays at special events such as the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival, and winemaker dinners. The importance of dining to both the San Francisco Bay Area and Hawaii continued to resonate with him.
“When you plan to visit San Francisco or Hawaii, you start by making a list of places to eat,” Mina says. “There are two types of people in the world: those who eat to live and those who live to eat. The people from both of these places are all about living to eat.”
By the time Waikiki’s International Market Place began its dramatic transformation in 2014, Mina was finally ready to put down some island roots. He opened Stripsteak Waikiki, a version of his long-running Las Vegas steak house, in 2016, on the newly upscale shopping center’s third-story Grand Lanai, next to its iconic banyan tree. Local friends helped him find regional sources for the restaurant, which marries traditional American steak house options with the Japanese flair for refined techniques and ultra-fresh ingredients, particularly seafood.