The native Hawaiian diet once revolved around a few root vegetables, fruit, wild boar, and fish. But several factors moved Hawaiian cuisine far beyond those humble beginnings: Laborers who came from China, Japan, Portugal, Korea, and the Philippines to work the sugar cane plantations brought a panoply of new flavors; the influx of hippies and professional athletes brought a new health consciousness; and luxury hotels and resorts introduced Continental tastes. Today, many restaurants in Hawaii reflect these cultural currents combined with native traditionsa phenomenon that in the early '90s became known as Hawaii regional cuisine, spearheaded by a band of a dozen now-famous chefs, including Beverly Gannon, George Mavrothalassitis, Peter Merriman, and Alan Wong. Its hallmark is a use of fresh, local ingredients to concoct haute or healthy renditions of traditional dishes such as grilled short ribs, poke (marinated raw fish), shredded pork, and lau lau (meat and fish wrapped in leaves and steamed). The original (greasier) versions are typically sold as $7 mixed plates at roadside lunch shacks. Outside Hawaii's upscale restaurants, island food tends to focus on red meat and can be salty (vegetarians and heart patients, take heed). But there is also plenty of fresh fish and fruit: Check out the numerous roadside farmers' markets, and if you see a guy selling coconuts by the side of the road, buy one and have him stick a straw in it for you. The sweet liquid inside is the distilled essence of Hawaiiand more memorable than any mai tai.