Honolulu Restaurant Guide

Honolulu is full of delicious places to eat. I swear I could eat out every night and rarely repeat, yet there are a few that I just gravitate towards time and again. There’s always something new, so I often consult the food coverage in Frolic Hawaii, Honolulu Magazine, or Twitter for the absolute latest – there’s a feed embedded at the bottom of this post with tweets from a list of mostly Oahu-specific bars and restaurants.

>> For a list of the latest posts related to FOOD, click here.

Top Picks for Honolulu (2017)

I may not live on Oahu anymore, but I’ll always be tied to the food scene with a network of foodie friends and chefs whose social media streams keep me in the loop on what’s new so that I can make my culinary to-do list for visits. Here’s the latest, with notes on some of my older favorites in the categories below.

Senia
The Pig & The Lady
Piggy Smalls
Town
Mud Hen Water
Grondin
MW
Morio’s Sushi Bistro
Nico’s at Pier 38
Chef Mavro
Ethel’s Grill
Pioneer Saloon

BYOB Restaurants

  • Cocina Hawaii – Locally sourced ingredients are transformed by Chef Quinten Frye and his team into Mexican street food at this popular spot in Kakaako. Taco Tuesdays sometimes come with a batch of housemade margaritas, while they last. Feel free to BYOB anytime.
  • Morio’s Sushi Bistro – Omakase (chef’s choice) is the way to go! Call ahead (weeks or months in advance, if possible) for seats at the sushi bar and don’t forget some beer or sake for Morio!
  • Olive Tree – I love their souvlakis, hummus, and baklava. Specials also rotate daily. Be prepared to do some table-stalking to grab a seat as it’s pretty crowded, even early. Or call ahead for take out.
  • JJ French Pastry – Such a bargain – 4 course menu for less than $25. Famous for their desserts, including the chocolate pyramid, which sometimes overshine the rest of the menu.
  • Himalayan Kitchen – Service is always hit or miss for me here, but the Indian/Nepalese food is delicious and pairs nicely with a cold beer.

Overall Favorites

  • town – One of my favorite all-around places for a nice meal or a cocktail is town in Kaimuki. Chef/Owner Ed Kenney lives by the motto “Local first, organic whenever possible, with aloha always.” The menu changes daily based on seasonal ingredients but don’t miss their gnocchi (12 orders per night), any fish & poi variation (usually pa’i’ai) as an appetizer or entree, and a hand crafted cocktail from the bar. My absolute favorite neighborhood spot, they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day except Sunday, when the staff spend time with their families.
  • The Pig & the Lady – One of Honolulu’s most beloved culinary families has finally opened their own brick and mortar in Chinatown! Chef Andrew Le (the “pig”) and his mother (Mama Le, “the lady”) are joined by Bar Manager Kyle Reutner in their new location. Inspired by Vietnamese street food, but always playful and delicious, this is one of my favorite stops for a bowl of pho or the day’s special, paired with vietnamese ice coffee, housemade ginger beer or Reutner’s refreshing craft cocktails.

Special Occasion

  • Azure – This elegant ocean-front restaurant is located in the Royal Hawaiian. I highly recommend the tasting menu, every bite was delicious. Four courses + dessert for $72/$95 with wine pairings. Service is impeccable. (Update 9/13: I have not been since chef Jon Mitsubara left to lead the kitchen at Japengo in the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, but I’d assume the quality is still stellar under Chef Shaymus Alwin and you really can’t beat the location.)
  • Nanzan Giro Giro – I’ve been to Nanzan Giro Giro twice and the seasonal kaiseiki-style menu has been fantastic both times. Each month a new rotation of artfully presented dishes is brought into the lineup at this beautiful space tucked into the bottom of Pensacola St. It’s dining as an extension of art, and for a reasonable $50 for the 7 course kaiseki.

Food Trucks

  • Yajima-Ya – This truck is actually stationary, located on Sheridan Street (near Walmart). My favorite dish is the pork ginger donburi although it’s hard to pick. The mushroom chicken plate is another customer favorite. They’re even open for breakfast. Check out my friend Ed’s awesome write up here.
  • Sweet Revenge – Honolulu’s only pie truck is one of my favorites. After trying her popular chicken pot pie and ghost pepper pie (!!) at Eat the Street, I was hooked. If you can’t wait for Eat the Street, sign up for her weekly newsletter to get a menu emailed every Tuesday, and fresh pies delivered every Wednesday.
  • Shrimp Trucks – Giovanni’s – My favorite of all the North Shore Shrimp Trucks has always been Giovanni’s. One day I enlisted some friends to compare 4 trucks in one day, and Giovanni’s still came out on top for me. You can see photos (with captions) on this photo set from when I used to write for WhyGo Hawaii.

>> The ultimate resource for anything related to food trucks is over at StreetGrindz.com. Check out their food truck news here.

Farmers Markets

  • Kapiolani Community College – The KCC Farmers Market is by far my favorite on Oahu. It’s quite crowded and the best produce sells out early, however if you don’t mind going at a more leisurely pace, there are also a lot of great food vendors, including trendy local restaurants (my favorite is the Pig & the Lady) that set up to sell breakfast and brunch items. Local honeys, dressings, flowers, and baked goods can make nice gifts. Saturdays from 7:30 – 11am, but go early if possible.
  • Honolulu Farmers Market (Blaisdell) – When I can’t make the KCC market, this is another great weeknight option in town. Again, great food vendors as well as a good selection of produce and local made goods. The last time I went there was even fresh, locally made tofu! Wednesdays from 4pm to 7pm.

>> Slow Food USA’s Hawaii chapter has compiled a great list of restaurants and resources related to local food sourcing and sustainability. View this list here.

Ramen Restaurants

  • Yotekko-Ya – This restaurant specializes in Kyoto-style ramen and their housemade chasu is melt-in-your mouth tender. My favorite is the shoyu base yataiaji ramen, although many enjoy the thicker paitan broth. Pan fried gyoza is another standout menu item.
  • Goma Tei – Both locations of Goma Tei are in shopping centers (Ala Moana & Ward Center) so it’s a convenient stop when you need a break from shopping. I’m a simple girl, so my favorite is the shoyu ramen, although they are famous for the tan tan ramen which is made with a spicy sesame broth.
  • Shirokiya – The Yataimura food court on the 3rd floor of Shirokiya has some great ramen options. I usually pick the stall with more customers in line or eavesdrop to listen what others are trying. Some of the stalls rotate to feature different types of ramen. The beer garden ($1 Bud light, $2 Kirin, $3 Asashi) and the option to select multiple items from the various stalls make this a Japanese foodie heaven.
  • Lucky Belly – This trendy hideaway in the downtown/Chinatown area has a great menu, including 3 or so ramen bowls. Don’t miss the appetizers too though, and the late night take out window after 10pm!

Hot Pot Restaurants

  • Shabu Shabu House – Hot pot restaurants are ubiquitous in Honolulu now, although Shabu Shabu House is still one of my favorites. This is a plain shabu shabu where the ingredients are just cooked in water as opposed to nabe, where they are done in broths. This allows the ingredients and sauce to stand out, my favorite being a mixture of the ginger and ponzu.
  • Sweet Home Cafe – This Taiwanese style hot pot restaurant is ever popular, despite long wait times and a tiny seating area. The draw is the wide selections of broths (my favorite is the lemongrass), homemade condiment bar, and a huge variety of self-serve items to add to your bowl. Your meal is also finished by a huge bowl of a shaved ice dessert. BYOB.

Vietnamese Restaurants (Pho)

  • Pig & the Lady – see above under “Overall Favorites”.
  • Pho 97 – Although the last time I visited it seems like they’ve gone downhill a bit, this Laotian-owned restaurant right next to Maunakea Marketplace in Chinatown was the first place I ever tried pho. It’s my sentimental favorite and their broth is rich and fragrant, lots of herbs, star anise and meaty goodness.
  • Super Pho – Another favorite neighborhood pho spot is Super Pho in Kaimuki. There’s usually parking in the lot behind or on the street, and the broth is simple and flavorful. A friend also raves about the oxtail pho but I can never bring myself to deviate from my fave, the pho with rare steak (meat outside) and brisket.

Fish/Seafood/Sushi

  • Morio’s Sushi Bistro – see above in the BYOB section.
  • Nico’s Pier 38 Perched steps away from the Honolulu Fish Auction, this is the freshest fish you will find in Honolulu and Chef Nico Chaize is a master at their preparation. Hailing from Lyon, France he does an amazing cream sauce preparation and that’s usually my go-to from the specials menu. The inside poke counter is amazing as well – 3 choices for $9 in a poke bowl to go. The bar features beer and wine on tap and live entertainment to entice you to linger, although lunchtime favorites like the furikake ahi are as great for take out as they are for dine in.
  • Sushi Izakaya Gaku – Many come for the omakase menu by Chef Manabu Kikuchi, where you put your trust in the chef and go with whatever is freshest! The ikura here was truly life changing for me, marinaded so it takes on a savory and less-fishy flavor, which used to turn me off of this delicacy. Consult your servers for recommendations and enjoy!

Breakfast/Brunch

  • Koko Head Cafe
  • Scratch Kitchen & Beverage
  • Sweet E’s
  • Morning Glass
  • Cream Pot
  • Bogart’s – I may be biased on this one because it’s walking distance from my old neighborhood, although it’s always crowded so I guess that just goes to show how popular it is. I like almost anything I’ve tried here although my favorite is the housemade corned beef hash, the eggs benedict, or any of the salads. Cash only.
  • Longhi’s – I love sitting out for a leisurely breakfast (with appropriate breakfast cocktails) at Longhi’s Ala Moana. Breeze setting, great view, and the best crabcakes benedict on the island!
  • Haleiwa Joe’s– Haleiwa Joe’s is famous for their prime rib, and a carving station features prominently in their brunch buffet, which is a pretty good deal for $24.95 per person. I love the setting of the Kaneohe restaurant in Haiku Gardens.

Cocktail Bars

  • Bar Leather Apron
  • Manifest
  • Bevy
  • Salt
  • Lewers Lounge
  • Town
  • Pig & The Lady
  • 12th Avenue Grill

Foodie Events

  • Hawaii Food & Wine Festival – The high number of quality chefs, mixologists and wine producers – not just from around Hawaii but from around the country and the world – is the draw for this week-long food and wine extravaganza. The 2014 festival features events on Maui, Oahu and Hawaii Island. Tickets are pricey, but worth the splurge. (Read my post from the 2013 Under the Modern Moon event here.)
  • Eat The Street – This monthly event rounds up some of the island’s most popular food trucks with a different rotating theme each month. Location also varies occasionally, but it’s usually held on the last Friday of the month in Kakaako.
  • Restaurant Week – Oh how I love Restaurant Week. I literally plan strategically to see how many restaurants I can hit in one week when this annual event happens. Participating restaurants do lunch and dinner prix fixe menus – often a 3 or 4 course meal for between $30 to $60.
  • Taste of Marukai – Taste of Marukai is one of the best food events of the year. Tickets always sell out so be sure to purchase yours far in advance for an all-you-can sample night of sake and Japanese foods including sashimi, abalone, and crab legs. At the end of the evening you can purchase sakes you tried at reduced prices.


>> For a list of the latest posts related to FOOD, click here.

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