This Is NYC's First All Japanese Food Hall
Where sizzling steak meets the casual beach vibes of Waikiki
One of the newest additions to Honolulu’s vibrant dining scene, Aloha Steak House is a much needed, wallet-friendly meat palace in Waikiki. With a distinctly warm interior and industrial-style motif, this carnivore’s dream immediately transports diners to a casual beach house. The only difference is this one is serving up ounces of sizzling, flavorful cuts of beef. The menu’s pièce de résistance is the tomahawk steak, a more than 2-pound, “super-vigorous” grill of bone-in ribeye. If it’s sold out, which is usually the case if you’re there after 8pm, the ribeye with garlic shrimp is the next best thing. According to ASH, there are two ways to eat your meat: on-the-rice -- where you put your piece of steak on a bed of white rice -- or on-the-salad, where your steak goes atop a fresh greens. Whichever you choose, don’t forget to try the Maui sweet onion sauce. It’s addicting.
New York’s beloved Lady M cakes make their island debut
Dessert lovers of Oahu will rejoice at the island’s latest cafe opening, Waikiki Tea House, because it brings a cherished and world-famous New York dessert to our shores: Lady M cakes. The cakes are loved for their light, creamy, and flavorful textures -- each mille cake consists of 20 layers of crepes, with a layer of cream dividing each. Flavors include a signature cream (a favorite), green tea, and lilikoi. To wash down your cake, Waikiki Tea House also offers several hot and cold tea brews, including a few Instagram-worthy options like the rose tea latte.
Kailua’s favorite breakfast fare comes to Kaimuki
The Kailua breakfast hotspot Moke’s Bread & Breakfast has finally come to our side of town, with its second location taking over the old Kan Zaman space in Kaimuki. The cafe’s claim to fame, and a must whether this is your first visit or your 100th, is an order of the lilikoi pancakes made from light and fluffy batter and smothered on top with a creamy lilikoi sauce. For a savory start to your day, the loco moké is a good option -- it’s a twist on an island classic, the loco moco (served over white rice with two eggs over-easy and drenched in homemade brown gravy), and uses a house-cut ribeye instead of a traditional hamburger patty.
A creative, plant-based spin on your usual sushi and izakaya favorites
Plant-based and vegan are usually not what you’d use to describe a sushi dinner, but your vocabulary is sure to change after a meal at Tase Vegan Izakaya. The latest izakaya to pop up on Oahu is unexpected, but it’s undoubtedly welcome in a landscape of meat, seafood, and, well, more meat. The menu at Tane is almost identical to its sister spot, Shizen in San Francisco -- which is featured in the SF Michelin guide -- and both were started by co-owner and chef Kin Lui. Start with the yuba salad with spicy miso dressing and tempura-battered shiitake mushrooms with faux-crab. Then continue to the spicy tofuna rolls, with minced tofu and cucumber topped with creamy avocado and chili “tobiko.”
EARL’s newest inventive sandwich offering
The second EARL’s (which stands for Eat a Real Lunch) location by Baltimore-born owner, Justin Parvizimotlagh, opened this March on Keawe Street in Kaka’ako and boasts an entirely new menu. In addition to a number of unique sandwiches and appetizers -- standouts include the chorizo nachos, brisket gyro, and the short rib torta -- the Kaka’ako location also offers Sunday brunch service, with a drool-worthy, made-for-Instagram menu. Look out for the meat-loaded Prime Jun aka “the greatest breakfast sandwich of all time,” and a glazed donut packed inside with buttery fried chicken, bacon, hash brown crispies, and kale slaw. If you’re counting calories, this is not the place for you.
Craft beer makes a comeback at this highly anticipated gastropub reopening
More than a year later, Real Gastropub has finally opened up its doors in its new Kaka’ako location. What’s exciting about this reopen is not just the myriad beer options on tap (33 to be precise), but also production of on-site beers with the upcoming opening of Bent Tail Brewing. From the lechon-style pig wings and chorizo grilled cheese to the loaded Bent Tail burger and French onion hummus with cheesy naan, the expanded menu options that perfectly complement the beer offerings.
Local hotspot since 1946 known for its Hawaiian cuisine
Helena’s Hawaiian Food has been the go-to place for those seeking a signature plate lunch since it first opened in the community more than 73 years ago. In 2000, it was thrown into the international spotlight after winning the coveted America’s Classics award from the James Beard Foundation. Today, you’ll find the no-frills spot run by Helena’s grandson, Craig Katsuyoshi, busier than ever with both locals and tourists eating authentic Hawaiian dishes like lomi salmon, luau squid, and poi. Don’t miss out on their kalua pig, which is still made the traditional way -- in an underground oven known as an imu.
All-day breakfast spot with generous portion sizes
From extraordinary omelets and enchanting French toast to extravagant sandwiches and exciting flatbread pizza, everything on the menu at this cozy, family-run cafe is brought to you by the letter E. Come with an appetite as the hearty-size portions of all-day breakfast do not disappoint. The most popular dishes are the stuffed blueberries and cream cheese French toast made with three slices of Hawaiian sweet bread, and the Extreme Mess, a combination of eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, ham, onions, and cheese, all scrambled together. On weekends, be sure to head there by 8 am to avoid the weekend rush.
A tiny trailer serving California-style street tacos
Thyda’s Tacos, a welcome addition to the island’s growing Mexican food scene, serves up fresh California-style street tacos from its compact trailer in Kaka’ako. Choices of juicy and well-seasoned meat include carne asada, carne pollo, carnitas, barbacoa, lengua (beef tongue), and jackfruit (for the plant-based). Other menu items include burritos, quesadillas, rice bowls, mulitas -- a mini-meat-and-cheese-quesadilla. Don’t forget to load up on the homemade salsas, and wash it all down with a bottle of Jarritos.
Iconic, Maui-based seafood market making waves in Waikiki
Originating in the chill surf town of Paia on Maui, the Paia Fish Market has been a local hotspot for all things seafood since it first opened up its doors in 1989. Its fourth location, and the first outside of Maui, opened in late 2018 at The Laylow hotel in the heart of Waikiki. Paia’s signature Fresh Catch Plates (at market price) feature several fish options -- mahi-mahi, ono, snapper, ahi, salmon, or opah -- and can be prepared four ways, with blackened cajun style being the most popular. You also can’t go wrong with an order of its seafood linguine pasta sautéed in a garlicky-wine cream sauce with fresh fish, scallops, and shrimp.
BYOB at this low-key contemporary Korean spot
For an adventurous twist on traditional Korean cuisine, head to this hidden gem in Chinatown and ask to be seated in the back -- the surprisingly quiet covered lanai seating is a welcome respite from the city’s hustle and bustle. The inventive menu includes popular items like a spicy deep-fried Korean chicken with housemade gnocchi, bibimbap with barley rice and an apple gochujang sauce, as well as a vegan truffle mandoo -- dumplings stuffed with four types of mushrooms, squash, and truffle paste and garnished with cubes of shoyu and pickled daikon jelly. Best of all, it’s BYOB, so don’t forget to bring along that bottle of soju.
The rare intersection of Hawaiian and French cooking
Originally from Hokkaido, Japan and inspired by French cuisine, Chef Yuya Yamanaka packs each course of the rotating prix fixe menu with a discrete element to delight your senses. From the restaurant’s rich and creamy Hawaiian Espresso, a fresh cold corn palate cleanser with a hint of coffee, to the glorious Kiawe wood-smoked beef, each dish is meticulously prepared and bursting with flavor. Featuring local ingredients and the chef’s special cooking techniques, Paris Hawaii offers an amazing culinary experience whether you’re dining at the eight-seat chef’s table on the bar side of the kitchen or heading to the back of the room for a more intimate night out.
Tableside Asian fusion creations from an Iron Chef
Located in the upscale Alohilani Resort, Morimoto Asia Waikiki has been pushing boundaries since it first opened in 2018. But what else would you expect from Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto? The new and exciting takes on Asian fusion are best enjoyed from the lovely outdoor lanai with stunning Waikiki sunsets. Sip on a sake sampler or indulge on sticky ribs, light and crispy tuna pizza, or tableside-prepared Ishiyaki Buri Bop. Honestly, there isn’t a bad dish on the menu and dessert is no exception -- the blazing chocolate sphere, ignited tableside for your viewing pleasure, is one fiery way to end your meal.
American comfort food served in a modern, brick-lined space
As its name suggests, Livestock Tavern specializes in an ever-changing seasonal menu that focuses on small plates and all things meat. From sea and fowl to beast and game, the dishes represent quintessential American comfort food with craft cocktails to match. The spring supper menu is filled with bone marrow, escargot, spinach-ricotta ravioli, and ham-wrapped prawns. Perhaps best of all are the Southern-inspired signature cocktails, like Port Orleans, mixing brandy, white port, Peychaud’s bitters, white grapes, mint, fresh lemon juice, and soda.
A posh meal served with live music
Almost a year after opening, local chef Peter Merriman’s farm-to-table dining concept located on the ground floor of an upscale residential tower in Kaka'ako is still the talk of the town. The restaurant’s contemporary island vibe, with its shiny wooden tables and chevron-upholstered chairs, is everything you’ve come to expect from the James Beard Award nominee: classic, posh, and inviting. Must-haves include the hot, buttery biscuits (which pair well with the Maui onion soup), the house-made cavatelli pasta, and bone-in New York steak. Pro tip: Make a reservation ahead of time.
Award-winning Vietnamese fusion cuisine by mother-son duo
What started as a popular farmers’ market stall quickly grew into one of Honolulu’s best brick and mortar restaurants. This Vietnamese-inspired eatery blends chef Andrew Le’s (the “Pig”) creations with Loan “Mama” Le’s (the “Lady”) home cooking, along with flavors derived from the island’s diverse ethnic makeup. Head to the family-run eatery during lunch if you want to skip the long dinner waitlist. And, if you’re not hungry, you can always just come for drinks, and wow your taste buds with fusion-style cocktails. The Rumaway Club is a citrus lover’s delight, made with Ko Hana agricole rum, cinnamon, grapefruit, calamansi, and lime.
Casual, family-run Thai spot with personalized service
About four years ago, Opel Sirichandhra (yes, his restaurant name is spelled with an “a”) traded in his popular food truck to lay down roots at Haleiwa Town Center before moving to its current location on Smith Street in Chinatown. A meal here is unlike any other dining experience -- Opel greets each table, asking your food preferences, allergies, spice tolerance, and what types of Thai food you typically order. While you do get to peek at the menu, what lands on your table is an entirely custom-designed meal based on your responses. From green papaya salad and fish cake fritters to drunken noodles and roasted duck curry, there’s a dish that’s guaranteed to satisfy every palate.
Island-inspired brunch creations by a Top Chef finalist
If you’re on the lookout for a weekend brunch you won’t soon forget, look no further than Koko Head Cafe. All your breakfast dreams will come true at this spot helmed by fashion designer-turned-Top Chef finalist chef Lee Anne Wong. Get ready for fluffy pancakes, bacon-and-kimchi-filled scones, and the traditional order of eggs Benedict getting an island-inspired update with poi biscuits, luau leaves, and an unforgettable poi hollandaise sauce. Go with an empty stomach (or friends who share well) because you’ll want to sample practically everything on the menu.
Upscale spot serving inventive regional Hawaiian cuisine by husband-and-wife chefs
MW offers reinterpreted local favorites like the mochi-crusted fish (there’s also a tofu option for vegetarians) or kalua pork tacos. After all, the innovative menu was conceived by husband-and-wife duo, who both trained under Alan Wong, one of the co-founders of Hawaiian Regional cuisine. Don’t leave without trying one (ok, several) of the desserts, namely the strawberry shave ice with haupia tapioca, strawberry yuzu sorbet, and mochi ice cream, made by Michelle Karr-Ueoka, a James Beard Award semi-finalist for outstanding pastry chef.
Curry-fueled Burmese food in a BYOB setting
The Burmese scene in Honolulu was sorely lacking until newcomer, Rangoon Burmese Kitchen, opened its doors in Chinatown last year. Located in the old Epic restaurant space, it’s everything we’ve been waiting for and more. Scents of curry and fresh spices waft up to greet you as soon as you walk through the doors, while Asian art lines the walls, and every flavorful dish matches the space’s energy. Popular items include the (literally) smoking hot samosas filled with spiced potatoes and lentils, an authentic Burmese tea leaf salad that tastes as refreshing as it sounds, and the traditional Burmese soup Moh Hin Ga -- which is guaranteed to leave you warm and fuzzy for the rest of the day.
Fresh sashimi and a local cult following
Izakayas, the Japanese version of a gastropub, are traditionally known to serve small plates meant to complement the alcoholic drinks menu. This cozy spot adheres to tradition, sourcing fish from the fish auction and local markets around the island, and, in doing so, has garnered a cult following. Biting into the ikura (salmon roe) nigiri provides a salty and satisfying pop and is a crowd-pleaser. So is the popular spicy negi hamachi: a blend of hamachi, green onions, and ponzu sauce. mixed together with a raw quail egg, then rolled into crispy nori. This is the stuff (sushi) dreams are made of.
Former Tsukiji Market fishmongers-turned-sashimi aficionados
Tucked deep inside Kekaulike Market in Chinatown, this hidden gem is somewhat hard to find. But, it’s well worth the effort and adventure. Helmed by two Japanese brothers, who were formerly fishmongers in Japan’s famous Tsukiji Market, Maguro Brothers serves up gleaming red cuts of fish that is hand-selected daily from the Honolulu Fish Auction. The melt-in-your-mouth quality of sashimi, poke, and plates of donburi at this hidden fish counter makes this a hiding place worth seeking.