Food & Drink

The Best Restaurants in Honolulu Right Now

Published On 10/06/2017 Published On 10/06/2017
COURTESY OF BREAD & BUTTER
Courtesy of Agu Ramen

AGU Ramen

Moiliili

Some say the best way to combat heat is with heat. Whether that’s true or not, many will attest that slurping ramen in an air-conditioned restaurant is delicious any time of year. With over 15 varieties and spice levels ranging from one to five, Hisashi Uehara’s high-end ramen bistro makes it difficult to pick your favorite, but if you’re looking for a clean, light broth with just a hint of spice, try the shoyu-based yuzu jidori. If you’re more interested in the other end of the flavor spectrum, go for the Innovative Hot Mess, a wild explosion of black garlic oil, garlic butter, savory Parmesan cheese, and rich, slow-boiled pork broth. When choosing your spice level, think conservatively -- the spice scale tends towards eye-tearing, sinus-clearing, call-your-momma-and-tell-her-you-love-her spicy. You’ve been forewarned. (You can also order it on the side.)

Flickr/Joel Abroad

Livestock Tavern

Chinatown

Occupying the old Amy’s Place, this second culinary adventure from Dusty Grable and Jesse Cruz is filled with natural light and elegant, clean-lined metal and wood furniture, all but erasing the memory of the previous tenant’s dive-bar character. Specializing in American comfort food, the menu and crafted cocktails change with the seasons here. No matter what temperature your weather app says it's like outside, you can dine as though it's scarf-and-sweater season; the autumn supper menu is filled with bone marrow and escargot, pumpkin and sage ravioli, and roasted whole branzino. Perhaps best of all are the Hook-inspired signature cocktails, like the Bangarang!, mixed with Buffalo Trace bourbon, Batavia Arrack, lingonberry, spiced almond syrup, and soda water.

Reid Arakawa

Nanzan Giro Giro

Ala Moana

Dining at this Japanese kaiseki-style restaurant means that half the fun is going into the experience blind, and trusting chef Yoshihiro Matsumoto to serve a carefully designed menu that changes monthly: you simply show up (with a reservation) and wait for the seven-course meal to unfold. One month, you could start with sakizuke, with grilled eggplant, ika sashimi, uni, and kaiware; and another month, it’ll be green bean chawanmushi with uni and bonito stock. But no matter what you’re served, all courses are presented in handmade ceramic dishes made by Kyoto artist Nanzan, the restaurant’s namesake.

Reid Arakawa

Morio's Sushi Bistro

King Street

A cozy spot located on King St, this BYOB restaurant is about as intimate a dining experience as you can get. With about 15-20 seats in the entire bistro, it can take up to three months to book a table. Although you can order a la carte, it’s best to reserve your omakase ahead of time to get the best of what Morio's has to offer. Bring your own bottle of sake or beer, and be sure to share!

Flickr/Reuben Bedingfield

Fresh Ahi Off the Boat

Ala Moana

Like its name implies, this Korean-owned Japanese restaurant purchases fresh ahi daily and offers bento, salad, sushi and sashimi, and poke bowls, with a choice of white, brown, or black (mixed grain) rice. For a Korean-influenced bowl, try the Hurricane, piled with cubed salmon and ahi, and a mix of fresh vegetables like cucumbers, radish sprouts, and nori all agreeably blended together with a whirl of kochujang sauce.

Flickr/Alpha

Opal Thai Food

Haleiwa

About four years ago Opel Sirichandhra (yup, his restaurant name is spelled with an “a”) traded in his popular food truck to lay down roots at Haleiwa Town Center. As he did with his food truck, Opel greets each table, asking your food preferences, allergies, spice tolerance, and what types of Thai food you typically order. Although a menu is offered, what arrives at your table will vary depending on your answers. From larb lettuce wraps to duck curry to pad Thai, Opel works hard to make sure every palate is satisfied. Pro tip: Hours of operation may vary, despite hours listed on the door.

MW Restaurant

MW Restaurant

Ala Moana

Run by a husband-and-wife team (she creates desserts, and he builds the menu) who both trained under Hawaii Regional Cuisine co-founder Alan Wong, MW boasts a menu filled with reinterpreted local favorites. Try the mochi crusted fish -- it’s lightly fried, giving it a nice crunch -- then follow it with the lilikoi frozen soufflé served with lilikoi sorbet, fresh fruit, and topped with poached meringue and pineapple elderflower consommé, and find out for yourself why the better half of the aforementioned team was a James Beard Award semi-finalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef.

Flickr/Takaokun

Sushi Izakaya Gaku

Ala Moana

Translated as “shop that has sake,” izakaya shops are traditionally restaurants that serve small plates meant for sharing. And thanks in part to places like this popular spot, Oahu has no shortage of them. With fresh fish that’s both imported, as well as sourced from the fish auction and local markets around the island, this izakaya offers a special menu, depending on availability. Biting into the ikura (salmon roe) nigiri gives a salty and satisfying pop, and is a crowd pleaser. So it 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 dish is the stuff (sushi) dreams are made of.

Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant

Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant

Kaneohe

Open since 2006, this Japanese hot-pot eatery has served up flavorful, steaming bowls of broth since its inception. The ability to customize your own bowl without consulting with your group is part of what makes the dining experience fun. First, you choose from over a dozen broth flavors, then your set of meats and vegetables, and finally your choice of ramen, udon, or zosui. The spicy pirikara broth is a crowd favorite, but the yuzukoshō is also a refreshing, savory citrus option. Oh, and don’t miss the generous happy hour.

Flickr/Dan Tentler

Waiahole Poi Factory

Kaneohe

This restaurant, initially a Hawaiian art gallery, was part of the Hoe family's expansion into serving Hawaiian plate lunch, including fresh, hand-pounded poi. While you can’t go wrong with any of the authentic Hawaiian dishes, the laulau stands out for its fresh, well-seasoned flavors, and the kalo is grown in Waiahole Valley, hand-pounded, and sold nowhere else. Tourists and locals flock to this unassuming eatery daily, so come early, before your favorites run out.

Courtesy of Bread + Butter

Bread + Butter

Kakaako

If the words "bottomless mimosa bar" don’t bring tears of joy to your eyes, we don’t know what will. This coffee shop/pinot bar/artisan café knows how to get your summer weekend mornings started right with its new bottomless mimosa brunch, which helpfully extends from 8am 'til 4pm, for slow drinkers and late risers. If you insist upon sustenance to go with your endless supply of fruit-juice-enhanced bubbly beverages, supplement with breakfast items like taro and banana pancakes, and a kimchee fried rice omelette, or lunch options like sandwiches, pizza, and pasta. So round up some friends and tuck in for an entire morning and/or afternoon.

Flickr/Hermitsmoores

The Rice Place

Kakaako

If a meal without rice is inconceivable, this Vietnamese-fusion eatery, open Mondays through Saturdays, is an obvious choice. During lunch you can get grab-and-go ricey bites with fun names like Bae Bae Cakes or Bang Bang Rolls, vegetarian and seafood lunch specials, or one of the chicken curry lunch sets. At dinner, you can order up family-style portions and a build-your-own fried rice option, where you can tailor your own vegetable-meat-egg-sauce-topping concoction to construct the perfect fried rice bowl to your liking.

Flickr/Fox Wu

Aunty's Ramen

Mōʻiliʻili

If "build your own ramen" sounds like sweet nothings whispered in your ears, find comfort that you’re not alone. The former owners of the hot-pot glory that is Sweet Home Café bring us customizable bowls or noodle soups, where your personal meal choices are weighed by the pound. After you select from soup, don’t forget to supplement your pick with condiments from the sauce bar. And when you think customization can’t get any better, finish your meal with the restaurant’s build-your-own dessert bar, where you can create a refreshing bowl with all the tapioca, fruit jellies, fresh fruit, and custards your taste buds and glucose levels can handle.

Courtesy of the Maguro Brothers

Maguro Brothers

Chinatown

After a hot day at the beach (or just roaming around the island running errands), a fresh poke bowl is a well-deserved reward. Helmed by two Japanese brothers who were formerly fishmongers in Japan’s famous Tsukiji Market, Maguro Brothers serves up gleaming red cuts of fish hand-selected daily from the Honolulu Fish Auction. The eatery is somewhat hidden, tucked in Kekaulike Market in Chinatown, but seeking out the fish counter is worth the adventure for its addicting, melt-in-your-mouth bites of sashimi, poke, and cooked fish.

ARVO

ARVO

Kakaako

Meals could not get much prettier at this Aussie-inspired coffee shop tucked in Paiko, an airy and green botanical boutique in Kakaako. Sip on lavender lattes and flat whites, foamed to perfection, and fill up on light meals like avocado toast loaded with arugula, feta, and tomatoes -- garnished with edible flowers, natch -- or matcha chia puddings, layered with freshly sliced fruit and capped with green tea whip. The entire menu is the stuff #nofilter Instagram posts are made for… plus, everything here tastes great, too.

Kapono Photoworks

Morning Glass Coffee

Manoa

Built like a house with one roof and two walls, this breezy eatery is known for their impressive caffeine game, homemade baked goods, and killer weekend brunch. Brave the weekend waitlist and before you know it, you’ll be sinking your teeth into a homemade buttermilk biscuit with Shinsato Farms pork sausage patty or over-easy Kalei eggs and country-style pork gravy. Get that warm caffeine buzz with an individually-filtered, pour-to-order Stumptown beans. Cups take about five minutes to brew, but the result is a cleaner, richer-tasting flavor, that’s sure to turn you into a coffee snob if you’re not one already.

Amanda Zen

Matcha Cafe Maiko

Waikiki

Unless you’re actually staying in Waikiki (in which case, this spot is a short walk), circling the tourist epicenter of the island looking for parking may not be the way you’d want to spend your free time… but this Japanese matcha oasis is worth the effort. The small store features high-quality matcha from the Harima Garden in Japan, and parlays the premium powder into lattes, frappes, ice cream floats, parfaits, and soft serve perfectly swirled in a crispy waffle cone -- a feast for both the eyes and the lips.

 Koko Head Cafe

Koko Head Cafe

Kaimuki

Helmed by fashion designer-turned-Top Chef finalist chef Lee Anne Wong, this brunch spot is where all your breakfast dreams come true: pancakes are fluffy, scones are filled with bacon and kimchee, and eggs Benedict get an island-inspired update with poi biscuits, luau leaves, and poi hollandaise. Go with an empty stomach (or friends who share well), because you’ll want to sample everything on the menu.

Banan

Banán

Waialae

Bananas turned into sugar-free soft serve? Seems like witchcraft, but the formula is simple: locally grown bananas plus island fruits and veggies equals a dairy-free and guilt-free soft-serve dessert that will make both your sweet tooth and dentist happy. The frozen treat is available in fruit flavors like lilikoi and acai, as well as vegetable-based options made with beets or kale, and can be capped with toppings galore, ranging from puffed quinoa to bee pollen to macadamia nut honey butter. To amp up your soft-serve experience, choose a papaya boat vessel for an all-out edible experience.

Courtesy of The Pig and the Lady

The Pig and the Lady

Chinatown

From popular farmers market stand to pop-up restaurant to Chinatown brick & mortar, 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. Although it opened its permanent location just a couple years ago, this Chinatown eatery has already garnered national attention for its innovative menu, with Travel + Leisure naming them one of the pioneers in the new generation of food in Hawaii. For those who prefer to avoid the long wait list at dinner, this family-run eatery is also open for lunch. Not hungry? Come for drinks, and wow your taste buds with fusion-style cocktails, like the Cobra Commander, which is mixed with avocado mescal, pamplemousse rose, lime, and a Sriracha ice cube. Stay tuned for its next iteration in Ward Village, aptly named Piggy Smalls.

Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock

W&M Bar-B-Q Burger

Kaimuki

If you’re looking for a no-frills, classic Hawaii burger, head to this walk-up eatery, which has been cooking the same recipe since its beginning 75 years ago. Soaked in secret teriyaki sauce, this burger is made local-style: barbecued, salty and slightly sweet, marinated in special sauce, but not overly saucy. For a taste of the deluxe offering, order your burger "royal-style with everything" for a flame-grilled patty crowned with cheese, tomato, lettuce, and onion on a plain Love’s Bakery bun. With gourmet burgers popping up around town, this burger embodies the phrase "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it."

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1. Agu Ramen 1200 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96814

The secret behind the popularity of this Tonkotsu ramen house in Moiliili is in its slow-cooked pork broth, which is topped with black garlic oil and crispy garlic chips, giving the succulent meat even bolder flavor. A low-key local chain, it offers more than 15 varieties of ramen -- from chicken to vegetarian to pork -- and they all hit the mark, particularly specialties like the Char Siu Tonkotsu: a heaping bowl of thinly sliced house char siu, shio ramen, and a mountain of your choice of negi, zaasai, or spicy kimchi.

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2. Livestock Tavern 49 N Hotel St, Honolulu, HI 96817

Sister restaurant to ever popular Lucky Belly, Livestock Tavern serves upscale American comfort food like smoked pork belly, artichoke & spinach bread pudding, and a signature burger topped with bacon onion marmalade and gruyere. Reservations are required for dinner but lunch is reserved for walk-ins.

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3. Nanzan Giro Giro 500 Pensacola St., Honolulu, HI 96814

As the menu changes monthly here, you're in for a surprise nearly every time you stop in. The dishes at Nanzan Giro Giro are crafted with careful attention to detail -- an attention you can observe front-row. Diners sit around its sunken kitchen so you can see the chef and the staff work their magic. Be sure to top off your meal with the matcha tea and dessert trio.

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4. Morio's Sushi Bistro 1160 S King St Honolulu, Honolulu, HI 9681

With less than two dozen seats in the entire establishment, this cozy bistro basically only caters to those with a months-ahead reservation. Once you're in though, one-of-a-kind lobster sashimi, lobster sushi, and omakase will give you a sampling of all the fresh seafood the island has to offer. And don't forget to bring your bottle of sake or beer, as the place is BYOB.

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5. Fresh Ahi Off the Boat 815 Keeaumoku St, Honolulu, HI 96814

Fresh fish -- including ahi -- is delivered every morning at 9 a.m. at this Korean-owned Japanese restaurant, where the seafood comes to life in salads, bowls, and bento options. And while the space is small and no-frills, the real attraction is in the dishes, which are all loaded with colorful, flavorful, and meaty garnishes like cucumbers, radish sprouts, nori, and spicy Kochujang sauce. For a Korean-influenced bowl, try the Hurricane, piled with cubed salmon and ahi, and a mix of fresh vegetables like cucumbers, radish sprouts, nori all agreeably blended together with a whirl of kochujang sauce.

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6. Opal Thai 66-460 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleʻiwa, HI 96712

This laid-back neighorhood favorite scores with its simple and reliable Thai fare. Owned and operated by a Bangkok native (Opal), the food is fresh and authentic, accented with fresh caught local seafood. Roasted crab noodles are a crowd pleaser. Kick back and relax for a while here; the vibe is friendly and a lax BYOB policy encourages you to savor your meal.

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7. MW Restaurant 1538 Kapiolani Blvd Ste 107, Honolulu, HI 96814

Regional Hawaiian fare shines at this stylish Ala Moana eatery helmed by husband-and-wife celebrity chef team Michelle and Wade Ueoka. Nothing is as it seems here; oxtail stew and rice contains a deboned oxtail stuffed with meat and plopped on a bed of risotto, while banana cream pie is a series of chocolate, bananas, custard, and whipped cream layered one on top of the other, tucked into a jar, and topped with an oatmeal crumble. Speaking of desserts -- the star-studded sweets menu is a cant-miss affair at MW: the Candy Bar combines macadamia nut-praline crunch, salted caramel, Waialua chocolate, and house-made cookies, while the Strawberry “Pop Tart” is a stack of puff pastry with pickled ume strawberries, li hing strawberries, and cheesecake fromage blanc.

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8. Sushi Izakaya Gaku 1329 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96814

A favorite among Honolulu's Japanese expat community, this low-key but totally authentic izakaya offers both a nice selection of adventurous must-try dishes, plus some reliable favorites. Fish chips and deep fried pumpkin (?!) are just some of the more experiemental options to pair with top notch fatty toro, yellowtail carpaccio, and fresh uni. Carnivores have to try Gaku's eggplant wrapped waygu beef.

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9. Ichiriki Nabe 46-047 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744

This Japanese restaurant serves up traditional classics like curry and kimchi hot pots and sukiyaki & various seafood options all within and intimate and warm atmosphere.

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10. Waiahole Poi Factory 48-140 Kamehameha Hwy, Kāne‘ohe, HI 96744

This cozy, shack-like seafood spot is a must-try when in Honolulu. The assuming space houses a restaurant, gallery space, and is known for their hand-pounded poi. Stop by and load up on local delicacies for an affordable price (a large order of Kahlua Pig is only $8). Expect live music and relaxing vibes.

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11. Bread + Butter 1585 Kapiolani Blvd., Honolulu, HI 96814

Bread + Butter in Kakaako masquerades as a little bit of everything, from a wine bar to a gourmet coffee shop to a healthy grab-and-go place. Chef Hide Sakurai created this self-service restaurant to be your go-to spot whatever time of day it is. We recommend the taro pancakes for breakfast or the fried quail egg Span musubi for lunch. While you're there, don't forget to try out the bread and butter, because why else would you name the restaurant that?

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12. The Rice Place 725 Kapiolani Blvd Suite C119B, Honolulu, HI 96813

If you're going to name your restaurant "The Rice Place," you better do the grain justice -- and oh, does this casual cafe in Kapiolani treat it well. From rice noodles to rice flour crepes to fried rice bowls, the menu here is brimming with comforting, starchy dishes. Perhaps the most interesting is the Noodles and Rolls, in which soft, flat, blanket-like rice noodles can be wrapped around a crispy Imperial Roll and placed into a lettuce leaf. Another go-to is the Winner Winner Chicken Dinner, in which poached chicken is paired with curry rice and pickled daikon & carrots.

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13. Aunty's Ramen 1110 McCully Street, Honolulu, HI

Aunty Ramen in Honolulu's speciality is build-your-own ramen bowls. You pick your own (unlimited) ingredients, noodles and broth. If you want, there is a $2 charge, but even without meat, the breath of vegetable and noodle options is enough to make anyone satisfied. In addition to ramen, you can build your own stir-fry. For dessert, Aunty Ramen offers the signature shaved ice. With a dining room that can fit nearly 200 people, you won't have to be worried about it being too crowded.

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14. Maguro Brothers 1039 Kekaulike St, Honolulu, HI 96817

Hand-selected daily from the Honolulu Fish Auction, the Maguro Brothers' ahi cuts should be your first choice at this Kekaulike Marketplace spot. When tuna is in the name of the shop, it's guaranteed to be top-notch. They also serve up high-quality hamachi, uni, and salmon if you're looking for more variety.

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15. ARVO 675 Auahi St, Honolulu, HI 96813

This modern and casual coffee shop in the Kakaako district offers up Australian-style coffee drinks paired with healthy Hawaiian and Aussie treats. The house special is a down under creation called a "long black"—a double shot of espresso over hot water, like an Americano but stronger. Vegemite makes multiple appearances on the menu here, giving a salty umami twist to breakfast staples like avocado toast. Bright and clean, it's not so much cozy as Instagram-friendly, but the drinks are strong and the food perks you up without weighing you down.

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16. Morning Glass Coffee + Cafe 2955 E Manoa Rd, Honolulu, HI 96822

Pre-made coffee doesn't exist in this breezy Manoa Rd coffeeshop—whether they're making espresso drinks like macchiatos or pour-over cups, this coffeehouse does individually filtered, brewed-to-order cups of joe every time. Patrons can choose between a plethora of Stumptown roasts or a Hawaiian coffee-of-the-day for their cup, which takes about five minutes to brew. Breakfast and lunch are available with a changing list of decadent specials and dishes sourced from local island ingredients, like their Kalei eggs which are fresh every day. Bakery treats are available for people on-the-go, but with plentiful seating inside and out on the front patio, why would you rush?

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17. Matcha Cafe Maiko 2310 Kuhio Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815

If you’ve spotted globs of bright green ice cream brandished around Waikiki, they’re probably from Matcha Café Maiko, a frozen dessert take-out haven specializing in authentic matcha, made with ingredients from Uji, Kyoto, the green tea capital of the world. All products are made in-house, including ice cream, sponge cake, waffle cones, and adzuki bean toppings. Order the Matcha Soft Serve in either a waffle cone or plastic cup; the matcha powder that tops it will smack your taste buds before you even get to the soft, melty ice cream.

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18. Koko Head Cafe 1145 12th Ave Ste C, Honolulu, HI 96816

Led by Top Chef finalist chef Lee Anne Wong, this brunchery offers up fluffy pancakes, as well as island-takes on classic breakfasts, like eggs Benedict with poi biscuits, luau leaves and poi hollandaise. Plenty of pan-Asian eats are on the menu, and all offerings are so unique that you may have to order several extra entrees for the table.

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19. Banán 3212 Monsarrat Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815

Honolulu’s Banán is proof that there’s a delicious, dairy-free substitute for ice cream out there. Banán’s team turns locally grown bananas and other fruits into smoothie-like soft serve. The banana base feigns other flavors like acai, green tea, and chocolate with the addition of other fruits and herbs, and they’re shaken up with toppings like honey, fresh fruit, and puffed quinoa.

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20. The Pig and the Lady 83 N King St, Honolulu, HI 96817

This Vietnamese eatery in Chinatown is a family affair, owned and operated by the Les, whose family recipes serve as the foundation of the menu. The convivial nature of the restaurant (you’ll always feel like on of the Les) is mirrored in the decadence and flavor of its dishes. Friends convene around primal dinners, usually centered on a pig’s head or gigantic pork shank, each of which is ushered into the dining room with a degree of pomp and circumstance. The less ambitious (though not much less) opt for Laotian fried chicken with twice-fried chicken wings, money sauce, fried shallots, kaffir lime, and peanut slaw or pho au vin with spices, scallions, and chicken pate. Either way, one thing’s certain: a meal at The Pig and the Lady will leave you feeling warm on the inside and out.

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21. W&M Bar-B-Q Burger 3104 Waialae Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816

This mom-and-pop shop has been serving up a barebones menu of classic and Hawaiian-style burgers since 1940, and it's maintained its same wave of loyal fans since. There aren't daily specials, nor is there any seating or ample parking; what W&M does have to its name is a secret BBQ sauce, an authentic open flame grill, and perfectly deep-fried, piping hot fries. The go-to order is a Bar-B-Q burger, which here just means the patty is dunked in its sweet and tangy Teriyaki dousing.