The Fasties: Kat Thompson Mukbang
Comforting teishoku set lunches in this minimalist Japanese hotspot
With spacious new digs, this minimalist Japanese eatery is a great way to show visitors an authentic slice of home on Oahu. While Restaurant Rinka turns into a full-fledged izakaya at night, serving up sushi and sashimi galore, a more budget-friendly option lies in their lunch menu. A selection of teishoku set lunches -- a classic meal commonly served in Japanese households -- offers a main entree, rice, pickles, miso soup, and chawanmushi (a savory egg custard). Two small sides are also included, with options ranging from natto with tofu, goma-ae (creamed spinach in a sesame dressing), kinpira renkon (lotus root), and tamago (a Japanese-style omelet).
Freshly baked pastries in the heart of Waikiki
Located in Halekūlani’s sister property, Halepuna Waikīkī by Halekūlani, the casual all-day bakery and restaurant offers more than just delicious baked goodies. An early buffet breakfast begins at 6:30am and comes with an omelet bar, while a relaxed meal can be had until dinner ends at 8:30pm. The use of local ingredients plays an essential role in Halekulani’s menu; there’s even a sidebar on the lunch and dinner menus that indicate which local farms and dairies where they source ingredients. The clear winner, however, are the pastries -- think lilikoi brioche, brownie bread, and Kona coffee kouign amann -- by Executive Pastry Chef Mark Freischmidt, who sold out of his treats during a series of pop-ups leading up to the opening.
Honolulu’s latest Japanese-French fine dining establishment is perfect for date night
Helmed by Executive Chef Jason Yamaguchi (yes, he is renowned chef Roy Yamaguchi’s nephew), Mugen is Honolulu’s newest Japanese-French fine dining restaurant located at the über-chic, über-expensive Espacio hotel in Waikiki. A prix-fixe menu changes with the seasons, and often includes indulgent offerings like Sasanian osetra caviar, Makanalani lamb, and Kona lobster pasta, all enhanced with Japanese flavors. And, paired with an extensive wine list -- there are over 500-bottles of wine to choose from -- a luxuriously intimate date night is almost guaranteed.
From food truck to brick-and-mortar Central Texas-style bbq
The popularity of Sunset Smokehouse began as a food truck by Sunset Beach on the North Shore. Fast forward to earlier this year when Texas-native James Kim opened up the eatery’s first brick-and-mortar location in Wahiawa. Focused on succulent meats that have been smoked for over 12 long hours, the bright, casual spot offers five types of meat of choice -- beef brisket, beef ribs, pork spare ribs, pulled pork, and beef sausage. Pair it with any (or all!) of the freshly made sides ranging from a creamy or tangy coleslaw, potato salad, creamed corn, and hot pinto beans. For a relatively lighter meal, opt for the City Limits sandwich, made from a mix of chopped lean and fatty brisket, and an order of Texas sweet tea.
A kid-friendly Kaka’ako café for the urban mom
This casual café is perhaps one of Honolulu’s kid-friendliest spots where parents can come enjoy their cups of coffee or warm chai lattes while their keiki get their play on. The space also offers weekly kid-friendly activities ranging from arts and crafts workshops and singing to storytime and live music. For a snack break, take your pick from the avocado toast, colorful acai bowls, fresh fruit smoothies, or dessert toast made with Hawaiian sweet bread. The Unicorn Toast with Shokupan bread, cream cheese, strawberries, pineapple, and drizzled with honey and rainbow sprinkles is especially popular and Insta-worthy.
‘Ono family recipes at Kaimuki’s latest authentic Hawaiian food spot
For those looking for a sumptuous plate lunch, look no further than Kaimuki’s latest opening for Hawaiian food. Family recipes passed down from one generation to the next reign supreme on Oahu Grill’s menu of staples like freshly pounded poi, lomi salmon, garlic shrimp, kalua pig, and squid lu`au. You can be sure that meats are smoked with aromatic wood chips and not liquid smoke. A crowd favorite is the Tuesday special of chicken hekka, a savory long-rice noodle dish made with shredded chicken simmered in a shoyu sauce along with green beans and carrots.
Est. 2018 | Waikiki
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 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.
Est. 2018 | Waikiki
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.
Est. 2018 | Waikiki
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.
Est. 2018 | Kaka’ako
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. Make a reservation ahead of time.
Est. 2018 | Chinatown
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.
Est. 2016 | Kaka’ako
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, and 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.
Est. 2016 | Chinatown
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.
Est. 2014 | Chinatown
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.
Est. 2014 | Chinatown
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 are 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.
Est. 2013 | Chinatown
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.
Est. 2013 | Kaimuki
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.
Est. 2011 | Kapahulu
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.
Est. 2007 | Ala Moana
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.
Est. 2006 | Chinatown
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.
Est. 1946 | Kalihi
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.