The Most Exciting Restaurants in Honolulu Right Now
From a cocktail-paired omakase experience to Cuban classics, regional Hawaiian cuisine, and more.
Despite the ever-changing mandates and extreme labor shortage in Honolulu, quite a few outstanding new places have opened during the pandemic. So many new places, in fact, that it was quite a feat just to cull this list. Although these new hotspots are popular, keep in mind that they aren’t immune to shipping and labor challenges, so their hours and menus may vary. And no matter what side of the fence you’re on with the mandates, it’s not the restaurant’s fault that they need to follow the rules or be fined. Please be patient and kind, and tip generously to demonstrate your gratitude for our local service industry that has faced countless hurdles over the last year and a half. Here are 16 of the most exciting restaurants you need to try in Honolulu:
The gist: Chef Keaka Lee’s contemporary cuisine using local and global ingredients.
The food: Although Kahala is an upscale neighborhood, this is one of the few, if any, “casual smart” restaurants available. Keaka Lee takes local products and uses them in dishes of a variety of ethnic influences. The garlic naan bread with Sumida watercress namul is a favorite starter to share. Two of the more impressive artful items are the Kapa-ccio, using raw fresh catch with a design made of nori paste; and the grilled Spanish octopus prepared with black garlic char siu marinade. The housemade tagliatelle with bulgogi Bolognese is a staple for entrees. Kapa Hale is also known for having a wide variety of vegetable dishes to introduce diners to new ways of enjoying them. They recently got their liquor license and now offer a full wine list, sake, Broken Boundary Brewery beer, and handcrafted cocktails.
The cost: Appetizers are $7 to $8; vegetable and casual dishes are $10 to $17; lunch entrees are under $20 and dinner entrees are $27 to $52.
How to book: Reservations can be made by calling 808-888-2060 or online.
The gist: Fresh, made-to-order poke and sashimi bowls in an unexpected hole in the wall.
The food: Poke bowls are everywhere in Hawaii, but sashimi bowls are a little less common, since you need extra skill to slice fish uniformly in the correct way. At Mama Kim’s, they only slice and dice your fish when you order—nothing is pre-made, so the flavor is extra fresh. One of the more popular items is the deluxe chirashi, which offers several different seafood bites in one bowl. Locals “in the know” love the neba neba bowl, which features slimy Japanese favorites like natto, okra, and yamaimo (mountain yam), with fish and crunchy pickled vegetables. If you’re hungry, you can add on fried boneless chicken, kimchi, or assorted sushi hand rolls.
The cost: Hand rolls are about $3.50 to $5; bowls range from $12 to $24.
How to book: Call 808-260-4109 or order online.
The gist: Chef Anthony Rush and Katherine Nomura of Senia bring posh London-style bites and cocktails to historic Honolulu.
The food: Instead of a meal, you’ll find fancy bar snacks like a foie gras parfait, Scotch quail eggs, a Hamachi roll (on a bread roll, not sushi) with smoked trout roe, and smoked potato salad. While they do serve beer, wine, and standard drinks, most people come for the whimsical cocktails, which are served tableside with dramatic flair. If you prefer the element of surprise, don’t look on social media for the presentations of the Chung Chow, The Freddie 2.0, or the It’s Just a Gin & Tonic (with all of the props).
The cost: Specialty cocktails are $30; house cocktails are $18–25; and classics are $16. Some snacks are sold by the piece at $4–14 each, or as a shareable serving from $16–28. Desserts are $12 each.
How to book: Reservations are accepted through the website or by calling 808-521-7367.
The gist: Diners make reservations months in advance to try ultra chic omakase with innovative cocktails in an intimate bar setting.
The food: If a venue is run by award-winning mixologist Justin Park (of Bar Leather Apron), you’d think the cocktails would be a big enough draw. But at this latest project, the food menu is as revered as the drinks. Park worked with chef Ki Chung to create an omakase (tasting menu) downstairs and an a la carte menu upstairs, in which the food and drinks are meant to be enjoyed as perfect pairings. If you get a reservation upstairs, try the grilled scallop with dashi, the kanpachi with yogurt sauce, and the potato croquette topped with uni and cream. If you get a reservation for the omakase, note that the entire package is a food and drink pairing—you can’t opt out of the drinks. But you can ask for non-alcoholic versions that Park has crafted, so you don’t get too wasted.
The cost: The omakase starts at a base price of $150, but you can order supplements.
How to book: Reservations are taken through Resy on the Bar Maze website. At the moment, reservations need to be made about two months in advance.
The gist: This family-owned restaurant serves Cuban classics alongside an espresso bar in a colorful dining room.
The food: Owner Luis Castro, who has worked in many high-profile kitchens in Honolulu for several years, developed the menu for his self-named restaurant. Sandwiches like the cubano or the choripan (with linguica, mushroom chimichurri and roasted garlic aioli) are great for first timers, but for a real treat, get the ropa vieja (filled with 12-hour slow cooked grass-fed brisket, grilled onions, and green goddess aioli). The tres leches French toast with local fruits is also a must-have. Castro also interprets avocado toast in his own way, with parsley mojo sauce, pickled red jalapenos, and local radishes on olive bread. If all of that weren’t fabulous enough, about 90% of the ingredients used are local and from family-owned farms.
The cost: Items are between $14 to $18.
How to book: Walk-ins only. Seating is first-come, first-served.
Kalo Hawaiian Food
The gist: Landing in the spot formerly occupied by Spada Bar & Restaurant at the Courtyard by Marriott Waikiki Beach is the latest opening from restaurateur Chai Chaowasaree and a celebration of regional Hawaiian food.
The food: When owner and chef Chai Chaowasaree opened Kalo, he brought on two employees from the classic Helena’s Hawaiian Food in Kalihi. The recipes are Chaowasaree’s, but he needed local finesse in cooking authentic Hawaiian food. The Hawaiian Signature Sampler is your best bet, with kalua pork, ‘ahi poke, chicken long rice, lomi salmon, poi (when available), rice, and pipikaula short ribs. Other local favorites include the classic laulau, beef stew, and garlic noodles; if you prefer more contemporary fare, Kalo also offers lobster curry, miso sea bass, and Hawaiian-style barbecue chicken.
The cost: Most small plates and a la carte items are $8 to $15; the signature poke is $18 and the pipikaula is $22. Entrees range from $35 to $52. Desserts are $7 to $12. Signature cocktails are $14, beers range from $6 for domestic labels, $7-8 for imports, and up to $16 for Hawaiian labels, sake is $9, and wine is available by the glass for $10-14.
How to book: Walk-ins are accepted, but you can also make reservations by calling 808-931-6222 or through their website. Takeout can also be ordered via the website.
Pua Cake Studio
The gist: Delicious cakes and cupcakes topped with beautiful buttercream flowers and leaves.
The food: The cakes and cupcakes here are not just moist and delicious—they’re all topped with buttercream frosting, then owner Jayme Choi decorates them with colorful buttercream flowers and leaves. Beyond just roses and gardenias, Choi can recreate a wide variety of painstakingly detailed garden and tropical flowers. Some cakes also have a surprise fruit curd filling.
The cost: Cupcakes start at $3.25 to $3.50; custom cakes start at $50.
How to book: Walk in or order ahead through the website. The bakery can be hard to find—set your GPS for Fukuya Ramen, which has the same address, and Pua Cake Studio is behind it.
The gist: Heiho offers a modern, whimsical izakaya experience with a rotating menu that spans Italian, Latin, and Asian cuisines.
The food: The best thing to do when dining at Heiho House is to clear yourself of any expectations and open your mind. The menu completely changes every six weeks so chef Aaron Lopez can take advantage of the seasonal produce from local farms, and to keep creative juices flowing in both preparations and combinations of different ingredients. One thing that is always consistent: Lopez will always feature some kind of ice cream for dessert, since he previously owned an ice cream company.
The cost: Dishes are a la carte and cost between $4 and $23, with most items at $14. Cocktails are $14-16, beer is $10-12, a two-ounce serving of sake is $9-14, and wine is $12-18 . Desserts are $10 with an optional $8 upcharge for a beverage pairing. Teas are $6-8.
How to book: Walk-ins are accepted, but reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 808-260-9670 or through their website.
The gist: A French bakery that also sells Singaporean laksa on the weekends.
The food: During the week, Kailua denizens flock here for the French pastries, panini sandwiches, and coffee drinks. On the weekends, however, the Singaporean owner makes laksa—noodles in a spicy coconut broth that are popular in Southeast Asia. Her version is so authentic, you’ll find Southeast Asian expats from all over Oahu visiting just for that dish. Be sure to take home an almond croissant or their vegan, gluten-free chocolate tart.
The cost: Most pastry items and coffee are about $4 to $6. The laksa is $18.
How to book: No reservations. All seating is first come, first served.
The gist: An ever-changing vegan tasting menu with playful dishes in a sleek environment.
The food: Chef Harrison Ines offers a 14- to 16-course vegan tasting menu in which many of the dishes are transformed into items that resemble familiar proteins—like fried chicken drumsticks or shrimp rolls—or into completely new works of art. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get a seat at the chef’s counter so you can watch them make each one. Omnivores won’t miss the lack of meat and will enjoy a new take on plant-based food. The menu changes constantly as they rotate one to two dishes each week. Another bonus? The restaurant is BYOB.
The cost: The omakase is $140 per person. They don’t offer takeout or a la carte orders.
How to book: No walk-ins are accepted. Reservations are taken through Yelp.
Han No Daidokoro
The gist: A luxurious all-Wagyu dinner is on offer at this decadent, meaty yakiniku.
The food: Han no Daidokoro flies Miyazaki A5 Wagyu beef from Japan every few days to ensure its quality—the meat is never frozen. The omakase includes 11 dishes, all of which showcase the Wagyu prepared or seasoned in different ways. If that’s too expensive for you, they do offer a second tier that is a mix of Miyazaki and Oregon-raised washu beef, as well as a course that’s just washu beef.
The cost: The Miyazaki omakase is $150 per person, the mixed omakase is $120, and the washu omakase is $85. You can also order extra meat items a la carte, ranging from $20 to $128. Specialty cocktails are $14, classic cocktails are $9-15, sochu is $7-9 btg, sake is $16-45 btg, and wine is $12-15 btg.
How to book: Make reservations by calling 808-527-3229 or online.
ili ili Cash & Carry
The gist: Pizza, hoagies, and deli items in a neighborhood bodega.
The food: Owners Alejandro “Aker” Briceno and Lindsey Ozawa have a long history of pizza in Honolulu, so no one doubted their new project would be just as good. ili ili (short for the neighborhood, Moiliili) offers several house pizzas, from mushroom to spicy meatball to a loaded supreme loaded on a thin, New York-style crust. You can also opt for thicker Detroit-style pies, which are best with heartier toppings like their pepperoni. The hoagies, made with fresh house-baked bread, are just as outstanding than the pizzas. The eggplant and the Italian are two popular choices, and they still taste great a day later—which is helpful, since they’re so huge that you’ll barely be able to finish half in one sitting. You can also purchase bottled soft drinks, wine, meatballs in tomato sauce, baba ganoush, and even ice cream.
The cost: Pizzas are $23-26; hoagies are $15-19, meatballs are $21, salads are $14, baba ganoush with crostini is $6.75, and garlic bread is $8.
How to book: ili ili is takeout only. Order ahead on their website.
Double Fat Ice Cream
The gist: Locally spun, small-batch ice cream in unique and traditional flavors.
The food: Chef Brandon Lee had been creating innovative ice cream flavors for many years, but now they’re more accessible through the Double Fat Ice Cream shop and restaurant partners. You can find familiar flavors like sweet cream and Kona coffee, but don’t shy away from specialty flavors like honey furikake, yuzu creamsicle, or the limited monthly specials. The Cracked Seed Delight signature sundae blends vanilla and strawberry ice creams and is topped with li hing powder, mochi crunch, condensed milk, and non-dairy whipped cream.
The cost: Cups are $5 and $7; sundaes are $9. Additional toppings are $1 each. Pints are available at ili ili Cash & Carry and Residence Inn Kapolei.
How to book: Walk-ins only.
The gist: Small-scale dim sum and upscale Chinese banquets are served in an elegant dining space in Kaimuki.
The food: Many people wondered where the Mandalay, which had occupied a huge space in downtown, had moved to. It’s now in a much smaller space on Waialae Avenue, which is better due to all the COVID mandates. You can still order their dim sum for lunch from a very basic, limited menu, but people are booking their small, private rooms (which seats six to ten people) for dinner. The restaurant works with you on items depending on your budget, but no matter what, be sure to order the char siu. They only use fresh pork and a proprietary marinade, so it needs to be ordered 48 hours in advance. Other popular banquet items include Peking duck, clay pot oxtail, shrimp paste chicken wings, and lobster yi-mein.
The cost: Basic dim sum is about $4 to $8 per basket. Appetizers are $10-18; chicken, pork, and beef dishes are $14-15; seafood dishes are $17-21; rice and noodle dishes are $13-17; and vegetable, tofu, and clay pot dishes are $14-18. Roasted duck is $20 for half and $38 for whole; Peking duck with buns is $22 for half and $42 for whole. The char sui is $40 or $20 for just one order. Canned drinks are $2.50 and diners can BYOB.
How to book: Call 808-525-8585 for reservations or takeout orders.
The gist: Creative Korean fusion hidden in a beer lab.
The food: Sistah Truck used to be an actual truck serving plate lunches, but last year they moved into Beer Lab at Pearlridge, with a huge kitchen that enabled them to get more creative and expand their menu. The kalbi atop butter garlic rice is fantastic. The Wagyu cheeseburger with crinkle fries and the Wagyu loco moco with white gravy and an over-easy egg are also good choices. If you’re just feeling snacky, get the tater tot nachos or the kimchi cheese dip. On weekends, Sistah Truck streamlines their menu and only offers smashburgers, smashburger loco moco, fries, and churro shakes.
The cost: Sides like furikake fries, beef gyoza, and vegetable spring rolls are about $7 to $8 and the plates range from $9 to $18.
How to book: Seating is all first-come, first-served. Place your order online as there is no staff to take orders.
The gist: Owner Ash Thaira takes influences from all over Southeast Asia and Hawaii to make her own fusion style in this casual eatery.
The food: Asian Flavors started as a pop up, with owner Ash Thaira experimenting with her own experience with Thai and Lao cuisine. Now she’s got a casual dining room in the Pearlridge Shopping Center where diners can enjoy her best-selling lechon (crispy pork belly), Lao ribs, Thai curry poke, spicy glass noodles, house-made tamarind drink, and more.
The cost: Appetizers are $5-7; plates are about $8 to $17; the meat sampler is $32; desserts are $5-6. The tamarind drink is $5.
How to book: Walk-ins only. You can order ahead by calling 808-778-0657 or online.