Food & Drink

The Best Restaurants in Oahu for Classic Cuisine, According to Local Grandmas

Published On 06/21/2016 Published On 06/21/2016
1965 postcard, traditional Hawaiian feast
Hawaiian Legacy Archive/Perspectives/Getty Images
Nico's Pier 38

Nico's Pier 38

Kalihi

Fresh fish is hand-picked daily by an expert team, and that’s the way some grandmas like it. In addition to showcasing fish caught by local fleet, the oceanside eatery features a menu of ingredients grown locally on the island, which overlooks docked fishing boats bobbing in the ocean. During breakfast and lunch, diners can walk up to the counter, order, and find an open seat, while at dinner, Nico's offers an expanded menu and table service. “I like the miso chicken,” says Sandy Asato, who frequents the restaurant once every three to four months. “It’s casual; it’s a plate-lunch place.”

Sekiya’s Restaurant & Delicatessen

Kaimuki

A meal at this old-time restaurant is often a trip down memory lane for many grandmas. “I really like Sekiya’s because I used to go to Kaimuki High School, and we used to go there for saimin, so it’s like my olden days,” says Lynette Kotake, who still likes to order noodles and a hamburger. In 1935, this old-school restaurant first opened its doors in Kalihi, selling plate lunches for 10 cents during World War II. The restaurant moved to Kapahulu before settling at its current location in Kaimuki in the mid 1950s, where it still serves up classic, American, local, and Japanese comfort food, like sandwiches and malts, saimin, and oxtail soup. As an added bonus, until 3pm, you can stock up on their okazu bar, and build your own plate of goodies like inari (cone sushi), corn beef hash tempura, or musubi.

Ono Hawaiian Food

Kaimuki

This mom-and-pop joint consistently wins local awards for best Hawaiian food on the island, so it may not be much of a surprise that it’s also a winner amongst our grandmas. Lynette Kotake has been frequenting the casual, hole-in-the-wall eatery for nearly forty years, and still loves the lau lau, kalua pork, poi, lomi salmon, long rice, and beef stew. The restaurant is small, and quickly packs with customers, but the massive portion sizes and authentic flavors are worth the wait.

Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant

Gyotaku

Multiple locations

The grandmothers we spoke with noted that they enjoy the menu variety and specials at Gyotaku. New diners may want to scope out the menu beforehand to narrow down selection time, because the menu is packed with a wide variety of delicious-looking options, like soba and udon, tempura, salads, steaks, sushi, and combination plates, which may make for a long and difficult selection. “Tom Jones got his training in Japan to make sushi,” says Nancy Uramoto of her favorite restaurant’s co-owner. “He’s very good.”

Utage

Kalihi

A favorite amongst many grandmas we talked to, this Japanese and Okinawan restaurant is a crowd-pleaser for its traditional favorites. “I live far, far away,” says Nancy Taira, “and I go all the way to Dillingham because it’s Okinawan food.” The nasubi chanpuru (eggplant with pork) keeps her coming back, although she typically finds herself at the restaurant mainly for special occasions. The Kalihi eatery has been around for nearly 14 years, and it’s where you too can satisfy your taste for grandma-quality, home-cooked Okinawan comfort food like pig’s feet soup and goya chanpuru (bitter melon with tofu & eggs) alongside local favorites like ahi katsu and ahi poke. All meals come with a soup or salad, beverage, and dessert, which make for easy ordering.

Happy Days Chinese Seafood Restaurant

Kaimuki

It’s the dim sum that keeps some grandmas as regulars. “It reminds me of the dim sum in Chinatown when we were growing up,” says one grandma, who spent many childhood meals eating the bite-sized dumplings. Open for dim sum and dinner daily, carts wheel around baskets of hot dim sum and dumplings until 3pm. You can get your fill of pork hash, shrimp look fun, and sweet custard tarts, and supplement your savory goodies with off-the-menu items like Peking duck, chow mein, and walnut shrimp… all without fighting for parking in Chinatown.  

Zippy's

Zippy's

Multiple locations

It should come as no surprise that this local chain gets the grandma seal of approval. The restaurant has been around for 50 years, and many grandmas have been hitting up one or more of its 20-plus locations across the island for decades to get their fill of Portuguese bean soup, beef stew, or its famous chili, beans sometimes not included.

Restaurant Kunio

Waipahu

Waipahu resident Lilia Legaspi doesn’t eat out often, but Restaurant Kunio is always her destination of choice, specifically for the sushi. The restaurant sources its fish daily and cuts it into eye-catching menu items like salmon sushi, spicy tuna rolls, and miso butterfish. In addition to a la carte menu items, hot & cold noodles, nabe, and donburi, you can also get teishoku (meal sets), with salad, an appetizer, rice, miso soup, and tsukemono (pickled vegetables).

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1. Nico's Pier 38 1131 N Nimitz Hwy, Honolulu, HI 96817

Fresh fish is hand-picked daily by the expert team at Nico's, and that’s the way locals like it. In addition to showcasing fish caught by local fleet, this oceanside eatery features locally-sourced ingredients and a killer cocktail menu. Overlooking docked fishing boats and the Honolulu fish auction, Nico's dockside seating offers diners frontline seats to the action, and their attached fish market lets them take some home. Casual counter service during the day transitions to table service at night when this popular joint gets busy, and they don't take reservations.

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2. Sekiya's Restaurant & Delicatessen 2746 Kaimuki Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816

This old-school island restaurant opened its doors in Kalihi in 1935, selling plate lunches for 10 cents during World War II. The restaurant settled at its current location in Kaimuki in the mid 1950s, where it's been serving up classic American, local, and Japanese comfort food, like sandwiches, malts, saimin, and oxtail soup ever since. Family-friendly and quick, this is a favorite stop for locals with large groups, especially before 3pm when their buffet is open. Visit the Koi pond out back for an infusion of good luck before you leave.

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3. Ono Hawaiian Foods 726 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816

This ultra casual mom-and-pop joint consistently wins local awards for best Hawaiian food on the island, so it's no surprise that its always packed. Serving up, as the name implies, traditional homemade Hawaiian favorites like lau lau and long rice, Ono gives its customers the comfort they crave in generous portions. The restaurant is small and completely without frill—covered in old photographs and island history and short on staff—but the authentic flavors are worth giving up a few comforts. And be forewarned: this is a cash-only eatery.

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4. Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant 1824 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96826

Gyotaku in McCully does ultra fresh sushi in the classic Japanese style, and they do it better than almost anyone in Hawaii. A huge menu of other Asian-influenced items like soba, tempura, and steaks may offer a alternatives, but locals know that you should always order at least one sushi roll while here. Chef and co-owner Tom Jones trained in Japan to make his sushi, and the evidence is clear in the quality of the fish and the preciseness of his rolls. A large space that encourages family-style dining, Gyotaku eagerly welcomes large groups as they attempt to become synonymous with Japanese cuisine in Hawaii.

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5. Happy Day Chinese Seafood Restaurant 3553 Waialae Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816

Known for its daily dim sum service, this local favorite seafood restaurant serves up traditional Chinese seafood in the Kaimuki district. The dim sum carts go around until 3pm, serving hundreds of bite-sized dumplings and custard tarts every week. After that it becomes a normal sit-down restaurant, but it's never stuffy or formal. Meant for groups and families, this is a casual place to go eat your body weight in some of the freshest seafood around. Seating over 300 people, with private rooms for special functions, Happy Day is always bustling and energetic, but the quality of the food never suffers.

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6. Zippy's 1725 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96826

Zippy's, open since 1966, is Hawaii's most popular fast-food franchise. Open 24 hours and often with an attached Napoleon's Bakery, Zippy's is a friendly and reliable one-stop-shop for casual island food. The chain was made famous by its chili, but it serves a variety of Hawaiian favorites like loco moco, chicken katsu, lunch plates, and even sushi at some of its locations. For a budget-friendly meal option in Hawaii, there's nowhere better or faster than Zippy's.

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7. Restaurant Kunio 94-799 Lumiaina St. Unit 2F, Honolulu, HI 96797

Located in Waikele Shopping Center, this unassuming strip-mall destination sources fish daily to serve up fresh sushi items like salmon sushi, spicy tuna rolls, and miso butterfish. The space is designed in a traditional Japanese aesthetic, with Japanese lanterns, wood accents, and a sushi bar. To vary your seafood palette, you can also choose from a la carte menu items, hot & cold noodles, nabe, and donburi.

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8. Utage Restaurant & Lounge 1286 Kalani St, Honolulu, HI 96817

This Japanese and Okinawan restaurant pleases its customer base with a wide array of traditional island-fare favorites. The Kalihi eatery has been around for nearly 14 years, and it’s where you too can satisfy your taste for grandma-quality, home-cooked Okinawan comfort food like pig’s feet soup and goya chanpuru (bitter melon with tofu & eggs). All meals come with a soup or salad, beverage, and dessert, which makes for easy ordering, especially for the Okinawan families who frequent the restaurant. Friendly and casual, this is a sit-down eatery that brings the cuisine of Okinawa to the laid-back vibe of Hawaii.