Food & Drink

Oahu's Local Chain Restaurants That You Should Absolutely Go To

Sure, restaurant chains often get a bad rap, partly because they can be perceived as taking business from smaller hometown eateries, and partly because folks often assume that all chains peddle bland dishes with low-quality ingredients, which of course isn't always the case. But one of the great thing about chains is that you know what you’re getting anytime, anywhere. While Oahu is pretty small, we're still big enough to have several island-based restaurants with multiple locations, all of which retain local status and serve consistent, predictably delicious dishes.


Two Oahu locations, multiple locations worldwide
Roy Yamaguchi opened his first restaurant in Hawaii Kai in 1988. Today, you can taste his Pacific Rim creations all across mainland America, Japan, and Guam. Besides giving your taste buds things like kiawe-smoked Szechuan baby back ribs and melt-in-your mouth misoyaki butterfish, Yamaguchi is also credited as one of the twelve creators of Hawaiian regional cuisine. The new Hawaiian fusion-style of cooking he helped introduce in the 1990s focused on utilizing fresh, local ingredients. Across the nation, his menus feature continually evolving creations, based on seasonally available ingredients, in addition to serving his longtime classics... so you can taste a bit of island history with each bite.


22 Oahu locations
If you came of drinking age on the island, it’s likely that you’ve spent many an early morning shoveling Zippy's chili cheese fries or saimin through your vodka hole, trying to sober up before sunrise. It's cool -- you were far from the only one. This 50-year-old institution offers more than just late-night munchies, however: you can find local comfort foods like loco moco and teriyaki cheeseburgers, alongside staples like the famous chili, as well as Zip Pac bento, filled with local, meaty delights like teriyaki beef, Spam, fried chicken, or mahi mahi on rice, sprinkled with furikake and a slice of daikon. There are consistently filling flavors to be found in any neighborhood location.

Big City Diner

Six Oahu locations
Open since 1988, Big City Diner is a place to which large groups tend to flock due to its ample booth and table seating. But smaller parties can also find joy in its hearty American cuisine and local comfort food. Greasy spoon selections like the Really Loco, Loco Moco hamburger, or Grandma’s Kim Chee Fried Rice, are there to soothe your homestyle food cravings. But those looking for healthy options can find vegan choices like gluten-free chili fries, fire-roasted portobello mushroom salad, and Mamasan’s Vegetable Stir-Fry, made with a medley of fresh garden vegetables, so your post-diner food coma is completely optional.

Bangkok Chef

Four locations
Just 15 years ago, this company was your humble neighborhood Asian mini market. Luckily, a curious customer asked about the delicious aroma coming from the back kitchen, and through that butterfly effect, your go-to pad Thai place, Bangkok Chef, was born. Now we can order all the basil chicken, Thai green curry, and mango salad our hungry hearts desires.


Four locations
Sliced meat: good. Vegetables: good. All cooked together in a warm, soupy broth at your table: crazy, ridiculously good. When your day demands something soothing and healthy, heed the call at this Japanese nabe restaurant, located in Ala Moana, Aiea, Kaneohe, and Kaimuki. Customize your hot pot first by choosing from classic & premium broths, then selecting between seafood or finely sliced USDA Choice cuts of meat. Then combine with generous platefuls of vegetables & tofu, and complete your meal with ramen, udon, or a rice porridge. Ichiriki gets extra budget-friendly twice a day, during early and late-night happy hour, where adult beverages, appetizers, and a special nabe are offered at discounted prices. For a quicker-paced experience, try the newest hot pot location in Kaimuki, where you can grab your soup supplements as they sail past you on a conveyer belt.  


Four locations
This local chain delivers with familiar favorites like sushi,  chicken katsu, and poke donburi, as well as more traditional Japanese selections like misoyaki butterfish and nishime. With daily lunch specials and an early bird special from Wednesday through Friday, Gyotaku lets you fill up on bento, leave with a full stomach, and have your wallet still be... well, half full, at any rate.  

AGU Ramen

Three locations, one opening soon
Having opened just three years ago, this Japanese bistro was already one of the most popular ramen joints on the island before it expanded. Noodle lovers can find bowls of thin, chewy noodles with an array of soup bases varying from refreshing jidori ramen to extra-rich kotteri tonkotsu. Try the savory Parmesan kotteri, with a heaping of grated cheese sprinkled, along with black garlic oil. The spice levels range from one to five, but think conservatively... for novice spice eaters, level one may clear the sinuses, and level three may start the spice sweats. Level five, of course, is of grand-scale spiciness proportions, and only for those with extensive spice level training and preparedness. Extra napkins available upon request. (Not that you'll need to wipe the tears from your eyes or anything).

Fresh Catch

Four locations
Chef and owner Reno Henriques, a seasoned diver, brings fresh fish to his quartet of seafood delis in the form of poke & plate lunches. If you love raw fish, and you love special sauces, and you especially love raw fish and special sauces mixed together, check out all two dozen of Fresh Catch's options.

Teddy's Bigger Burgers

11 Oahu locations, multiple locations worldwide
With locations sprawled across the Hawaiian Islands, the continental US, and Asia, it’s hard to believe that the first of these fast-food burger joints opened at the base of Diamond Head only 18 years ago. Decorated in the style of a 1950s diner, Teddy's reinvented the concept by preparing its classic dishes with quality ingredients. Fresh buns are delivered daily, and burgers are made with 100% chuck -- without fillers or binders. All of the patties are chargrilled to order, so you always know you aren’t getting a sad slab of meat that’s been hanging out under warmers all day. An added bonus: even the special sauces are made from scratch, a far cry from plain ketchup and mustard varieties found at fast-food joints.


Six locations
In 1990, Thomas Ky opened his first Southern Italian eatery in Kailua, and slowly expanded his special brand of friendly fine dining across the island. Stop by for a white tableclothed lunch or dinner for grilled steaks, seafood, and excellent pastas. Even small portions are hearty enough here for the average eaters to stuff themselves silly... before remembering there’s still homemade dessert to consider. Pro tip: consider dessert.

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Summer Nakaishi is a freelance writer for Thrillist who would walk to the ends of the earth for delicious soup broth, but is glad she doesn’t have to.