The Gourmet’s Guide to Dining in Honolulu

The next time you’re considering a getaway to Hawaii, make sure you plan to do some dining in Honolulu — and use our delicious “eatinerary” to get started.Read More

Liliha Bakery’s Poi Mochi Doughnuts

Lust-worthy beaches and spectacular surf are not the only allures of heavenly Hawaii. While often an afterthought, the state boasts dozens of international restaurants that call on the traditions of both native Hawaiians and countries across the globe. The next time you’re considering a getaway to the islands, make sure you plan to do some dining in Honolulu — and use our delicious “eatinerary” to get you started.

Day 1

If you arrive early in the morning (depending on your point of origin), you’ll likely have time for an AM sip-and-nibble. Head off the main strip (Highway 1) toward Monoa for your first taste of the island: Morning Glass Coffee. Stumptown beans fill the espresso machines here, so you can go black for optimum flavor or roll the dice and opt for the Hawaiian coffee of the day. Whatever you choose, be sure you get it to go; you can get breakfast here, but there’s another spot you need to try.

Head back to the Liliha-Kapalama neighborhood to the east and amble into the local’s favorite baker: Liliha. There are plenty of goodies lining the expansive pastry case here (pro tip: don’t bring obsessive sweet-tooths along or you’ll never leave), but we recommend homing in on the doughnuts. Savored across the island as Hawaii’s best, these diverse treats come in an abundance of flavors, including Cinnamon, Maple Bacon, Poi, and Boston Cream. Grab your favorite then head to the nearby Moanalua Gardens for a serene breakfast walk-and-dine.

Undoubtedly, your morning stroll will suck you into the natural beautify of Honolulu’s environs. Whether you soak in the sea breezes of Ala Moana Regional Park or linger in Waikiki, don’t forget to make time for lunch.

Mitsu Ken, right off the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 201, is the bento lunch hotspot you wish you had in your own neighborhood. Go for whole hog and order the Fried Saimin Bento — a heaping helping of ramen-esque noodles, spam, cabbage, onions, carrots, and saiman dashi seasoning (think umami times 10) alongside an egg omelet and garlic chicken. Sounds like a lot, but most diners have no problem polishing off the entire dish.

It’s recommended you take several hours to adventure outdoors and work off your indulgent breakfast and lunch before dinner. Now is the time for some park hiking, swimming, or snorkeling adventures — whatever suits your fancy.

With a renewed appetite, head to The Pig and the Lady in Chinatown. This Japanese and Vietnamese-themed concept is happily airy and rustic, while the food is a gustatory wonderland. Designated share plates are recommended for two or three diners, but you can share just about anything on the menu. Must-trys include the tangy-spicy Kaua’i Shrimp with Meyer lemon nuoc mam (read: earthy-salty meets spicy), Vietnamese Pizza with piquant lap xuong sausage, and the Medjool date-studded Burmese Tea Salad for palate-cleansing.

Share plates go quickly at The Pig and the Lady, so you’ll find yourself quickly sated — perhaps even over-sated. No worries. Take a sauntering post-prandial walk to The Tchin Tchin! Bar just a block or so away to settle your stomach and savor a creative cocktail. Yes, you can order a glass of wine or a pint of beer, but go off-script; ask for the cocktail of the month if you’re feeling adventurous, or tuck into the deliciously oddball Sicko Mode (Cachaça, whiskey, gin, and bruto).

Traditional Hawaiian Poke Plate
Traditional Hawaiian Poke Plate (Source: iStock/bonchan).

Day 2

Rise and shine for another day of gourmet treats in gorgeous Honolulu. For starters, grab a seat at Sweet E’s Café. It’s not much to look at, but this mainstay southeast of the city shows up on every “best of” foodie list known to man. Tops for us: The French Toast. Simple, but right on point with a sweet, eggy allure that is one-of-a-kind. Want a bit more oomph to your toast? Stuff ‘em with blueberries and cream cheese.

Any foodie worth his or her appetite would be thinking about lunch while finishing breakfast, so think on this: a trip to Helen’s Hawaiian Food. You can engage in some retail therapy at Kamehameha Shopping Center just up the road before indulging, but you’ll want to make time for Helen’s Kalua Pig and fall-off-the bone Short Ribs. You can get seafood, too, but most lust after the pork.

Smoked Cocktail at Bar Leather Apron
Smoked Cocktail at Bar Leather Apron (Source: Bar Leather Apron).

Did we mention Day 2 is all about food? Plan for an afternoon adventure if it suits you, or just lounge at your hotel, but be ready at about 5 pm for tipple and small bites at Bar Leather Apron on the water — just a hop, skip, and a jump from Brewer’s Wharf. There’s not a cocktail here that doesn’t impress, though perhaps the most impressive is the E Ho’o Paul Mai Tai, brimming with spirits and other-worldly accents galore: Sherry, orgeat, and absinthe, mingled with wood smoke, coconut water syrup, and vanilla. If you’re feeling peckish, the Nametake Mushroom Bruschetta with truffle balsamic never disappoints.

No Hawaiian visitor worth their sandals can dine in Honolulu without taking in a meal at celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi’s own Roy’s Waikiki. Spectacularly lit and surrounded by swaying palm trees, this is one culinary experience worth every penny. If you loathe making decisions, order the three-course Classics Tasting Menu and settle into a multinational feast for the senses, featuring dishes like Macadamia Nut-Crusted Hawaiian Fish (whatever catch the chef chooses), Szechuan Baby Back Rib, and Hot Chocolate Soufflé. If you want to take the reins, opt instead for à la carte dining and dive into masterfully crafted fare like sweet-rich Misoyaki Butterfish, capped with ginger; Hibachi-Grilled Salmon with ponzu; or the fun-fantastic Yama Mama Meatloaf dripping with bacon-mushroom gravy.

Ornate Sushi at Roy’s in Honolulu
Ornate Sushi at Roy’s in Honolulu (Source: Roy’s Waikiki).

While you can lounge at Roy’s and complete the meal with a sweet selection from the restaurant’s dessert menu, take the opportunity to explore yet another avenue for dining in Honolulu: MW Restaurant. This spot is special for multiple reasons — including a James Beard Award nomination and a dinner menu fit for royalty. But the desserts unfairly take a back seat. Here are four reasons you should punctuate dinner at Roy’s with MW sweets: Cherry Blossom Macarons, Sea Salt Chocolate with Truffle Caramel, Yuzu Fruit Tart, and Dehydrated Chocolate Mousse. Enough said.

Classic Spam Musubi
Classic Spam Musubi (Source: iStock/4kodiak).

Day 3

It’s entirely possible that Day 2 left you feeling a bit over-fed. Time to take it easy on the culinary adventures, so lounge away in the morning and, when hunger strikes, slide into Koho Head Café in the Wilhelmina Rise neighborhood. The décor won’t blow you away — it’s very much like an American diner — but the all-day brunch menu will inspire. If you’re keeping things light, go with a Black Sesame Yuzu Muffin and coffee. For a bigger commitment, the Auntie Alohi Cakes with guava jam will likely do the trick. Need protein? The Breakfast Congee with Portuguese sausage, heritage ham, soft-poached egg, and cheddar cheese will keep you fueled for hours.

Close out your dining in Honolulu with a landmark Hawaiian meal: lunch at Waiahole Poi Factory. This isn’t technically in Honolulu (it’s on the northeastern coast of the island), but you’ll likely be exploring anyway so make a point to drop by. Squid Lu’au is always a good option, but if you find yourself craving pork again, the Laulau Kalua Pig with poi, salmon, and haupia (coconut milk dessert) will happily serve as the capstone to a memorable gustatory adventure.