The Best Restaurants In Honolulu guide image

photo credit: Laura La Monaca

OAHGuide

The Best Restaurants In Honolulu

Whether you're in the mood for a cocktail at a beachside Waikiki bar or some extremely fresh poke, these are our favorite spots in Oahu's biggest city.

While there’s the common cliche that Hawai‘i is a crossroad between East and West, when you get to Honolulu, it all makes sense. This is where ‘50s-style diners face 20th-century Buddhist temples, where Filipino adobo shares the menu with kimchi fried rice and Chinese chow fun, and where restaurants have soy sauce alongside ketchup in the condiment tray.

You will, of course, find impeccably fresh poke, often at takeout counters and grocery stores, but there’s plenty more to explore, like high-end Japanese-inspired restaurants or oceanfront spots to take in the sunset in Waikiki. For our money though, the best food on the island is found in more casual settings and local (rather than tourist) focused neighborhoods, where bankers and contractors dine side by side. Here are the best places to eat and drink in Honolulu (along with a few spots elsewhere on Oahu). And, yes, we included where you can find an excellent mai tai.


FOR LOCAL SPECIALTIES


photo credit: Laura La Monaca

Maguro Brothers review image

Maguro Brothers

$$$$

1039 Kekaulike St, Honolulu
Earn 3X Points

You’re in Hawai‘i, which means you’re here for poke. There are plenty of great places in Honolulu, but you’ll want to head to Maguro Brothers for a simple version that highlights fresh fish tossed to order with minimal seasonings of limu and salt or shoyu and onion. While you can expect a consistent line in Waikiki after they open in the late afternoon, the Chinatown location is less busy, stays open until the early afternoon, and rounds out the slim menu of poke and chirashi with grilled hamachi kama and ahi belly.


Helena’s isn’t much of a secret anymore. The parking is horrible, the hours are limited, and it’s usually pretty busy, but we’ll suffer through it all since this is our favorite spot on the island for Hawaiian food. Part of the appeal is its legacy—Helena’s has been around since 1946—but we keep coming back for the still-excellent pipikaula short ribs, which get dried above the stove before they’re fried. Order one of the sets, so you get all the fixings with your meal: rice or poi, lomi salmon, a side of salt and raw onions, and haupia to finish.


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Come here for a selection of comfort food from Hawaii’s plantation era, when laborers from around the world brought with them a taste of home. You’ll find Puerto Rican pastele, Japanese mochiko chicken, and Filipino pork adobo, alongside Hawaiian classics of lau lau, kalua pig, and fresh poke. While they only do takeout, the food holds up well enough to take your spread back to your hotel room or go grab one of the picnic tables at the nearby Honolulu Stadium park.


While Pipeline is a relative newcomer, their fluffy malasadas instantly became a favorite—they’re right up there with popular spot Leonard’s Bakery. They come fried to order (get them with a dusting of puckery-sweet li hing powder) and are best if you eat them straight away (though, unlike most other malasadas, are still good the next day). The grab-and-go spot also offers baked goods like pumpkin crunch and lilikoi bars as well as ice cream, including a signature malafrozada flavor, studded with malasada chunks.


Join the surfers and construction workers refueling at this general store. Fort Ruger Market dates back to 1942, but the food has never been as good as it is now. You don’t have to choose between the Rugerlicious poke made up of fresh ahi mixed with taegu, or the crispy-skinned lechon: get them both on top of rice for the ultimate bowl. And while you’re there, grab some dried ahi, a tub of smoked ahi, and a paper bag of boiled peanuts by the cash register for all-day snacking, and bring your haul for a picnic at the nearby Diamond Head lookout.


NICER SIT-DOWN DINNERS


photo credit: Laura La Monaca

Nature review image

Nature

RESERVE A TABLE

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When you need an escape from the highrises and tourists in Waikiki, make a reservation at Nature. Follow the lilikoi vines up to the second floor of a 1930s garden courtyard apartment building, and you’ll find a cozy space that feels like the kitchen in a country house, decked out in warm, dark wood. One side of the restaurant is a formal and intimate 10-seat chef’s counter serving a French and Japanese-inspired tasting menu (with a vegetarian option available, too), while the other side is a more casual bar with high tops and an a la carte menu. We prefer the casual side, where preparations are less fussy and the menu might include a Molokai venison in a bolognese or seared opakapaka bouillabaisse. 


When you come to Fete, always listen carefully to the long list of specials, which will usually highlight a local fish and whatever the chef’s been obsessed with recently. That’s including, but not limited to, pork chops from pigs raised at Kualoa Ranch (a.k.a. the set of movies like Jurassic Park and Jumanji). The core menu features dishes like carbonara with Portuguese sausage and an excellent Korean fried chicken sandwich, and you’ll definitely want to stick around for the housemade Rocky Road ice cream. Fete is one of the few restaurants on Oahu that’s open from lunch all through dinner and is truly excellent for all meals, but given its small, Brooklyn-meets-Hawai‘i-meets-French bistro space, it’s best suited for date nights and small groups.


There are a ton of excellent omakase options in Honolulu, but Sushi ii, tucked away in a strip mall, is one of the few that also offers creative cooked dishes. Alongside impeccable sushi like dashi-marinated ikura, golden eye snapper from Japan and local, live baby abalone, you can also order things like the ikura pan, a perfect mashup of salmon roe and creme fraiche slathered on a King’s Hawaiian roll. You definitely need to make a reservation, but aim to get a seat at the sushi bar, where you can joke around with sushi chefs as they skillfully slice thick pieces of akamutsu.


DRINKS


Located in the mezzanine of an office building, Bar Leather Apron is a truly unique, and formal, drinking experience. Reserve a spot at the bar to soak in the full dark and moody energy, where the bartenders in ties and, yes, leather aprons, shake, stir, and pour smoking cocktails. One of them is the mai tai, which is unlike any other you’ll have, with the addition of a raisin-infused rum and absinthe. It’s not the only thing worth trying either—the menu includes a matcha Old Fashioned, a short list of highballs stirred with yuzu or shiso, and a gigantic list of about 500 whiskeys.


Pint and Jigger, a local favorite that was closed from 2020 to 2022, recently reopened in a new—and bigger—location at Ala Moana Hotel. Just outside Waikiki, it manages to keep the original’s fancy sports bar atmosphere, with communal picnic tables, shuffleboards, and TVs tuned to ESPN. Come here after a swim at Ala Moana Beach Park and dig into one of Honolulu’s best burgers that’s thick, juicy, and topped with beer cheese. Find beers from Honolulu’s breweries on tap and strong cocktails like a Mesquite Smoked Manhattan and the Talventi, with rye, Campari, cold brew, and vanilla cream. 

If you get only one mai tai in Hawai‘i, order it at House without a Key, the beachside bar and restaurant in the Halekulani hotel. The version here is classic and well-executed, and if you come around sunset you’re in for a prime seat where you can also watch Hawaiian musicians and a former Miss Hawai‘i dance hula. Even for locals, this scene never gets old.


For drinks right by the sand, head to Hau Tree in the Kaimana Beach Hotel, which feels like you’re visiting a friend’s dream beach house. Find local beers, ciders, and tropical drinks including a variety of piña coladas, spanning everything from a classic version to the Miami Vice, part frose, part piña colada. Hau Tree is also a great place to come if you don’t feel like drinking, but still want to soak up the scene: non-alcoholic cocktails—like the E Komo Mai with pineapple, guava, lilikoi, orgeat, lime, and iced tea—get the tropical treatment, too.


On the eighth floor of the Ritz Carlton in Waikiki, this open-air Italian bar and restaurant is the perfect place to sink into a cushy and shaded seat to admire the incredible views of the sea and skyline. Not only that, it’s the ideal setting for an afternoon glass of white wine or a non-alcoholic lilikoi, peach, and shiso soda. Cocktails range from the refreshing Capri - Game with vermouth, limoncello, calamansi, and prosecco, to the Smoked Roots, a mix of mezcal, ginger, turmeric, and yuzu, misted with Laphroaig. 


SOMETHING CASUAL


The Pig and the Lady was one of the first on the island to serve a ph​​ở French dip, and while you’ll find a few other versions around, we think this is still the best. While the sandwich is only available for lunch, it’s worth stopping by for a midday meal powered by this braised brisket-stuffed creation that’s spiked with a Thai basil chimichurri and comes with a side of phở broth for dipping. This spot is also one of our favorite group dinner destinations on the island, and not just because of the loud industrial chic dining room and The Big Trouble in Little China-themed bathroom. Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian ingredients collide in dishes like baked escargot in a seafood curry sauce, clam and rau ram linguine, and the “wrap battle,” a ssam-style feast centered on a big hunk of meat. Be sure to save room for the soft serve swirl, which always features different flavors.


Zippy’s is a local chain with more than 20 locations across the state, but it’s way better than what you’ll normally find from a fast food spot. Everyone has their go-to Zippy’s order, whether that’s the famous chili with rice or a Zip Pac, a bento with teri beef, Spam, fried chicken, and a fried fish filet. Ours is the saimin noodle soup with griddled cornbread—make sure to specify griddled, as this gives the airy cake a crisp crust. While most Zippy’s locations have cozy booth seating, it also makes for great takeout if you’re exploring and driving around the island.


A bowling alley might not be where you’d expect to find fantastic oxtail soup and some of the crispiest and juiciest fried chicken in Hawai‘i (a state full of excellent examples), but that’s just what you’ll get at Aiea Bowl. Alongside those two essentials, always save room for dessert, especially the lemon crunch cake—we often stop by just for the soft fluffy cake layered with lemon and toffee bits. You don’t have to bowl to eat here, but given that you’re in a bowling alley, this place is great for groups. Plus, then you can order more cake. 


BRUNCH


Open for brunch and dinner, Nami Kaze’s menu can feel somewhere between intriguing and overwhelming, with things like lobster yuzu sushi rolls and a teri ahi burger on the breakfast menu. Even the straightforward-sounding omelette ends up coming out as a not-at-all-straightforward chawanmushi topped with mentaiko. Embrace the fun though and you’ll end up with a table of excellent options like the must-order honey walnut shrimp waffle, a.k.a. the best waffle pairing since fried chicken. Dinner focuses more on izakaya-style small plates like cold-smoked tomatoes with tofu and hamachi crudo. Nami Kaze is right by Honolulu’s commercial fishing pier, and the industrial exterior gives way to a big space filled with blond wood and a mix of tables and booths lit by Japanese glass fishing floats.


Even though Koko Head Cafe recently expanded into a bigger space, there’s still a line most mornings for its hefty take on local breakfast favorites. You’ll find loco moco topped with tempura kimchi and congee with three types of meat, plus cinnamon-bacon croutons. For those who like to start the day off sweet, get the cornflake french toast with bacon and Frosted Flake gelato. A plus of the new space is the shaded outdoor seating, carved out of a parking lot, but made charming with bamboo screens and tropical plants.


Mud Hen Water serves a modern Hawaiian menu for dinner, but brunch is where it really shines. That’s thanks to the airy, light-filled dining room, paved in reclaimed wood, and its patio adorned with colorful murals. Get some sourdough banana pancakes, pork sisig made with pig’s head, and fresh fish and luau, which consists of taro leaf cooked down in coconut milk until it’s almost the consistency of pudding.


OTHER SPOTS ON OAHU


Kahuku, about an hour’s drive from Honolulu along the scenic windward coast, is practically synonymous with shrimp trucks: the smell of garlic signals you’re close. And Giovanni’s is arguably the best of them all. It’s permanently parked among other food trucks in a lot with a shaded area accommodating plastic picnic tables—you’ll know Giovanni’s instantly from the long lines. The shrimp (imported, for consistency) are cooked shell-on in lemon butter with heaps of chopped garlic, so don’t come with someone you’re trying to impress.


Kailua is somewhat of a breakfast town, but even so, Over Easy stands out with its perfectly executed dishes, including crispy-edged pancakes and Portuguese sausage and rice bathed in a bacon cabbage broth. They don’t take reservations, so you’ll want to get here early to grab a spot in this cozy cafe decked out in blue and white tones.

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