There are many lists that will tell you what the best restaurants are out there right now, but I thought it would be useful to make my own list based on the top Honolulu restaurants that I would actually eat at again. I think it says a lot about a restaurant if you’ve already been there and are willing to spend your money back there again. I’ve been to Oahu many times over the years and have gotten to try out a lot of amazing restaurants. Again, food is highly subjective and this is obviously my personal opinion, but I care a lot about what I recommend to my friends so by writing this guide, I hope it will help you out too. This guide will be based on restaurants that I’ve personally visited so you can trust that I’ve had first-hand experience and not just hearsay. Please keep in mind that not a lot of restaurants are open right now due to COVID. So places like Senia and Bar Leather Apron were on my list of places to try, but I didn’t get a chance to. Also, if you plan on going to Hawaii, make sure you check out my guide on what you need to know before you leave. Now, with all that being said, let’s go over the top 15 Honolulu restaurants that I would actually eat at again!
Out of the million times I’ve been to Hawaii, this was my first time ever going to Leonards. I’m usually not a big sweets person (especially morning sweets), but I seriously can’t stop raving about these malasadas. Since there were four of us and none of us had ever been, I order one of each flavor so we could have a little taste of everything. In the end, I would say the original plain sugar, cinnamon sugar, and custard were the fan favorites. Also, try to eat them hot if you can. I took them back to the hotel so they weren’t as hot, but they were still absolutely amazing. I can only imagine how great it would be when it comes out fresh.
What To Get: Original (Plain Sugar), Cinnamon Sugar, Custard
When my boyfriend and I first tried this place back in 2019, I couldn’t believe how good this place was! It’s your typical Hawaiian American brunch place with a concentration on Asian flavors. On our most recent trip, we took our friends there to share how amazing the food was, but unfortunately, I felt like food that day was just okay. It could have been because it was the last day of our trip and we were probably all tired of Hawaiian food. I’m still adding it to this list because of how great it was the first time we went. If you haven’t tried it yet, I would definitely go check it out. Also, make sure you make a reservation. Even though we had a reservation, we still had to wait 20 minutes.
What To Get: Koko Moco, Don Buri Chen, Breakfast Congee, Kimchi Biscuit (if they have it)
I would highly recommend this place for lunch or brunch. Their menu is a good fusion of Asian and American tastes with a side of hipster. Our favorite dishes that we ordered were the biscuits and mapo gravy and the pork sig sig. Also, we ordered the warm u’ala doughnuts as our dessert. Make sure you pre-order these if you want them since they do run out and we were the last table to get them. With that being said, I thought they were only okay and much preferred the banana pancakes if you need that sweet fix.
What To Get: Biscuit & Mapo Gravy, Pork Sig Sig, Sourdough Banana Pancakes, Bloody Marys
I want to first off start by saying that I’m ashamed that I didn’t take any pictures. I was so hungry that I just ate it without thinking about it, but you’re just going to have to trust me. This was by far my favorite meal out of the whole trip. This was another Oahu staple that I’ve never been to mostly because it’s quite far from Waikiki and the hours of operation are very limited. Since my friends were working from home from the hotel, I thought I would go pick up lunch for all of us. You can pre-order the food online and then go pick it up at a designated time. Of course, we over-ordered like we always do, but my GOD! It was so delicious. We ordered Menu D with a side of fried butterfish collar. Next time, I think we would just order Menu B and the butterfish collar. The lomi salmon, in my opinion, tasted like a pico de gallo with cooked fish in it. I understand that it’s probably something healthy and refreshing to cut through all the fat, but all of us were okay without it. Make sure you ask for the salt and onions. They are little accompaniments that really took the food to the next level. We will definitely be back here and will probably try to dine in next time so everything comes out hot. Lastly, it’s located in a tiny strip mall so the parking sucks here. Just be prepared that you might have to park somewhat far. Otherwise, still totally worth it.
What To Get: Menu D (if it’s your first time), Pipikaula Shortribs, Kalua Pig, Fried Butterfish Collar, Side of Salt and Onions
HAPPY HOUR OR DRINKS
The best part about being from California and “working from home” in Hawaii is the fact that by the time it hits 5:00 pm in California, it’s only 2:00 pm in Hawaii. This means that we can actually make it out to happy hour! Happy hours generally start earlier in Hawaii around 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm. The first happy hour we did was the one at Tommy Bahamas. I know what you’re thinking. “Tommy Bahamas? Like the clothing store?” Trust me, I had the exact same reaction. That’s probably why it was my first time ever setting foot in this place, but I’m glad I did. It has an amazing outdoor rooftop bar on the third floor and they have a wide selection of drinks and food around $7-$10. If you get there early enough, definitely snag a table at their barefoot sandpit lounge area.
What To Get: Anything on happy hour, but the cocktails probably yield the best value.
Our favorite happy hour of the trip was the Hideout at the Laylow Hotel. It is an outdoor open-air restaurant and has plenty of views of the city. Happy hour drinks come at a higher-than-average price, but I personally think the food is the main star. You have to try the crispy pork belly! We ordered one just to snack on and ended up ordering a second one because it was so good. One day, we want to come back to the restaurant and try the full menu. They also have live music and fire pits that make the atmosphere more young and fun. It’s best to have a reservation otherwise they may be able to seat you but will have to kick you out by a certain time.
What To Get: Happy hour drink of your choice. If you’re hungry, definitely try the crispy pork belly.
This restaurant is located in the Halekulani Hotel. Even though the whole hotel is currently closed due to COVID, it is planning on reopening in Summer 2021. Definitely did not see any happy hour prices here, but if you want a good cocktail, sunset views, and live music, this is your place. Reservations are definitely recommended if you want a good view.
What To Get: Drink of your choice. You’re here because of the sunset views, not discounted drinks.
With so many restaurants around Waikiki Beach, how are you ever going to choose? Well, if you haven’t been yet, Duke’s is an absolute must eat. Even though there are multiple outposts, I still highly recommend this place. It serves your typical Hawaiian seafood fare, but their quality is always consistent and the service is always on point. The restaurant is also always busy and you can probably expect a 1.5-hour wait since they don’t take reservations. Don’t forget to add the buffet to your meal. For $5, it’s a steal for what you get. Also, if you celebrate your birthday here (like I did), they give you a hula pie on the house!
What To Get: Prime Rib, Mac Nut & Herb Crusted Fresh Fish, $5 Add-On Salad Bar, Hula Pie
If you want a true Japanese counter sushi experience with a chef serving you nigiri omakase-style, look no further. Absolutely one of the best omakase experiences I have ever had. We didn’t get a chance to eat here this time around because we were all being budget-conscious, but if you’re up for a splurge and a truly authentic Japanese experience, I highly recommend this place.
What To Get: Chef’s Omakase
Website: No Website, Only Facebook Page
ANY TIME IS A GOOD TIME
I’ve only been to Zippy’s after a night of drinking because someone said that I HAD to get the chili. Yes, the chili is a staple there, but there are a bunch of other things that I think are worth getting instead. I would think of Zippy’s like the Hawaiian version of Denny’s. We went twice on our trip. Once because our flight got in late at night and it was the only place open and another time just to try out what else was on their menu. They have locations everywhere and are pounding out Hawaiian comfort food staples like loco moco and saimin noodles. It’s by no means a culinary revolution, but if you want to quickly get your Hawaiian fix for cheap, this is your place. Also, some locations even serve beer and wine and amazingly cheap prices. Not all locations serve alcohol so make sure you call and double-check and don’t make the same mistake as we did.
What To Get: Zip Pac, Korean Fried Chicken, Saimin
I’ve been going to this udon place for the past decade. Mostly because it’s probably the most affordable restaurant on the Waikiki strip. It’s a fast-casual restaurant where you stand in line, watch the cooks make your food, and then pay at the end. Kind of like a Chipotle or Blaze Pizza, but for udon noodles. You can watch them make the udon noodles fresh right from the restaurant’s window. We didn’t eat here this time around since we were staying a little farther from the Waikiki strip, but highly recommend this place if you’re on a budget. Also, make sure you add on all the fancy tempura toppings. The fried vegetable stack is my absolute favorite.
What To Get: Any of the udons, but nikutama is my go-to. Also, don’t forget the tempura toppings!
If you need a quick bite to eat or something to pack away easily for your hike, head over to Musubi Cafe Iyasume. They are known for spam musubis which I would say is the Hawaiian equivalent to the American hot dog (but so much better IMO). You can get your basic spam musubi or get my favorite, the avocado, spam, egg, and eel musubi. They have an extensive menu so you’re bound to find something to fit your taste. We also tried their poké bowls this time and were amazed how fresh it was. Would definitely get that again.
What To Get: Any of the spam musubis, but the “avocado, eel, egg, spam” is my favorite. Also, try the ahi poké bowl.
Technically not a restaurant, but a Hawaiian supermarket that you can go to for all your picnic supplies. They have an amazing prepared food section (even spam musubis) that will be the star of your picnic. Make sure you hit up the poké bar. Depending on the price you want to pay, they have previously frozen and fresh poké in all different flavors. We always get a 1/4 pound of three or four flavors so we can have a variety. Since this is a supermarket, this is where we make our alcohol run too.
What To Get: Anything from the poké bar, spam musubi, and prepared side dishes
Great place to pick up food for the beach. There are a bunch of pre-packaged baked goods and side dishes, but we were here for the mixed plates. Took the plates to Lanikai Beach and had a small picnic out there. If you’re in the area, there’s a little secret place that you have to try out also. A couple of blocks away is Fort Ruger Fish Market. They are primarily known for their poké bowls, but you can’t leave without getting their lechon (fried pork belly). I literally still dream about that lechon today.
What To Get: Any of the mixed plates and pastries
If you haven’t heard of the most inexpensive Michelin star restaurant, well now you have. This restaurant comes straight from Hong Kong serving elevated dim sum for relatively reasonable prices. Definitely not as cheap as your regular dim sum, but you can definitely taste the quality here. If you have not tried this restaurant, I suggest you dine in at least once. Since it’s COVID times, we opted to order our dim sum to-go and take it to the beach with us. The baked BBQ pork buns are an absolute must. They come in a set of three. Our group got six orders of these beauties alone.
What To Get: Baked BBQ Pork Buns, Deep Fried Dumplings, Lava Custard Seasame Balls
Places That I’ve Tried That Didn’t Make The List
By no means am I saying that these places weren’t good, but I just don’t feel the absolute need to be returning unless somebody else wanted to go. Some of these places I had a great first experience in, but I just felt like it was either too expensive for what you got, difficult to get to, the service was off, or you can find this back at home. I will be definitely updating my top 15 Honolulu restaurants every time I go back to Oahu, so I would love to know if you have any recommendations for me to try the next time I’m out there. Leave a comment below!
M by Chef Mavro
Tanaka of Tokyo
The Pig and the Lady
Tommy Bahamas (Dinner)
Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin