In a city as flourishing as Honolulu, sometimes dinner at a typical chain restaurant just doesn’t sound ideal. Maybe you just want to explore, or find restaurants that the locals love with just that touch of uniqueness. From gourmet to beach casual, we’ve compiled a smattering of places that are certain to give you some vibrant flavors of the island.
Alan Wong’s Restaurant
Alan Wong’s Restaurant is well recognized as one of the premier dining locations in the city. When celebrated chef, Alan Wong began over 15 years ago, critics were skeptical that a restaurant hidden on the third floor of a commercial building with no ocean view, would inhibit the restaurant’s success. However, Wong’s has time and again proven that creativity, elegance and quality have ranked his restaurant the number-one Best Restaurant in all of Oahu (Hale Aina Award, 2014). Primarily using locally grown produce, and fisheries, Wong is an advocate of investing in the land and in relationships with local farmers. Some highly praised menu items include the 6 to 12 course “tasting the classics” selections, the kalua pig salad, and the ginger-encrusted tropical fish, all of which come served with complimentary macadamia nuts at the end of the meal. If you are looking for an unforgettable experience, Alan Wong’s Restaurant will not disappoint.
Nico’s at Pier 38
Sourcing their fish from the Honolulu Fish Auction, Nico’s offers a variety of fresh seafood for a moderate price. Providing outdoor seating with ocean views of the harbor, this place comes well-recommended, having won awards as Honolulu’s best seafood eatery several years in a row. Nico’s has also been featured on the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri. Whether you want a poke bowl, swordfish, seared ahi, or one of the gourmet Hawaiian plate lunches, Nico’s is definitely a restaurant to prioritize.
Helena’ Hawaiian Food
Open since 1946, Helena’s recently won the 2014 Award for Best Hawaiian Food for their traditional dishes. This family-owned local restaurant offers favorites such as lomi salmon, squid luau cooked in taro leaves, succulent pipi kaula beef ribs, melt-in-your-mouth fried butterfish (black cod), all with Hawaiian sea salt and Maui onion on the side. For dessert, on occasions they throw in free haupia coconut pudding. If you are looking to order a plate of authentic Hawaiian food flavored to perfection, Helena’s is the place to go.
Ethel’s Grill is rated a popular lunchtime hotspot in Honolulu. The modest exterior conceals a restaurant that celebrity chefs, like Honolulu’s Roy Yamaguchi, renowned chef of “Roy’s,” love to frequent. The interior is decked with pictures of locals, frames of old newspaper articles and surprising art of sumo wrestlers on the wall. Don’t let the décor fool you. Ethel’s won the Silver Medal of the Hale Aina Award 2014 for Best Hole-in-the-Wall restaurant. The tataki sashimi and the jumbo pork katsu are must-haves!
For a quick and casual meal, be sure to stop by the Rainbow Drive-In. This classic fast-food joint has been a favorite for over 50 years. The Rainbow Drive-In features the popular “loco moco,” a dish comprised of a bed of rice topped by a hamburger, and a sunny-side-up egg smothered with brown gravy. Though this might not sound appetizing at first to people outside of Hawaii, there is nothing surfers crave more after a day of riding waves, than this savory protein-rich feast. The loco moco, fried rice, chili, and mixed plates prove to be some of the most popular options presented at Rainbow Drive-In.
Your Kitchen, located on 10th Avenue, looks like just that! Tucked next to an art gallery and hobby store in residential Palolo, this restaurant is truly a hidden gem. The most highly recommended dishes are the pork and steak bowl s, with thinly sliced, deliciously marinated meat that are topped with a soft boiled egg. If you are stopping by for dessert only, the shaved ice is well-worth ordering. With bright citrus flavors like orange and lemon lime, you can add a touch of mango, green tea, or passion fruit for a tropical twist. Whatever you chose, this little place is a kitchen you’ll want to visit.
Some of our favorite dessert places
Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha is a family-owned favorite, and multiple-award-winning “treat shop” where everyone is welcomed in true Hawaiian spirit. Here you can meet Uncle Clay himself and try tangy or sweet shaved ice options in a variety of tropical flavors.
The Yatiaimura Quality Food Court in Shirokiya at the Ala Moana Center, is a must-see. We recommend stopping by Meika Plaza for a vast assay of fruit-based Japanese sweets and European-inspired donuts and pastries.
JJ Bistro and French Pastry is a place you don’t want to miss if you have an incurable chocolate craving. You might consider the favorite Frou Frou au Chocolat, or the chocolate lilikoi concoction, a chocolate fruit basket and chocolate banana confit. Either way, you will be sure to leave completely satisfied.
While there are innumerable places to dine in Honolulu, we hope you explore and find yourself enjoying Hawaiian cuisine whether at a diner or a gourmet restaurant. This city is sure to impress and delight every visitor with a true taste of Honolulu.