Recently returned from O’Ahu, Hawai’i. It’s been a while since I’ve been in Hawaii and while many local favorites have remained, so much of the island has changed. Waikiki feels like Santa Monica now but along with the influx of people moving to Oahu along with the massive number of tourists, more new food is moving in as well.
I went as a combo trip for my friends Nicole & Yuzo’s wedding as well as Jenny’s birthday so it was a busy trip but we shoved in as much food as we possibly could during the week.
747 Kapahulu Ave. Apt 4, Honolulu, HI 96816 (Kaimuki)
I love fish and I love good poke. In LA, we don’t have the most amazing seafood selections so I was very excited to be in Hawaii where the quality of seafood is actually good. Ono has literally the best poke I’ve ever had thus far. The fish is fresh and the flavor is so good. Even their rice is delicious.
It’s a really tiny building with a really tiny parking lot so it can get crowded (we actually didn’t have a wait when we went) but it’s worth it. There are some tables outside where you can enjoy your food.
Spicy Tuna Ahi Poke
Shoyu Ahi Poke
At Leonard’s, you get malasadas. There is an unofficial running competition between Leonard’s and Champions for the best malasadas (honestly, both are good). If you aren’t familiar with a malasada, the Hawaiian version is based on the Portuguese dessert – basically a donut dusted with sugar. You can get some really good fillings like haupia (coconut milk), dobash (chocolate), and custard.
There is a decent sized parking lot here and the space is decently sized but there is usually also a line for this place. It’s more of a grab-and-go location but there are some benches outside.
Spam is a huge staple in Hawaii and with Japanese influence, spam musubi was born. Typically, it’s a piece of fried spam on rice that is wrapped with seaweed. At Musubi Cafe Iyasume, they go crazy over the different types of musubi you can get, like the Spam/Egg/Avocado/Bacon musubi, or the Green Shiso Herb musubi. They also serve different types of onigiri (rice balls) that are also stuffed with delicious things like mentaiko (spicy cod roe) or tuna/mayo, as well as different bento boxes.
This location is in the Aqua Pacific Monarch Hotel and is pretty small so the line can get long. They have some pre-made that you can grab-and-go or you can order fresh at the front. There is some seating in here if you would like to eat immediately.
Lappert’s is one of Jenny’s comfort eateries so we went pretty often on this trip. This Hawaii-only ice cream chain has good quality ice cream with fun, Hawaiian flavors. For example, their Kaua’i Pie has a Kona coffee base with coconut flakes, dark chocolate fudge, macadamia nuts, and vanilla cake crunch.
While they have locations peppered throughout the Islands, this location is in the Hilton Hawaiian Village which means it can get busy with tourists.
Mauna Kea’s Secret
Island Vintage Coffee is a coffee chain across the Islands that serve 100% Kona coffee. Their drinks are really good and they also offer a variety of baked goods (taro bagel!) as well acai bowls. The price can be a little steep but the quality is good. Some of their shops also sell goods like local honey and coffees that you can purchase.
This location is located in one of the shopping plazas in Waikiki. It is on the second floor so it’s less crazy and there is some indoor seating and a lot of outdoor seating.
Hawaiian Honey Latte
2259 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI 96815 (Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Waikiki)
If a local tells me to go to a hotel restaurant in Waikiki, I can’t help but side eye them suspiciously before trying it out but Azure was really delicious. As we were recommended to get seafood here, that is what we went with. We got their Azure Sashimi to start (Hawaiian yellow fin ahi, Japanese hamachi, avocado & watermelon radish salad, ginger vinaigrette) which was very good along with their Squash Soup which isn’t on the regular menu. I went for their Pier 38 Local Seafood menu (which means the fish they offer change depending on what they catch) and got the onaga (snapper) served Island Style (with garlic rice, heeeey!). Jenny went with their Calamansi Butter Poached Lobster Tails. That lobster was cooked perfectly. Finished up with a lilikoi (passion fruit) creme brulee which was SO good.
The decor of this space is very fresh and posh. They have great interior seating as well as a good sized patio overlooking the ocean (which we opted for). It is sort of hard to find since it’s literally the furthest thing back in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel but they have signs posted to help you on your adventure.
Calamansi Butter Poached Lobster Tails
Lilikoi Creme Brulee
Away from the tourist-saturated Waikiki, Oahu has lots of beautiful farmland and open space. Jenny is a coffee enthusiast so we thought it would be fun to head to a small coffee farm. They have a coffee shop inside where you can get their fresh coffee as well as bakery items. They also have different types of coffee you can sample. In the next room, they have a large area where you can buy their packaged coffees. We spent so much time smelling them since honestly, the unique flavors smelled SO good. They had sexual chocolate (which we bought because, duh), Pumpkin Spice, Snickerdoodle, etc. In the back, they have an area where you can see the process of how coffee beans are processed as well as an informational wall about how coffee is made from tree to cup. Behind the building, there is their coffee farm where you can walk amongst the trees and look at all the coffee cherries. There are seating areas in here so you can enjoy your coffee in the garden.
Even though the location is in the middle of fields, it was fairly crowded to get coffee. There is a lot of parking, though!
64-1550 Kamehameha Hwy, Wahiawa, HI 96786
The Dole Plantation is what I like to call the Disneyland of pineapples. Here, they have a HUGE store where you can buy tons of tchotchkes, food court, a train station where you can hop on their shiny trains to tour you around the plantation, walk among baby pineapple plants, etc. It is usually overrun by tourists and is insane here (literally, think Disneyland) but there is one reason why I will still go: DOLE WHIP. Dole whip is like a pineapple soft serve. Yes, I can just go to Disneyland and get it there but here, they have so many more options as far as toppings and hello, the pineapples are right outside so in my head it makes it so much better.
There is a very large parking lot to accommodate the large crowds and the key to avoiding all the crazy is to go early in the morning.
Chocolate Covered Pineapple (packaged)
FUMI’S KAHUKU SHRIMP TRUCK
56-777 Kamehameha Hwy, Kahuku, HI 96731 (North Shore)
There are a handful of famous shrimp trucks speckled across North Shore but my favorite is Fumi’s. I love their garlic butter shrimp (they put the garlic sauce over the rice which makes it 500x better) and their fried cod. I tried their chicken katsu as well this trip and it was pretty decent and came with a refreshing, spicy sauce.
It’s basically a permanent food truck off the side of the road. There is lots of space to park and lots of tables out to eat on. There are also some shops close to the truck.
Garlic Butter Shrimp
Spicy Garlic Butter Shrimp
Ted’s is a famous bakery company in Hawaii. While you can buy their pies and cakes in stores, I have never been to the actual brick and mortar bakery until now. It’s a super low key spot and aside from a HUGE variety of pies and cakes, they have a regular bakery section and also plate lunches! I got 4 desserts: Chocolate Haupia Pie, Pineapple Macadamia Upside Down Cake, Dream Cake, and Dobash Cake. Surprisingly, my favorite from the bunch was the Pineapple Macadamia Upside Down Cake!
There is a parking lot and the interior is grab-and-go. They do have seating directly outside as well as on the opposite side of the parking lot.
Pineapple Macadamia Upside Down Cake
Chocolate Haupia Pie
Shave ice is one of the most popular Hawaiian desserts. There are many shave ice spots that are well-known but Matsumoto is one of the best. Typically, it’s just shave ice with fun flavors like watermelon or strawberry but for this trip, we opted for something more Japanese-influenced: their Ichiban Special which is shave ice topped with matcha, condensed milk, azuki beans, ice cream, and mochi. It was super good and not overly sweet like shave ice can be.
This is in a shopping plaza that has a lot but it’s a popular location so parking in the lot may be hard (there is lots of street parking in the area). Be prepared for a long line but it moves quickly.
Strawberry & Condensed Milk Shave Ice with Ice Cream
Haleiwa Bowls is Jenny’s favorite acai bowl spot. It’s an adorable hut on the street. It’s fresh and delicious and you can add on all sorts of toppings!
There is no seating here so be prepared to either walk and eat or take it somewhere with you.
If you want some good, local Hawaiian food, stop by Helena’s. We got their Menu C, which has kalua pork, pipikala short ribs, lomi salmon, and haupia. Added on poke and mac salad. Everything was really good – especially the short ribs.
There is a small lot in front but apparently it fills up quickly and parking can be a pain otherwise. There is also usually a wait but the interior is decently sized and they can fit large parties. This is also CASH ONLY!
Pipikala Short Ribs
Uncle Tetsu serves Japanese cheesecake (I think this is actually the only location in the US). This is located in a mall’s food court so I had low expectations but they were giving out samples and it was SO good. Extremely light and fluffy with a soft sweetness. We bought one cheesecake since it was going to be Jenny’s birthday at midnight and we ate the whole thing in one go while watching the Food Network. My friend said they might be bringing more to the US and I really hope they do.
Cinnamon’s is a really great breakfast spot. They have a huge variety of dishes and I tried a skillet and a scramble but what really were the winners were their pancakes. My favorite of them all were the Guava Chiffon Pancakes. They were so light and had this amazing guava sauce that wasn’t too sweet or overwhelming. Also tried their blueberry macadamia pancakes (these were a little dry but still good once you put syrup on) and their red velvet pancakes that were drizzled with cream cheese frosting. I am sad because I will constantly be craving their guava chiffon pancakes now with no way to get them.
Parking is metered street parking and the restaurant is in the middle courtyard of a random office building so keep your eyes peeled when trying to find it.
Guava Chiffon Pancakes
Portuguese Sausage (side)
For Jenny’s birthday dinner, we made reservations at Alan Wong’s. As expected, the food and experience was amazing. We started with a butter flight (yes, that is correct – a butter flight) which was really unique and delicious. All the butter was from local dairies. We next got the poke-pines appetizer which was pretty good. I got the Tasting Menu which included: Ahi Sampler, Keahole Lobster & Shrimp Lasagna, Ginger Crusted Onaga, Twice Cooked Kalbi Short Rib, and “The Coconut” which is a haupia sorbet shaped like a coconut. While everything was so delicious, some of the preparation made it difficult to eat (literally). My favorite from the night was easily the short rib.
The location is SUPER low key. So low key, we drove by it at first. It’s a silver door to a very small office building and is on the third floor. There is valet which makes things much easier. The interior was decorated in an upscale yet relaxed manner and the kitchen was open which I loved.
Twice Cooked Kalbi Short Rib
The Coconut (dessert)
If you like good udon, you need to go here. The line is usually hours out the door but we went around 9:30AM on a weekday before our flight out so there was no wait. If there is a line, though, it’s still worth the wait. There are different types of udon to try and they put it together right in front of you! They also have tempura sides and other sides for you to put in your udon. I got the curry udon and added shrimp tempura, sweet potato tempura, and kabocha tempura.
Street parking here is next to impossible but there are some pay lots you can park. You seat yourself after you get and pay for your dish which makes people go in and out pretty quickly so don’t be turned off by the line.
2169 Kalia Rd., Honolulu, HI 96815 (Waikiki)
I didn’t take any photos here because the lighting was terrible and I spent most of my time enjoying the company of the wedding party the night before my friends’ wedding. While the food was sort of mediocre, it was really fun getting to cook the food on grills ourselves!