Oahu, Hawaii - What should I eat?
Aloha and welcome to my first blog, or guide rather, on visiting Oahu, Hawaii (a.k.a. O'ahu, Hawai'i)! I have been visiting Oahu for many many years now, since I have family on the islands and my parents love to travel. Oahu is becoming more and more jam packed with Japanese influence and fun activities. While it may be viewed as overpopulated and touristy, especially in comparison to the other islands, I still love Oahu for the variety of relaxation and excitement. You can never really be bored on this island and despite tourism you can still find local favorites and hidden paradises.
With my recent visit to the island earlier this month and previous visits with close friends, I now have a decent list of food recommendations that I am happy to share. This list is meant for first-timers to the island that want to experience local cuisine. Some may be out of the way, so I decided to list them by area to make it easier. You will most likely be planning your trip with activities and beaches to visit (I will write about some excursions next), so hopefully some of these land near your destinations. You may find that most of the food is still pretty American or Japanese influenced. I find it best to just look for the locally sourced ingredients, like passion fruit (lilikoi), pineapple, taro, sugar cane, coconut (haupia refers to a specific Hawaiian coconut dessert) or coffee. Also, the tuna in particular is some of the freshest and most delicate you can find. For drinks, the photo above is a Blue Hawaii cocktail, one of the favorites you can get at almost any bar (other favorites are Daiquiri, Piña Colada, and Mai Tai). For food, stay tuned for a brief overview of where I have been and what I highly recommend! Spoiler: every single place is worth it and beautifully photogenic, because it is Hawaii.
Honolulu / Waikiki
Let's start with the main area you will spend your time in: the famous Waikiki beach in Honolulu, capital of Hawaii. You will most likely land in Honolulu and stay in a hotel on Waikiki. I mean, you traveled all the way to some tropical islands, so might as well stay within reach of a nice sandy beach with calm waves and clear waters and your back to the fun downtown Waikiki area filled with nightlife and shopping. Japanese have been buying out areas here heavily in the last decade so new businesses are popping up and buildings are being modernized. I personally feel a little bit of the Hawaiian charm is being left behind, but it still has great shopping and tourist vibes.
1. Goofy Café and Dine
My favorite thing to get for breakfast in Hawaii is Loco Moco (white rice topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and brown gravy). The simple version at Goofy Café & Dine on Oahu is perfection. The fried eggs on top have that yolk porn consistency and the plating is beautiful. They also have a rarer item: a taro muffin. Taro root is a Hawaiian favorite, used in poi (a popular paste made from taro and water) and other staple foods. The muffin is like an English muffin in consistency, but a subtle earthy taste from the taro (which leaves it with a beautiful purplish blue hue). I also love the acai bowls they have here that are made with the freshest fruits available that day. Make sure you go with a group of four or less preferably (it is a small place), write your name down on the note pad in front, and wait for your name to be called. Goofy is casual and very popular – you may wait an hour for breakfast but it is worth it.
2. Ono Seafood
The one thing you have to get in Hawaii is poke: raw fish salad consisting of tuna traditionally, soy sauce, sesame oil, and green onions. The most authentic, melty poke I have had in Hawaii is at Ono Seafood in Honolulu. Ono is a simple shop with enough seating on the patio for about 10 people and only two designated parking spaces. You go in to this small market-like space and take your food to-go. The best on the menu is either the shoyu ahi (“shoyu” is Japanese for soy sauce, so this is a traditional poke) or spicy ahi (spicy mayo). Ono Seafood offers fresh, melt-in-your-mouth fish covered in a delicious salty sauce over white rice with seaweed – what more could you ask for?
3. Musubi Café Iyasume
Musubi Café Iyasume is a simple grab-n-go shop in the bottom floor of the Aqua Pacific Monarch Hotel. You can grab fresh musubi, bento boxes and rice bowls for a quick meal on the go before you head out to adventure and the beaches. We tried the spam musubi (traditional favorite – spam is a popular salty canned meat made primarily from ham that tastes similar to bologna) and the spam musubi with avocado, bacon and egg. Both are perfect snacks that I could just keep eating and eating.
Location: 334 Seaside Ave., Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
4. Helena's Hawaiian Food
Helena’s Hawaiian Food is what it feels like to eat at a Hawaiian home. The unassuming Helena’s Hawaiian Food is cash only, very casual with bland aesthetic, and has some of the most authentic Hawaiian food you’ll ever have outside of a local’s home. We had Menu C between two of us, which comes with Kalua Pig (baked pig covered in salt), Lomi Salmon (fresh tomato and raw salmon salad), Pipikaula Shortribs (salted and dried beef), rice, salsa, onions with Hawaiian salt, macaroni salad and haupia (Hawaiian coconut dessert that looks like white jello and is a natural light laxative). We also added ahi (tuna) poke. Everything was so simple and delicious – good natural ingredients cooked to perfection. Just remember CASH ONLY!
5. Marukame Udon
If you love, or even like, udon, then you MUST go to Marukame Udon in Waikiki. The udon noodles made here fresh every day are perfect. Pair them with the salty broth of your choice and any toppings you wish (vegetable tempura, seafood tempura, fried chicken, etc.), just take my money already! Marukame Udon’s service is quick – you walk in a line along the prep station and choose your items as you go. Then you pay at the end and sit down to eat anywhere you like. I suggest the Kake Udon (traditional broth with a light fish and seaweed taste) and top it with shrimp tempura or the Niku Udon (traditional broth with sweet beef and caramelized onions on top). The only downside to Marukame Udon is that the secret of their noodles is out; the line to get in is usually at least an hour and wrapped around the corner. We got in right away because we went at 10am in the morning (not usually a preferred time of day to have udon). Despite that, it is a must try in Honolulu. In case you do not know, udon is a thick wheat flour noodle of Japanese cuisine that is often served in a hot broth flavored from fish and seaweed. Udon is so comforting and warm, I could have Marukame Udon every day.
6. Side Street Inn
Side Street Inn is a local spot that seems somewhat sketchy from the outside but is a gold mine for Hawaiian comfort food. You can find Side Street Inn hidden close to Ala Moana Mall on some backstreets with a small valet stand outside. It has a decent amount of seating and it's not very well known, so you shouldn't have any problem getting in. Everything here is family style with large portions; order knowing everyone will be sharing and have plenty to eat. Between Mike, my parents and I, we shared about four plates and had plenty of leftovers. The Chinese Sliders were a great starter with savory, delicate roasted pork in simple boa buns lightly sauced (tasted similar to sweet plum sauce used in Chinese cuisine with duck). The Korean barbecue style kalbi (short ribs) were fatty but sweet and delicious. The Side Street Inn Boneless Fried Chicken was sweet and spicy, very good. Everything was as expected: comfort foods with Hawaiian flavors as the twist.
Location: 1225 Hopaka St., Honolulu, Hawaii 96814
7. AzureAzure is the perfect dinner date spot for me along the busy Waikiki beach. The ambience is very romantic with the soft candlelit tables and light curtains hanging from the ceiling. Also, you are on the beach and the beach at night is very soothing. You can easily spend a fortune on mediocre food along Waikiki at all the commercialized restaurants in the hotels aimed at unsuspecting tourists. However, I find Azure to still be that same upscale menu while actually delivering on the food promised. The Royal Hawaiian hotel is one of the oldest hotels along Waikiki and less commercialized than the rest, so they have lots of good restaurants still. Their Calamansi Poached Lobster is perfectly cooked and delicious. Honestly, most of the fish dishes here are worth trying. If you are stuck on the beach and are looking for a nice dinner close to your hotel, Azure is your spot. They can sometimes get a little busy so try to get a reservation on their site that day or at least a few hours ahead just to make sure. Location: 2259 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, Hawaii 96815Phone: 808-921-4600Website: http://www.azurewaikiki.com/en/home
8. Alan Wong's
Most of the good food on Oahu is from casual hidden eateries that only locals go to. However, if you are looking for fine dining for that one special night, go to Alan Wong’s. It may not look like much from the outside, with it being the 3rd floor of a very small building in the middle of town with very little signage. However, there is valet for parking and once you enter Alan Wong’s you find yourself in an upscale restaurant. I strongly suggest getting a reservation. The menu changes slightly per season, but you should be able to get the following: lobster lasagna, ginger crusted onaga (similar to red snapper, one of Hawaii’s staple fish), twice cooked short rib (so melty and sweet with the soy braise), and the coconut for dessert (a beautiful coconut shape that is actually chocolate crusted and filled with haupia sorbet and lilikoi sauce). This was my birthday dinner and it was incredible. I usually do the tasting menu since it covers all the favorites and just ask that they change the dessert to the coconut. The service to top it all off was impeccable: they even gave me a dinner menu signed by everyone that was there that day working (including chefs) to take home. Classy stop in a casual Hawaiian setting.
9. Lappert's Hawaii
Lappert’s is one of two places that I stop at on EVERY SINGLE TRIP to Hawaii. Lappert’s is a one-stop shop for gourmet ice cream with exclusive Hawaiian ingredients and Hawaiian coffee. I can’t get enough of Lappert’s while I am on Oahu, especially since the main one I go to is literally downstairs from my room at my hotel, Hilton Hawaiian Village. This location can get quite busy, but even with a line out the door it will go fast and is worth it. You should check out all the unique flavors on their website, but I will say my favorites are the Caramel Coconut Macadamia Nut, Kauai Pie, and Nene Tracks. Put a scoop of any in their chocolate dipped waffle cone…treat yourself! They have a delicious array of pastries and cookies too, as well as locally grown Hawaiian coffee. You must try it all!
Location: 2005 Kalia Rd., Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
10. Leonard's Bakery
Leonard’s Bakery is well known on the islands for some of the best malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts without a hole that are light and fluffy with a sprinkle of plain sugar on the outside). These doughnuts can be the size of your palm or the size of your face, depending on where you go. Leonard’s has some of my favorites, and you really can’t go wrong with any of the choices! You have three options for coating: original (plain sugar), cinnamon sugar and li hing (dried plum powder). You have four options for filling: custard, dobash (chocolate), haupia (coconut) and the flavor of the month (lilikoi is my favorite). I love the dobash, but who doesn’t love a chocolate filled doughnut. Leonard’s Bakery is pretty popular, but the line moves very fast and there should be plenty of parking. You can always call ahead and order pick up! Just a thought. Don’t let anything stop you from trying these.
11. Island Vintage Coffee
Island Vintage Coffee is the second place that I stop at on EVERY SINGLE TRIP to Hawaii. After all, I need my coffee. Some of the best shopping is in the outdoor malls along Waikiki, such as the Royal Hawaiian Center where this particular Island Vintage Coffee is located. You can find Island Vintage Coffee at basically all the best malls, like Ala Moana, but I like this particular location for the people watching. There is beautiful outdoor seating overlooking the busy Kalakaua Avenue, where street performers and tourists create the hustle and bustle city feel. You can relax at Island Vintage Coffee with a Hawaiian Honey Latte (my favorite), frozen Vintage Kona Mocha (macadamia & coconut with peaberry chips), Matcha Latte (my iced choice) or an acai bowl if you are hungry. Once you are done, I strongly suggest heading over to the Duty Free mall across the street for some low-priced designer goods.
12. Honolulu Cookie Company
Honolulu Cookie Company is my favorite gift to bring back home – shortbread cookies with various flavors from the islands. Again, I am extremely lucky to have this in my hotel the Hilton Hawaiian Village, but they are all over the place. I love shortbread cookies; they are light with just the right amount of buttery sweetness, and they pair so well with tea or coffee. The ones from Honolulu Cookie Company are particularly delicious and consistently perfect across the whole line, and the packaging is so cute that I can’t resist bringing them back for friends, co-workers, and family! They always change it up according to the season, but my favorites are the White Chocolate Dipped Macadamia, Lilikoi Mango, Kona Coffee and anything dark chocolate dipped. I love them all so much and they are sooo addicting! Honolulu Cookie Company’s stores are always beautifully branded with generous clerks that give lots of free samples. Also, there are usually special gifts if you spend a certain amount. They travel well and everyone loves them, so bring some home with you when you go (and feel free to ship me some as well <3).
Location: 2005 Kalia Rd., Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
13. Uncle Tetsu
Cheesecake we all know to be rich, creamy and sugary. Something that is definitely a treat yourself, once-in-a-while dessert. However, at Uncle Tetsu, you do not have to feel guilty because the cheesecake they make is light, fluffy, organic and not nearly as much sugar! Japanese cheesecake is naturally lighter, and my friend Sylvia and I ate a whole one by ourselves with no guilt whatsoever. This location is in the Royal Hawaiian Center mall, so you grab it and go. Seriously, if you even like cheesecake in the slightest, you must try Uncle Tetsu.
14. ABC Stores
I have to mention ABC stores when mentioning shopping in Hawaii because it is literally your go-to for anything and everything you might need during your stay as well as some great gifts to take home. This name is very familiar to anyone who has ever step foot on the islands, being a reliable shopping source since 1949. There will most likely be one in your hotel or nearby where you can grab breakfast to-go (musubi, pastries, fruit and coffee), sunscreen, aloe, beach towels, snorkling gear, memory cards, cameras, bathing suits, bottled water and lots of souvenirs. Yes most of this is too touristy and cheap, but what I would recommend picking up are Maui Style Potato Chips (sweet chips with a salty onion flavor), Kona coffee, and my favorite Dark Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts. Everything is affordable and they give you free gifts for spending over a certain amount. I guarantee you will at least reach the first tier in just things you need, which I believe is $150.
Kailua / Kualoa
The east coast of Oahu is filled with beautiful regional parks and small coastal islands that offer perfect scenes for outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, horseback riding and zip lining. I have mainly spent my time here doing activities as opposed to exploring food options, but here is a mentionable favorite for breakfast.
1. Cinnamon's Restaurant
Cinnamon’s has been rated one of America’s top pancake houses. Cinnamon’s feels like a local secret, hidden inside the courtyard of a small plaza in Kailua. Parking is street only, but you should be able to find a metered spot on the surrounding streets. The wait can be a bit long 30-60 minutes, but they move fast. The Guava Chiffon Pancakes may be the best pancakes I’ve ever had – light, fluffy with the just the right amount of sweetness coming from the guava syrup all over the pancakes. The red velvet and blueberry macadamia nut pancakes were also delicious. We also had the crab cake benedict and a side of Portuguese sausages. Everything was so good.
Location: 315 Uluniu St., Kailua, Hawaii 96734
Oahu is basically made up of two volcanic mountains and one central valley: Wahiawa. Honolulu is located at the southern most part, so if you head out of town and towards the north shore you'll pass right through Wahiawa. You'll know when you hit it once you stop seeing buildings and houses and start seeing fields of crops and green forests full of banyan trees and more. Below are two stops I usually make on my way up north.
1. Dole Plantation
Go to Dole Plantation for Hawaii’s complete pineapple experience – see them grow, explore the pineapple maze, take the pineapple express train around the garden, shop and eat pineapple. The one thing you must get here is the Dole Whip – a Dole pineapple sorbet made exclusively here (the only other places you can get them but not as fresh are Disneyland and Disneyworld). The Dole Whip here is so fresh and full of pineapple flavor that you can only get from growing them yourselves. While I love exploring the grounds here as well, you really only need to come here for a whip. The plantation is a perfect midpoint between Waikiki and North Shore. Love it!
2. Green World Coffee Farm
Ever wanted to see a coffee farm and the coffee bean process in person? Green World Coffee Farm is a perfect little getaway in the middle of Oahu for exactly this. The clientele is a lot of armed forces with some tourists, but not many considering the remote location. In the back you can walk through their coffee bean farm and relax in the middle with a freshly roasted cup. I prefer to shop amongst their wide array of privately roasted coffee beans. You can taste and feel the quality on the plantation. If you are heading out to North Shore from Waikiki, I strongly suggest you take a pit stop at Green World Coffee Farm to relax and take in the Hawaiian air (and their pastries are delicious too – try the hapa brownie).
The north shore of Oahu is where you will find the perfect beach on the island. From towering glassy waves for surfers to calm clear waters and soft beaches for leisure, the north shore has it all. Usually when I visit Oahu, I spend most of my time here. I love the drive out leaving the city - it is about an hour to the north shore from Waikiki. There are several beaches along the north shore and parking can sometimes be tough, but honestly any spot you can grab is good and worth it. I like to get out here early around 10am before the crowds take over. With that, some of my favorite food is here as well. These are all must-haves for me when I visit and I hope you feel the same!
Ask any surfer and he will probably say his favorite breakfast is a salty, hearty breakfast burrito. I completely agree. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day; I can't even continue with a day until I've had my eggs and avocado. Roll it all up with potatoes, bacon and cheese topped with salsa and you have the perfect breakfast. Kono's in Haleiwa is your place. Imagine having that breakfast burrito made with locally sourced fresh ingredients and also some homemade Hawaiian kalua pork...utopian paradise of breakfast. Kono's is casual with cute chickens running around out front where you sit on park benches to eat. When you look at their chalkboard menu, note that "Bombers" are the burritos. Grab the "Chuns" (kalua pork and bacon breakfast burrito) , add avocado, a freshly brewed hawaiian coffee and be happy.
2. Fumi's Kahuku Shrimp Truck
Fumi’s on the North Shore is my go-to shrimp truck on Oahu. Yes, I do think it is much better than the more famous Giovanni's Shrimp Truck. Fumi’s is parked in the lot of a small jewelry mini mall with a colorful shrimp on the side of the truck and red picnic tables surrounding it. I strongly suggest the garlic shrimp – the garlic sauce with huge chunks of clove is soooo good, I can’t even begin to describe it. So salty and garlicky, and it pairs so well with the rice and fresh shrimp. We also loved the fried codfish and chicken katsu. Love love love Fumi’s Kahuku Shrimp.
3. Haleiwa Bowls
Acai bowls were adopted by Hawaiians from Brazilians and Haleiwa Bowls is my favorite on the island. I always make a point to stop by whenever I am on the North Shore as it is refreshing and filling and you feel tropical having it. Haleiwa Bowls is run by a couple locals that wanted to bring local produce to the main roadside in Haleiwa, so while you walk around and shop try carrying one of these around as your lunch. In fact, they have been doing so well over the years that they upgraded to their own permanent location listed below that has a cute outdoor patio to sit on and a stronger, broader menu. I prefer the Mana Bowl, which is basically using the acai base in its most organic form like a sorbet. However, if acai is too strong for you, the Hapa Bowl has a smoother texture and lighter acai taste since the base is made up of acai as well as strawberries, blueberries and bananas. Once you choose your base, then just choose what toppings you want. Keep in mind they already come with bananas, hemp granola, raw coconut flakes and hawaiian honey on top.
4. Matsumoto's Shave Ice
I’ll admit shaved ice is not one of my favorite things, but I can see why people are drawn to Matsumoto’s Shave Ice on the North Shore. The flavors here are incredibly unique and everything is made fresh. For example, we got their Ichiban’s Special which comes with homemade mochi (very moist and bland to balance out sugar), shaved ice, red bean, flavor of your choice (I went with Green Tea to pair with mochi and red bean), and ice cream of your choice (I went with vanilla to not overpower the Green Tea flavoring). It all went together really well and I do love pairing ice cream with shaved ice. I like the creamy texture mixed with the cold refreshing crunchy ice. There is always a line out the door here, but the line moves fast. And you can relax in Matsumoto’s cute courtyard out front with other good shopping stores around.
5. Ted's Bakery
Ted’s Bakery is a small, little stop-n-go shop for some quick food or, more importantly, homemade cakes and pies that are exclusive to Hawaii. You can’t miss it; the building is bright blue with a huge wave mural on the side and usually a line out the door. Ted’s Bakery has cute outdoor seating right in front or a gazebo with picnic benches on the other side of the parking lot. Everything is to-go, so you grab the slices you want from the fridge and pay. We tried the dobash (chocolate), dream cake, pineapple macadamia upside down cake (my favorite), and chocolate haupia cake (a Hawaiian favorite). So good!
Well those are my favorite places so far! I am sure I will find others in future visits and I will make sure to do a second list to add if the time comes. Please share with me any favorites you have and what you think of the above. I hope it helps your vacation planning one day!