Honolulu Food Guide: Where To Eat

HONOLULU | I’ve created this Honolulu Food Guide to help you plan where to eat in Honolulu? It’s true that Waikiki is a tourist hotspot, and contains little in the way of inspiring food and drink that’s worth travelling for. Venture out of Waikiki, and you’ll discover a city with a vibrant, exciting food scene.

Since visiting Honolulu a few months ago, I’ve had a lot of people ask me for a Honolulu Food Guide. Honolulu’s food scene has been shaped by the native Hawaiian population, generations of immigration to the city, and creative young chefs cooking food that’s personal, exciting, and uniquely Hawaiian.

During my time in Honolulu, I was constantly wowed by what I had to eat and drink. The welcoming, friendly nature of those who I encountered in Honolulu’s hospitality venues was also notable.

You can read more about specific foods and dishes that I enjoyed in my article, ‘What To Eat In Hawaii‘. That article focuses on things that are uniquely Hawaiian, while this article has a broader focus. It’s a culmination of my research, first hand experience, and discussions with knowledgeable locals.

In this Honolulu Food Guide, updated as at November 2022, I’ll tell you the places to visit to try these dishes. I’ll also showcase venues drawing upon Hawaiian ingredients and culture to put twists on dishes that aren’t exclusively Hawaiian.

I’ve placed the tips in alphabetical order, and they’re all delicious. Are any of your favourites listed below? Are there any places that you think should be on the my Honolulu food guide?

8 Fat Fat 8 Bar & Grille

If you’ve ever wondered what Chinese-Hawaiian food is all about, then 8 Fat Fat 8 Bar & Grille is the place to visit. Opened in 1986, the dive bar x karaoke joint x restaurant serves up a delicious assortment of dishes. These dishes draw upon the owners’ Chinese heritage and Hawaiian upbringing. Think beef ong choy, ‘fat fat’ special chicken, and crispy gau gee (a Hawaiian take on deep fried wontons).

Bar Leather Apron

Bar Leather Apron was recently awarded number 42 in the ‘World’s 50 Best’ best bars in America list. It’s a must visit for outstanding cocktails and Hawaii’s biggest selection of whiskey. East Asian inspired snacks are well worth your time. Things like citrus sake cured kanpachi, jasmine tea smoked duck bao, and kimchi clam dip.

Bar Maze

Bar Maze is a restaurant by  Justin and Tom Park, the owners of Bar Leather Apron. The food is broadly Japanese and Korean, with Hawaiian flourishes. There’s a farm to table ethos with a real respect for the quality produce and it’s origins.

It’s an omakase style menu, with each dish developed and paired with its own cocktail. Drinks don’t just compliment each dish, but are an essential part of the experience. If you’re not a drinker, a non-alcoholic pairing is available.

Beer Lab HI

Beer Lab HI is a Honolulu craft brewery with three locations across town. The original is on University Avenue, and is a great spot with a real local’s vibe. It has a philosophy of constant change and experimentation. Expect lot of interesting and unique small batch brews on tap when you visit.

Breadshop

Breadshop is a Kaimuki bakery founded by owner and former Alinea, The French Laundry and Town chef baker, Chris Sy. The focus is on high quality bread and sweet and savoury baked treats. Everything is baked fresh in small batches throughout the day.

All lovers of quality baked goods need to have Breadshop on their Honolulu Food Guide.

BREW’d Craft Pub

BREW’d Craft Pub is a cosy local’s spot, with 25 rotating craft beers on tap, and over 100 cans and bottles in the fridges. For food, it’s tasty pub meals like IPA brined chicken wings, poutine, fish and chips, and burgers.

Brix And Stones

Brix and Stones is a retail wine and cigar shop, awaiting it’s bar license. When granted, it’ll open both the current space, and the currently closed space downstairs, as a bar. For now, it’s not technically a bar, rather a retail store with a relaxing, atmospheric lounge.

The focus is on interesting, minimal intervention wines from around the world, classic cocktails, and some of the world’s best cigars. There’s currently no kitchen, but you can order food in from any one of the great eateries in the area.

The Curb Kaimuki

The Curb Kaimuki is one of the best places in Honolulu for lovers of good coffee. The team are across all aspects of the bean to cup process, with coffee brewed every way you can think. There’s espresso and filter options, alternative milks, teas, and house baked treats.

Diamond Head Market & Grill

Diamond Head Market & Grill owned by local award-winning chef Kelvin Ro, who has built a career on cooking local food, infused with Asian flavours. At Diamond Head Market & Grill, Kelvin and his team create a variety of dishes that incorporate influences from all of the cultures of Hawaii. The focus is on quality, local ingredients, and a connection with culture.

Ethel’s Grill

Ethel’s Grill is a no-frills diner, open since the 1960s, in an industrial area near the airport. The food is informed by owners Ryoko and Yoichi Ishii’s Japanese Okinawan-Tokyo heritage, and Mexican-Hawaiian influences. The menu, written by hand on paper in the restaurant, features an assortment of regular dishes and limited specials. It’s local food, uniquely Hawaiian, but also uniquely Ethels.

Fête

Fête is a modern American restaurant with a global outlook, with dishes that celebrate the diversity of Hawaii’s food and people. It’s about showcasing the best Hawaiian produce, with a strong farm-to-table ethos, through food that’s a homage to the food that the people of Hawaii love to eat. Well deserving of its place atop many Honolulu Food Guides.

Guava Smoked

Owner Scott Shibuya started Guava Smoked in 2011, serving cold-smoked BBQ pork made using a recipe passed down through his family. Scott uses strawberry guava wood for smoking for a unique flavour. There’s three locations, offering things like smoked pork, kalbi ribs, salmon belly, chicken, duck, butterfish collars, and more.

Harry’s Cafe

Harry’s Cafe is run not by Harry, who I assume once ran it, but Soo Kyung (Christy) Cho since at least the 1990s. It’s an institution, open early and popular with workers looking for an affordable, tasty breakfast. Harry’s has an old school diner vibe, and a focus on Hawaiian favourites. Things like loco moco, spam musubi, and chicken katsu on rice.

Hana Koa Brewing Co.

Hana Koa Brewing Co. is an independent Kaka’ako brewery opened in 2019 by husband and wife duo Josh and Chrissie Kopp. There’s 15 unique and diverse beers on tap at any given time, with new releases kegged each Friday.

For food, its Asian and local inspired pub bites, prepared using the freshest local ingredients. Think panko popcorn shrimp, spicy tofu lettuce wraps, and tonkotsu ramen. A real step up from your average bar and brewery food.

Helena’s Hawaiian Food

Helena’s Hawaiian Food is a family owned and operated business that’s been serving traditional, local Hawaiian food since 1946. Founded by home chef Helena Chock, the restaurant is today run by Helen’s grandson, Craig Katsuyoshi. Visit for honest, delicious, home-style Hawaiian dishes.

Highway Inn

Highway Inn is an iconic Hawaiian restaurant that belongs on every Honolulu Food Guide. It’s been satisfying locals with delicious, traditional Hawaiian food since 1947. If you want to try real Hawaiian comfort food, Highway Inn is a great place for it.

Order one of the signature Hawaiian combo plates to try a bit of everything. You get a main dish of your choice, along with poi (a starchy, sweet/sour thick paste) or rice, ‘uala (sweet potato), and haupia (coconut pudding) with your choice of lomi salmon, potato-mac salad, or Maui greens with liliko’i dressing.

KCC Farmers Market Diamond Head

KCC Farmers Market is a farmers market that takes place every Saturday morning in Honolulu. Located close to Diamond Head State Monument, it’s a great option for a morning bite before doing the Diamond Head walk.

The market features over 80 local vendors selling fresh produce, Hawaii made products, and delicious food to eat. You can try a diverse range of things, while meeting the famers and producers.

La Mariana Sailing Club

Brooklyn-born Annette La Mariana Nahinu, and her Kiwi husband, Johnny, opened La Mariana Sailing Club in 1955. It moved up the road to its current location in 1975 and was run by Annette until she passed away in 2011. Visit to step back into the bast and experience one of the truest and last remaining examples of a real, old school tiki bar.

Lam’s Kitchen

Opening in 2009, Lam’s Kitchen is a family owned and operated restaurant, specialising in authentic Cantonese dishes from the family’s hometown of Guangdong. Must order dishes include the signature beef flank and tendon look fun soup, cheung fun noodles, and preserved egg and pork jook (congee) with youtiao (Chinese doughnuts).

Lanikai Juice

Lanikai Juice is a locally run business focused on making healthy and fresh smoothies, fruit bowls, and freshly squeezed/pressed juices. Ingredients are high quality – local and organic where possible. There’s several locations across Oahu, and it’s a great option if you’re looking for a healthy hit, and feeling like you need some fresh fruit after indulging on your trip.

Leonard’s Bakery

Leonard’s Bakery was founded in 1952 by Leonard DoRego, specialising in malasadas, or Portuguese donuts. The original recipe was handed down by Leonard’s grandmother Amelia, who immigrated to Hawaii from Portugal, in 1882. Today, you can still enjoy these malasadas at Leonard’s, made to the same family recipe, along with other Portuguese baked treats like pão doce.

Liliha Bakery

Liliha Bakery has several locations in Honolulu, and is a local’s favourite, with the original location opening in 1950. There’s 150 varieties of baked goods at the counter, which is why you come here. Try the signature cocoa puffs – light puff pastry rounds filled with a creamy chocolate (or matcha) pudding and topped with a buttery Chantilly frosting.

Maguro Brothers

Famed for their sashimi, grilled fish, and poke Maguro Brothers have been serving up some of the freshest seafood in Honolulu for over 50 years. There’s the original location, inside a Chinatown market, that you can visit for breakfast and lunch, and a second Waikiki location. The Maguro brothers work at both, which is why the opening hours don’t overlap.

Maui Brewing Co.

While not a place to specifically seek out for its food and drink, Maui Brewing Co., is one of the best options for those looking for a decent drink and bar food in a central, Waikiki location. A great option for a drink and snack, if you’re in the area and want something reliable.

Milky Way Hawaii Ice

Milky Way Hawaii Ice is a colourful food truck offering Taiwanese snow ice (different to shave ice), milk tea, iced tea, and boba drinks. It’s not a “you must seek it out” type place, but a great option if you’re in the area (Kaka’ako) and looking for a refreshing sweet treat.

Mitch’s Fish Market & Sushi Bar

Mitch’s Fish Market & Sushi Bar. is located in an unassuming industrial location around the corner from Honolulu’s international airport. Visit for some of the freshest and best sushi in Honolulu.

Master chefs Shingo Luu, Masakazu Murakami, and Il Han, use the best quality local and imported (in particular from Japan and New Zealand) seafood, with a focus on hand rolls, nigiri, and sashimi, and a few other dishes.

Mitsu-ken

Mitsu-ken is a hole in the wall takeout spot that specialises in local combo plates and bento boxes. Their signature item is the garlic chicken. Deep fried, boneless bite-sized chicken pieces, topped with an addictive secret recipe sweet garlic sauce. Order it, along with a bento box of assorted favourites on rice like Spam, teriyaki beef, and Portuguese sausage.

Mud Hen Water

At owner/chef Ed Kenney’s modern American restaurant, Mud Hen Water, traditional Hawaiian ingredients are used in new ways, across dishes that dance across the various cultures that make this melting pot of a city what it is. In particular, the food of Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines.

There’s a reason this restaurant appears on so many Honolulu Food Guides. It’s food that’s very much grounded, with a real sense of place.

Ono Seafood

Judy Sakuma, a native of Vietnam who fled during the Vietnam war, started selling shoyu aji poke with her husband Willy, from a cooler under a parking garage, in 1995. Ono Seafood is located next to that same garage and it’s still run by Judy and her family.

Go for the two most popular flavours on the menu. The shoyu ahi, featuring a house made shoyu made to a secret recipe blending Japanese and Hawaiian flavours, and spicy ahi.

Palace Saimin

Saimin is a ramen-like dish dating back to Hawaii’s plantation era. It features soft wheat egg noodles served in a hot dashi, topped with diced green onions and a thin slice of kamaboko. Other common toppings include things like Spam, shredded nori, dried shrimp, and char sui pork.

Palace Saimin, which was opened in 1946 by Kame Ige, who immigrated from Okinawa in 1924, is one of the best places to eat it.

The Pig And The Lady

Born and raised in Honolulu to Vietnamese parents, Chef Andrew Le’s modern-American restaurant, The Pig and The Lady, marries his Vietnamese heritage and American upbringing. It’s a family affair, with deeply personal dishes you won’t find elsewhere. There’s a respect and understanding of tradition, culture, and ingredients.

Purvé Donut Stop

Purvé Donut Stop is a small donut shop in Ala Moana (there’s a second in Kahala), that’s considered one of the best spots in town for a good donut. Everything is made fresh in front of you, and the donuts are midsized, so you fit a few in before you’re full.

Flavours are fun and inventive, generally riffing off nostalgia, childhood favourites, and uniquely Hawaiian ingredients. The base donut is a light and moist cake donut, with a freshly crisped exterior.

Rainbow Drive-In

Rainbow Drive-In a favourite amongst locals for simple Hawaiian comfort food. It’s been going strong since Okinawan born, former US Army chef Seiju Ifuku, decided to open his own diner in 1961. The focus then, as it is now, is on tasty, simple lunch and dinner plates that the everyday person can afford and enjoy.

Skull & Crown Trading Co.

Skull & Crown Trading Co. is tiki bar at heart, with contemporary flair, inspired by the trading companies that used to occupy this part of town. Cocktails are the focus, with a diverse assortment of delicious options. Most are made using local spirits and ingredients.

To eat, it’s an assortment of East Asian leaning snacks like meat and vegetable skewers, bao, and banh mi.

Smith’s Union Bar

Located in Honolulu’s Chinatown, Smith’s Union Bar has been doing its thing since 1935, making it the oldest bar on Oahu. Today, things are much the same as they’ve always been in here. Smith’s Union Bar has a reputation as the best (if not the only true) dive bar in town, and it ticks all of the right boxes.

More of a Honolulu Drink Guide than a Honolulu Food Guide spot (you don’t come here for food), but you should know about it.

Sooper Secret Izakaya

Chef Ricky Goings’ pop-up restaurant, Sooper Secret Izakaya, was one of my most memorable meals when in Hawaii. Ricky’s dinners follow the progression of courses of a traditional Japanese kaiseki meal, with dishes that throw away the rule book, and always respect the quality and provenance of the produce used. The result is food that’s exciting, interesting, and delicious. You can find details on the next pop-up on the Sooper Secret Izakaya Instagram.

Sushi Sasabune

For a memorable sushi dining experience, Sushi Sasabune is hard to beat. It’s a high-end restaurant that was opened in 1997 by chef Seiji Kumagawa, who wanted to bring an authentic omakase style sushi experience to Honolulu.

There is no set price and no fixed menu options to choose from. You simply enjoy the highest quality sushi that’s served to you, leaving the decisions to those who know best in the kitchen. You can go for the whole, generally 14 course meal, or simply stop when you’re done. You’ll only ever be charged for what you’ve eaten.

Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors

At the Kaimuki location of Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors, you’ll surprisingly find, beyond a great selection of liquor, some of Honolulu’s best poke. There’s the popular ahi, along with things like marlin, mussels, and even pipikula (Hawaiian dried beef). Most of it is fresh from the market, with handful of frozen items specified as such. Poke is sold by the pound, with rice available to purchase if you want to make it a poke bowl.

Taqueria el Gallo Rosa

Taqueria el Gallo Rosa is a no nonsense taqueria by Australian chef Paul Bentley (CasaSi Paradiso) and Mexican chef Fausto ‘Tato’ Garcia, who cooked together in restaurants in Mexico.

The menu is inspired by Paul and Tato’s favourite tacos to eat in Mexico, their own experiences cooking Mexican food in Mexico, and Tato’s mum’s recipes. Simple food made on site from scratch, using the best possible ingredients.

W & M Bar-B-Q Burger

W & M Bar-B-Q Burger is a no-frills counter-service burger joint that’s been popular with locals since 1940. Get the signature “Royal Hamburger”, a simple burger that hits all of the right notes, and a serve of their perfectly salted, crispy fries.

Waiola Shave Ice

Shave Ice is a popular year-round treat in Hawaii. Waiola Shave Ice, which has been around since 1940, is one of the best places in Honolulu to find it. Shave Ice is blocks of ice, finely shaved into a cup or bowl, topped with syrup. The shave ice at Waiola is so fine, that it’s light and fluffy like a cloud.

Zippy’s

Yes, there’s a chain on my list. Zippy’s holds a special place in the hearts of many a Hawaiian. It’s a locally owned chain that kids grow up with, and that people turn to when looking for a reliable late night feed. Hawaiian dishes are the focus of the menu. The iconic ‘Zip Pac’, featuring mahi mahi, fried chicken, Spam, and teriyaki beef over furikake rice, is a must.

Have you been to Honolulu before? What are your favourite things to eat there, and your favourite place to eat them? What would you add to this Honolulu Food Guide?

Check out my guide of What To Eat In Hawaii for a rundown of the best local dishes and things to eat in Honolulu.

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Paul
Paul
Paul founded The City Lane back in 2009 as a place to share photos of his travels around Europe with friends and family. The City Lane might have changed quite a lot since those early days but one thing that’s remained constant is Paul’s passion for food, travel and culture, and a desire to photograph and write about his experiences. Paul has a strong inquisitive nature that drives him to look beneath the surface in order to discover what really makes a city and its people tick, and what better way to do this than over a good meal or drink, with a city’s locals, at places that people who live in that city actually frequent. Paul is also a co-host of The Brunswick Beer Collective, a podcast that may or may not actually be about beer.

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