Hungry in Hawaii: Where to Eat in Honolulu
Oahu has always offered more than just kitschy luau shows and pig roasts. The island is a virtual culinary melting pot, with everything from high-end French cuisine to food truck fare. Whether you’re craving traditional Vietnamese pho or a burger made with locally ranched beef, Oahu’s got it. And while the scene is no longer solely dominated by the Hawaii Regional Cuisine chefs like Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi, their farm-to-table philosophy has influenced a whole new generation of chefs, restaurateurs and food producers who are taking advantage of the island’s bounty of local ingredients.
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Good luck getting a table without reservations at The Pig and the Lady, the still-hot Chinatown restaurant that serves a contemporary, street-style spin on traditional Vietnamese fare. Two years after its start as a pop-up at local farmers markets, the Le family, headed by James Beard Foundation Award nominee Chef Andrew Le, opened its first brick-and-mortar location, with a built-in — and extremely loyal — following. The whimsical menu is inspired partly by Mama Le’s home cooking and partly by the rich culinary heritage of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. While you can’t go wrong with any of the noodle dishes — the Farmer’s Pho uses ingredients found at farmers markets, a nod to the restaurant’s humble beginnings — the small plates, including the Laotian fried chicken with pickled chile and the P&L escargot and bone marrow sauteed with betel leaves and fresh turmeric, aren’t to be skipped.
One of the few remaining classic drive-ins left on Oahu, Rainbow Drive-In, off Kapahulu Avenue — or Rainbow’s, as it’s more commonly called — has been serving plate lunches and post-beach fare like burgers and chili bowls since 1961. Plate lunches are the quintessential lunch in Hawaii. True to the name, they consist of an entire meal — two scoops of white rice, a dollop of macaroni salad and some kind of meat main — on a plate. The most-popular plate lunch at Rainbow’s is the mix plate, which comes with barbecue beef or pork, a boneless chicken cutlet and a nice cut of mahi mahi. Pair this with the drive-in’s famous Slush Float, a dessert that combines strawberry slush with vanilla ice cream.
For starters, you can’t beat the view. Tucked away in an exclusive residential neighborhood just minutes from Waikiki, Hoku’s, the signature restaurant at The Kahala Hotel & Resort, perches on the second floor with panoramic, palm-framed views of the Pacific Ocean. Its menu features Asian and Mediterrean influences using locally sourced ingredients, like the sauteed French foie gras paired with an Okinawan sweet potato puree and macadamia nuts, or the fisherman’s soup filled with scallops, mussels, shrimp, locally caught fish and ogo (Hawaiian edible seaweed). The restaurant recently updated its offerings, adding a bison rib eye and a grilled five-ounce Miyazaki Wagyu strip loin that literally melts in your mouth. But some of Hoku’s classics remain, like the popular Ahi Poke Musubi and seafood tower. After dinner, head next door to The Veranda, where you can sip wine and listen to jazz in a romantic open-air space.
Since opening in Kaimuki last year, Via Gelato Hawaii — which started as a food truck — has served more than 100 different flavors, from black sesame to green tea haupia to Frosted Flakes. Everything — like the fudge and caramel that get swirled into base gelato flavors, and the freshly baked waffle cones — is made from scratch. “It takes time,” says owner Melissa Bow, “but it’s way better.” And the best part? The gelato shop is open late enough for post-dinner noshing — until 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. (It’s closed on Mondays.)
For more top Oahu restaurants, including our picks for best hot spot, iconic dish and authentic Hawaiian food, check out the full gallery. Then tell us: What’s your vacation craving?
Photos courtesy of Catherine Toth Fox, The Halekulani Corp, Travis Sasaki, Huy Vo