Drinking and Dining in Honolulu
Honolulu is the foodie capital of the Hawaiian Islands, hands-down. Whether you’re looking for low-key and casual or dressed-up fine dining, we’ve got you covered.
Take out your plate lunches for a picnic on a North Shore beach, dress up for a fine dining restaurant in Waikiki, enjoy pupus and pau hana drinks at sunset, or BYOB to a great local date spot. No matter what you choose, Honolulu’s drinking and dining scene is delicious! Enjoy!
Pupus and Pau Hana
Pau Hana time in Hawaii basically means the end of the work day, when it’s time to get together for a drink and watch the sun slip down into the horizon. Bars and restaurants often have “pau hana” specials (similar to “Happy Hour”) on appetizers and drinks. Speaking of appetizers, on menus in Hawaii, you will see these labeled as pupus. It’s a great way to sample a variety of dishes or to order tapas-style to share with a group. Getting together for “pupus and a drink” is an ever-popular tradition in Hawaii. Great choices for pupus include Uncle Bo’s on Kapahulu, Ryan’s or Kanpai in the Ward area, and Tiki’s at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel. For some fantastic pau hana specials, check out the Mai Tai Bar at Ala Moana Center.
BYOB stands for “Bring Your Own Beverage” and it’s one of the best ways to save money on eating out in Honolulu. The Wine Stop or Tamura’s are great places to find a selection of food friendly wines and beers at a reasonable price. Supermarkets, liquor stores, or even ABC stores are great places to pick up a bottle of wine to bring along with your meal. Just be sure to call ahead to verify the corkage fee with the restaurant. It’s also a faux pax to bring a wine that is already on a restaurant’s wine list, so ask if you’re not sure. A few of my favorite BYOB restaurants include JJ Bistro & French Pastry, Olive Tree, and Himalayan Kitchen.
>> The Wine Stop has a great list of Honolulu BYOB restaurants here.
If you want to eat like a local in Hawaii, you’re going to need to try a plate lunch. Plate lunches or mixed plates have roots back in the sugar plantation days when laborers of all ethnicities would share their food and culture to find a common ground. Two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad is the traditional backbone for the makings of a plate lunch, plus an entree item – or two, or three… Plate lunches are hearty fare, often served in oversize portions, so unless you’ve got a hearty appetite, you might even consider splitting one.
Popular stops for plate lunches include: Kakaako Kitchen, Rainbow Drive Inn, or Diamond Head Market & Grill. Chain “plate lunch” places include Zippy’s (with locations all over Oahu and one on Maui) and L&L Drive Inn which has several national and even international franchises.
>> For another delicious casual dining option, check out one of Honolulu’s Food Trucks.
Worth a Splurge
There are a lot of great fine dining restaurants on Oahu, but there are definitely a few that stand out for those in search of really amazing food or celebrating a special occasion. Because of the number of luxury hotels in Waikiki, you’ll often fine world-class fine dining in or around these establishments. Try the AAA Five Diamond rated La Mer in the Halekulani Hotel for neoclassical french cuisine with beautiful ocean views. Celebrity chefs have also brought restaurants like Nobu Waikiki (Nobu Matsuhisa) in the Waikiki Parc Hotel, Morimoto’s (Iron Chef Masuharu Morimoto) in the Waikiki Edition, and BLT Steak (Bistro Laurent Tourendel) in the Trump International.
Hawaii Regional Cuisine is a culinary movement started in 1991 by twelve local chefs who made a conscious effort to showcase the best in local ingredients while blending cultures from around the Pacific Rim and around the world. If you get a chance to dine at any of their flagship restaurants, you’ll see first-hand why they are still some of the leaders in Hawaii’s culinary scene. Try Alan Wong’s at either his flagship restaurant on King Street or the more casual Pineapple Room in Ala Moana Shopping Center. Chef George Mavrothalassitis’s James Beard winning cuisine can be sampled at Chef Mavro on King Street. Chef Roy Yamaguchi has three Roy’s outposts on Oahu at Hawaii Kai, Waikiki and Ko Olina.
>> Check out our tips for having an indie travel experience in Honolulu.
All-you-can-eat buffets are popular in Honolulu, especially in tourist areas like Waikiki. Since Hawaii is one of the best places to sample fresh fish, seafood or sushi buffets are usually a good choice. Kai Market at the Sheraton Waikiki has a farm-to-table concept for their breakfast and dinner buffets, including a Seafood night and Paniolo (“cowboy”) night. The Oceanarium at the Pacific Beach Hotel features breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets and while you eat you will be able to watch over 70 species of marine life swimming in the 2-story aquarium which runs along the dining room.
>> I love Yelp.com for user reviews on Honolulu restaurants, here’s a list of top-rated buffets.
One final note… Luaus in Hawaii are not exactly the most authentic way to experience traditional Hawaiian food – if you plan to attend one, just keep this in mind and go more for the entertainment value than the buffet dinner and free-flowing mai tais. If you’re looking for real Hawaiian food, a good option is Ono Hawaiian Food on Kapahulu Avenue.
>> Check out our article over at Bootsnall.com entitled “Eat Your Way Around Honolulu” for more delicious ideas.