In the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu stands above the rest in terms of its culinary prowess. With a diverse range of influences, spanning from Asia and across the mainland, many of its restaurants have been recognized on the international stage—places like Hoku’s and Noe, for example. But the talent runs deep, and many great restaurants still fly under the radar. Here are some of our favorite, lesser-known places to try on your next visit:
We begin with a restaurant that won’t be underrated for long—Moku Kitchen in Kakaako. Locals have begun to catch on to its unmatched beer selection and solid menu, and as Kakaako continues to grow like a weed, it will surely be a part of the show for years to come. Located in the SALT complex in the heart of Kakaako, you can stroll the neighborhood (perhaps start with a visit to one of its many breweries) before landing a table at Moku. The restaurant’s mission is to bring the upcountry of Hawaii to its downtown, so look for lots of local ingredients and “simple” dishes cooked in a rotisserie oven.
Shirokiya Japan Village Walk
This place is well-known to locals, but I find that most tourists don’t know about it. The Shirokiya Japan Village Walk is technically a food court consisting of dozens of places, and yes, it’s in the basement of the Ala Moana Mall—but trust me, this is no ordinary mall food court. In fact, it would be fair to consider the entire collection of vendors one restaurant, where you can try a little of this and a little of that—including bento boxes, sushi, ramen, soba, udon, yakitori, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, curry, tempura, and traditional sweets—unlike the Waikiki Yokocho food court, where you have to commit to a single eatery.
Little Village Noodle House
This staple in Chinatown is another local secret, highly underrated by tourists. It’s a good place to base an afternoon in Chinatown around—once a place of debauchery for sailors in the 1940s, the area continues its push to transition into a walkable, bar-and-restaurant filled neighborhood. Little Village has won the local award for best Chinese restaurant 11 years in a row (2007-2018) thanks to its wide-range of Cantonese offerings and large-sized portions. Split a couple of dishes amongst your party.
Permanently parked across from Shark’s Cove on Oahu’s North Shore, Pupukea Grill uses fresh-caught fish, vegetables and ingredients in its plate lunches, sushi rolls and poke bowls. The Hawaiian Bowl combines spicy tuna, kalua pork, Lomi salmon, purple sweet potato mash and brown rice; plate lunches range from an ahi loco moco to coconut curry quinoa.
Whether you want a big meal after a morning on the water or something light while sunbathing, Pupukea Grill provides a nice outdoor setting with lots of picnic tables, surf décor and ocean views—basically, the North Shore in a nutshell. Food trucks are gaining in popularity in Hawaii, but I never hear any visitors mention Pupukea Grill.
One look at the view from the Deck at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel and you’ll be a happy camper. It’s arguably the best view of Diamond Head on the island, not to mention from a relaxed, open-aired, real-good restaurant. Brunch and the twice-a-day happy hours compliment full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus that feature local ingredients made American-style with Hawaiian twists and influence—think Branzino in a Hawaiian ti leaf, or Maui Sweet Onion Chicken Breast.
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