After a year of sheltering in place, J and I felt especially lucky to travel to Hawaii in May 2021. We decided to go to Oahu because it is a top Japanese food destination outside of Japan. (LA and NY are two other top destinations outside of Japan).
In total, we spent 8 days in Oahu, staying at the Sheraton on Waikiki Beach. Prior to this trip, J did a lot of research and our foodie friends shared their recommendations with us as well. Over the 8 days, we tried as many of them as we can, but a girl can only eat so much!
This foodie guide will include 3 types of recommendations:
- My favorites*: Truly the best of the best! If you don’t eat anything else on this list, prioritize these spots.
- Additional recommendations: Places we tried and enjoyed, listing it here so you have more options!
- Places to try next time: Highly recommended by our foodie friends, but didn’t have a chance to try yet.
Where to eat in Waikiki
Come here if you love high quality chirashi bowls for a reasonable price. The quality of the fish was top notch. We added on a $7 add on for Hokkaido uni and we swear it rivaled some of the $300 omakases we had later on our trip. Annoying part is they’re only open 5-8pm and there is usually a long line. It is takeout only. We got in the line at 7:30pm (they closed at 8), right in time before they cut off the line. Don’t expect this to be a quick trip, we didn’t get to order until 8:10pm, picked up our food at 8:55pm.
- Chirashi Donburi w/ Spicy Poke Combo: we were very pleased with the quality of the chirashi here!
- Chu-toro Donburi w/ Uni & Ikura: once again, top notch quality. I wasn’t too hungry when we ordered, but regretted not get the larger XL size after we finished!
- Note: that this is a chirashi spot. For the best poke around, go to Ono’s Seafood.
This place wins for convenience. If you’re looking for the best tonkatsu, we recommend you going the mile to go to Tonkatsu Tamafuji. However, we still went to Ginza Bairin twice on our trip because it was so close to our hotel on Waikiki Beach. Reservations are also easier to make.
- Tonkatsu Sando: The Tonkatsu Sando was a perfectly tender and juicy cut of pork sandwiched between white bread, their katsu sauce and hot mustard. For $13, it doesn’t get much better than that.
- Katsu Curry: The curry here reminded us of our favorite Katsu Curry in NYC: Curry-Ya. Truly comfort food at its finest. Regarding the pork itself, we found the quality of the specialty pork loin and the regular pork tenderloin similar. You can’t go wrong either way!
I rank this as a top 10 omakase experience that I’ve ever had. J was so excited that we were able to get a reservation because reservations to Sushi Sho can take up to 3-4 months to book. Apparently the waitlist for this 16-person counter experience is 200 names long. 😳
This is truly not an experience to be missed if you can swing it. We had other omakases in Honolulu, but it didn’t compare to this. Chef Keiji Nakazawa is truly a master of his craft. He serves edomae-style sushi, which means he often cures his fish before its served. Some highlights include a spanish mackerel aged in kelp for 3 days, or their chu toro aged in rice for 10 days.
If you end up landing a reservation, don’t forget to get their sake pairing, as the chef is a master sake sommelier as well.
This is a chain, so there’s multiple locations. One of the best musubi we’ve had, but look at the Google reviews to see the best time to go – it seems like there’s usually a line and can take forever so try to optimize.
Marukame is a popular spot for hand crafted udon – they make noodles fresh on the spot. It’s often recommended as a top place to eat in Waikiki. But let me tell you, the line here is LONG. It can take over an hour for the wait. So is it the best udon I’ve ever had? … Eh. (I’m a ramen girl myself 😉.)
Here’s why we ate here: it is one of the few restaurants that stay open until 10PM. So, if you’re hungry at a later hour when everything is closed, this is a good place to eat! Otherwise you can order it to go and eat it at your hotel if you don’t want to wait.
Duke’s is a fun spot next to the water, but if you come here for drinks/dinner/happy hour, you HAVE to order this Hula Pie which is an ice cream pie with cookie pie crust + chocolate
Rumfire @ Sheraton Waikiki
We tried Mai Tais at bar at Royal Hawaiian and at Duke’s, Rumfire was the best!
The Hideout @ Laylow Hotel
Super cute spot for drinks, has live music, etc. A must!
Where to eat in Honolulu
J and I booked our trip pretty last minute (COVID-times), and we did not plan ahead far enough to rent a car. By the time we tried, cars were so expensive that we decided to just take an Uber once in a while or walk! These spots are close to Waikiki so it will be accessible to you!
Do note that an Uber in Honolulu is pricey. For example, a short ride to one of these spots can cost you around $15, which means $30 round trip. Plan ahead!
Poke at Ono Seafood*
THE BEST Poke in Honolulu, it’s a must. It’s a tiny shop that’s takeout only, so if there’s a line, it will move fast. We ate poke at 4 different spots and we thought Ono Seafood has the freshest ahi tuna glazed with a perfect amount of sauce. Ono Seafood was the only poke that we had where there weren’t fibers/membrane in the cuts of the ahi, making each piece of fish tender and not chewy at all.
We went right at 9am when they opened, and there was no line, only a few other early birds like us.
I ate a LOT of grilled meats/rice plates around Oahu and this spot was the best out of all of them. Pretty close to Diamond Head trail, so you can hike and eat here. It’s takeout only, so it’s not a place to chill and relax.
Note: they don’t open their kitchen until around 10:30, but I would definitely try the Loco Moco/Mixed Plate here. Inside the market itself, they have the Lemon Crunch Cake, it’s like crack honestly.
Tons of people talk about Giovanni’s in North Shore, but here’s a food court location w/o the drive to North Shore, and less wait. Delicious buttery garlic shrimp. There’s a good ice cream spot here too on the opposite corner of the food court.
Tip: Don’t try to be a hero and order the spicy shrimp. Unless you drink habanero hot sauce for breakfast, this spicy version is going to kill you. I ate 2 spicy shrimps before deciding to order another portion of the garlic shrimp to not torture myself. You can always get the hot sauce on the side. You’ve been warned.
If you’re a tonkatsu connoisseur, you should check out the Tonkatsu at Tonkatsu Tamafuji. It’s further away than the Waikiki Beach tonkatsu, but I would give this spot a full 5* vs a solid 4* for Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin at Waikiki. You have to make reservations and they book out early. I recommend making a reservation at least a week ahead of time, or they do takeout boxes (I went during COVID times, so double check!) which I also thought was great.
You’ll hear a lot of people talk about malasadas (Porteguese donut), and people will tell you to check out Leonards, but we found the malasadas at Pipeline bakery much more fresh and less greasy. We got the Li Hing covering, which is a sweet/savory local flavoring.
Cute brunch spot right by Pipeline Bakery, people come here for their skillet loco moco and other “modern” version of classic hawaiian dishes. I got hooked on their beef stew made in a luau sauce, which is a taro leaf sauce, slow cooked with coconut milk. The flavor is SO addictive, if you see anything with a green luau sauce at a restaurant, you must order it!
Waiola is a popular spot for shaved ice that’s not the famous Matsumoto Shave Ice that’s at North Shore. We thought the ice quality here was actually better than Matsumoto because it was much smoother. I recommend getting the condensed milk topping at minimum, and ice cream to really add some creamy flavors!
This is inside the Macy’s Ala Moana, they have these coco puffs there that people really like, and the brunch is decent here too. Objectively speaking, they had a really legit loco moco, I rank this loco moco 2nd best next to Diamond Head Grill & Market, could be a good easy brunch spot but there will be lines.
Day Trip: North Shore/Haleiwa (Small surfer town)
The island of Oahu is actually pretty small, you can drive around from end-to-end within a few hours. The drive to North Shore is beautiful, and really feels like a completely different part of Hawaii. Lush greenery jungle vibes.
The cost to rent a car right now in Hawaii is insane – friends say it’s up to $1000 a day if you didn’t plan ahead. We ended up using the Hui app which is like a ZipCar in Hawaii where you can rent cars hourly. If you look 2-3 weeks ahead, I bet you’ll be able to book one. It only took 3 hours for them to verify my driver’s license. A very good alternative if you have no choice!
The snow puffies here are.. Omg – puffed pastry, cream filling with chocolate topping, it’s a well kept secret!
A healthy lunch spot in North Shore on a farm. Come here after a day of watching surfers catch waves. They grow their own acai for acai bowls and we bought these mochi bites home as souvenirs. No regrets there!
I feel like I can’t put together a list about North Shore without calling out Matsumoto. Honestly, it’s a bit of a tourist attraction now. Located in a spot with a tons of cute stores. Might be a good pit stop!
Day Trip: Kailua for Lanikai Beach
Rent a kayak/do a kayak tour. We did the 2 hr guided tour, it comes with a coupon for lunch nearby, and then you have access to all their equipment afterwards (e.g. bikes, paddleboards, etc). From there, you can chill at Lanikai beach – a top rated US beach 🙂 Obama vacations here every Christmas.
The Pillbox hike is near here too if you want to stack up your day. We did the hike SUPER early (started 6:30am, and then did the kayak tour right after for efficiency’s sake). The hike is a “moderate” hike, but not TOO difficult. You definitely need to wear shoes and have tolerance for some physical activity. It has a few parts that has a steep incline.
Note to self: Places to check out next time⬇
A girl can only eat so much! Here are some places that are highly recommended by foodie friends that I would like to try the next time I visit Oahu.
- Taormina Scilian Restaurant* – the chef here is a Japanese so it’s a delicious interesting spin on Italian food. Super easy to make a reservation on Opentable ahead of time.
- Banan* – frozen banana ice cream treats with fun flavors and island style toppings
- Tsurutonton Waikiki – a good alternative if you didn’t want to wait for udon at Marukame Udon Waikiki. They have a great weekday lunch special which includes a nigiri set + udon for $20. Friend recommends the cream broth over curry and kake.
- Island Vintage Coffee – a great breakfast spot. People love the acai bowls here and I hear the taro bagel w/ ube cream cheese and haupia cream is goals.
- Island Vintage Shave Ice – people love this shaved ice spot, but every time I’ve passed it there’s been some lines
- Kona Coffee Purveyors | b patisserie – a must for pastry fans! Get the kouign-amann in black sesame and strwberry guava flavors!
- Aloha Table – a friend is saying that this place has the best loco moco. So, I really need to try it next time. I have to know if it’s the best! 😂
- Helena’s Hawaiian Food – everyone says to go here for their hawaiian food so it’s a must
- Off the Hook Poke Market – a local foodie told me to go here, it’s near their university and she says it’s the best poke if you want to make the trek
- Cinnamon’s – the locals who come here a lot seem to be obsessed with this chain “Cinnamon’s”
- You can spot turtles around Laniakea Beach – you’ll encounter crowd trying to find turtles I recommend walking to the side to find some with less people around
- Nearby Haleiwa: You can drive through those spots on the way out.
- Leonard’s Bakery – Malasadas w/ filling, everyone raves about this place!
- The Pig and The Lady – A popular vietnamese spot in Waikiki Chinatown
- Miro Kaimuki – A 5-course tasting menu that comes highly recommended w/ Japanese fusion
- Karai Crab – A crab boil spot – get the Fried Honey Garlic Shrimp, Garlic noodles, and Karai Combo
- Foodland Farms – Friends keep talking about Foodland Farms, a supermarket stocked with a ton of delicious Hawaiian eats. I want to check it out!
- Alicia’s Market – Roasted Pork dish right by the airport. 🤤
- Skull & Crown Trading Company – Tiki Bar in Chinatown