My favorite places for food in Honolulu.
Ah, Honolulu. In another Factoid, I wrote about visiting Hawaii from a tourist perspective. Within that article, I noted a few places to go that are really fun as a tourist, but I did not mention some of my personal favorite places to either eat, or get food on the fly. Dining out in Honolulu is not all that different from any other large city, and there are numerous places to eat depending on preferences. While there are ethnic restaurants of all kinds, Asian restaurants are understandably higher in number than others. That said, there are some really great Italian places, and there is even a really good Middle Eastern restaurant (noted herein).
Unlike my other articles on dining out, I could not limit myself to just five -- and the other restaurants that I enjoyed the most are not on the Honolulu side of the island, so I couldn't round up the number to ten. So, the following is my list of seven places-- though there are many, many other outstanding restaurants of all kinds in and around Honolulu. One place in this list is not a restaurant, but a small superette - which has some "so ono local kine grinds" - and is definitely worth checking out.
1. Hananoki Japanese Restaurant
Hananoki Japanese Restaurant is located in Manoa Valley. The restaurant does not have its own Website, but the attached link offers location information. The description in the attached link says, "Tucked away in the rather quaint Manoa Marketplace, this restaurant is a casual local gem. It features a buffet of sushi, tempura and other popular Japanese dishes. The chefs also have 'creative sushi' that builds on the 'California Roll' concept, and does it very well. The buffet is currently priced at $12.95 for lunch, $16.95 for weekday dinners, and $23.95 for dinner on Saturday and Sunday. The restaurant is in the process of changing its menu to include an a la carte menu as well as the buffet." That description is highly accurate. The food is good, the prices are cheap - and the restaurant is family-friendly. There is a small theater next door, so the location is nice for a play and lunch or dinner afterward.
Now this is a FUN restaurant. Located in downtown Honolulu (with parking underground), this is a combination Japanese/Hawaiian buffet, the likes of which are hard to find anywhere else. There is a hot bar, a tempura bar, a soup and salad bar...and yes, a HUGE sushi bar. All you can eat, and the price is very reasonable. While Todai is not unique to Honolulu, that was the first one I ever knew of. There are locations in various places across the United States and in Korea, China, and Hong Kong - but they are not readily accessible for most of us here. (I'm hopeful for one to open in Atlanta someday.) The prices for adults are based on a single buffet amount, and children's prices are based upon their ages and heights. My favorite spot to sit was directly across from the sushi bar, as close as I could get to the ahi sashimi as possible.
3. Ocean House
This restaurant is at something of a tourist location (located in the Outrigger Reef Hotel), but with its beachfront view and diverse menu, it is a good place to go on a date night. Ocean House is marketed as "casual elegant" - but that describes many restaurants in Honolulu. The prices are on the high end, and the restaurant is not kid-friendly - so I would classify it as mid-end fine dining. The food is decent, and the ambiance is lovely. The menu is a cross-section of steak, seafood, and island foods. Definitely a must-try place.
4. The Dixie Grill
This is another VERY fun restaurant, and really unexpected. Located outside of Honolulu in Aiea, the Dixie Grill is Southern fare - which was quite a surprise for me to discover when I lived in Hawaii. I never would have imagined that a restaurant boasting Cajun food would be there (excepting Bubba Gump's - which is okay, too...and another fun place). But no, the Dixie Grill puts Bubba Gump's to shame - for its prices, for its food, for its family-friendliness (complete with outside sandpit for the kids), and for the sheer fun of the place. My favorite item on the menu, and one I recommend all the way around, is the famous Trash Can Buffet (for two or more people, unless you have a huge appetite). The Trash Can buffet has baby back ribs, beer can chicken, catfish, fries, corn on the cob, coleslaw, and crab legs. Of course, being me -- I would substitute the French fries for fried okra. YUM!
5. L&L Drive Inn
This is a fun barbecue place - with a long-standing history in Hawaii, that eventually became the "Original Hawaiian Barbecue" franchised all over the islands and around the United States mainland (one of the few Hawaiian restaurants on the mainland). The Website explains what a plate lunch is (pictured above), and boasts the following:
"The traditional Hawaiian plate lunch consists of two servings of rice, a serving of macaroni salad, and features a generous serving of a hot entrée. L&L Hawaiian Barbecue® plate lunches are famous for its large portion sizes, freshness, and unique blend of tastes found in dishes like Chicken katsu (breaded chicken w/special dipping sauce), “Loco Moco” (hamburger patties, two eggs, & gravy), and mahi mahi (w/tartar sauce). L&L Hawaiian Barbecue's® plate lunches are also infused with an "ingredient" unique to the islands – the warm spirit of Aloha."
For myself, I'll take the saimin. You go ahead and call it ramen or noodle soup, but in Hawaii, it's saimin. And it's good.
Like the Dixie Grill, Pyramids was an unexpected find. One afternoon I was craving something spanakopita, and had no idea where I would find any. A friend of mine recommended Pyramids. This friend had never been there, but heard they served all kinds of "weird" food (her word, not mine), including spanakopita and lamb kebab. My mouth started watering. So I set the reservation. A little bit overblown on the stereotyped appearance, the food was definitely worth the reservation. The kids enjoyed the belly dancer (which was a surprise for me - but a lot of fun), and the food was just SO good. The prices are mid-range to high, but worth what you pay for if that is what you're craving.
7. Tanabe's Superette
This last entry is not a restaurant - but it is one really great place to get really good local food. Tanabe's does not have its own Website, so what is linked is a blog that gives its location and lists (and pictures) some of its awesome food. Located downtown (just up the street from Ala Moana Shopping Center, and almost next door to HMSA), Tanabe's Superette has a VERY long history in Honolulu. Established in 1917, they continue to offer such lovely lunch items as hot lau lau, ahi poke, sushi, sashimi, various musubi (with and without ume) - and are dirt cheap. When I worked downtown, that was my preferred lunch stop. McDonalds? No way - even though it's right next door. Really...no way. Tanabe's was THE choice.
Check some of these places out if you're there...and if you want to avoid the tourist fare.