From bánh mì sandwiches to Korean classics like tteokbokki, the Hawaiian Islands are brimming with delicious Asian-inspired food.
The culinary scene in America’s most ethnically diverse state is a multifaceted amalgamation of food traditions from Native Hawaiians and early Asian settlers who came to work on sugarcane and pineapple plantations. In the 19th century, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and Portuguese laborers would gather together during lunchtime, bring out their aluminum kau kau tins, and share their home-cooked meals.
Over the decades, dishes like Korean Kalbi short ribs, Japanese-style chicken katsu, and Chinese pork buns started to take on a distinctive Hawaii flair. Today, diners are spoilt with choice with the wide array of Asian-inspired restaurants, offering everything from savory seafood pancakes to meaty bánh mì sandwiches. Here are 15 delectable restaurants in Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and Hawaii Island that celebrate the diversity of the Aloha State.
Top Picks for You
WHERE: Honolulu, Oahu
An institution in Oahu’s food scene, Ethel’s Grill has been serving comforting Japanese, Okinawan, and Hawaii dishes since 1978. At first glance, this cramped hole-in-the-wall doesn’t resemble an award-winning restaurant. Old photos and posters of sumo wrestlers hang on the wall, cases of canned soda are stacked on the floor, and colorful handwritten menu signs are taped above the counter. But the food, by James Beard-nominated chef Robert Urquidi, draws a huge crowd who crave crispy mochiko chicken, fresh ahi tataki, hearty beef sukiyaki, and addictive misoyaki fish.
INSIDER TIPThe wait is long, and the seating is limited, so call ahead and order your food to-go. Cash only.
WHERE: Honolulu, Oahu
When chefs Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka opened MW Restaurant in 2013, they immediately garnered the attention of the James Beard Foundation, earning a Best New Restaurant nomination. While that was nearly a decade ago, this husband-and-wife team continues to impress diners and critics with their innovative take on Hawaii Regional Cuisine. When MW Restaurant moved to its new space at the glitzy Velocity Honolulu last year, the Ueokas tweaked their popular dishes and added new ones.
On the menu are the ever-popular mochi-crusted Kona kampachi, Chinese roast duck and pork hash quesadilla, and unagi and butterfish arancini with nori tsukudani (seaweed paste). The desserts here are renowned, so it’s no surprise that Michelle Karr-Ueoko received a nomination for Outstanding Pastry Chef by James Beard in 2022. End your meal on a sweet note with the shave ice with panna cotta, tapioca, azuki, and lychee sorbet, or the MW Candy Bar with peanut butter crunch, macadamia nut caramel, Valrhona chocolate ganache, and black sesame ice cream.
Koko Head Café
WHERE: Honolulu, Oahu
Enjoy an island-style brunch at Koko Head Cafe with the locals at Kaimuki, one of Honolulu’s oldest residential neighborhoods. Co-owned by Top Chef alum Lee Anne Wong, the eatery recently relocated to a bigger space, which now includes an outdoor patio and a waiting room. The made-from-scratch menu features handmade dumplings and breakfast congee (rice porridge), as well as bibimbap, miso-marinated fish and eggs, and Don Buri Chen—a sushi rice bowl with scrambled eggs, five-spice pork belly, miso pork, chicharron, and house pickles. Indulge in a refreshing brunch cocktail, like the Queens Mimosa with sparkling cava, elderflower, and guava juice.
INSIDER TIPOpen from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays.
The Pig and the Lady
WHERE: Honolulu, Oahu
Located in historic Chinatown, The Pig and the Lady’s handsome brick loft-like space rivals any trendy eatery in New York City. Helmed by chef Andrew Le (“The Pig”), his mother, Joan “Mama” Le (“The Lady”), and his brother and general manager Alex, this family-run business started as a pop-up at a farmers’ market. Standouts on the lunch menu include the aromatic oxtail pho and bánh mì sandwiches—a vegan portobello mushroom version; a luxe pho French dip with 12-hour slow-roasted brisket; and a classic take with pork pâté, Vietnamese ham, pork belly, and fried egg. The dinner menu also shines with their famous Le Fried Chicken Wings, charcoal-grilled pork collar, and signature pho. Be sure to save room for dessert, especially the soft serve sundae (flavors changes weekly), drizzled in a condensed milk sauce and served in a waffle bowl.
O’Kim’s Korean Kitchen
WHERE: Honolulu, Oahu
In downtown Honolulu, you’ll find the quaint, family-owned O’Kim’s, which serves contemporary Korean dishes made with fresh, local ingredients. Ask for a seat on the outdoor tree-lined patio and order from the signature menu or the creative monthly specials. Chef-owner Hyun Kim’s ever-evolving specials might include Korean classics like tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cakes), seafood pancake, and mushroom japchae (stir-fried glass noodles). But regulars always return for the deep-fried Korean chicken tossed in gochujang sauce and the confit pork belly brûlée with miso sauce, apple-ginger jam, and sesame leaves. Both dishes are served with purple rice, green salad, and a side of house-made kimchi. If you’re hankering for a satisfying vegan meal, try the truffle mandoo (dumplings) and Japanese-style curry brimming with garbanzo, butternut squash, broccoli, and black-eye peas.
Sushi Izakaya Gaku
WHERE: Honolulu, Oahu
A 2022 James Beard nominee for Best Restaurant, Sushi Izakaya Gaku is a favorite among Oahu chefs and locals. Enter the nondescript storefront, and you’ll find yourself immersed in a little slice of Tokyo. This authentic izakaya (similar to a Spanish tapas bar) is known for its fresh, high-quality seafood, immaculate technique, and old-school Japanese ambiance. Belly up at the sushi counter and watch the expert chefs prepare your dinner. Ask for the omakase (chef’s choice) sushi, which might include amaebi (sweet shrimp), ikura (salmon roe), toro (fatty tuna), and Hokkaido uni (sea urchin). Round out your meal with a side of hamachi tartare, silky chawanmushi (Japanese steamed egg custard), and lightly battered agedashi tofu and mochi in a light dashi broth.
Star Noodle v2
WHERE: Lahaina, Maui
Watch boats sail by as you sip an ice-cold Maui brew at Star Noodle v2, which recently moved from an industrial park to its new open-air waterfront spot in Lahaina. True to its name, the stars here are the house-made noodles, from Star Udon with a rich pork broth and roasted pork belly to local saimin with a light dashi broth, Spam, and soft-boiled eggs. The garlic noodles are a must, as are the sweet-salty nuoc cham chicken and adobo ribs. The popular steamed pork buns with roasted pork belly and house-made hoisin are offered based on availability; if you see it on the menu during your visit, snag it! The wait here can be long, so be sure to make a reservation.
WHERE: Kahului, Maui
It’s a family affair at Tin Roof, a mom-and-pop eatery in a busy strip mall in Kahului. In 2016, the affable chef Sheldon Simeon, a fan-favorite on two seasons of Top Chef and James Beard nominee, opened Tin Roof with his wife, Janice, to serve comfort food like saimin (Simeon’s favorite), garlic noodles, and rice bowls topped with mochiko chicken, garlic shrimp, pork belly, or chop steak. Add a 6-minute egg for $1 and a side of mac salad for $2, and you’ll have a perfect post-hike lunch.
INSIDER TIPCurrently, Tin Roof is take-out only, so after you pick up your food, head to the nearby Hoaloha Park for a quintessential Hawaii picnic.
WHERE: Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort
Request a table at the patio, order a tropical craft cocktail, and toast to the mesmerizing Hawaii sunset at the AAA Four Diamond Ka‘ana Kitchen, located at the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort. In Hawaiian, ka’ana means “to share,” and the dishes in this globally inspired menu are meant to be sharable. For a party of two, order two to three small plates, such as the Wagyu hanger steak with green papaya, nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce), and peanuts; ahi tataki with burrata cheese; and coconut clams with ulu (breadfruit), kaffir line, and tomato butter. Then follow up with a couple of larger entrées, like the mushroom risotto and meaty rib eye with shishito and cassava.
WHERE: Kapaʻa, Kauai
In the 1990s, Jean-Marie Josselin and 11 other chefs started a culinary revolution called the Hawaii Regional Cuisine. The movement celebrates local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen while embracing Hawaii’s diverse population and food traditions. While chef Josselin originally hails from France, his cooking is heavily influenced by Japanese techniques and Chinese, Korean, and Southeast Asian flavors. At JO2 Restaurant, that translates to appetizers like Korean-style pork belly Bolognese with house-made pasta and agedashi tofu with eggplant chutney; and entrées like yellow curry seared marlin and kung pao lamb chop with miso gnocchi. Pair these hearty dishes with craft cocktails made with fresh-squeezed citrus and farm-grown herbs.
INSIDER TIPOpt for the $35 three-course prix fixe menu for a great deal, offered daily from 5 to 6 p.m.
Eating House 1849 Koloa
WHERE: Poipu, Kauai
Set inside an expansive plantation-style building, Eating House 1849 Koloa by celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi is an homage to Hawaii’s multiethnic cuisine. Yamaguchi is one of the original founders of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, and the menu here honors the chef’s ethos of highlighting fresh ingredients sourced from local farms and fishermen. Start with the pork and shrimp potstickers with garlic aioli, lup cheong (Chinese sausage), and Korean chile vinaigrette or Mongolian BBQ baby back ribs. Then dig into a hot pot rice bowl with sauteed vegetables and Yamachuchi’s famed butterfish. Save room for the upside-down pineapple cake with butterscotch sauce and macadamia nut crumble. It’s as good as it sounds.
WHERE: Hanapepe, Kauai
Born in Japan and raised in Los Angeles, Keiko Napier fell in love with Kauai while on vacation and decided to open a boutique and restaurant. Located in a former WWII USO building in historic Hanapepe Valley, Blü Umi is a darling retail store selling clothes, jewelry, and souvenirs, while the next-door Japanese Grandma’s café features inventive rolls, fresh sashimi, crispy tempura, local ahi poke bowls, and classic Japanese dishes. Ramen, made with 18-hour broth and house-made noodles, is only available from Monday through Wednesday. Start with a couple of signature rolls, such as the Hanapepe Roll and the Rainbow Roll. Then dig into the perfectly fried pork tonkatsu with shaved cabbage or pan-seared tofu with farmers’ market vegetables. The gelato from Papalani Gelato, paired with matcha-powdered mochi and azuki beans, is the perfect end to a great meal.
WHERE: Hilo, Hawaii Island
A 2022 James Beard Award-nominee, chef Brian Hirata’s pop-up dinner series is one of the most sought-after reservations on Hawaii Island. Held monthly at various locations, including Anna Ranch Heritage Center in Waimea and Whitehaven Farm in Pepeekeo, Na‘au showcases wild, indigenous ingredients that Hirata forages, fishes, or hunts from around the islands. His ever-evolving menu features an innovative take on Asia-inspired dishes like tempura heart of palm, abalone chawanmushi (Japanese steamed egg custard), prawn-mousse gyozas, and kimchi Brussel sprouts. During these intimate dinners, the chef shares the history and significance of Hawaiian food culture and personal stories of growing up on the islands.
Moon & Turtle
WHERE: Hilo, Hawaii Island
Local foodies breathed a sigh of relief when Moon & Turtle, a beloved neighborhood restaurant in Hilo, not only withstood a challenging pandemic but thrived. In 2022, chef Mark Pomaski, who previously worked at Roy’s Hawaii and Nobu 57 in New York, received a James Beard Award nomination for Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific. Along with his wife, Soni, Pomaski runs this elegant, cozy restaurant, consistently delivering a small but well-executed family-style menu. The locally sourced, seasonal offering changes often, but you’ll likely find fresh sashimi dressed in kiawe-smoked soy and Hawaiian chili pepper water, whole fried fish, flavorful fried rice, and dumplings.
WHERE: Kealakekua, Hawaii Island
One of the oldest restaurants on Hawaii Island, Teshima Restaurant, has been serving hungry diners in Kealakekua since 1929. Red lanterns and vintage photos documenting the evolution of the family business hang on the wall, along with a portrait of the restaurant’s namesake, Grandma Teshima. Many dishes from the Japanese-Hawaii menu, conceived in the 1950s, remain popular today, including saimin, beef curry stew, and the No. 3 Teishoku (sashimi, sukiyaki, shrimp tempura, Japanese pickles, and a bowl of fluffy white rice). If you prefer home-cooked Japanese food with a side of ocean view, pick up a bento box with rice balls, fried Spam, teriyaki beef, and egg roll. Then head to the nearby Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park for a picnic.
Editor’s Note: Per the Hawaii Tourism Board, Fodor’s recognizes “the proper use of the Hawaiian language, ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i,’ which includes the ‘okina [‘], a consonant, and the kahakō [ō] or macron.” The Hawai‘i Board on Geographic Names was created to “assure uniformity and standardize spelling of geographic names to communicate unambiguously about places, reducing the potential for confusion.” In order to ensure our readers the best experience reading our Hawaii travel guides, we follow the standardized spelling, but hope to expose readers to the importance and cultural significance of the written Ōlelo Hawai‘i language.