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Oahu Restaurants

Oahu is undergoing something of a renaissance at both ends of the dining spectrum. You can splurge on world-class contemporary cuisine at destination

Oahu is undergoing something of a renaissance at both ends of the dining spectrum. You can splurge on world-class contemporary cuisine at destination restaurants and explore local flavors at popular, very affordable holes in the wall. Whatever your taste and budget, you’ll find places that pique your interest and palate.

You may wish to budget for a pricey dining experience at the very top of the restaurant food chain, where chefs Alan Wong, Roy Yamaguchi, George Mavrothalassitis, Chris Kajioka, and others you've seen on the Food Network and Travel Channel put a sophisticated spin on local foods and flavors. Savor dishes that take cues from Japan, China, Korea, the Philippines, the United States, and Europe, then are filtered through an Island sensibility. Take advantage of the location and order the superb local fish—mahimahi, opakaka, ono, and opah.

Spend the rest of your food dollars where budget-conscious locals do: in plate-lunch places and small ethnic eateries, at roadside stands and lunch wagons, or at window-in-the-wall delis. Snack on a musubi (a handheld rice ball wrapped with seaweed and often topped with Spam), slurp shave ice with red-bean paste, or order Filipino pork adobo with two scoops of rice and macaroni salad.

In Waikiki, where most visitors stay, you can find choices from upscale dining rooms with a view to Japanese noodle shops. When you’re ready to explore, hop in the car, or on the trolley or bus—by going just a few miles in any direction, you can save money and eat like a local.

Kaimuki's Waialae Avenue, for example, is a critical mass of good eats and drinks. There you’ll find an espresso bar, a Chinese bakery, a patisserie, an Italian bistro, a dim-sum restaurant, Mexican food, and a Hawaiian regional-cuisine standout (3660 on the Rise)—all in three blocks, and 10 minutes from Waikiki. Chinatown, 15 minutes in the other direction and easily reached by the Waikiki Trolley, is another dining (and shopping) treasure, not only for Chinese but also Vietnamese, Filipino, Malaysian, and Indian food, and even a chic little tea shop. Kakaako, the developing urban area between Waikiki and Chinatown, also offers a mix of local eateries, upscale restaurants, and ethnic takeout.

Outside Honolulu and Waikiki there are fewer dining options, but restaurants tend to be filled with locals and are cheaper and more casual. Windward Oahu's dining scene has improved greatly in recent years due to the visitors to Kailua and Lanikai beaches, so everything from plate lunches to Latin foods to creative regional offerings can be found there. Across the rest of the island, the cuisine is mainly American—great if you're traveling with kids—but there are a handful of Italian and Asian places worth trying as well.

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  • 1. Honolulu Burger Co.

    $ | Makiki Heights | Burger

    Owner Ken Takahashi retired as a nightclub impresario on the Big Island to become a real-life burger king. This modest storefront is the home...Read More

  • 2. Koko Head Cafe

    $ | Kaimuki | American

    When Lee Anne Wong, best known as a competitor on the first season of Bravo's "Top Chef," moved to the Islands, foodies waited with bated breath...Read More

  • 3. Bac Nam

    $ | Ala Moana | Vietnamese

    Tam and Kimmy Huynh's menu is much more extensive than most, ranging far beyond the usual pho and bun (cold noodle dishes) found at many Vietnamese...Read More

  • 4. Big City Diner

    $ | Ala Moana | American

    Part of a local chain of retro diners, Big City offers Hawaii-style comfort favorites for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In the morning you get...Read More

  • 5. Big City Diner

    $ | American

    This outlet of the popular retro diner chain has outdoor lanai seating, a bar, and is across the street from a small bird sanctuary. It's a...Read More

  • 6. Boots & Kimo's Homestyle Kitchen

    $ | American

    Sometimes you wait an hour for a table here since the restaurant's fervent followers come back again and again for the banana pancakes topped...Read More

  • 7. Cholo's Homestyle Mexican

    $ | Mexican

    There are a few institutions on the North Shore that are the area's great gathering places. Foodland (the great grocery store) is one, and the...Read More

  • 8. Cinnamon's Restaurant

    $ | American

    Known for uncommon variations on common breakfast themes (pancakes, eggs Benedict, French toast, home fries, and eggs), this neighborhood favorite...Read More

  • 9. Diamond Head Market & Grill

    $ | Diamond Head | American

    Just five minutes from Waikiki hotels is Kelvin Ro's one-stop food shop—indispensable if you have accommodations with a kitchen or if you want...Read More

  • 10. Fukuya Delicatessen

    $ | Japanese

    Get a taste of local Japanese culture at this family operation on the main thoroughfare in local-style Moiliili, a mile or so mauka out of...Read More

  • 11. Hank's Haute Dogs

    $ | Kakaako | Hot Dog

    Owner Hank Adaniya's idea of a hot dog involves things like wild boar sausage with cran-apple relish. Originally a true hole-in-the-wall, the...Read More

  • 12. Highway Inn

    $ | Kakaako | American

    Highway Inn serves up what it does best: local favorites like Kalbi ribs, kalua (roasted in an underground oven) pork sliders, beef stew,...Read More

  • 13. Island Snow

    $ | American

    This hole in the wall has been creating shave ice perfection in its tiny original spot since 1979, but when two young girls named Obama discovered...Read More

  • 14. Kaahaaina Cafe

    $ | American

    Hidden behind the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, this café offers what most every other hospital café in the world doesn't: good...Read More

  • 15. Kakaako Kitchen

    $ | Kakaako | American

    Kakaako has grown up around Russell Siu's masterpiece kitchen, where he serves high-quality plate lunches utilizing local, farm-to-table ingredients...Read More

  • 16. Kalapawai Market

    $ | Deli

    Generations of children have purchased their beach snacks and sodas at Kalapawai Market, near Kailua Beach. A Windward Oahu landmark since 1932...Read More

  • 17. Kokonuts Shave Ice and Snacks

    $ | Café

    Stop for shave ice on the South Shore? President Barack Obama did while visiting the island after the 2008 election. Kokonuts Shave Ice and...Read More

  • 18. Kua Aina Sandwich

    $ | Burger

    This North Shore spot has gone from funky burger shack (it first opened in 1975) to institution, with crowds of tourists and locals standing...Read More

  • 19. Legend Seafood Restaurant

    $ | Chinatown | Chinese

    Use your best cab-hailing technique and sign language to make the cart ladies stop at your table and show you their fare at this large, loud...Read More

  • 20. Matsumoto Shave Ice

    $ | Café

    For a real slice of Haleiwa life, stop at Matsumoto Shave Ice, a family-run business in a building dating to 1910, for shave ice in every flavor...Read More

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