While we were in Hawaii I don’t think we had a bad meal. A few people had said the food over there is crap, but I honestly wonder where they were eating, because we ate out at a variety of places and everything was really fresh and really tasty. I think there was possibly one place that my husband said he didn’t love, but the meal itself wasn’t terrible. It just wasn’t as good as he had hoped.
Most of the places we ate at were in Waikiki on the main street, but we did venture out a few times to try out places that had good Urbanspoon ratings or that we had read about online. Here’s a quick run down of the places we really enjoyed!
A word about the photos – I did my best to take photos of the food, but they were mostly taken on my iPhone in dimly lit restaurants, and I haaaaate being one of those twits who takes a million pics of their food to instagram before they eat it, so forgive the somewhat crappy quality! So, that being said, sit back and enjoy a virtual cocktail as you read this. Here. I’ve prepared some for you:
Hula Grill Waikiki – Located in the Outrigger hotel on the beach front, Hula Grill is a Waikiki tourist staple. Which is why it’s always crazy busy. There’s always a line to get in and they give you buzzers to let you know when your table is ready. This was our first dinner out on our first full day of our holiday. I had a chicken breast with pear and ginger glaze with Israeli pearl cous cous and baby carrots. My husband had the fish special, which was probably Mahi Mahi or Poke or something similar. The food was tasty, though not out of this world. We liked the atmosphere. It was busy and everyone was in a great mood, and it was just a nice place to be at the end of our first day in Waikiki. We also ate here towards the end of our trip and had kombucha squash gnocchi, the two fish special, crab wontons, and poke tacos, and I enjoyed that meal a lot more. What we must discuss is the Hula Pie we had for dessert both times, pictured above. Imagine a slice of ice cream cake. Now, imagine the slice of cake is the size of a small child’s head. I had a small child with me. I could compare. Then imagine it smothered in hot, chocolate fudge sauce, with an oreo biscuit base, macadamia vanilla ice cream and a generous side of whipped cream. That’s Hula Pie. It’s delicious, and enormous, and like a chocolate fudge sauce covered piece of dessert heaven. Make sure you try it, along with at least one other dessert. I saw someone order the brownie ice cream sandwich, and I kid you not: it was the length of my daughter’s arm and twice as thick. It looked incredible. The food, atmosphere and service was as good as the first time we ate there, so we were firm Hula Grill fans by the end.
Marukame Udon – We tended to eat lunch in our apartment while our daughter napped, but a few times we ate out if the toddler wasn’t too grumpy. My husband found this place on Urban Spoon and it was not far from where we stayed. It’s not on the main street, but it’s still ridiculously busy. There was always a line outside the door, but it moves very, very quickly. Marukame is sort of a cafeteria place where you line up at the entrance and move along the serving counters to order. First you order your noodles, then you order tempura or Musubi sides, then you can order soup and grab your condiments before paying at the register. It’s the kind of place where you go in, order food, eat quickly and leave. And I have to be honest: as someone who doesn’t usually like pho and noodle soups, this was delicious. Really fresh noodles, tasty soups, and a few cheeky fried sides kept me full for the afternoon. Definitely worth trying, and better yet you can have a feed for under $15USD.
Duke’s, Waikiki – This is another Waikiki institution, and it’s also in the Outrigger hotel. Duke’s is downstairs, and the Hula Grill is upstairs, so they each get a crap load of each other’s flow-on business. Again, it’s a touristy place, but it has a fun, busy atmosphere. I had mango glazed ribs with Hawaiian slaw mash and fresh salad from the salad bar. My husband had the seafood luau. Both meals were delicious. I don’t love eating messy foods like ribs in public where I can’t just use my hands and look like a complete savage as I gnaw away on the bones like a crazy person. But these ribs were slow cooked to perfection, and the meat just fell away from the bone as soon as I pulled at it with my fork. Great flavour, and really, really yummy.
Uncle Po’s Pupu Bar and Grill – This is a little outside Waikiki (as in, a ten minute cab ride), and we went there on a Sunday night when it had rained all day long because of a hurricane that passed by Hawaii without inflicting much damage. Another Urban Spoon find, it was a bit more modern than the Waikiki touristy places, and it had a more subdued atmosphere. But it was still family friendly and the service and food was nice. A pupu is basically an appetiser – cute name, huh? We both had seafood: the baked opah mauna kea & steamed opakapaka (a type of snapper) Chinese style with garlic soy sauce topped w green onion cilantro olive oil and veggies. Both fish dishes were lovely and fresh and had a nice flavour. They weren’t stand out dishes, but they were nice nonetheless. This place is a nice change to the busy Waikiki places if you’re looking for something a bit quieter.
Rumfire, Sheraton Hotel – First up, the Sheraton hotel is HUUUUUUGE. Like, a massive complex with shops and restaurants and bars. You could stay there and never leave. The hotel itself is apparently lovely as well. We came here on a night when it was raining, and it was packed. Luckily we found a little corner where we could stash the pram and hold our daughter on our laps without being too in the way. This place was one of my favourites. A low key bar that serves great drinks and great tapas. They also have a musician most nights and the guy playing the night we were there was fantastic. He played a lot of covers of popular songs with a slowed down acoustic rhythm. We ordered drinks and some cold water, and some tapas: pork belly cheesy nachos (DELICIOUS. Seriously, so, so YUMMY), flash fried edamame, and Thai red coconut Bahn mih. I also managed to spill an almost full glass of iced water all over myself, which was just fantastic. Luckily I was wearing mostly black, so it didn’t look too much like I’d peed my pants a lot. But anyway, if you want nachos and you love pork belly, try combining the two. It’s heaven in your mouth.
Shore bird Restaurant and Beach Bar – This was at the Outrigger Waikiki Reef Beach Resort which is different to the Outrigger where Duke’s and the Hula Grill are. It’s down the other end of Waikiki in a little village-type stretch of hotels. There were a couple of restaurants there, and this one was the least busy. We walked in and were immediately surrounded by the smell of barbecuing. Not the food from the barbecue, but the smokey smell. Not thinking anything of it, we ordered. After waiter took our order and left, my husband and I chatted and looked around as you do. Eventually we looked at each other and I said “Do you think all those people over there are cooking their own food?” Because we realised that the reason we could smell smoke was because the restaurant has a whole ‘cook your own dinner’ thing going on, which wasn’t written on the menus and the waiter didn’t mention at all. My husband nodded and said he thought so. The waiter came back with our drinks and we asked if this was the case, and he confirmed that yes, we would be cooking our own food. So that explained the barbecue smell. Our food came out and my husband went off to cook it while I sat with our daughter as she played with all the little packets of sugar (which, for some reason, the waiter DID NOT like her doing and removed them without consulting me). My husband came back, sweating rivers from standing at the hot barbecues and we started to eat. We ordered shrimp and andoullie pork kabob, and a half pound teriyaki beef kabob, and they had a great salad bar included with the meals. The kabobs were nice, but the teriyaki beef one was the standout. Really great flavour, lovely, tender meant and good value for money. This is the only place we didn’t tip very well. The waiter was kind of a douche. He didn’t give us any information about the whole cook your meal yourself deal, he was weirdly brusque with my daughter playing at the table, and he could barely be bothered looking at us when he deigned to bring us our food and drinks. The place itself is nice, and the food was tasty, but if you can’t be bothered cooking your own meal, go elsewhere.
Tiki’s Grill & Bar – this was at the end of our street and it was the first and last meals we had in Waikiki. Our first day in Hawaii we arrived at about midday and apartment wasn’t ready yet, but the woman at the hotel referred us to the Tiki Grill because it was close by and she said the food was good. It’s located in the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel on the main street. The Tiki Grill is upstairs with a great view of Waikiki Beach. Thank goodness it was so close to our hotel, because we were bone tired after a night of travel where neither of a us slept. BUT my daughter did sleep for most of the flight, and as every parent knows, THAT’S THE IMPORTANT THING. Anyway, on our first and last days in Hawaii, we ate a Jamaican Jerk Chicken Wrap, BBQ pulled pork sandwich on Taro bun, Calamari Katsu and Beef Quesadillas. All of it was really tasty and the speed and service was great. They also have live music in the evening, and it’s a great place to have cocktails as you watch the sunset.
The Cheesecake Factory – You’ve got to go the The Cheesecake Factory when you’re in America. Disclaimer: Cheesecake is one of the few cakes I like, and I actually really LOVE IT. So I was happy to just come here and have a piece of cheesecake, but the menu looked good, so we definitely had to give it a shot. The only problem is that it’s ridiculously busy ALL THE TIME. Like, people are sitting out on the street waiting to go in, looking all depressed, pissed off and slightly jealous all at once. It’s a weird experience. But if you want to eat here, go early. Like, senior citizen early. We arrived at about 5.30pm and it was already jam packed. But it meant that we only had a fifteen minute wait, versus an hour or more wait if we’d come an hour later. First of all, the menu is huge. Like, pages, and pages long, with every kind of dish you can imagine. We both opted for soft shell tacos,I had chicken and my husband had fish, and they were both served with black beans and rice. For dessert we chose a piece of caramel pecan turtle cheesecake to take home and share. It’s worth noting that you can actually come in and just order a piece of cheesecake (or a whole one. No judgement) to take away. They have about twenty or thirty varieties and every single one of them looked and sounded so bloody delicious. I probably could have spent an entire day just eating their cheesecakes and nothing else, just to try as many as I could….Hmmm, something to remember for next time….Anyway, this is well worth the wait, so definitely one to check out.
House Without A Key – this restaurant is in the Halekulani Hotel which is a gorgeous, gorgeous luxury hotel. We came here on a one night to have drinks and dinner in the open air restaurant because my husband had read that it’s a great place to listen to some live Hawaiian music and watch the sunset. Both the music and the sunset were beautiful, and the vibe is a very relaxed, but fancy feel. Fancy relaxation, if you will. I had a veggie burger and my husband had seafood pasta, and I had a cocktail that tasted like cordial, so it went down VERY well. The menu here is not huge, which was somewhat disappointing, but the food was still tasty. This is the place to put on a pretty dress and class it up a bit after being at the beach all day. A beautiful location and a beautiful atmosphere, but definitely go a little early because it gets busy.
Morimoto Waikiki – This is situated in The Modern Honolulu and was referred to me by a friend at work. My husband looooves Japanese food, and I wanted to surprise him by taking him here as a belated anniversary gift. Somehow, in all his internet googling for Japanese restaurants in Waikiki, this one never came up in, so he had no idea where we were going, which pleased me no end. It’s a very fancy restaurant within a five star hotel, so the prices were a bit higher than the other places we went to, but we always try to splurge on at least one really nice meal when we’re away. We had a sushi selection, Kakuni braised ten hour pork belly (TO DIE FOR), Yellowtail whole fish with spicy tofu sauce and pickled papaya salad. My husband also had a lovely four sake selection, which was a nice touch to complement the meal. Dessert was a yummy coconut ice cream thing with caramel popcorn that was light but sweet. Everything was delicious – Hawaiian-Japanese fusion food at it’s absolute finest. It’s also worth noting that our daughter, who won’t eat ANYTHING, stood at my side with her mouth open like a seagull gobbling up as much yellowtail fish as she could. So she apparently has champagne taste on a beer budget, just like her mother. Good to know. If you want a super fancy meal in a chic, modern restaurant, definitely go to Morimoto. Chef Morimoto is a renowned Iron Chef, and the experience is fantastic. Side note: The bathroom in the hotel is AMAZING. One of the most stylish, modern bathrooms I’ve ever been in. Yeah, I took a photo:
A couple of other places we stopped at in our travels around the island:
Leonard’s Bakery – This is a bit of an institution in Oahu – we frequently saw food truck tours stopping there. It can get quite crowded as it’s not a big place, but it’s worth a visit. It’s outside Waikiki, but not far – a quick five minute cab ride to run in grab some Malasadas (which are a dollar each), jump back in the cab and come back to the privacy of your hotel room to stand over a plate and eat a warm Malasada while your fingers get covered in sugar and coconut ganache/chocolate ganache/custard runs down your arm. Essentially, these were basically just like warm jam doughnuts we get in Melbourne, so nothing that new to me, but it was nice to try the different flavours. And really, a dollar for a piping hot pillow of deep fried goodness covered in sugar? Why wouldn’t you?
Matsumoto Shave Ice – of course we had to get a shave ice. Three bucks for a mountain of shave ice is a bargain. Seriously, the mountain of shave ice you get it the size of a two year old’s head. Again, I had a two year old there. I compared. There are about twenty flavours to choose from, and the flavours actually DO taste like what they are. We had cherry, guava, and orange creamsicle (orange ice cream), and it was delicious and refreshing. It’s located in Haleiwa, so you need a car or a tour bus to get you there, but it’s worth it.
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck – While we were in Haleiwa, we stopped at another famous Oahu place to eat, Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. This is located on the same street as Matsumoto, and it’s also well worth stopping at. For $13USD you get a plate of a dozen garlic shrimp with garlic rice. Sounds plain? It is. But it’s also incredibly delicious. Giovanni’s is located in a little wooded area on the street with a couple of other food trucks. Giovanni’s is one of the white trucks with writing all over it (another food truck there has copied them and done the same thing, so don’t be fooled – make sure you look for the Giovanni sign). You grab a plate and sit at picnic tables to eat. It’s a quick lunch and you’ll walk away full and stinking of garlic. But really, what better thing to stink of, I ask you? Sooooo delicious.
Ted’s bakery – Ted’s is located on the North Shore of Oahu, and it’s nothing special to look at. BUT. BUT. They do hot food that is total comfort food. Big breakfasts, hot sandwiches, and delicious dessert pies. We ordered some takeaway: BBQ pork burger and fries, and a piece of banana cream pie, and chocolate dream pie. All of it was delicious. I didn’t love the pies as much as I thought I would, but I think that harks back to my dislike of cream and custard. I know, I don’t like cream or custard. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Nothing. They have weird textures that gross me out, okay? The hot food is probably the draw card for me, and it’s across the road from some gorgeous beaches, so you can grab a variety of meals on your way to or from the beach that will keep your tummy full for a while.
So there you have it. Where to eat in Waikiki!
There are a few other places we didn’t manage to get to, including this takeaway place called the Rainbow Drive-In. It came recommended by a few places, and is apparently where President Obama stops for a bite to eat when he’s in town. It’s cheap and cheerful, but also the servings are apparently enough to easily feed two people at once for under $10USD.
There was also a place around the corner from our hotel called Teddy’s Bigger Burgers that, like Rainbow Drive-In, is cheap and cheerful and can feed two people for less that $15USD. It serves burgers, fries and milkshakes in a diner-type setting and it was always busy. If we every go back, I’ll make it a point to try these places out because they both came highly recommended to us.
A few other things to note:
– Everywhere we went to eat was family friendly, even the fancier places. As soon as we sat down, my daughter got a booster seat, crayons, colouring paper and sometimes even a novelty sippy cup, which she loved. No one seems to bat an eyelid about little kids wandering around the table smiling at people while their parents enjoy their meals, which is so nice to experience. Whenever we went out to eat, my daughter did not want to sit still. She really needed to enjoy the dining experience from all areas around our table, and the wait staff weren’t phased in the slightest. Everywhere we went, with the exception of Morimoto’s, had a kid’s menu as well, so if they have heaps of options.
– As I mentioned, Waikiki restaurants are very busy once it gets to about 5.30/6pm. If you want to go somewhere in particular, go early. You’ll have to wait, but the earlier you eat, the less you wait. The longest we waited for dinner was about fifty minutes at Duke’s, but it’s part of the Waikiki experience. It’s a busy touristy place, so you just have to suck it up and wait, or go elsewhere.
– The cost of most of these places was fairly on par with Australian restaurants, unless noted. Mains ranged from about $22USD to about $35USD, depending on what you ordered. Plus there’s the tip, which is generally supposed to be between 18 to 20%. Remember that food servers get paid garbage over there, so if you had a good meal and good service, tip within these parametres. Most servers work hard for their tip and the service is generally really good and very attentive (in our experience).
– Hawaiian cuisine is usually a blend of Asian, Hawaiian, and good old modern food. The variety was great, and the seafood was always fresh and tasty, but there’s also plenty of red meat and chicken dishes to satisfy the carnivore in you.
– Portion sizes weren’t as enormous as we thought they would be, which was good for the waistline. A lot of things did come with fries, but you just have to discipline yourself and not eat them if you don’t want to. I was always happy when we went somewhere that had a salad bar, because it was a good way to fill up on fresh salads instead of fried chips.
If you’ve been somewhere good to eat in Waikiki or anywhere in Oahu, let me know! I’d love to hear about places we couldn’t get to!.
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