Oahu has become a hub for Pacific and Japanese cuisines, seafood, and seasonal ingredients. Learn about 27 places you should absolutely eat in Honolulu, the capital of the state and the biggest city on Hawaii’s third largest island.
Removed: Alicia’s Market (Closed), Country Shave Ice & Snack Shop (Closed), Wada (Closed)
Bonus: Brue Bar and Morning Glass Coffee + Café now listed under Honolulu Coffee Worth Seeking
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
Erika Luna and Josh Schade have run a new school poke bar on the second floor of a basic cream and mauve colored strip mall since 2014. Fish is “slay’d, weighed and filleted in Hawaii Nei.” During my visit, staffers were butchering ahi in plain sight behind the counter, fueling some of Honolulu’s best poké. Two blackboard menus are surprisingly deep, and go way beyond raw fish, but start there. I’d recommend wonderfully savory Secret Shoyu Poké with luscious ahi tossed with raw onions, Hawaiian salt and soy sauce. Lunatic Poké wasn’t nearly as insane as it sounded, but the combo of ahi, onions, Hawaiian salt, spicy sauce and garlic did pack more punch. Prepared dishes yield mixed results. I enjoyed pan-seared kijiki (marlin) cooked medium rare and dressed with a one-two punch of furikake and garlic. Conversely, my smoked marlin dip was overwhelmingly salty and their “bag of bones” (aku ribs) sported plenty of meat, but were fried into submission.
MUST ORDER: Lunatic Poké, Secret Shoyu Poké, Pan Seared Kijiki
In late 2014, high school friends Matt Hong, Zak Barry, Galen McCleary and Luke Untermann parked their planter-framed food truck near the base of Diamond Head. Across a parking lot, guests sit on shaded benches and picnic tables. Banán specializes in dairy-free frozen fruit soft serve crafted with either banana, seasonal pitaya strawberry or greens, all available with a variety of toppings. I’d recommend banana in a papaya boat topped with puffed quinoa and lilikoi jam. Greens are also righteous, in a good way, with a frozen blend of kale, spirulina, ginger and mint.
MUST ORDER: Papaya Boat, Banana Soft Serve, Greens Soft Serve
3. Chef Mavro
George Mavrothalassitis, who hails from the French Rivera, opened his eponymous restaurant in 1988, earned a James Beard Award in 2003 as Best Chef for Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, co-founded Hawaii Regional Cuisine along the way, and continues to thrive in Honolulu. The colorful space, set back from Waikiki’s tourist zone, features water colors painted in a nearby botanical garden, hula drums, and vases filled with vivid red Hawaiian ginger. Committing to Chef Mavro’s tasting menu is a smart move, leading to dishes like Keahole lobster and Elysian Fields lamb.
MUST ORDER: Ahi Tartare with Osetra Caviar, Keahole Lobster Risotto, Dayboat Snapper, Colorado Lamb “Djerba,” Lilikoi Malasadas
Ethel’s Grill is a tiny restaurant in an industrial area that dates to 1978 and has no Ethel in sight. Rather, Okinawa native Riyoko Ishii, daughter Minaka Urquidi and son-in-law/chef Robert Urquidi helm the seven-table establishment that touts a cinder block wall, sumo painting, and some of Honolulu’s best comfort food. Ethel’s has a laminated menu, but most people order from a sea of taped, handwritten papers that advertise dishes like deep fried turkey tails, goyachampuru, or unagi avocado donburi. Ethel’s Grill will “Sumo size” any dish for a nominal fee, though standard portions are still huge.
MUST ORDER: Deep Fried Turkey Tails, Famous Tataki Sashimi, Mochiko Chicken, Oxtail Soup with Saimin, Pan Fried Whole Akule
5. Golden Pork Tonkotsu Ramen Bar
Golden Pork Tonkotsu Ramen Bar serves some of Honolulu’s best ramen bowls behind Ala Moana Center. The ocean-themed space features blue and white waves on the ceiling, 3D waves on the wall, blue tiles, and a central communal table featuring red, white and gold floral panels. Spicy red miso ramen stars a savory, thick, but not grotesquely rich tonkotsu broth, thin noodles, char siu, spicy minced pork, red pepper, peanuts, crunchy scallions and wood ear mushrooms, sesame seeds, a nori sail, and if you’re smart, a soft seasoned egg. Two top complementary small plates consist of crispy pan-fried pork gyoza and scallops sautéed with asparagus, soy sauce, and garlic butter.
MUST ORDER: Gyoza, Scallop Garlic Butter Sauté, Spicy Red Miso Ramen
6. Goma Tei
Goma Tei means “sesame seed” in English, and that translates as an exemplary bowl of Tan Tan Ramen on the ground floor of Honolulu’s massive Ala Moana Center. This particular ramen variety showcases a pork, chicken and vegetable broth with “spicy sesame flavor.” The space is modern, minimalist and functional, with wood flooring, light tile walls, wood four-tops and two long and lean wood counters facing each other, so servers can work in the middle.
MUST ORDER: Tan Tan Ramen