Honolulu Food Worth Seeking

Beach Honolulu

Waialae Beach was the most recent backdrop for downtown between magical Honolulu meals.

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Oahu has become a hub for Pacific and Japanese cuisines, seafood, and seasonal ingredients. Find 29 places to eat good food in Honolulu, the state capital and the biggest city on Hawaii’s third largest island. Listings appear in alphabetical order, not by preference. Craving a flavorful caffeine boost? Check out my Honolulu Coffee Worth Seeking guide.

Helena’s Hawaiian Food


Hawaiian Food Honolulu

In 1946, Helen Chock founded this legendary Kalihi restaurant, which received a “Regional Classic” James Beard Award in 2000. Grandson Craig Katsuyoshi now presides over Helena’s from Tuesday through Friday. They’re best known for pipikaula, marinated, bone-in short ribs that hang over the grill to dry before deep-frying. Really, any dish proudly represents Hawaiian cuisine, whether it’s fried butterfish collar with crispy skin, Kalua pig cooked in an imu, luau squid blanketed in taro leaves seasoned with coconut milk, or ahi poke tossed with ogo, onions and opihi, a tiny, briny sea snail that resembles abalone. Every meal comes with haupia.

MUST ORDER: Fried Butterfish Collar, Kalua Pig, Luau Squid, Poke Fish with Opihi, Short Ribs Pipikaula Style

Imanas Tei Restaurant

Japanese Food Honolulu

Imanas Tei is a sushi bar and izakaya from Keiji Fukuda and Yuki Naka set back from King Street. My wife and I scored the last order of pleasantly chewy flounder engawa (fin) sushi. Crispy deep-fried heads joined silky sweet shrimp sushi. Grilled butterfish caramelized with miso sauce sported crispy skin. Grilled yellowtail kama (collar) touted myriad textures between cartilage and bone ranging from fluffy to fatty. A cool night for Honolulu – 70 degrees, gasp! – called for rice soup with crab meat and shiitakes.

MUST ORDER: Flounder Engawa Sushi, Grilled Butterfish w/Miso Sauce, Grilled Yellowtail Kama, Rice Soup with Crab Meat, Sweet Shrimp Sushi

Ireh Restaurant

Korean Food Honolulu

Pyoung Ok Kim’s Korean restaurant in the Manoa-Makiki/University District specializes in simple comfort food in a homey setting, including noodle soups and jook. Don’t expect many culinary fireworks, and banchan are basic, but go anyway. Chewing noodles have good bite and come slathered in “special spicy sauce” similar to gochujang. Bean Noodles feature a frothy fresh-ground soybean broth. Jook is a hearty Korean-style porridge available with toppings like mung bean, mushroom, chicken, and seafood.

MUST ORDER: Chewing Noodles, Bean Noodles, Shrimp Jook

Kaimuki Shokudo

Soba Honolulu

Soba is a big draw at this stylish side street izakaya. Nutty buckwheat noodles are available in a dozen hot or cold preparations. I enjoyed versions topped with cool, creamy uni and crispy tempura oysters and submerged in umami rich broth. Toppings like grilled duck and saba (mackerel) are also in play. The dinner menu is far more ambitious, featuring over 30 pupus (small plates).

MUST ORDER: Oyster Soba, Uni Soba

Kamehameha Bakery

Donuts Honolulu

Daniel Paglinawan and wife Geramie opened Kamehameha Bakery in 1976. Now daughter Lisa helps her parents run an establishment named for the King who united the Hawaiian islands. There’s a reason pastry boxes are perpetually stacked to the ceiling. The Paglinawans produce royal donuts, including stupendous malasadas in uniquely Hawaiian flavors like poi.

MUST ORDER: Poi Glazed, Glazed, Chocolate Donut, Hopia

KCC Farmers Market

Farmers Market Honolulu

According to the sign in front of the Kapi’olani Community College parking lot, the legendary Saturday morning KCC Farmers Market opens “at the sound of a horn,” and it might as well be race day. So many people charge the stalls that casual observers might mistake the scene for a marathon starting line. Vendors who are lucky enough to secure space in the market that Dean Okimoto, Joan Namkoong and Conrad Nonaka founded in 2003 contribute to one of the best selections of produce and prepared food of any U.S. market. Different stalls offer massive grilled prawns with roe attached, Big Island abalone grilled with garlic butter, and Kukui Sausage Co. pastele or “gyoza style” sausages. KCC Farmers Market constantly adds to their deep roster.

MUST ORDER: Big Island Abalone, Grilled Prawns, Kukui Sausage Co., The Pig & The Lady pho French dip

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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