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.

Ray’s Cafe


Hawaiian Food Honolulu

Ray’s Cafe is a working class Kalihi diner that has served hearty Hawaiian combo plates since 1986. The tiny cafe plays no music, but has tile walls blanketed with menus and plenty of lucky cats with their paws up overlooking orange tables. Ray’s is justifiably well known for their fried chicken, which arrives with thin, crisp crusts. Get a two-thigh combo with flaky grilled ono, mac salad, and rice. People also like grilled butterfish and Prime rib, which will either end your day, or fuel hours of work, depending on your objective.

MUST ORDER: Butterfish, Fried Chicken, Ono

Senia

Fine Dining Honolulu

Chef Anthony Rush founded Senia in Chinatown in 2016 with Chris Kajioka, who moved on to run restaurants like Miro Kaimuki. Senia serves an inspired a la carte dinner menu and offers a tasting menu on Fridays and Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. Playful “snacks” might include smoked ahi “cigars” and cornbread madeleines. Other dishes at “the intersection of Hawaii and the world” are fluid. That could mean farmers market salad with seasonal finds and kumquat vinaigrette; Maui Nui venison tartare with curry, pickled mango, mac nuts, and house-baked naan; or perhaps lamb ravioli with carrot purée, peas, and mint oil. “Share” friendly dishes geared for 2-4 people might showcase proteins like triple-smoked salmon or Australian Wagyu short rib.

MUST ORDER: Snacks, Farmers Market Salad, Share Plates, Tasting Menu

Sushi Izakaya Gaku

Sushi Honolulu

Manabu Kikuchi’s Japanese restaurant doesn’t look like much out front, but Gaku’s interior houses a sharp sushi bar complete with wood beams and traditional sunken seating in back. The sprawling menu showcases dozens of dishes, including raw, cooked, and preparations that fall somewhere in between. Gaku crafts sushi from seafoods like ankimo, moi, papio and saury.

MUST ORDER: Ankimo, Moi Sushi, Seared Saury Sushi, Eihire, Spicy Negihamachi Tartar, Aburi Satsumaage

Sushi Sho

Sushi Honolulu

Famed Tokyo sushi chef Keiji Nakazawa’s 10-seat, 5-sided bar forever raised my expectations for sushi. In 2016, Nakazawa relocated to Honolulu, where he sources 80% of the seasonal ingredients from Hawaii or the U.S. coasts. Sushi Sho’s parade of eye-popping dishes included masterful nigiri built around prized ingredients like baby red snapper, Dungeness crab, and ankimo (monkfish liver). Cooked marvels include chawan mushi chock full of Kona baby abalone, Santa Barbara sea urchin, Oregon matsutake mushrooms and French “white caviar” (escargot eggs). Nakazawa topped particularly memorable grilled miso-glazed opah (moonfish) belly with tart, bursting Big Island finger lime. Reservations are hard to come by and cost $350 per person, minimum, but Sushi Sho is worth the effort and expense for a sushi experience that’s as close as diners can get to Tokyo with uniquely Hawaiian flourishes.

MUST ORDER: Omakase

Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin

Japanese Food Honolulu

Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin serves seven kinds of panko-crusted, deep-fried pork cutlet. The most luscious version (with the highest fat content) weighs 7 ounces and comes from a Kurobuta pig. Thick-cut pork loin is another crowd-pleaser. Since we’re in Hawaii, they riff on loco moco with katsu, curry gravy, and egg. Katsu even factors into a deluxe don with soft egg, onion, and savory sauce. A fun bonus is the ability to mash sesame seeds at the table using a mortar and pestle. Mix with katsu sauce to form a delectable dip.

MUST ORDER: Kurobuta Pork Loin Katsu, Thick Cut Pork Loin Katsu, Bairin Special Pork Tenderloin Katsu Don, Katsu Loco Moco

Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha

Shave Ice Honolulu

Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha, aka HOPA, has served sensational shave ice in Āina Haina since 2011. Clayton Chang and nephew Bronson Chang also run a second location at Ala Moana Center. The family makes syrups and mochi in-house and teams with Tropical Dreams ice cream on fluffy shave ice. Uji Kintori is my favorite Honolulu shave ice bowl, drizzled with green tea syrup, topped with Tahitian vanilla ice cream, earthy adzuki beans, and supple house-made mochi.

MUST ORDER: Uji Kintori

Yakitori Hachibei

Japanese Food Honolulu

In 1940, Tokichiro Yashima opened a butcher shop in Maebaru, Fukuoka Prefecture. His grandson Katsunori Yashima opened a yakitori restaurant using meat from the family’s shop in 1983. Managing partner Robert Yamazaki expanded Yakitori Hachibei to Honolulu in 2016, building on success in Japan (five locations) and Taipei (one location). During my visit, a young chef named Tommy deftly grilled “the very finest ingredients from Hawaii’s many talented farmers, fishermen, suppliers and purveyors” over binchotan. Our skewered hit parade starred grilled black pepper oxtail served on the bone with Dijon mustard and yuzu kosho; “sukiyaki” skewers of enoki mushrooms and bitter chrysanthemum greens wrapped with juicy thin-sliced beef and dipped in egg yolk; and free-range chicken from Julius Ludovico on Waialua’s “verdant plains,” including firm hatsu (chicken heart), unctuous foie gras (“this isn’t your ordinary chicken liver”), and oblong tsukune (meatball) constructed with minced chicken, Chinese chives and onion.

MUST ORDER: Butabara, Hatsu, Mentai Dashimaki Tamago, Seasonal Local Corn Karaage, Sukiyaki, Teba Karaage, Tsukune

WHAT TO DO BETWEEN MEALS (shoutout to A.J. Liebling)

Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center

Children's Museum Honolulu

In 1989, Loretta Yajima founded the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center, which currently occupies a revamped Kaka’ako incinerator. Great interactive exhibits range. from a car pit crew to a Vietnamese rice paddy and a Hawaiian Airlines plane with donated seats and a cockpit where kids can be pilots. They even have a rainforest room with magnetic fishing rods and a mist/smoke machine.

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Joshua Lurie

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

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