ISLAND GUIDES | Oahu

ISLAND GUIDES | Oahu

How to escape Waikiki and eat like a local on a tropical paradise.

September 5, 2019
ISLAND GUIDES | Oahu

ISLAND GUIDES | Oahu

How to escape Waikiki and eat like a local on a tropical paradise.

September 5, 2019

It’s hard to complain about things when you’re visiting Oahu. Aside from being a tropical wonderland with pristine beaches and picturesque views, it's home to some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet in your entire life. But many visitors get caught up in the stretch of hotels and restaurants in Waikiki and never get out and see the rest of the island, which is a shame because the tiny island has a vast wealth of world-class restaurants. Navigating the side streets and micro-neighborhoods can be daunting to the casual tourist though, so here's a list of favorites, courtesy of chef Richie Nakano.

 

LET'S GO!

Ahi Assassins: “Upstairs in a strip mall” isn’t always a description of where a great place to eat might be located, but Ahi Assassins boldly defies that idea. Takeout only, and specializing in locally caught poke and plate lunches, its the perfect spot to hit up before a drive to the north shore. Go early and go hungry, you’re going to want to sample everything.

Senia: When two veterans of Per Se and many of the worlds other greatest kitchens teamed up on Oahu, it was big news. But the real story came when people realized that this wasn’t just one of the greatest restaurants in Hawaii, but in the entire world. Blending casual dining with precise cooking technique, Senia is the perfect place for a special meal during your vacation. There are no gimmicks, no pretension, just a perfect meal that will make your trip completely unforgettable.

Waiola Shave Ice: Hawaii is hot. The urban setting of Honolulu seems to amplify that heat. The way the concrete and asphalt seems to reflect the sun directly into your eyes doesn’t help. The best way to cool off is with a shave ice, and Waiola is the OG spot for it. Obama eats there whenever her visits, and there's a good reason why. The ice here is snow-like, light, and seemingly devoid of any large ice crystals. The flavor combos are endless, so you’ll probably want to make a few trips to figure out what you like best.

Koko Head Cafe: Chef Leanne Wong is famous for being a Top Chef alum, but it's her genre-bending restaurant Koko Head Cafe that the locals know her for. Instead of hitting the hotel buffet, drive over to Kaimuki for the all-day brunch that features dishes like breakfast bibimbap, udon, and breakfast congee.

Side Street Inn: Side Street Inn is the kind of place where you can find chefs eating and drinking after service, seated a table over from Honolulu’s mayor. It’s a gathering place; the kind of spot where you go to share a bunch of plates with friends over many, many beers. By Honolulu standards, it's open late (11:30), so its the perfect place to unwind after a long day. 

Tonkatsu Tamafuji: You know a tonkatsu place is legit when you walk in and there's a fine layer or fryer oil making the floor just ever so slippery. Tonkatsu Tamafuji is a tiny little katsu shop that boasts long lines and a diverse menu. The experience is interactive, with the diner grinding their own sesame seeds and blending their own katsu sauce. The katsu itself is a pretty straightforward affair with thin whips of cabbage and golden brown, craggy fried pork.

Leonard’s Bakery: If you’re visiting Honolulu you have to go to Leonards, it's really non-negotiable. Leonard’s is world-famous for their malasadas; warm orbs of fried dough, filled with Hawaiian flavored creams and jellies in flavors such as haupia, li hing, guava, and macadamia nut. Get a big box of them and keep them in your hotel for a special snack.

Mud Hen Water: If you want a snapshot of Hawaiian food through the lens of Ed Kenney, one of Hawaii’s most forward-thinking chefs, then Mud Hen Water is your spot. The menu is crafted for sharing, boasting the freshest local ingredients. Go in a group if you can so you can try the full breadth of the menu, and ask to sit on the patio. 

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