Oahu Food Guide: Flavors of the Pacific You Need to Try in 2019

Kristen Dahlin / Tuesday April 30, 2019
Giovanni's Shrimp Truck
Photo by The Blonde Abroad

One of the fantastic things about travel is immersing yourself in another culture entirely. Sampling, if even for a short time, a different way of life, style, food, drink and traditions with the utmost respect to the people around you. Travel, done correctly, transforms your little corner of the world. Food is also the most accessible element of travel. This fact inspired the Oahu Food Guide for 2019!

Why am I equipped to speak on this topic, you wonder to yourself (suspecting this guide may feature a lot of pineapple). Well, I lived on Oahu for three years in my early 20’s. I also went to the islands thinking P.F. Chang’s was gourmet Chinese, a fact my local friends and coworkers found endlessly amusing. By the time I returned to the mainland, my eating habits and flavor preferences were almost unrecognizable to my family and friends! Read: sushi in Oklahoma makes me want to weep.

My time in Hawaii changed the way I stock my kitchen and also the meals I serve for dinner (we’re talking my own yin-yang hotpot and a burner for the center of my kitchen table). When friends ask for Tapatio or Cholula or Tabasco, I’m reaching for the red rooster sauce instead!

I, a mainland girl, spent a few happy years seeing another side of the island that most travelers don’t get to see. When you vacation in Hawaii,  you probably don’t have years and years to browse around every spot on the island. Hopefully, I can help point you in the right direction so you spend less time Googling and more time getting your grind on*!

*Get off of the dance floor, Karen, this is local slang for food. We go grind = we’re going to eat! Let’s get some grindz… you get the picture.

Hello, is it me you're looking for?

Dole Whip Oahu Food Guide

Just kidding. Here’s me with an obligatory Dole Whip last week. You know when you go to Disneyland an you’re suddenly hit with an overwhelming desire for pineapple soft-serve, and then you finally have it in hand and you’re like, “eh, okay, that was good but not life-changing?” But wait just a couple months and suddenly you’ve convinced yourself that Disneyland Dole Whip is the best most refreshing treat every created?

It’s not Disneyland, it’s the Dole Whip. Same thing when you go to Oahu. 

In the end it’s just a waffle cone filled with pineapple ice cream andalso  a really underwhelming sliver of frozen underripe pineapple….yay.

Please note, Dole Whips are not featured anywhere else on this food guide, nor is my unfortunate pattern-mixing. The Kate Spade was the only bag big enough to carry my note-taking materials for this carefully researched guide, and also my extra appetite . And also willpower. Fashion sacrifices had to be made in order to bring you, dear reader, the inside SCOOP on the food wisdom I’ll be DOLE-ing out. 😏

The puns I’m WHIPping out are free of charge. An extra topping, if you will. Ok, moving on.

Let's Go Grind

If you suspected that Hawaiian food is a ton of fish, pineapple, pulled pork, and rice, you’d be… partially correct. 

However, what makes the Hawaiian islands such a cultural mecca of food and style is the fact that it’s the crossroads of the Pacific. Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Indian, Vietnamese, Filipino, Samoan, North American cultures (to name a few) all intersect here. 

Locals have absorbed the unique flavors of each region into their everyday diets and created mouthwatering fusion cuisine almost as an afterthought. It is authentic, unpretentious and flavorful.

Okay, but real talk: to understand this rich fusion cuisine and really taste the flavors of Oahu, you need to get out of Waikiki.

Eat and Talk Story

The view from Cheesecake Factory is underwhelming.

When you land in Honolulu and check into a Waikiki hotel, local vendors confront you with a ton of packages right off the bat that promise you a Hawaiian paradise experience. Some of these are fun to do – glass bottom boat tours, scuba diving, and snorkeling, nightly luaus and lomi lomi massages. 

You also might be tempted to eat along the strip where it’s familiar- there is a Cheesecake Factory, a Hard Rock Cafe, and the hokey Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. Duke’s Waikiki is also delicious and Hawaiian fare, but it’s still pretty polished. 

Dare I say, too mainstream?

Respect the 'Aina

  1.    
  2. Anyway, all of these are fun, but if you like to travel with authentic experiences, Waikiki doesn’t really cut it. After all, this is the Disney-fied version of Oahu. If you want to experience the real meat-and-potatoes (the real pork and taro, if you will) of island life, you really need to leave Waikiki behind you (in the rearview mirror of your rental car). 

    A side note here, before you go tromping off into the local side of Oahu. Enjoy the island with the utmost respect. The Hawaiian people have a rich cultural heritage that they are fiercely proud of- and the global community should be too. They also protect and revere the ‘aina, or land as a living, breathing thing worthy of respect (shouldn’t we all?). Oahu, and greater Hawaii is not just a tourist destination, it’s someone’s heart and home. Do not litter, carelessly tromp through the flora or wrench tropical flowers off branches for photo ops people!

    Okay, back to food.

A Foodie's Journey Through Oahu

  1. There are truly so many niche cafes, food trucks and restaurants to explore in Oahu that you probably won’t be able to enjoy them all in one trip. With that in mind, I’ve shared an Oahu food guide based on the trip back to the islands I just returned from. It was entirely planned around where I wanted to eat. (Natch!) With the help of my best friend Tori and husband Kyle, we sampled some of my favorite old haunts and some new places on the island that I hadn’t been to yet in the five years I’ve been away.
  2. Kailua on the Windward side of the island was our home base. That’s why many of the tasty breakfasts we enjoyed are in this charming town, the unofficial Brunch Capital of Oahu. I’ve also listed out some other places we didn’t enjoy on this trip, but are worth checking out too!

    Ready? Let’s eat!

Day One- Vietnamese Brunch, Donuts, and the Spicy Ramen Challenge

Brunch at Piggy Smalls

  • Saigon Style Iced Coffee
  • LFCauliflower "Wings"
  • Smoked Brisket Pho-Strami Dip Banh Mi
  • Truffle Shuffle Quiche
  • Chorizo Bolognese Pasta w/ Avo Toast
Vietnamese iced coffee from piggy smalls

Our first day on the island, we decided to try the brunch menu at Piggy Smalls. You should definitely call ahead and make a reservation before dropping in. People without a reservation were being turned away at the door on a Saturday afternoon- it was that busy. #Exclusive

Piggy Smalls is a Vietnamese fusion restaurant that masterfully combines Southeast Asian fare with European, American, North African and Asian influences. It’s Chef Andrew Le’s second restaurant – his first, The Pig and the Lady is located in historic Chinatown. This spot is also perfect for dinner. Both restaurants also have completely separate menus!

I was caffeine deprived at this point and ordered Saigon Style Iced Coffee to start with.  Vietnamese coffee is usually rocket fuel, as you get hit with double doses of caffeine and sugary sweet condensed milk.

Other non-alcoholic libations I recommend: the donut milkshake or the Hanoi egg coffee and biscotti.

If you’re craving a brunch beverage (read: alcohol) and feeling brave, I also recommend the Miso Bloody Mary. Made with yuzu kosho, kaffir lime, and spicy red miso with a barrel-aged spirit, this is a twist on the traditional Bloody Mary you probably won’t find anywhere else.

Piggy Smalls is the real star of this Oahu Food Guide!

Most brunch menus I find are really just breakfast served with liquor if I’m being honest. However, Piggy Smalls masterfully combines breakfast staples into savory lunch dishes. You may not be able to believe what you’re ordering off of this menu, but rest assured whatever it is will be totally delicious.

Trying to maintain a semblance of eating responsibly, we ordered the cauliflower version of Piggy Small’s popular appetizer. The LFC Wings (or LFCauliflower for vegetarians) are drizzled in money sauce, kaffir lime, and slaw, shallots, and peanuts. The result is a tangy, Vietnamese twist on the popular American chicken wing. We might be biased, but the cauliflower is really brought to life with the accompanying flavors. We promise you won’t realize you’re eating a vegetable.The main dishes were also out of this world good. Our group ordered the Chorizo Bolognese Pasta with avocado toast, the Truffle Shuffle Quiche, and the Smoked Brisket Pho-Strami Dip Banh Mi sandwich.

A favorite on the Piggy Smalls brunch menu is the Pho-strami dip sandwich. It’s made with pickled mustard seeds, sriracha-lime onions an PS signature awesome sauce on a La Tour baguette (another Oahu staple). This banh mi is meant to be dipped in the warm, buttery pho broth – and we added the hand-cut noodles to enjoy the pho after we were done with the sandwich!

cauliflower appetizer from Hawaiian restaurant
brisket banh mi sandwich with pho

The Chorizo Bolognese is a hearty dish – be warned, you’ll need a hefty appetite to finish the pasta AND also the thick slices of avo toast that come on the side. Rigatoni, shimeji mushrooms, crispy brussels sprout, pickled red onion, pecorino, cilantro and also a poached egg garnish complete this amazing dish. The Truffle Shuffle quiche is another savory dish that’s even better than it’s description: souffle of eggs, summer truffle sofrito, roasted mushrooms and a buttery pie crust. Seriously YUM!

Hawaiian fusion brunch at Piggy Smalls- a must stop for any Oahu food guide

Mr. Donut's & Bakery

assorted donuts from Oahu food guide

Next, we satisfied our sweet tooth by walking around downtown Chinatown District. This is one of my favorite parts of Honolulu with it’s rich (and kinda seedy) history. Sailor Jerry’s original tattoo shop is still here, now operating under Old Ironsides Tattoo Shop. 

We stopped into Mr. Donut’s & Bakery, an unassuming donut shop on Hotel Street that serves, no joke, the freshest donuts in downtown Honolulu. You can watch them roll fresh pastry classics like bearclaws, apple fritters and more. They have several mouthwateringflavors like frosted blueberr and oreo. Mr. Donut’s also has a chocolate p.b. donut that tastes like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. 

Be careful when sharing these donuts with others- you may just find yourself fighting for the last one! 

The Spicy Ramen Challenge

  • Innovative Hot Mess Kotteri Ramen
  • Thinking You Can Handle The Heat

A visit to Oahu is not complete without sampling any one of the many Ramen eateries around the island. One of my top choices is always AGU Ramen. There are several locations to choose from in Honolulu, including in Ward Village near Piggy Smalls. AGU Ramen does many ramen varieties well, like Kotteri Tonkatsu and Jidori. However, the element that makes AGU stand out is the customizable heat you can pack your ramen with.  

There are seven levels of spicy in all, and anything past Level 2 will definitely have some heat. Please note that the Epic and WTF are strongly discouraged unless you have tried and finished the Level 5 before. 

The menu says don’t be a hero, and trust me on this one: it’s for good reason. *squints into distance* The year was 2014…

If you’d prefer something a little less straight heat, AGU’s signature dish is the Innovative Hot Mess Kotteri. This Kotteri ramen combines black garlic oil, garlic chips, garlic butter, char siu, aji tomago and Parmesan cheese. Make sure to also pack your mints after enjoying this garlicky dish! 

Day Two of Our Oahu Food Guide- A Lazy Sunday in Kailua

We decided to combat our jet lag with a lazy beach day in Kailua on our second day on-island. Our AirBnB (shoutout to Gina and Karl!) was just minutes from a private section of the beach. Insider tip: the farther you must park away from the beach, the more sun, surf and sand to enjoy all to yourself! 

Crepes No Ka Oi

  • Ultimate Breakfast Crepe
  • Haole Boy Crepe
  • Banane Au Nutella
Oahu Food Guide Crepes No Ka Oi

Crepes No Ka Oi in Kailua is my top breakfast location on Oahu. The menu is split between sweet crepes and savory crepes, and a huge list of individually steeped teas and espressos. I usually go for savory crepes – on this trip I enjoyed the Ultimate Breakfast Crepe. Two poached eggs rest on a bed of Colby Jack, potatoes, bacon bits, rosemary and onion with a side of hollandaise. 

My other favorite savory crepe is the Haole Boy (How- LEE) – Colby jack, Black Forest Ham and chunks of Maui pineapple.

If sweet is more your style, I recommend the Banane Au Nutella – sweet bananas topped with Nutella, chocolate syrup and powdered sugar.

Alternate Breakfast Recommendation

If you're in the mood for an authentic Hawaiian breakfast, the world-famous Boots & Kimo's Homestyle Kitchen is right down the street from Crepes No Ka Oi in Kailua. The Banana Mac Nut pancakes here are literally internationally acclaimed, and you can enjoy Hawaiian plate lunch with Mac salad, rice and their mochiko chicken. So Ono!

Teddy's Bigger Burgers

  • The Kaneohe Burger
  • The Volcano Burger
  • Garlic Butter Fries

At first glance, Teddy’s Bigger Burgers appears to be a fast-food burger chain popular on Oahu. However, don’t let the kitschy 50’s diner theme fool you – these burgers are good. Sometime in the 90’s, the founders asked the question, “why can’t you get a backyard cookout quality burger with fast service?” and Teddy’s was born. Native to Oahu and now franchised in the Philippines, Japan, Washington, Iowa and even Saudi Arabia, these big burgers are a big hit. 

Pictured is my personal favorite, The Big Kaneohe Burger – topped with garlic seasoning, bacon, cheddar and avocado. The fries are topped with the garlic butter topping – garlic, parmesan and parsley. Hubby loves the Volcano burger, made with Jalapenos, Pepperjack and Kileaua Fire BBQ Sauce. 

You have the choice of Big, Bigger or Biggest when you order, but the Biggest is probably a heart attack waiting to happen. Big is 1/3 a pound of beef, Bigger is 1/2 a pound, and Biggest is indeed one whole pound of beef patty. 

Kalapawai Deli

  • House Made Potato Gnocchi
  • Any of the Bruschetta
  • Lilikoi Cheesecake

Kalapawai Cafe and Deli has been a favorite of mine on the island for years, and I highly recommend this Kailua town gem for dinner. They don’t take reservations- it’s walk-in only and dinner service starts at 5pm. 

Kalapawai is a great spot for tapas and a glass of wine, with the dinner menu chock full of meat and cheese plates and bruschetta variations. American and creole dishes like Gumbo have an island twist with island fish, scallops and Kauai prawns on jasmine rice.

My personal favorite? The house-made potato gnocchi – peas, artichokes, asparagus, baby carrots, macadamia nut pesto, Parmesan cream sauce & prosciutto. Both the fire-roasted octopus and curried Shephard’s Pie are in a close tie for second!

Finish off your meal with a bite of lilikoi cheesecake. You can thank me later! 

Day Three of the Oahu Food Guide- Cinnamon's, Kona Brewing Company and My All-Time Favorite

Our third day on Oahu took us from the windward side to Hawaii Kai, the southern edge of the island. Some great hikes exist out here with trails up to the Mokapu’u Lighthouse and down to the Mokapu’u Tide Pools. We also visited China Walls, which is a popular local spot for surfing and sunning oneself on the smooth lava-rock cliffs and ledges. But first, we had to grab breakfast at one of Oahu’s most famous breakfast and lunch spots – Cinnamon’s Restaurant.

Cinnamon's Restaurant

  • Red Velvet Pancakes
  • Kalua Pork Eggs Benny
  • Baja Breakfast

Cinnamon’s is tucked into a modest shopping mall away from the main streets of Kailua Town, but it’s a pretty big deal. The restaurant itself has won numerous awards for best breakfast on the island and their red velvet pancakes have graced a list of America’s Best Pancakes. From their humble location in Kailua, they’ve spread to a Waikiki location in the ‘Ilikai Hotel and even to Vegas!

Despite it’s fame, Cinnamon’s is still a down-to-earth, casual breakfast spot with great flavor. There are no fancy mocha choco lattes or pretentious platings – just great food.

If you stop in to eat, try the famous red velvet pancakes. My other personal recommendation is the Kalua Pork Eggs Benedict. The pork is roasted in-house an served on a bed of ube (purple yam) and crisp English muffin. The hollandaise is made fresh in house, too!  

Cinnamon's in Kailua is a must have on any Oahu Food Guide
Kalua Pork Eggs Benedict from Cinnamon's

Salty, succulent Hawaiian pork balanced out by the sweet flavor of ube, drenched in creamy yolk and tangy Hollandaise? Sign me up! 

Kona Brewing Company Koko Marina Pub

Kona Brewing Company is by no means a hole-in-the-wall secret, but it’s still one of my favorite spots to grab a casual lunch an a flight of the companies signature Hawaiian brews. I think it’s a must on an Oahu food guide, don’t @ me. The deck offers a great view of the marina and Diamond Head in the distance. Plus, it’s a few steps from my favorite dessert location- more on that later.

You can sample a full flight of brews, or use the handy pairing menu to get the most flavor out of your entree and beer choice. 

I recommend the Shoyu Ginger Chicken (shoyu is the island name for soy sauce and this chicken breast is marinated in a sweet and spicy ginger and soy sauce glaze) paired with a Blonde Ale. Lemongrass Lu’au Blonde is the official recommendation! 

Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream and Desserts

Let’s talk mochi. Mochi is a sweetened rice dough from Japan, and one of the truly delicious ways it is used is to encase delicious ice cream. 

You’ll see Bubbies mochi ice cream in almost every department store or mall kiosk somewhere, but this storefront in Koko Marina is one of the only walk-in spots you can sit and enjoy it.

I recommend getting several different flavors to try – green tea, guava mango and sakura (cherry blossom) are my favorite. Sakura has a perfumey, light floral taste that is so refreshing!

My mochi ice cream photography skill pales in comparison to @eatslucywang on IG. Photo credit to her!

Kogi Aina Hot Pot in Kaneohe

I waited the entire trip to enjoy hotpot. No joke, I once desperately googled Mongolian Hot Pot (I’m also obsessed with Little Sheep in Kaka’ako) from my sleepy hometown in Oklahoma…and the closest was 6 hours away in Texas. Did I consider it? Yes. Is it still on my radar? Of course.

Hot Pot has a few different iterations depending on the cultural version. This mostly has to do with the ingredients used in the broth. For example, Mongolian HotPot uses different spices and flavors than it’s Japanese cousin, shabu shabu.

Kogi Aina is a Korean version, and while they have several tasty Shoyu-based broths (read: soy) their real tastemakers are the Korean broths. Spicy Kim Chee broth is my new favorite, but the spicy Korean is also incredible.

After 8p, Kogi Aina offers an all-you-can-eat hotpot buffet for $20. Everyone at the table must do the all-you-can-eat, and everyone gets their own broth on the burner. You pick your broth and your main meat, and then go hog wild on the refrigerated noodles and veggies in the freezer against the wall.

You can take whatever you want, but pace yourself: if you leave any plates of vegetables or meats uneaten, you’ll get a $10 charge. To finish off the big meal and cool your tummy, a complimentary huge bowl of rainbow shave ice is included!

Kogi Aina Hotpot

Day Four- North Shore Eats

A day on North Shore is a must when traveling to the island. The North Shore is where the fabled surfer culture of Hawaii thrives, especially in Hale’iwa town. However, there is one dish found on the North Shore that is no joke the reason my husband is now nagging me to move back to Oahu. He’s looking at transfer options at work, y’all. Keep reading to find out what it is – or, if you’ve been to the island before, you might be able to guess! It is a highlight of every halfway serious Oahu food guide…

WowWow Hawaiian Lemonade

  • Strawberry Lemonade
  • Blackberry Lavender
  • Watermelon Basil
  • Acai Bowl
strawberry lemonade in a mason jar

WowWow Hawaiian Lemonade is a family-owned business that has expanded from Hawaiian farmers markets to Japan and the West Coast. Oahu’s only location is nestled on the main road of Hale’iwa town. 

Besides cold-pressed lemonades, you can also enjoy AMAZING acai and pitaya bowls, as well as tasty smoothies. 

You can buy a regular plastic cup of lemonade, or for $10 you can get one of WowWow’s signature mason jars in 16 oz, 24 oz or 32 oz! With a mason jar, it’s $5 refills anytime you come back or visit another location. I got an adorable 16oz coral mason jar glass this time. You can also order a glass on the website, and accessories like reusable straws, mason jar koozies, and plastic lids.

Hale'iwa Food Truck Park

There are delicious food trucks parked throughout Hale’iwa, but most can be found in the food truck park across from WowWow Hawaiian Lemonades. If you’re the least bit hungry, stop at Surf N’ Salsa or Malai Thai. 

Alternate Lunch Spot

If you're feeling a little more classy , relaxed dining atmosphere than any one of the taco or food trucks in Hale'iwa, check out Hale'iwa Beach House on the far end of town. There's plenty of outdoor seating and an upstairs, so you get a great view of the ocean and people-watching. The calamari is one of the best things on the menu here, and I recommend you wash it down with a Kauwela cocktail (tequila, coconut cream and lilikoi puree).

Matsumoto Shave Ice

Grabbing shave ice at Matsumoto is almost obligatory. While you can grab great shave ice from just about anywhere on the island (hello, Waiola Shave Ice!) this small storefront has been serving up cold treats since 1951. 

If you want a pretty IG photo, Matsumoto Shave Ice is for you. The ice is super-fine, and served in perfect round balls that make for a great photo. If you want to try shave ice like a local, order Azuki beans and/or mochi balls. You may have to dig for the beans, but they’re meant to be enjoyed with every bite! 

Unsure what flavor to grab? If you’ve never had shave ice before, go with one of their combos- the Hawaiian is pineapple, coconut and banana. The Rainbow is Strawberry, Lemon and Pineapple.

You can also score more unique flavors here that aren’t as common in shave ice syrup – Green Tea, White Cake and Strawberry Cream to name a few.

Oahu Food Guide Matsumoto Shave Ice
IG Photo by @hikarisuperexpress

Giovanni's Shrimp Truck in Kahuku

Truthfully, you’d be hard pressed to find a shrimp shack or truck near Kahuku that isn’t delicious, but Giovanni’s has a soft spot among locals and tourists alike. 

Coastal Kahuku is a hub of freshwater shrimp farming, and has been for a long time. In fact, if you don’t know what you’re looking at, you may think the area just has a heck of a lot of ponds as you drive through. It does, and they are filled with big, tasty freshwater shrimp. 

Giovanni’s was the first shrimp truck in the area, peddling their garlic shrimp plates at North Shore beaches since 93 before permanently camping out in Kahuku. A ton of other shrimp trucks sprang up around it, but Giovanni’s is part of crustacean history now.

There are three variations of shrimp available at Giovanni’s – scampi, garlic butter and spicy. Garlic butter is the most popular and what Giovanni’s is known for, but I’m obsessed with the spicy myself. Tangy, hot and zippy with Tabasco, these peel and eat shrimp are life-changing.

 The shrimp are served plate lunch style, with Mac salad and rice. For extra, you can get a garlic topping on your rice I strongly recommend.

This is not a neat meal, but it’s a tasty one and a MUST on any Oahu Food Guide tour. Grab some napkins and dig in!

Day 5- Last Breakfast in Kailua, High Tea, Japan Village Walk and Mariposa

When our last day in Oahu came around, I was a few pounds heavier I’m sure. But most importantly, I was relaxed and rejuvenated. With that in mind, I took us around to some lighter eating destinations before we boarded our red-eye.

Okay, except for at Over Easy. That might have been a big (read: huge) breakfast.  

Over Easy in Kailua

  • Kalua Pig Hash
  • Crispy Edge Pancakes
  • Lilikoi Mimosa

Over Easy is a fairly new restaurant in Kailua, which means it’s still one of the areas best kept secrets. Tori recommended we eat here for our farewell breakfast (although she’s meeting me in Pismo Beach in two months so it’s a short goodbye) and I’m so glad she did.

Over Easy serves generous portions, and the food is good. I had the Kalua Pig Hash (I’m a sucker for hawaiian pork, my friends). The hash is a bed of Okinawan potatoes, lomi tomatoes,  pulled pork, local eggs and a generous gob of Green Goddess dressing. I also didn’t realize that the plate doesn’t have a fancy green whirl design, that was just green goddess artfully drizzled on the rim. Don’t be me. #NapkinsPlease

I also indulged in a lilikoi mimosa, which was perfect. Light, sweet lilikoi paired with a pop of cheery champagne. Yes please!

If you want something sweet for breakfast, their crispy edge pancakes are HUGE and delicious. Light, fluffy and served with fruit, cream cheese and a dusting of powdered sugar. 

The menu is on the small side and pretty uncomplicated, which I need in my life. The focus is on flavor, presentation and quality, not over quantity here!

High Tea at the Halekulani

The Halekulani in Waikiki is one of the oldest boutique hotels on Oahu. Dating back to 1917, it’s just 15 years younger than the oldest hotel in Waikiki (The Moana Surfrider). Halekulani is known for their top level of service, and is the spot for many local gatherings and weddings. The second you walk through it’s spacious lobby, open, breezy courtyards and demure, timeless white alcoves and staircases you feel relaxed

Halekulani is also the site of a “high tea” or afternoon tea service. The hotel restaurant is situated on an open lanai (read: porch or veranda), with views of green lawns and sparkling blue beaches. Sipping a cup of tea and nibbling on finger sandwiches is both the height of sophistication and an often looked-over stop. That’s why it’s a must for my Oahu food guide!

Afternoon tea is served from 3:00p to 5:30p on the hotel veranda. Resort casual is required- you cannot show up in tank tops and slippahs!

Shirokiya Japan Village Walk

Shirokiya underwent a major overhaul in the few years that I’ve been away. Once upon a time, we would stop in to this Japanese department store to check out all the interesting wares and then head up to the beer garden (natch) to meet with friends and snag some noodles.

The old Shirokiya had a few food vendors and was basically a local haven for cheap beers and cheap eats. Now, the Village Walk is a revamped, almost Disneyland-like version of Shirokiya. Karaoke, magic shows, and music performances are everywhere, and the decor is breathtaking. 

What makes my food-loving heart happy is that EVERY vendor stall is filled, and you can get just about any Japanese dish you desire from one of the many food vendors here. It’s like a food court or a traditional food market, and I’m living for it. 

Mariposa Restaurant

Once upon a time in my past life as a boutique wedding coordinator, we often met clients over a late lunch or dinner at Mariposa.

Mariposa can be tricky to find, as this classy restaurant is tucked away on the top floor of Neiman Marcus in Ala Moana Mall. When you dine here, you’re treated to relaxing and gorgeous views of Ala Moana Beach. Trust me, this is the place to catch a sunset. 

Everything on the menu is mouthwateringly delicious, and the service is impeccable.

I recommend springing for the chef’s tasting course at dinner. It’s a $100 per person with wine pairings added, but it is so worth it! You’re treated to four courses and a dessert starting with grilled octopus and ending with your choice of a rib-eye or arare encrusted kona kampachi with blue crab miso broth… delectable.   

Oahu Food Guide

I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that if I could spend another week on island, I could rattle on and on and on about the different foods that you must try on Oahu. 

I mean, this Oahu food guide didn’t even begin to touch on spicy ahi poke bowls (PAINA CAFE!), the merits of loco mocos, and treats like ube tarts and haupia pie. I didn’t tell you about kimchee fried rice or which somewhat suspect-looking basement establishment in Ala Moana mall serves the best noodles I’ve ever tasted in my 27 years. Did we even talk about Eat the Street and how I’m still haunted – HAUNTED by the Kim Chee yakisoba noodles I sampled there five years ago? I was ready to go Liam Neeson in Taken on that food truck this time around, but I needed to conserve my energy for more eating.

The main takeaway, besides the fact that Oahu’s food scene is one of the best in the United States… is that the most authentic flavors and truly delectable dishes sometimes come in the most humble packages.

 

Don't Put Stock in Appearances

When you travel Oahu, chances are the true food landmarks may look like downright hovels depending on your standards. They may be tucked away in an alley next to a gas station (I’m looking at you, Over Easy). Some are probably in a mall. Kilauea Fire Sauce BBQ shop where some of the best taro chips ever are, is in a very non-glamorous warehouse district.

My favorite tiki bar on the island is hidden somewhere off of Sand Island Access Road, and it might be surrounded by shipping companies. It is at the very least down a sketchy road with not an urban eatery or trendy noodle bistro in sight. La Mariana Sailing Club, if you’re curious.

In short, there is a delightful lack of pretentious packaging on most of these Oahu food guide stops. No Waikiki gloss, if you will. If an authentic Hawaiian experience is what you’re after, then you’ll need to swear off the tourist mecca of Waikiki with it’s crowded beaches and chain restaurants and really see the rest of Oahu.

Oh, and happy noshing!