Koko Head Café
1145 12th Ave., Honolulu
This restaurant is the amalgamation of all the cultures that have melded together on Oahu. And Hawaiian-Japanese-Korean-American-Portuguese fusion never tasted so good. You can get everything from a cornflake French toast to breakfast congee—and all of it is excellent. There is most likely a line snaking around the block, so get here early. And don’t be deterred by the wait. It’s worthwhile.
Hawaiian Crown Plantation
159 Kaiulani Ave., Honolulu
Family-owned Hawaii Pineapple Company is one of the last commercial farms on the island—and they’ve gone above and beyond to create a special surfer snack haven in Waikiki. The acai bowls here contain Hawaii Pineapple Company’s fruit and are also topped with their own macadamia nuts and cacao nibs. If you can find an acai bowl on the mainland that compares, let us know!
3308 Kanaina Ave., Honolulu
The first thing you should know about the Kapahulu drive-in is that it’s an Oahu institution. And the second is that it’s a complete hole-in-the-wall. One that’s been going strong since the early ’60s. But what this mom-and-pop shop lacks in good looks and ritzy ambiance, it makes up for with its local-style lunch plates, piled high with island favorites, like shoya chicken with generous scoops of rice and mounds of mac salad. In fact, everything about it—from the walk-up window to the shared picnic tables, even the iconic rainbow-lit sign—reminds you this is a place with character. Local tip: Order the gravy-smothered loco moco (don’t knock it till you try it) after a day in the waves.
1240 N School St., Honolulu
Four words: James Beard Award winner. Helena’s Hawaiian has been around since the ’40s and is still part of the fabric of Oahu culture almost eighty years later. Come here, order the Combo Menu D (which includes Kahlúa pig, lomi salmon, pipikaula short ribs, and luau squid) and let loose: You’re on vacation.
324 Coral St., Honolulu
Pull up to the counter at ARVO and you’re bound to make a friend. The staff here not only pours the best cold brew in town but has recommendations for what local place to hit next. As you’re waiting for your drink or avocado toast, scroll through their website for interesting interviews with local creatives.
2199 Kalia Rd, Honolulu
Ask anyone on the island where the best brunch in all of Oahu is and you’ll likely get this answer: Orchids. That’s because this beachfront eatery at Waikiki’s iconic Halekulani hotel is that good—and popular with the locals, considering they’re the ones snagging up all the reservations during the holidays. There is something so romantic and magical about sipping a mimosa and gazing at the ocean while a harpist plays in the background. Carving stations, the freshest fruits, incredible baked goods, sashimi, sushi, omelet bar, sundae bar, all the bars!—this place is the full package.
1538 Kapi‘olani Blvd., Honolulu
MW is run by a husband-wife team with a serious pedigree: between the two of them, they’ve built up a roster of experience at Alan Wong’s, Per Se, and the French Laundry (though husband Wade credits Zippy’s, where he got his first job as a fry cook, for much of his inspiration). The dishes here are inventive, contemporary interpretations of traditional Hawaiian specialties, like Ahi nachos, Kona lobster carbonara, and a mochi-crusted opakapaka-short-tail pink snapper. Don’t miss the cocktails, either.
762 Kapiolani Blvd., Honolulu
Hawaii is one of few places outside Japan where you can find good quality sushi that’s still reasonably priced. Yanagi isn’t exactly white tablecloth (the walls are crammed with hundreds of photos of regulars and celebrities that have come in over the years), but the sushi is excellent. All the credit goes to chef Haruo Nakamaya, who trained in Tokyo and founded Yanagi back in the ‘70s.
The Pig & the Lady
83 N. King St., Honolulu
This cool Vietnamese spot is in the heart of Chinatown, which is a big upgrade from where Chef Andrew Le first got started: in his parents' garage. Today, the Pig & the Lady is on the forefront of Hawaii’s culinary scene, showcasing Pacific influences from Asia and the United States. The fusion results in dishes like the pho French dip with Manila clams, a spicy, Asian-inflected take on cacio e pepe, and an appetizer that blends burrata cheese with a kimchi puttanesca. The Pig & the Lady is still a family affair; Le’s brother Alex is the General Manager, and his mother (who inspired the entire operation) works with him in the kitchen; meanwhile, his other siblings can be seen in and out of the restaurant at all hours. Their amazing takeout can be a god-send after long days on the beach, but we like to visit in person, taking the time to explore Chinatown’s quirky shops and lei stores along the way.
1857 S. King St., Honolulu
For an upscale take on traditional Hawaiian cuisine, make a reservation at Alan Wong’s. The famous Hawaiian chef now has a restaurant in Shanghai, too, where he serves his sophisticated takes on local specialties, like coconut lamb chops with Macadamia nuts, salmon and rice Ochazuke, and some excellent sashimi and poké options. Part of their claim to fame: This is one of President Obama’s favorite places to eat in his hometown.