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Restaurants in Honolulu

The surf and sun can really stoke an appetite—luckily, Honolulu restaurants run the gamut from high-end tourist spots to off-the-beaten-track local favorites. So whether you’re looking for white tablecloths or something to grab on your way to Waikiki Beach, we’ve got you covered with our list of the best restaurants in Honolulu.

Best Japanese Restaurants in Honolulu

 

Tokoname

Under the glow of hanging lanterns, chefs carefully construct authentic Japanese fare. Here, diners lift their chopsticks for sushi and tempura, as well as exotic seasonal items, such as abalone and monkfish liver. Patrons can also opt to wash down meals with a round of sake cocktails or a beer tower for the table. Of note are the Japanese-inspired cocktails, such as the martini made with fuji apple sake, and the non-alcoholic sodas mixed by hand in flavors such as kyoho grape and white peach.

 

Japanese Restaurant Aki

While here the raw fish and maki rolls are certainly sublime, you’d be remiss to skip its specialty: yakitori. The kitchen threads onto skewers cuts of chicken, beef, and seafood to be grilled over an open flame. One of its most popular dishes is the TanTan Nabe, a Japanese hot pot brimming with meat and seafood in a spicy broth.

 

Hatsuhana Hawaii

Nestled inside Waikiki’s Hilton Hawaiian Village in this Japanese restaurant, Honolulu diners find delicious Japanese dishes served alongside traditional Hawaiian plates. The kitchen also crafts lunch specials, which might be a poke bowl, an unusual maki roll, or grilled fish combo—but only commit to making 20 per day, so diners will have to rush to get their favorites.

Spotlight on: Tempura

 

What is tempura?

Tempura is a name given to any food item that’s been battered and deep-fried. That airy, golden batter is made from a simple blend of water and flour—with the occasional addition of egg. But it’s in the composition that the art of tempura comes in: rice flour adds a delicate crispness; wheat flour is more flavorful, but can become too dense if it’s not carefully mixed. Some chefs also sub in sparkling water to create a lighter batter.

 

What foods does it come on?

All kinds of dishes get the tempura treatment. Typically it’s more hefty vegetables: sweet potatoes, onions, eggplant, and bell peppers. Also mixed in a tempura platter, you’ll likely find seafood. Common items include shrimp, softshell crab, and fish.

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Best Italian Restaurants in Honolulu

 

Vino

Founded by a master sommelier and a restauranteur, both of whom consider themselves aficionados of food and wine, Vino’s claimed awards for its wine program, including a 2017 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. At this eatery, many diners’ favorite of the downtown Honolulu restaurants, the chefs craft pasta in house and source ingredients from local vendors when possible.

 

Arancino

Of its three locations, the original has satisfied Waikiki diners since 1996, with a menu of Napoli-style dishes made with imported ingredients and local seafood. House specials include spaghetti with fresh uni and fresh lobster bisque.

 

Cafe Sistina

Sergio Mitrotti, head chef and Turin, Italy native draws from family tradition, Hawaiian produce, and his own inspiration to put his touch on classic entrees at this Italian restaurant. Honolulu patrons find his dishes delightful, that range from traditional shrimp scampi to his own take on tutto mare: risotto topped with spicy opakapaka, calamari, and shellfish. And in the colorful dining room, every surface—from walls to ceiling—depicts a reproduction of a famous mural, including Michelangelo's The Creation of Man.

Try This: Cannoli

 

The basics of cannoli never change; at the very least, it comprises a tube-shaped shell made from fried dough, and filled with sweet and creamy ricotta cheese. Whatever else goes inside or on a cannoli are up to the chef. Sometimes they’re stuffed with cheese or candied fruit. The ends, traditionally, are dipped in crushed pistachios, but sometimes in chocolate chips, sliced almonds, or powdered sugar.

 

Why does the dough taste so distinct?

Most cannoli recipes call for a little wine—usually marsala—in the dough, which probably adds elasticity to the dough. Also, when it evaporates, it makes the shell crisp and flaky.

 

How can I identify good cannoli?

Two words: the shell. Because a thinner shell takes more skill to roll and fry, Best of Sicily magazine claims that the thinner the shell, the more skilled the chef. Also, if the shell is lined with chocolate—which is usually done to keep it crisp—be forewarned that the cannoli is likely not fresh.


Learn more about cannoli here.

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Chinese Restaurants

 

Fook Lam

This spot was lauded by Hawaii magazine as one of the best dim sum restaurants. Nestled amongst other Chinatown Honolulu restaurants, Fook Lam is noted for its xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), which come straight from the basket, plump and steaming.

 

Moon Garden

At this Chinese restaurant, Honolulu diners arrive seeking classic Chinese-American cuisine, such as beef with broccoli and seafood fried rice. But also on the menu are lesser-known delights, such as squid with shrimp paste, tea-smoked duck, and tofu stuffed with minced shrimp.

Try This: Dim Sum

 

For the newbie, dim sum can be intimidating. In a word, dim sum is a Chinese restaurants answer to brunch, served on weekends from morning until midafternoon. But the bustle inside a dim sum restaurant can raise more questions. Where are those servers wheeling those carts off to? How do I get a peek at what’s inside? Here are a few tips on how to do dim sum.

 

Don’t be shy

Dim sum is not your typical Western experience—a server will not write your order down on a pad, then bring it to your table when it’s ready. These dishes are already ready—and you simply have to wave down one of the servers to take a look at what’s on the cart.

 

The server will lift the lids of the steamer baskets stacked atop the cart. If you see something you like, let your server know, and it’s yours. If you’re jonesing for something you don’t see there, feel free to ask the server to send it around.

 

Of course, the carts are half the fun, but you can also request a paper menu and place your order the usual way.

 

Share your food

Like tapas, these dishes are made to be shareable. Each steamer basket will usually have a few pieces of food to pass around. Just like tapas, each person at the table gets a taste—if you don’t like a dish, no harm done. If you do, order more!


For more about dim sum, click here.

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