Food and Drink in Honolulu
Note: Be aware that some of these establishments are only open on weekdays; call ahead before going.
At the Port: Set pierside, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (Aloha Tower Marketplace, 808-599-4877) offers salads, sandwiches, pizzas and pastas all washed down with German-style lagers brewed on site. Not to be missed: hummus and goat cheese salad with salmon served over warm herb flatbread; beer battered fish and chips with malt minegar and spicy remoulade -- and wake-up-your-palate garlic fries. Also serves dinner.
In Downtown Honolulu: Legend Seafood Restaurant (100 North Beretania Street, 808-532-1868) is a popular Chinese eatery known for its dim sum, which loyal customers swear is as good as anything you'll find in Hong Kong. Servers roll carts filled with steamed, baked, fried and roasted delicacies by your table, and you select whatever strikes your fancy. Also serves dinner.
Family Friendly: Bring the family to Benihana of Tokyo (Hilton Hawaiian Village, 2005 Kalia Road, 808-955-5955) for a great teppan-yaki meal and show! Right at your table, as he prepares your meal, your chef will juggle salt and pepper shakers, flip gleaming knives and catch lemons in his apron with the confidence and charisma of a consummate showman. Benihana is open for lunch and dinner.
In or Near Waikiki: Hau Tree Lanai (New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, 2863 Kalakaua Avenue, 808-921-7066) is an alfresco restaurant with an idyllic setting -- beneath a spreading hau tree right on San Souci Beach. The food is also good. Choose from a nice selection of sandwiches, pastas, fresh island fish, and vegetarian dishes and salads. Also serves dinner; with lights twinkling in the branches of the hau and the rolling Pacific providing soft background music, it beckons to lovers.
Kakaako Kitchen (Ward Centre, 1200 Ala Moana Boulevard, 808-596-7488) adds a gourmet twist to standard lunchwagon fare. The venue serves hamburger steak, shoyu chicken, beef stew under the direction of Chef Russell Siu of 3660 on the Rise fame. Don't miss the daily specials or the desserts (we always make a beeline for the bread pudding and coconut mochi). The prices are reasonable, too; most plates fall in the $10 to $15 range. Also serves dinner.
Located in a congested Moiliili residential area, The Willows (901 Hausten Street, 808-952-9200) is a one-acre oasis brightened by lush gardens, tropical flowers, cascading waterfalls and koi-filled ponds. There's buffet dining only here. Lunch features prime rib; roast turkey; steamed fresh catch; a saimin station; Hawaiian mainstays like laulau, kalua pig and lomi salmon; and the restaurant's signature chicken or shrimp curry. Many of the desserts are cut in bite-size portions, so you can try as many as you want, guilt free! Also serves dinner.
Dinner: These acclaimed restaurants are all within a half-hour drive of Honolulu Harbor.
Chef/owner Russell Siu's food at 3660 on the Rise (3660 Waialae Avenue, 808-737-1177) has been described as "a delicate blend of European, Pacific Rim and Island-style cuisine." All you need to know is it's fabulous. Tip: If you can't decide on an entree after perusing the enticing menu, you can't go wrong with the 3660 medley, which combines beef tenderloin, chicken and a catch of the day. And whatever you do, don't miss the signature appetizer: ahi katsu, sashimi-grade ahi wrapped in nori (seaweed) and deep fried medium rare.
Only Alan Wong could turn an obscure Moiliili locale into a mecca for discerning diners. Winner of the 1996 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Pacific Northwest/Hawaii, Wong is unquestionably one of the stars of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, which promotes the use of fresh locally grown produce, seafood and meats. Menu highlights at the eponymous Alan Wong's (1857 South King Street, third floor, 808-949-2526) include seafood cakes; ginger-crusted onaga; chopped ahi sashimi & avocado stack; Maui Cattle Company rib steak.
In 2003, it was chef/proprietor George Mavrothalassitis' turn to snare the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Pacific Northwest/Hawaii. Editors of Gourmet magazine singled out his eponymous restaurant, Chef Mavro(1969 South King Street, 808-944-4714), as "where we would eat if we had only one night in Honolulu." Dine here and you'll agree the accolades are well deserved. Menus change seasonally. Prix four- and six-course menus are available with or without wine.
La Mer (Halekulani Hotel, 2199 Kalia Road, 808-923-2311) is the epitome of fine dining in Hawaii; it is the state's longest consecutively ranked AAA's five-diamond restaurant. You'll enjoy spectacular views of Diamond Head and Waikiki and the soothing sounds of la mer, the sea, as you dine on dishes inspired by flavors from the south of France.
Don't Miss in Honolulu
Honolulu's Chinatown district is roughly bordered by King, Smith, Beretania and River streets. The Hawaii Heritage Center offers tours on Wednesday and Friday at 9:30 a.m. Cost is $20 per person (no reservations are needed; groups of 20 or more can book any day of the week by calling 808-521-2749). The Chinese Chamber of Commerce conducts tours on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. Cost is $5 per person (808-533-3181).
Foster Botanical Garden (50 North Vineyard Boulevard, 808-522-7066) is an urban oasis featuring 4,000 species of tropical flora. The venue is often used as a site for weddings and other special events. Guided tours are available Monday through Friday at 1 p.m. Admission is $5 per person, $1 for children aged 6 through 12 and free for visitors under 6.
Hawaii State Art Museum (No. 1 Capitol District Building, 250 South Hotel Street, Second Floor, 808-586-0900) features select works from the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts' eclectic collection are displayed in changing themed exhibits.
Dubbed the "Carnegie Hall of the Pacific," Hawaii Theatre (1130 Bethel Street) opened on September 6, 1922, as the most lavish venue in Honolulu. Tours, usually offered Tuesday at 11 a.m., include a mini organ concert. Cost is $10 per person. Call 808-528-0506 for general information about the theatre and current performances.
Reflecting the opulence of the royal courts of Europe, Iolani Palace (364 South King Street, 808-522-0832) was the residence of Hawaii's last reigning monarchs, King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani. Construction was completed in 1882; 11 years later, the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown. Tours -- self-guided and guided -- are available Tuesday through Saturday. Guided tours cost $27 for adults and $6 for children aged 5 through 12. Kids younger than 5 are allowed on the guided tour for free, as long as they are "well-behaved." Audio-guided tours are $20 for both adults and children.
Dating back to 1842, the stately Kawaiahao Church was built with more than 14,000 coral blocks quarried from reefs off Honolulu. It has been the site of numerous notable events, including the marriage of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma. Services in English and Hawaiian are held at 8 and 10:30 a.m. every Sunday (957 Punchbowl Street, 808-522-1333).
Learn how Hawaii's first missionaries lived at Mission Houses Museum (553 South King Street, 808-447-3910), a complex of original 19th-century dwellings, including a white frame house that was pre-cut in Boston, shipped around Cape Horn and assembled in 1821. Tours are set Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (every hour on the hour). Cost is $10 for adults, $6 for kids age 6 to college (with ID) and free for children under 5.
Washington Place (320 South Beretania Street, 808-586-0240) is the former home of Queen Liliuokalani. It's been the official residence of the governor of Hawaii since 1921. Free tours of the historic mansion are scheduled Thursdays at 10 a.m.; among the treasures visitors can view is the Queen's koa piano (she was a gifted musician and composer). Reservations for the tour must be made 48 hours in advance.
Farmers' Market: Produce, flowers, baked goods, beef, seafood, cheese, fruit preserves, snacks, seasonings and more -- all made or grown in Hawaii -- draw huge crowds to the Farmers' Market, held on Saturday mornings at Kapiolani Community College in Kaimuki, 4303 Diamond Head Road.
Celebrate First Friday: On the first Friday of each month, more than a dozen galleries in downtown Honolulu stay open until 9 p.m. to celebrate local art in all mediums. Be on hand for new exhibit openings; meet the artists; watch hands-on demonstrations; and enjoy refreshments, talks and live music. Free maps are dispensed at participating venues.
Make a feather lei: Although it was practiced throughout Polynesia, the ancient art of featherwork reached its zenith in Hawaii. At Aunt Mary Lou's Na Lima Mili Hulu Noeau (762 Kapahulu Avenue, 808-732-0865), you not only can purchase hatbands, hairpieces and other lovely feather items, you can learn how to make them. Cost applies for an initial two-hour lesson; supplies are extra. First-timers should call in advance to schedule their lesson.
Visit the home of an heiress: Built in the late 1930s on five gorgeous acres, Shangri La was the home of the reclusive heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke. Striking architectural features and more than 3,500 treasures from throughout the Islamic world (including marble screens, tile panels, ceramics, textiles, carpets and paintings) are the highlights of tours which are offered Wednesday through Saturday at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Reservations are required. Cost is $25 per person; this tour is not appropriate for children under 12. (Note: Shangri La will be closed to the public from September 24 - November 22, 2018)
Getting face-to-fin with sharks: North Shore Shark Adventures (808-923-3483) whisks you three miles from Haleiwa Harbor on Oahu's North Shore to meet Galapagos, sandbar, gray reef, hammerhead and tiger sharks ranging in size from four to twelve feet. You'll descend into the sea for a close look at these fearsome creatures, all the while perfectly safe within the confines of a seven-foot-tall barred cage. Tour times are 6, 8 and 10 a.m. and noon. Cost is $96 per adult, and $60 for kids ages 3 to 13 and. If you prefer, you can just ride along in the boat and observe other tour participants' shark encounters for $60/$35. Kids under three can ride in the boat for free.
Catch some jazz at Blue Note: The world's famous jazz and blues club has expanded to the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. Blue Note Hawaii features international musicians and local talent in a large, handicap-accessible venue, which seats more than 300 people twice a night, 365 days a year. This meant we had no trouble booking a Christmas performance by a homegrown artist singing Hawaiian favorites as well as classic blues tunes, while enjoying cocktails and a light meal. It's a mixed crowd of young and old jazz lovers and people who are experiencing the genre for the first time. There's no dress code and tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office (808-777-4890). Depending on the caliber of the act, bar seating is usually priced from $15 to $25 and table seating costs $25 to $45 per person. Doors open at 5pm for the first set, with food and drinks available (an additional minimum spend of $10 per person is required). Before or after the show, grab a drink with a view at the legendary Duke's Waikiki bar on the beach.