After a month in Waikiki I can safely say I am the premier expert and voice of foodies in the area. What’s that you say? That’s not nearly enough time to develop the comprehensive expertise, dining experience, and cultivate a palate for local flavor? And even if it was what gives me the right to proclaim such outrageous things? The answer to both questions is “Yes”, so keep on reading if you want to know what somebody who watches a lot of Food TV shows has to say the food culture in Waikiki.
I’ll give the overall impressions and then move on to listing my favorite restaurants so far. Hopefully for people here 1-3, a few weeks, or permanently can weed out the trash, there is a lot of it, in Waikiki and focus on the local places putting out really amazing food.
For those of you expecting photos of the food I describe, no. I’m not a young woman desperate for attention or a Japanese tourist. Pictures do jack shit when you are looking for a description of what it tastes like. Chapstick and hand soap smell amazing but take it from me their taste only partially lives up to the scent. Kidding! I just don’t take them because I’m scared of looking stupid. So I stole all of the below photos from Yelp.
Corporate America vs. Small Business…America
God bless the U.S.A ™
There are A LOT of chains that tourists get sucked into here (including myself, but only when drunk). You have your American staples such as Starbucks, Denny’s, Popeyes, Macaroni Grill, Jack in the Box, Burger King, Starbucks, McDonalds, Olive Garden, and IHOP, (it’s international though so at least it makes sense). All of the corporate Diabetes factories have found their place here and to be honest, I’m more impressed than anything else. Corporations are admirable for their ability to provide the SAME experience even thousands of miles away from where they started. I swear to God/Allah/Jesus/Muhammad, when I ate drunk IHOP at 2:00 AM, the awfulness level was eerily consistent to what I would have at home. Burnt hash browns, undercooked eggs, and I don’t mean in general, I mean exactly the same. They laugh at local ingredients and innovation and serve you the same frozen food, the exact same way, to the point where it’s impressive and also a bit scary. The lack of imagination is either reprehensible or an exercise in corporate supremacy depending on who you ask. I love chain restaurants so I’m in the latter camp. Don’t judge, they make me feel safe.
Fresh and local is a differentiator in D.C. Here, it’s a way of life. Most restaurants (again excluding the chains) embrace local ingredients and really make them shine. Local seafood, locally grown produce, fresh ground coffee, and of course, fresh pineapple are in plentiful supply and highlighted in almost every dish I’ve eaten.
Coffee here is strong and really fucking good. Fruits are amazing (I would know). Seafood is always top notch. And there is an abundance of farmers markets in and around Waikiki.
Japanese food including ramen, ramen, and ramen is all over the place and delicious. All types of Ramen from every area of Japan, which provides a diverse variety. There are some other places that serve hot Japanese food and touristy hibachi houses but ramen, stick with the ramen.
Shave ice is interesting. I wasn’t blown away by it, but it is more refreshing than ice cream and slightly less sweet. It’s definitely a different experience though than any other sweets you’ve had before texture and taste wise, you should check it out.
As a general rule, the more inland you get, the cheaper/better the food is. Trust me, I’ve been here for a month. Now for the breakdown:
Located in the large mall right in front of the Sheraton, Doraku is on the third floor and somewhat upscale in price, not atmosphere. While the fish here was GOOD, I had the Hamachi Carpaccio with jalapenos that was one of the best things I’ve had here, it’s also way too expensive for the portions. We ordered a $37.00 sushi sampler that came with maybe 16 small pieces and left us both feeling hungry afterward. DO NOT eat a dinner unless you don’t mind paying over $150.00 for two people.
This costs $20.00
Middle Class – Get it fast, it’s disappearing
Sansei Seafood and Sushi
Located in the Marriott hotel and weirdly shares a wall/bar with the steak place next door. I couldn’t quite get over that when we were eating because I could see/smell two VERY different types of food and my brain is really bad at multi-tasking so I kind of went into a fugue state for a few minutes before it all sunk in. Favorite dish was the “Crab Pho”, a bowl of pho with such delicious crab flavor it had me drinking the broth. This was the best combination of somewhat upscale with affordable prices. Also their bartender is a god amongst men. I had two of the best old fashions (not handjobs, the mixed drink) I’ve ever had from this place. A SUSHI PLACE. Could not believe it either.
This Yelp photo doesn’t encapsulate how good this was. For shame.
Ballin on a Budget
Hawaiiana Sushi Café
Located on Beach Walk inside an apartment complex, look closely or you’ll miss it; this place is the best for grabbing a quick bite in between beach time. It’s affordable, fast, and good (like my girlfriend) only the highest quality ingredients as with all sushi in Waikiki. Spicy tuna is my favorite and the poke rolls are really tasty as well.
Musubi Café Iyasume
Not necessarily sushi but close enough. They have sushi type rolls with spam instead of fish and some other really interesting combinations such as a spaghetti sandwich, which is exactly what it sounds like. I’m including it on here because you can get lunch for $5.00 that is delicious and large enough to keep you going throughout the day.
I will find any excuse to use this Gif.
You either love it or can’t live without it. Tastes delicious here too.
This place embraces grease, grease, and more grease. They serve hamburgers fried in butter and garlic, topped with sauce on sauce and things like pastrami, pork belly, or bacon. Good alternative to five guys or in-n-out since neither of those are here. But be prepared to smell like garlic and not fart for a few hours afterward lest you poop yourself.
HNNNNNGGGGG. Oh yeah, that’s the stuff.
Drunk hate eating galore.
Standard IHOP Patron.
Just….No. It exists if you’re into that sort of thing or too drunk for IHOP.
The Grand Slam Breakfast
Ramen AKA “I can’t stop farting”
Big bowl of future farts.
Noodles made right in front of you from scratch as thick as shoelaces. Served cafeteria style so even when there’s a line down the block, which there almost always is, it moves fast. Lunch for one is under $9.00 and they have a huge section of fried things you can add to your tray. Fresh fried fish cakes, shrimp, potatoes, sweet potatoes, list goes on. Try the Curry Udon, it’s my favorite of all the Udons. Only thing I haven’t tried has “Bukkake” in the name. Nice Try, Japan. I have Internet.
The Bukkakke Udon.
Kamitoku Ramen Lunch Wagon
Also located off of Beach Walk, this is my favorite food truck in all of Oahu. Go for the spicy beef tam tam. While the noodles aren’t as big as Marukame and the portions slightly smaller, the flavor of the broth is much bigger.
Island Vintage Coffee
Me photographing a Japanese man photographing Island Vintage Coffee.
This is the fuel that keeps me running. Not too sweet like Starbucks, and the quality of the 100% Kona coffee is unmatched. You WILL start sweating everywhere but that means it’s working. The island and honey latte are just sweet enough to make the coffee go down smooth but not so sweet to make your stomach ache (looking at you starbucks). Stop here at the start of your day and you won’t fall asleep.
The photo he took (I stole his phone).
Same as always. Baristas are way nicer than on the mainland.
The Fancy Shit
THE gourmet restaurant on Waikiki and Oahu in general. Locals were talking this place up before we visited on Ashley’s birthday. It was everything it was hyped up to be. We started with the scallops and pork belly appetizers along with a mid-range bottle of wine (I’m not rich). The scallops looked gorgeous and had a perfect amount of acid from the chili aioli and fresh island tomatoes included with them. The pork belly was served in a lettuce wrap type thingy. Also spiced to perfection with a lot of spice and vinegar. For the main course Ashley had something that I forgot. I went with one of their specials which was the Mahi Mahi served with caprese style ravioli (they looked like regular raviolis) a balsamic vinegar based sauce that made me jizz in my pants, and some spinach to tie the whole thing together. I can’t stress enough that this was the #1 thing I’ve had on this island so far and made me wish I could afford Roy’s on a weekly basis. Amazing service, great atmosphere, unbeatable food. Make this the place for your special occasion.
We ate this exact combination. Thanks Yelp user “Vanvi T.”
Illegal Mexican Section
Mexican food in Hawaii? I was a little more than skeptical. Where do the Mexicans come from? California? Would their culinary prowess and knowledge be lost on the trip over? I was semi-correct in my skepticism. The food IS good and the drinks taste like mostly tequila, but it’s missing that Mexican spice and zest. Flavors don’t pop and explode in your mouth like they should. Fajitas were pretty good
Breakfast (My Favorite)
The name seems pretentious but it’s appropriate. Serving only locally grown ingredients, all traced to their origin on the menu, this place really does the local dishes and ingredients justice. Eggs benedict with local pork belly, Loco Moco with local pork and farm fresh eggs, Banh Mi sandwich with fresh, local produce and shrimp. Their breakfast is unmatched and really not that expensive (although it should be) despite how tasty it is and it’s proximity to the most touristy part of Waikiki. Everything about this place is awesome. This is the one MUST STOP place if you’re staying here. It’s off seaside across from ROSS, a little hidden so look for it you lazy fucker.
I actually took this one. Please don’t tell anybody.
If you try the places on this guide and take my advice with a grain of salt (HAHAHAH GET IT?! FOOD PUN HOLY SHIT IM CLEVER). You’ll be able to avoid the mountain of horseshit and corporate blandness around. Waikiki is a great place for food if you know the right places to look.
Places I haven’t tried yet but can vouch for:
- Rainbow Drive-In
- Opal Thai Food (BYOB)
- Sushi Ginza Onodera (rich people only)
Stray Thoughts & Opinions
- Hawaii Five-0 is still on the air. No, really. I thought the reboot lasted like 2 weeks but its on season 7 or something. They are celebrities here, and only here.
- Bring gum, locals love them some garlic.
- 7-Eleven actually has decent food. Seriously.
- Alcohol is not state regulated. FUCK YOU Virginia for having those retarded rules.
- SPAM is a big thing over here. Depending on where you get it, it can actually be quite tasty.
- Food Trucks! I didn’t think that would be a thing here but it is, big time