In the year I lived in the most haunted house on Oahu in Kaimuki, I understandably spent a lot of time outside of the house exploring Kaimuki. There’s not a whole lot to do in Kaimuki, but there is a lot to eat. Nobody has the actual stats, but I have to imagine it has the most restaurants per capita on the island, and most of those restaurants are good. Really, really good. Most people aren’t aware because the most popular activity in Kaimuki is “driving through it” on the way to Kapahulu, King Street, or Eastside.
Downtown Honolulu and Waikiki have the most food options, but sadly the good places are few and far between. Most of the good food on the islands are in little pockets between the most populated areas. The rent is so crazy that young upstart restauranteurs need to get creative when choosing a location. That’s what some of my favorite places including like Izakaya Torae Torae, Pint & Jigger, and Peace Cafe are in the most random locations. And why Kaimuki has quietly become the place for innovative, delicious dining options.
If you’re looking for incredible food, drive down Waialae Ave. and look in any direction, you’re sure to see one of these places.
Mud Hen Water
Leading the list off with my favorite restaurant in the area. Mud Hen serves up a fresh take on locally inspired dishes, specializing in delicious pupus alongside a solid wine menu and well-mixed craft cocktails. The atmosphere is dark, cozy, and rustic with some vintage design flourishes and a wood burning fire that gives the whole place a warm feel and smokey smell. I know the smokey smell doesn’t sound great on paper but trust me it works. They also have one of the better brunches on the island where they take their menu and put a bunch of eggs on it. They have larger plates but stick to the small stuff because it’s more delicious and you can eat a variety of things. Specifically the buttered ulu, Pocho Mussels, and smoked meat carbonara.
The superette literally shares an outdoor dining area with Mud Hen Water. In an area known for dinner, the Superette is focused almost entirely on breakfast and lunch. It’s a weird business model, especially for its location (there are hardly any office buildings around). So how do they stay in business? By pumping out locally sourced, healthy dishes bursting with flavor. A lot of that “locally sourced” shit has a tendency to over-rely on the tastiness of the ingredient and skimp on the seasoning. The superette does not have that issue.
You will leave this place full, but not “I ate a pizza and want to die” full but “I feel energized somehow” full. Their sandwiches are some of the best in town second only to the next entry on this list. The “Downtown Ahi Clubhouse” and the “Philly roast pork” are some of my favorites, and if you’re into Octopus try the “South shore he’e roll”. Don’t leave without getting some of their freshly made salads and pasta sold by the pound.
EARL sandwich has the best sandwiches in the state. Trust me. Their store is smaller than a port-o-potty and always packed so call ahead and order instead of packing yourself in there and waiting uncomfortably. There are no wrong choices but my favorites in order of tastiness are The Italian, The Drew, and the Turkey Jam Sam. They have a good balance of healthy options available for you weird vegan people and $8 avocado toast for us millennials. I could write way more but seriously, just go.
TOWN is Ed Kenney’s (the owner of Mud Hen Water) second restaurant in Kaimuki. It’s located literally across the street from Mud Hen Water. I don’t know why he chose to compete with himself with two similar restaurants but that’s none of my business. Regardless, TOWN shares a similar vibe to Mud Hen Water but is more geared towards large plates rather than pupus. Like Mud Hen, they utilize locally sourced, locally inspired ingredients but jazz them up with modern cooking techniques. Their gnocchi and hand cut pasta is some of the best Italian food on the island, and their local fresh catch is always delicious. And for starters try their eggplant bruschetta. I hate eggplant but they somehow made me like it. The place is overpriced compared to Mud Hen but still worth the trip (if you’re not on a budget or broke or fiscally responsible or homeless).
The best pizza on the island. No contest. I mean, that’s not saying much when the biggest competition is Domino’s and Papa Johns but this pizza would be able to compete on the mainland. Also, they have giant Sbarro like slices that are great for a quick lunch. The whole pie is about $30 but before you balk at the price you need to realize it can feed a small village. Try the Hawaii Pie Ohh, MEATeor and the Tropical Chicken pizzas. They have wings and pasta and shit too but if I’m being honest I’ve never tried them, their pizza is too good.
Koko Head Cafe
A lot of people laud SCRATCH as the best brunch place on the island. While it’s really good, their tiny menu and the fact that it’s such a pain in the ass to get a table knock it down to #2 on my list. Especially when Koko Head Cafe is better in almost every way. This place is the best brunch I’ve had on the island or off of it. The food tastes like it’s coming straight out of Mom’s kitchen. Not your mom, but a way better mom who has a culinary background. Their Asian/local fusion brunch food is familiar and unique at once, and god damn is it delicious. If you like sweet things the cornflake french toast is the way to go, if you’re a savory son of a bitch then I’d go with the Don Buri Chen which boasts 3 types of pork products (miso smoked pork, spicy pork belly, and chicharrones) as well as eggs. The service is excellent and the food is unmatched for brunch.
To Thai For
If you can ignore the terrible pun of a name, To Thai For is the place to go for Thai food. Their menu is simple and has all the classics you could want. I’m not going to describe what a Thai food restaurant is like, most of them follow the same template and To Thai For is no different. What separates it from the countless other Thai restaurants on Oahu is the quality of the food and the spicy ranking levels. They mark the spiciness 1-5 and it actually makes sense. 3 is HOT for white people and 5 is “Asian People Hot”. They also offer vegan options on ALL of their dishes if that’s your thing. It’s a predictable spot but a step above the rest.
This was my first experience with Himalayan food, which is basically Indian food but slightly spicier. Himalayan kitchen has a very cool loft space above EARL Sandwich (remember, Kaimuki is small) that offers spectacular views of the basketball courts across the street and the homeless foot traffic below. But we’re not here to talk location, it’s about the food, and Himalayan delivers. It might take forever to actually get your food but when it finally does arrive at your table I can promise you it’s worth it.
It’s best to go with a group of people since the dishes are huge and you can split the rice/naan/have a bunch of mouth flavors and feels. My favorites are Kathmandu Tandoori, Lamb Korma, Chana Saag, and Lamb Vindaloo. When you get naan, get the garlic naan, it’s way better than regular naan. Naan.