Believe it or not, Hawaiian food isn’t all about spam or loco moco. It’s not just pizza with ham and pineapple, either. With an active chef community committed to sustainable practices and sourcing locally grown products, Honolulu’s food scene is the strongest it’s been in decades. The best restaurants in Honolulu include a mix of chef-driven fine dining establishments serving Hawaii Regional Cuisine to trendier restaurants offering a more contemporary interpretation of Hawaiian cuisine as it is now.
The Best Restaurants in Honolulu
From a restaurant frequently patronized by President Obama to long-standing James Beard award winners and chef-driven restaurants that represent the new face of Hawaiian cuisine, here are the 10 best restaurants in Honolulu.
Best Honolulu Restaurants in Hawaii Kai
Roy’s Hawaii Kai
It would be impossible to have a best restaurants in Honolulu list within mentioning the contribution of one its most renowned chefs, Roy Yamaguchi. A visit to Honolulu is almost incomplete if you don’t stop by the original Roy’s in Hawaii Kai to see where it all began. Dishes here represent what Hawaii Regional Cuisine is all about: local, farm-sourced Hawaiian ingredients cooked to reflect the flavors and spirit of Hawaii.
Though the seasonal menu changes, the signature plates—Roy’s Classic Roasted Macadamia Nut Crusted Island, Roy’s Original Blackened Ahi, and Tender Braised Honey Mustard Grilled Beef Short Rib—are as good today as when he first introduced them years ago.
Best Honolulu Restaurants in Mo’ili’ili
Imagine French-Hawaiian fusion cuisine. What would it be like? Book a reservation at Chef Mavro’s by George Mavrothalassitis and you’ll have the answer. One of the founding chefs of the genre of cuisine known as Hawaii Regional Cuisine, the Provencal-born James Beard award-winner is known for his French fine dining with a distinctively Hawaiian touch. What’s more, his menu is fun.
Create your own tasting from an a la carte small section of small plates like the foie gras parfait with hibiscus, Asian pear, yuzu, and malasada. Better yet, sit back and relax with a phenomenal nine-course chef’s tasting, designed to let you experience a breadth of flavors and creations you won’t find elsewhere.
More than two decades after opening his flagship restaurant, James Beard award-winning chef Alan Wong continues to wow guests with his contemporary take on Hawaii Regional Cuisine. Enjoy a tasting menu with dishes like ginger-crusted fish, twice-cooked kalbi-style short ribs, and Wailua chocolate crunch bars, which take you on a journey through the flavors and ingredients that make Hawaiian cuisine what it is. A favorite of President Obama, who usually makes it a point to drop in when he’s in town, Alan Wong’s is without a doubt one of the best restaurants in Honolulu.
Best Waikiki Restaurants
For the quintessential Waikiki beachfront dining experience, Duke’s Waikiki is one of the best restaurants in Honolulu. Offering cheerful service, oceanfront views, and a killer patio from which to sip mai tais as you watch the sunset, one of the best things about Duke’s is that you can walk up to it straight from the beach. The decor— lots of woods, umbrellas, and black and white photos in commemoration of Hawaiian surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku—imbue the restaurant with a strong sense of place.
Both the breakfast and lunch buffets are excellent, though a la carte is also offered. For dinner, they’re known for their fresh catch, prime rib, and house special Kimo’s Hula Pie, made of macadamia nut ice cream with crispy-crumbly chocolate cookie crust.
The all-day oceanfront restaurant at Waikiki’s famous Halekulani hotel, Orchids has consistently maintained its spot as one of the best restaurants in Honolulu thanks to its location, fantastic view, exemplary service, and exquisite food. Under the direction of Chef de Cuisine Christian Testa, diners feast on deftly prepared regional Italian dishes such as Homemade Lasangette featuring freshly chef-made pasta, local Kahuku prawns, scallops, and avocado.
The wine list is top notch, as is the Sunday Brunch. For the best dinner experience, snag an early reservation for pre-dinner cocktails while watching Honolulu’s spectacular sunset.
Best Honolulu Restaurants in Ala Moana
Both alums of The French Laundry and Honolulu’s fabled Alan Wong’s, MW’s husband-and-wife team of Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka put a modern spin on Hawaiian cuisine. Nachos, for instance, don’t come with tortillas and cheese but instead are ahi tuna nachos made of crispy wonton chips topped with avocado salsa. A banana cream pie is not the typical wedge of yellow cream and whip you know, but a beautifully layered parfait of chocolate, banana, whipped cream, and oatmeal crumble. The restaurant prides itself in sourcing everything locally, making all its own breads and pastas in-house. Desserts are not to be missed.
Best Honolulu Restaurants in Kaimuki
Mud Hen Water
In the same way that Roy Yamaguchi became the face of Hawaiian cuisine in the ’90s, Ed Kenney, who owns TOWN, Mud Hen Water, Kaimuki Superette, and Mahina &Sun’s, is the face of Honolulu right now. Mud Hen Water, his most personal endeavor, is easily one of the best restaurants in Honolulu. A tribute to his heritage and the foods he grew up with, the restaurant offers a contemporary interpretation of familiar island dishes, using fish and produce sourced solely from within the islands.
Kenney’s motto, “local first, organic whenever possible, with aloha always,” sings through every dish. Order several plates to share, a Kitchen Cocktail (the daily special), and make sure to check out the incredible wall mural on the back patio to catch a great Instagram moment.
Koko Head Cafe
It might seem strange to count a brunch-only cafe as one of the best restaurants in Honolulu, but all it takes is one visit to see why this cafe is so beloved and memorable. The brainchild of Top Chef alum Lee Anne Wong, the menu is like an ode to every single brunch item you ever wanted—spruced up with a Hawaiian-style flair.
Skillets like the volcano eggs are magnificent. Simpler items like the cleverly named Dumplings All Day Wong—a dim-sum inspired steamed dumpling basket—are perfection. Well worth the trek from Waikiki for the food alone, the sunny interiors and happy contented buzz of the customers make the meal that much sweeter. Don’t think, just go.
Best Honolulu Restaurants in Chinatown
The Pig & The Lady
Even before it opened its doors in Chinatown in 2013, The Pig & The Lady, which started as a quirkily named pop-up dinner series, had a devoted following. Within months, it was named best Vietnamese restaurant in Honolulu by Honolulu Magazine readers. What makes The Pig & The Lady one of the best restaurants in Honolulu is that it represents the best of what Hawaiian cuisine is today.
Try a blow-your-mind delicious bowl of pho alongside uniquely creative Vietnamese-Hawaiian-French dishes like escargot served with bone marrow butter and herbs. Large parties are encouraged to splurge on a large format dish like whole roasted crispy pig’s head, served with greens, herbs, Vietnamese pickles and roti, to be shared by parties of four or more.
The chefs at Senia (Honolulu native Chris Kajioka and Londoner Anthony Rush) met while working at Thomas Keller’s three-star Michelin Per Se in New York. Now with their own place in Honolulu, they’re at the forefront of the burgeoning island food scene, taking local ingredients and turning out Michelin-style, beautifully plated, technique-fueled food with a Hawaiian sensibility.
Some call it pretentious, others call it groundbreaking. Either way you look at it, Senia definitely holds a place among Honolulu’s best restaurants. Though the restaurant offers a la carte options, the tasting menu is the way to go.
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– Original reporting by Mai Pham
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