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Best Honolulu Restaurants

AOL PICK from our Editors
Hawaii’s culinary scene is deliciously diverse and exploring the best Honolulu restaurants is one of our favorite pastimes. First, it’s important to make the distinction between Hawaiian food and local food. Poi, laulau, lomi salmon, kalua pig, haupia—the selections you’ll find at a luau—are foods that sustained early Hawaiians. When Filipino, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese, and Korean immigrants came to work at the sugar plantations in the mid-1800s, they brought with them their own culinary traditions. Just as pidgin was a conglomeration of their languages, local cuisine came to be defined by popular eats like malasadas (Portuguese donuts), manapua (meat-filled buns), musubi (seaweed-rolled rice), and shaved ice. Inspired by the island’s multiethnic influences, Hawai‘i’s chefs have learned to mix and match flavors and cooking styles. The happy result a creative mix of pan-Pacific “fusion” dishes like wok-seared ahi in a black bean sauce, baked opah with a mango chutney, and hoisin-glazed baby back ribs. Today, a socially responsible, sustainable approach to food has become prevalent throughout the Islands and most of Honolulu's best restaurants. Out of this philosophy was born Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, which incorporates local, organically grown ingredients to support island farmers and communities. They’re mentioned by name on menus—Kula goat cheese, Kahuku prawns, Hamakua Tomatoes. Delicious food is as likely to be found in a hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop joint as it is at a first-class waterfront resort, so don’t be afraid to explore, you can find many of the best places to eat in Honolulu off the beaten path. Truth be told, there are times a gravy-laden hamburger steak atop two scoops of rice with a side of mac salad satisfies an appetite like no thirty-dollar entrée can—no tablecloth required.

Alan Wong's Restaurant

Neighborhood: Waikiki/Ala Moana Price: Expensive
No list of the city's restaurant recommendations is complete without Alan Wong’s, one of the very best Honolulu restaurants. Here, local-style favorites are reinvented and gorgeously plated. In their version of loco moco, for example, mochi-crusted unagi replaces the ordinary hamburger, and it’s topped with quail egg and a wasabi kabayaki sauce instead of gravy. Alan Wong’s is one of the best places to eat in Honolulu for a luxuriously updated taste of the islands. And t is widely known to be a choice spot for honeymoon dinners and marriage proposals.

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Chai's Island Bistro

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Expensive
A wall of framed, autographed photos suggests that Chai’s is a favorite stop for visiting celebrities. The thing that distinguishes this elegant restaurant from the rest of the top Honolulu restaurants—besides its innovative take on Pacific Rim cuisine (order whatever the local catch of the day is)—are its nightly dinner performances featuring Hawaii’s most prestigious and talented contemporary musicians. On any give night you might hear the Cazimero brothers or Makana or Raiatea Helm delivering sensational vocals and distinctive sounds from traditional instruments like slack key guitar or ukulele. The acoustics are excellent, a perfect accompaniment to the award-winning menu. Chai's is one of the best places to eat in Honolulu if you're looking for a creative dish in an outstanding atmosphere. The entrees might be on the expensive side (prices average in the $30’s), but it’s significantly less than what you’d pay to see these concerts at a far less intimate venue elsewhere.

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Town

Neighborhood: Kaimuki Price: Expensive
This classy bistro is the brainchild of slow food enthusiast chef, Kaimuki. In spite of its downplayed décor, it is a standout among Waialae’s pedestrian-friendly strip of diverse eateries. Chef Ed Kenney’s Mediterranean-inspired menu incorporates locally grown, organic produce wherever possible. Wines from small, artisan vineyards complement the hand-cut pasta (the gnocchi is, as locals say, “broke da mouth” delectable) and fresh seafood entrees. Town is one of the best Honolulu restaurants for the organic traveler looking to experience true island flavor directly from the island. Our favorite pupu item is the ahi tartare served on a bed of risotto. Reservations are recommended (call at least two days in advance), but walk-in and dog-friendly seating is available on the patio.

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Duke's Restaurant & Barefoot Bar

Neighborhood: Waikiki/Ala Moana Price: Moderate
Slippers and shorts are the attire of choice at Duke’s, one of the top Honolulu restaurants for a casual meal, just mere footsteps from the ocean. The surf-themed restaurant celebrates the legacy of Olympic waterman Duke Kahanamoku, Waikiki’s favorite son. It’s always crowded, but all those tables of smiling diners are part of its appeal. A buffet is available in addition to a la carte items at breakfast and lunch; at dinner, choose the fresh ahi, which is cooked according to your choice of preparation: we recommend asking for it baked in a garlic, lemon, sweet basil glaze, grilled and topped with a pineapple salsa, but you can also request to have it herb-crusted and sautéed with macadamia nuts, lime-and-chili-roasted, or seared with a papaya mustard sauce. Patrons have a rollicking time on Saturday and Sunday afternoons when popular bands play and the back patio becomes a literal party on the beach.

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Sansei Seafood Restaurant

Neighborhood: Waikiki/Ala Moana Price: Moderate
Illustrious Hawaiian sushi chef D.K. Kodama puts an artistic twist on sushi and presents extravagant, painstakingly crafted rolls that look far too beautiful to eat. To wit, their famous panko-crusted ahi sashimi sushi roll—sashimi-grade ahi, arugula and spinach wrapped in nori, covered in panko, flash-fried, and served with a soy wasabi butter sauce. Sansei is one of the best places to eat sushi in Honolulu. Save room for a late dinner on Friday and Saturday nights—from 10PM to 1AM they offer sushi and appetizers at half-price and it’s hands-down one of the best bargains in town.

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Diamond Head Cove Health Bar

Neighborhood: Waikiki/Ala Moana Price: Budget
Don’t let the plain name of this food-for-your-soul establishment fool you—the dining experience it offers is singular. Part-art gallery, part-hippy café, and part-juice bar, it’s a favorite hangout of local artists and musicians. It also serves the best acai bowl on the island. Acai bowls are a Brazilian import: The frozen berry pulp—loaded with antioxidants—is blended with soymilk or apple juice to a smooth, thick consistency (you eat it with a spoon) and topped with sliced bananas, strawberries, organic granola, blueberries, bee pollen, and honey. It is refreshing, healthy, filling, and most of all, thoroughly delicious.

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Diamond Head Cove Health Bar  

Olive Tree Cafe

Neighborhood: East Honolulu Price: Budget
If you’re on a schizophrenic diet of tropical fruit, fresh fish, and gut-bomb plate lunches, the Olive Tree Café is a welcome alternative. You can count the number of Greek eateries in Honolulu on one hand; fortunately, this particular one compensates for the city’s lack of tavernas. Olive Tree Café dishes out Mediterranean staples like dolmades, souvlaki, and shwarma; we highly recommend the hummus and Greek salad. They pride themselves on fresh and flavorful, affordable food, which makes them a favorite eatery of longtime residents. BYOB with no corkage fee and a spacious outdoor patio round out the satisfying dining experience. Credit cards are not accepted, so bring cash.

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Rainbow Drive-in

Neighborhood: Waikiki/Ala Moana Price: Budget
Ask a surfer where he’s going after an epic two-hour session, and the answer will be Rainbow’s. Opened in 1961, this classic take-out joint has a longstanding reputation for serving up hearty plate lunches that just have a way of perfectly topping off a sun-kissed day at the beach. Rainbow's is one of the best places to eat in Honolulu after a day of surf lessons or if you want a taste of hearty local food. Feel like something different? How about gravy-laden corned beef hash and an egg? Or a deviled egg sandwich? Rotating specials also keep the menu varied—local favorites like beef stew, roast pork, and shoyu chicken. If you’re a conventional to-go practitioner, a plain old hamburger is still just $2.

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Zippy’s

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Budget
If you’re in search of local kine grinds, there’s no more authentic place than Zippy’s. At Zippy’s you can order take-out or you can dine in. The dining room atmosphere is akin to that of a Denny’s with booths and tables that kindly accommodate families that appreciate the standard and reliable menu options as well as weekend specials like miso butterfish and ginger pork. Zippy’s chili is so popular that school groups regularly sell chili tickets for fundraisers. Most Zippy’s outlets have an adjoining Napoleon’s Bakery, a convenient place to pick up a custard pie or a guava cake for a potluck contribution.

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