A Food Lover's Guide To Oahu, Hawaii
A trip to Oahu, Hawaii’s most populous island, will swiftly quiet any notion that Hawaii is home to nothing but white, sandy beaches. Aside from being blessed by Mother Nature, Hawaii also possesses a fantastically rich history that has given life to a cuisine characterised by Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese and Native Hawaiian influences. Mochi, spam, steamed buns and saimin egg noodles are just a few of the many multi-ethnic dishes that have become quotidian to the people of Hawaii. From decades-old institutions to buzzy newcomers, there’s no wrong way to tackle Oahu’s dining scene.
Start The Day At: Bogart's Café
Every city has its own tried and true, reliable all-day breakfast spot, and Bogart’s Cafe is Oahu’s version of just that. Both locals and tourists flock to the cafe for its famous açaí bowls, waffles, and omelettes, as well as local dishes such as loco moco, fried rice, and taro and banana pancakes. While açaí bowls can be found all over the island, the ones at Bogart’s are known to have a generous ratio of açaí to fruit and granola. Its location makes it an ideal stop before or after a walk to the top of the popular Diamond Head lookout, and a half an hour wait is not at all uncommon on weekends. Note: Bogart's is cash only.
Bogart's Café, 3045 Monsarrat Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96815; +1 (808) 739-0999; bogartshawaii.com
A Taste of History: Helena's Hawaiian Food
There’s a difference between local food like loco moco, chicken katsu and meat jun, and old-school Hawaiian food, and if you want to introduce your tastebuds to the more traditional stuff, there’s no better place to do so than at Helena’s Hawaiian Food. The no-frills, cash-only restaurant has been a favourite amongst locals and tourists alike since it opened in 1946 and continues to be one of the few places on the island that serves heirloom Hawaiian delicacies. The James Beard Award-winning mainstay is known for its pipikaula, a dish of dried and fried beef short ribs. Their squid luau, chicken long rice and kalua pig are also not to be missed.
Helena's Hawaiian Food, 1240 N School Street, Honolulu, HI 96817. +1 (808) 845-8044; helenashawaiianfood.com
True Local Flavour: Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors
If you’ve eaten poke anywhere outside of Hawaii, it’s likely that it was prepared very differently from the real McCoy you’ll find on the islands. Every local will have their opinion on where to get the best poke, but many will agree that Tamura’s is high up there. This liquor store is as cherished for its take-out poke counter as it is for the fine wine and liquors in its name. The poke at Tamura’s is made daily with sashimi-grade, local ahi tuna from the Honolulu auction, and is marinated in their own special shoyu base before being mixed in with ingredients such as sweet onions, masago, wasabi, mayonnaise, and seaweed. There’s no area for dining, so grab a few pounds to-go and head to the beach in true Hawaii fashion.
Tamura's Fine Wine & Liquors, 3496 Waialae Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96816; +1 (808) 735-7100; tamurasfinewine.com
Splurge At: Senia
Some may say that Senia is Honolulu’s most hyped restaurant, and most will agree that the hype is deserved. On an island where the dining scene can feel stagnant, Senia sticks out as the golden child of powerhouse chefs Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush, who worked together at Thomas Keller’s Per Se. The space is relaxed, and the fare is modern and sophisticated, mixing flavours of the mainland with European cooking techniques, all while honouring Hawaii’s food cultures. There’s an approachable a la carte menu, but for the ultimate experience, book a seat at the live-edge, monkeypod lumber chef’s counter for a 12-course tasting menu that’ll set you back US$185 at the time of your reservation. While a US$65 wine pairing is an option, you’d be remiss if you didn’t at least consider a drink from the vibrant cocktail menu.
Senia, 75 N King Street, Honolulu, HI 96817; +1 (808) 200-5412; restaurantsenia.com
Grab A Drink At: Bar Leather Apron
The mezzanine of a downtown Honolulu financial building is the last place you’d expect to find the island’s best cocktail bar, so don’t be bewildered when your GPS leads you there. With only 25 seats (six of which are in front of the actual bar), a reservation at the intimate Bar Leather Apron is absolutely necessary and worth the hustle. Classic cocktails sit alongside consistently rotating house drinks and cocktails featuring local, organic produce. The signature E Ho’o Pau Mai Tai, which adds a twist to the classic drink by including raisin-infused rum, coconut water syrup and spiced orgeat, has been dubbed the World’s Best Mai Tai on more than one occasion.
Bar Leather Apron, 745 Fort Street, #127A, Honolulu, HI 96813; +1 (808) 524-0808; barleatherapron.com
Bring Home: Lin’s Hawaiian Snacks
Lin’s Hawaiian Snacks has become a household name in Hawaii, gaining strong support from the local community for more than 30 years. The family owned and operated business houses every local snack imaginable, from dried seafood and fruits to rice crackers, gummies, nuts, and crack seed (preserved, candied fruits). The walls and shelves are lined with individually packaged snacks that make for ideal gifting, while jars are filled with candies in bulk that can be bagged and sold by the pound. You are not to go home without at least trying li hing mui, which is a salted dried plum that can be eaten either whole or as a powder. Lin’s has a whole section dedicated to li hing mui flavoured candies such as gummy bears, peach rings, and strawberry belts.
Lin's Hawaiian Snacks, 401 Kamakee Street, Honolulu, HI 96814; +1 (808) 597-8899; linsmarkethawaii.com
See also: A Food Lover's Guide To Portland, Oregon