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Destination Guide

 
 
Honolulu is a city that is rich in dining and drinking choices. Cuisine from all cultures can be found here in abundance. Due to the 5 million tourists that come to the island of O'ahu every year, the competition for patrons makes restaurants innovative and very conscious of quality. Seafood stops are a hallmark of the island and O'ahu has some of the finest. Whether you are in the mood for Chinese, Italian, French, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese or good old American fare, Honolulu will not disappoint you.

Chinatown

As might be expected, Honolulus Chinatown features some of the best Chinese restaurants in the Pacific Basin. In addition to regional Chinese establishments, you'll find other authentic Asian eateries. Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Indonesian food is available and in most cases, very reasonably priced. For northern Chinese cuisine, there is the Royal Kitchen in the Chinese Cultural Plaza on King Street. Their dim sum menu is extensive and the Peking Duck is superb. Also in the Cultural Center you'll find Legend Seafood Restaurant. As the name suggests, seafood of all kinds is in the spotlight here. Its a noisy place full of the flavor of Hong Kong; the dim sum lunch is not to be missed. For the wonderful flavors of Vietnam there are two excellent choices in Chinatown with similar names. Pho-to-Chau on River Street and Pho 97 on Maunakea both serve terrific versions of Pho, Vietnamese soup, at great prices. The Maunakea Marketplace Food Court offers a choice of well-prepared food from all the Asian and Southeast Asian countries. The Marketplace can be found at Maunakea and Hotel streets.

Waikiki

This well-known area of Honolulu is Hawaiis premiere vacation destination and as such has every type of dining establishment that one could imagine. Every large hotel has at least one restaurant and some boast five or six; most are very worthwhile. The Outrigger Reef Hotel offers the Shore Bird Beach Broiler, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet is a sumptuous array of fresh fruit, pastries, egg dishes and meats; the beach and Diamond Head are a stunning backdrop. For great steak, your choices are many. The original Chucks Steakhouse in the Edgewater Hotel is in the top tier for beef, and the A1 Steakhouse & Oyster Bar in the Marc Suites is a strong contender. Seafood places are everywhere in Waikiki. Some of the best are Sarentos Top of the "I" at the top of the Ilikai/Hotel Nikko Waikiki, where the fish preparations have a northern Italian flair, and the Lobster & Crab House in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. A large tank of live Maine lobsters is positioned at the entrance so that you may pick your clawed choice for dinner. Orchids Restaurant in the posh Halekulani Hotel offers an elegant seafood menu in an open-air setting, and La Mer, also in the Halekulani, is a Triple A Diamond Award restaurant where the seafood dishes are prepared in a Provencal style.

Many residents and visitors consider Matteos in the Marine Surf Hotel to be the finest Italian restaurant in Waikiki and Honolulu. The superb menu is served in an intimate setting. The wine list here is also one of the best in town. If you are looking for a place to take in a sports event or to entertain the kids, the Official All Star Café is the place for you. They have a great kids menu, 38 TV screens, a scoreboard and video games. Its located in the King Kalakaua Plaza next to NikeTown.

Dukes Restaurant and Barefoot Bar is in a class all by itself, offering great food, live Hawaiian music and a location right on the beach. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this is the place to be on a Sunday afternoon after a refreshing dip in the blue Pacific. If an elegant, intimate dining experience is desired, try Arancino, a cozy little place on Beachwalk Avenue. The special thin-crust pizza covered with shrimp, cheese and Maui onions is a must. For Japanese Teppan-yaki, your choices are Kobe at the end of Ala Moana Boulevard, Benihana of Tokyo in the Hilton Hawaiian Village complex and Tanaka of Tokyo with three locations in Waikiki. A Japanese fast food favorite, the Ezogiku Noodle Café, also has three locations in Waikiki, not to mention several more throughout the city. Similar wide choices are available for Chinese cuisine. Lotus Moon Restaurant in the Sheraton Princess is one of the best.

One of the absolute best dining experiences available in Honolulu is at the original Chart House Restaurant overlooking the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor. The food, service and sunset are simply wonderful. For a Polynesian meal with an excellent Pacific Basin show, visit the South Seas Village Theatre Restaurant on Atkinson Street on the border between Waikiki and Ala Moana.

Downtown Honolulu

The center of this fascinating melting-pot city offers a wide choice of dining establishments. Straddling the border of downtown and the Kaakako districts is Restaurant Row on Ala Moana Boulevard. Among the restaurants found here are Ruths Chris Steakhouse'the only location on O'ahu?and the trendy Sunset Grill. Several blocks away, the Aloha Tower Marketplace at the Port of Honolulu also boasts a number of excellent dining choices. The Big Island Steakhouse on the second level uses only beef grown on Hawaii ("The Big Island.") Rodeo Cantina is great bet for Mexican cuisine, and Hong Kong Harbor View Seafood Restaurant offers authentic Cantonese dishess. Gordon Biersch on the first level is not only a good restaurant, but also a wonderful microbrewery. Chais Island Bistro is the place to go for local Hawaiian dishes and contemporary Pacific Basin cuisine.

In the center of Honolulus old town, you'll find Murphys Bar and Grill on Merchant Street. As might be expected, the corned beef and cabbage is great, and Guinness is on tap. A surprising choice for breakfast, lunch and dinner is the Lanikai Café at the YWCA on Richards Street. The master chef has worked in some of the finest hotels in Waikiki and his reasonably priced creations are superb. Palomino Euro Bistro on Queen Street wins prizes for decor and cuisine every year. Columbia Inn at the start of Kapiolani Boulevard is a great restaurant and sports bar, where the local media community maintains a "round table" to imbibe and swap stories. The Garden Café at the Honolulu Academy of Arts is place where you can have a delicious lunch and a glass of wine in a tropical courtyard, surrounded by many wonderful works of art.

On the Pearl Harbor side of Honolulu, you'll find Sam Choys. This is great place to have a hearty, major meal prepared Hawaiian-style. Its open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Ala Moana and Kaakako

There are some great places to dine on the stretch between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki. The two main thoroughfares that span this four-mile distance are Ala Moana and Kapiolani Boulevards. The many-sided Victoria Ward Center complex on Ala Moana has some of the best spots in town. In the Ward Warehouse, you'll find Kincaids Fish, Chop and Steak House and The Old Spaghetti Factory. Across the street in the Ward Center, visit Ryans Bar and Grill, a great saloon with excellent food. This is a favorite watering hole for the downtown business crowd. Also in the Ward Center you'll find the Yum Yum Tree, a reasonably priced family restaurant, Compadres Mexican Bar & Grill?a trendy Mexican spot with great margaritas?and A Pacific Café, where the seafood is prepared with a French twist. The areas premiere seafood restaurant is John Dominus on Ahui Street near Ward Center.

Next to the huge Ala Moana Shopping Center on Kona Street, you'll find the I Love Country Café. It is the best place in the area to sample local Hawaiian cooking, with lots of Philippine and Thai accents. In the Ala Moana Center itself, there are over 30 choices for dining. The China House on the parking lot level restaurant features both Mandarin and Cantonese fare, served traditional-style in a brightly lit environment with large round tables sporting Lazy Susans in the center. Bubba Gump Shrimp Company on the second level serves up shrimp dishes of all kinds in a fun atmosphere. The Ala Moana Food Court, also known as the Makai Market, has over 20 stalls that serve American, Mexican, Thai, chicken, Vietnamese, Chinese and local cuisine. One block up Keeamoku Street, toward the mountains, you'll find a long-time local resident favorite, The Like-Like Drive-In (pronounced leaky leaky.) The place has been in constant operation, 24 hours a day for over 45 years, and is the spot for saimin, fried-rice and American entrees with an Asian touch. If you're in the mood for authentic Korean hibachi cooking, try Junge Je on Sheridan Street near Kapiolani. Two doors down, Million Restaurant also serves up very acceptable Korean fare.

Singha Thai Restaurant, across from the Ilikai/Hotel Nikko Waikiki on the border between Ala Moana and Waikiki, is one of the best Thai places in Hawai'i. Its a large place with excellent food and authentic Thai dancers performing every evening at 8:30 and 9:30.

East Honolulu (Kahala and Hawai'i Kai)

This upscale stretch of coastline features many dining opportunities. The super-posh Plumeria Beach Café at the Kahala Mandarin Hotel hotel offers beach side seating in a beautiful patio setting. Hokus at the Oriental presents Japanese and Euro cuisine. The Kahala Mall at the conclusion of the H1 freeway has several excellent choices. California Pizza Kitchen and The Yum Yum Tree head the list, and there is a large food court with a wide range of foods. Nearby, Kahala Sushi on Waialae Avenue is good place for sushi and sashimi, and you can take out.

Farther down the coast toward the beaches near Coco Head, Hawai'i Kai (one of O'ahus newest communities) boasts one of the best restaurants in the islands, Roys. Owner, master-chef Roy Yamaguchi began a tradition here ten years ago and now has similar restaurants on the Hawaiian island of Maui, in Hong Kong and Singapore. The cuisine is a mixture of Continental, Japanese and local Hawaiian. Its very pricey but well worth it. Very good Mexican fare can be found at Pedros in the Hawaii Kai Shopping Center on Kalanianaole Highway.


Manoa Valley

This lovely area is home to the University of Hawaii and is one of Honolulus nicest suburban neighborhoods. In the center of the Valley, the Ala Manoa Shopping Center is a gathering place for students, professors and residents. The most unusual of the restaurants in the valley is Paesano, a top-notch Italian bistro owned and operated by a family from Laos. The comfortable eatery serves food to rival any Italian dining spot in town. Its in the center, on Woodlawn Drive.

These dining establishments represent just a small cross-section of the hundreds of great places in Honolulu and its home island of O'ahu. Wherever you turn in this Pacific metropolis, you'll find opportunities to enjoy wonderful cuisine. Bon Apetit!

Rodger Layng