Oahu Food Tour

Very few things tell you about a place as much as the local cuisine, and Hawai‘i is no exception. Get a taste for the islands by spending the day digging into island kine grinds, seeing where local fish are sold, enjoying one of the best shrimp plates on the island and rinsing everything down with a scoop - or two - of shave ice. By the end of the day you'll have a full opu and a bigger picture of Hawai‘i's dining scene.

Head out before the sun rises and catch all the (1) Honolulu Fish Auction action. Think Storage Wars but with big-eyed tuna instead of lockers. Much like the well-known Tokyo fish auction, in Honolulu the fish are sold individually - a system that has been taking place for more than 50 years.

After you've got your fish fill, set sail for breakfast at (2) Heia Kea Pier, a scenic spot that has guests hooked on their gourmet twist on plate lunch favorites. Get there early to anchor yourself a spot at the counter before the place is swimming with shorts-and-slipper-clad kama‘aina. It's the perfect way to enjoy your $5 early bird breakfast special while watching the sun come up.

By the time you've rolled on over to the North Shore (after a pit stop for a photo opp or too) it's time for an early lunch at (3) Romy's Shrimp Truck. While more like a stand than a real food "truck," Romy's is among the more popular shrimp eateries, beloved for their prawns, which look more like mini lobsters than shrimp. We like the fact that they leave the heads on their seafood, which makes for an extra tasty treat.

After lunch take a dip at Sunset Beach to wash off all that buttery, shrimpy goodness and work up an appetite for an afternoon snack. Then, en route back to the Waikiki Parc grab a sweet treat at (4) Waiola's Shave Ice, a family owned and operated shave ice stand off Kapahulu Avenue just outside of Waikiki. An island favorite since 1940, many an O‘ahu keiki (child) has grown up with their cold, colorful cups. We like ours with the works - ice cream on the bottom and condensed milk and mochi balls to top it off.

With a quick shower and outfit change you're ready to dig back in. Head right across the street from the Waikiki Parc to (5) House Without a Key, a popular restaurant at the Halekulani, the Waikiki Parc's sister hotel. Arrive early to partake in mai tais and Hawaiian music under the Kiawe tree. Between sipping and savoring (House Without a Key also has an exceptional menu of mouthwatering appetizers) you can drink in the sunset, paired with Hawaiian music and graceful hula dancing. And make sure to save room for House Without a Key's signature coconut cake - it's the icing on a perfect day.

If it happens to the last Friday of the month, put the brakes on looking around for a place to grab dinner and hit the pavement to attend (6) Eat the Street - O‘ahu's uber popular monthly food truck rally. Since Eat the Street launched in 2011 the event has put the pedal to the medal, transforming the kama‘aina preconception of food trucks (or lunch wagon as the locals call them) into mini gourmet kitchens dishing up innovative treats and tidbits.

If there's no Eat the Street event, never fret. Wade back over to Pier 38 for  (7) Nico's happy hour, which runs from 4 p.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, where you'll enjoy live music and lap up dozens of beers on tap, wine, drink and pupu (appetizer) specials. Take your taste buds on a wet and wild ride and dip into the local fare with the poke (raw fish) sampler, poisson cru, spicy edamame and ahi ribs. Now splashing out over more than 5,600 square feet of seating and with a full bar and retail market, this Honolulu eatery has got residents and visitors hook, line and sinker with their fresh-from-the-fish-auction menu.

 

 

1) Honolulu Fish Auction

At Pier 38 the Honolulu Fish Auction is reeling in visitors with the only fresh fish auction between Tokyo and Maine. Lace up your covered shoes (or rain boots if you have them) and get up close and personal with the 160,000 pounds of fresh fish that make their way through the auction each day.

Much like the well-known Tokyo fish auction, in Honolulu the fish are sold individually - a system that has been taking place for more than 50 years. After a long night hooking big eye tuna, swordfish, mahi mahi and deepwater bottom fish the boats tie up just a few feet away from where they are weighed, tagged and put on display on pallets of ice in a refrigerator-like room.

Set your alarm to get there by 5:30 a.m. and watch as suppliers enter into friendly competition bidding on their favorite fish finds (think Storage Wars but with big eyed tuna instead of lockers). Bring an extra sweater (or two) to ward off the frigid temperatures - but be prepared to wash them back at the hotel. The auction isn't the only thing fishy after a few hours spent here.

 

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2) Heeia Kea Pier

Lapping at the shores of He'eia, the He'eia Kea Pier is scenic spot that has hooked guests on their gourmet twist on plate lunch favorites such as misoyaki beef, beer battered mahi, guava chicken and luau stew.

If you're an early riser, hele (move) on over to Kane‘ohe before the sun is up to land He'eia Kea Pier General Store and Deli's early bird $5 breakfast special. Get there by 8 a.m. to anchor yourself a spot at the counter before the place is swimming with shorts-and-slipper-clad kama‘aina and the gang of retired "grandpas" who help open the place every morning.

These oldies but goodies love nothing more to than to strike up a conversation about what Windward O‘ahu was like in their "small kid time." And be sure to pay them the courtesy of asking for their recommendation before you head in to place your order. You can pretend to be surprised when they tell you it's the beef stew.

 

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3) Romy’s Shrimp Truck

Peppering Kamehameha Highway from Hale‘iwa Town to Kualoa Ranch are what many O‘ahu natives consider "shrimp truck row," plating up hundreds of fresh-from-the-water shrimp dishes. Though more like a stand than a real food "truck," Romy's is among the more popular shrimp eateries, beloved for their prawns, which are pulled, still dripping, from the shrimp farm adjacent to the kitchen.

Open daily from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Romy's Shrimp Truck stands apart with their uber fresh shrimp and prawns (they look more like mini lobsters than shrimp), which usually run out by early afternoon. If you miss your chance to snag a spot at Haleiwa Shrimp Court, roll on over to Romy's and sprawl out with your meal on one of the picnic benches in the lawn.

We like the fact that they leave the heads on their seafood, which makes for an extra tasty treat. Make sure to get yours "North Shore style" sautéed in butter and oodles of garlic with a few extra containers of their special sauces and an ear (or two) of Kahuku sweet corn.

Our tip? Bring lots of hand wipes and sanitizer. After you lick all the buttery, shrimpy goodness off your fingers, of course.

 

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4) Waiola's Shave Ice

For a quick and cool treat after a day getting barreled in the surf and baking in the sun, look no further than Waiola Shave Ice, a family owned and operated shave ice stand off Kapahulu Avenue just outside of Waikiki (they also run another stand in Honolulu in McCully). An island favorite since 1940, many an O‘ahu keiki (child) has grown up frequenting this local hot spot.

On a humid day in O‘ahu you'll find dozens of families and kama‘aina (locals) lining up to latch sticky fingers on their favorite shave ice flavors. In the islands the "d" has been shaved off, so in Hawai‘i its shave ice, not "shaved ice" or "snow cones."

When ordering at Waiola you'll want to perfect your cup combo before stepping up to the register (they've got their preferred ordering method clearly placed at the front of the shop in case you forget). We like ours with the works - ice cream on the bottom and condensed milk and mochi balls to top it off.

And make sure to hit up the ATM in advance to shave some time off your schedule - Waiola Shave Ice only takes cash.

 

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5) House Without a Key

Drink in the beach-chic ambiance of House Without a Key, a popular restaurant at the Halekulani, the Waikiki Parc's sister hotel. Perched at the edge of Waikiki Beach, House Without a Key's ambiance transforms like the colors of a chameleon from a quiet breakfast nook to catch the softly, lapping waves, to a hot and stylish hot spot at sunset.

Arrive early to keep from getting locked out of this popular pau hana place. Get decked out and skip across the street to partake in one of the Halekulani's prized traditions, mai tais and Hawaiian music under the Kiawe tree. While "mai tai" means good in Tahitian, Halekulani's special spin on this exotic drink takes this beverage to a whole new level. What's Tahitian for unbelievable?

Between sipping and savoring (House Without a Key also has an exceptional menu of mouthwatering appetizers) you can drink in the sunset, paired with Hawaiian music and the graceful dancing of former Miss Hawai‘i's Kanoe Miller, Debbie Nakanelua and Lauren Cheape. And make sure to save room for House Without a Key's signature coconut cake - it's the icing on a perfect day.

 

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6) Eat the Street

Put the brakes on looking around for a place to eat. If it’s the last Friday of the month, hit the pavement and Eat the Street at the island’s uber popular monthly food truck rally.

Since Eat the Street launched in 2011 the event has put the pedal to the medal, transforming the kama‘aina preconception of food trucks  (or lunch wagon as the locals call them) into mini gourmet kitchens dishing up innovative treats and tidbits. Past attendees have pigged out on themed menus featuring everything from bacon and musubi (a ball of rice, pronounced moo-soo-bee) to chocolate and cheese. If you’re still looking for directions to navigate Hawai‘i’s food truck craze, we have our top tips to help you avoid event traffic!

  • Arrive early. Eat the Street starts at 4 pm so plan ahead to arrive a little before four so you can park yourself in front of your favorite trucks!
  • Plan your attack. A day or two ahead of time, check out sites like www.StreetGrindz.com and www.NonStopHonolulu.com, download the StreetGrindz app or check out their social media to see what trucks will be there and determine what your must-try dishes are.
  • Buckle up! Part of the fun of an event like Eat the Street is the pulsing atmosphere and hordes (which translates to yes, lines) of people. Be prepared to go bumper to bumper for your meal. 

 

For the latest list of participating food trucks, menus and locations visit www.StreetGrindz.com.

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7) Nico’s

If you've been here before, the "new" Nico's is just a short stroll mauka (towards the mountain, or inland) from its previous digs at Pier 38. Now splashing out over more than 5,600 square feet of seating and with a full bar and retail market, this Honolulu eatery has got residents and visitors hook, line and sinker with their fresh-from-the-fish-auction menu.

Chef Nicolas "Nico" Chaize has brought his gourmet, French cuisine to Hawai‘i's hallmark plate lunch, attracting accolades and a loyal following. After a long day, wade over and put your feet up with Nico's happy hour, which runs from 4 p.m. - 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, where you'll enjoy live music and lap up dozens of beers on tap.

Waikiki Parc's Aki O. loves Nico's fresh ingredients and casual setting. And after you've had your fill of Nico's uber popular furikake ahi plate lunch, swim over to Nico's retail shop where you can hook yourself up with fresh, wild-caught fish (they'll even pack it for you to ship home!) and a few pounds from their self-serve poke bar.

 

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