Food Finds: Honolulu

1) 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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2) Helena's Hawaiian Food

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And in Hawai‘i, if you do as the kama‘aina (or locals) do you'll be handsomely rewarded with a Hawaiian meal so simple and delicious you'll be back again and again. Helena's Hawaiian Food has been a Honolulu institution for more than 60 years since it opened its first restaurant tucked next to a radiator shop in nondescript Kalihi Valley.

But Helena's mouthwatering menu of a la carte Hawaiian dishes is anything but nondescript, featuring entrees like their pipikaula short ribs and squid luau, in addition to traditional Hawaiian favorites like lau lau, lomi lomi salmon, poi, kalua pig and haupia (how-pee-ah). Food so unforgettable it's been indelibly etched into your opu's (stomach's) memory.

In 2000, Helena's founding chef, Helen Kwock Chock, was recognized with the prestigious James Beard Award. While Helen passed away a few years ago, her grandson Craig Katsuyoshi carries on the tradition of dishing up simple yet satisfying Hawaiian favorites. And though parking, not to mention getting a seat, can take a while, Helena's luau-like spread (minus the pomp, pageantry and price tag) is one that is worth planting your okole (oh-koh-leh or butt) firmly in place to wait for.

 

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3) Off the Wall

For an off-the-map meal, head down to Off the Wall, a local eatery putting its own unique spin on Hawai‘i favorites. Secreted away in Pearl Kai Shopping Center off of Kamehameha Highway, Off the Wall's chef and manager Kyle Matsumoto has been giving O‘ahu residents kanak attack (local "pidgin English" for when someone gets sleepy after eating too much) with his local cuisine featuring flavors from around the world.

Whenever we're feeling peckish we hele (move) on over for Off the Wall's off the charts shoyu pork andagi - a dessert and dinner combo which tastes as unusual (and delicious) as it sounds. Other local favorites include their shoyu pork pasta, "naked" ahi poke musubi, crab and artichoke wontons and arare karaage chicken (but not for those on a date).

If you can't decide what to order, go "izakaya style." Their small, pupu (appetizer)-sized portions are perfect for sharing and sampling their variety of cooked-to-order classics.

 

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4) Ichiriki

Putting a sizzling twist on Japanese hot pot, Ichiriki - which also offers locations in Ala Moana and Kaneohe - is well-known across O‘ahu for its selection of shabu shabu, sukiyaki and most famously for its nabe.

Ichiriki first opened in Honolulu 2006 and has been helping O‘ahu diners cook their way to hot pot heaven ever since. Perfect for lunch or happy hour, grab a seat in a booth or their tatami room and get ready to select your shiro (soup base). Or come for dinner with a group of friends for a fun and interactive evening on the town.

If you're looking for something a little tamer try their zosui, a tasty Japanese rice soup. But we go pupule (poo-poo-leh or crazy) for their pirikira nabe (with tiny slices of chili it adds a little heat, but not too much), which provides the perfect base for the bounty of goodies you'll get to toss in. Be sure to save room at the end for the noodles - your choice of ramen or udon - to complete the meal.

 

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5) Aloha Crepes

If you’re creeping through Aiea, pull over to Aloha Crepes’ original location. This nondescript shop in Waimalu Shopping Center is the perfect snack stop en route to an adventure on Oahu’s west side and offers a place to chill out as you head back to Waikiki. Here, aloha oozes from every bowl and black top with a sweet and savory selection of snacks from crepes and snow flakes to acai and poke bowls. 

Waikiki Parc’s Ryan F. craves Aloha Crepe’s selection of crepes and snow flakes – an icy treat originating out of Taipei featuring creamy flakes of silky, smooth shaved ice. Choose from more than 20 flavors then put the icing on your snow flake from a selection of toppings for an original cold creation.  

If you’re looking for something more substantial, you can’t go wrong taking a cue from their name. Start your day off with something savory from their breakfast menu like the morning glory – oozing melted jack and cheddar cheese, scrambled egg and your choice of sausage, turkey or honey smoked ham. For those with a sweet tooth, the Whoa crepe offers a mind-blowing medley of banana pudding, nutella, strawberries, banana and strawberry sauce. Your stomach whoa-nt believe its good fortune.

 

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6) Kuru Kuru Sushi

Here in Hawaii the popularity of conveyer belt sushi is flying off the tracks. And one of the favorites amongst locals is Kuru Kuru Sushi, a grab-and-enjoy concept eatery that brings affordable sushi to your fingertips.

Pronounced koo-roo koo-roo, Kuru Kuru Sushi literally translates to conveyer belt sushi in Japanese. Waikiki Parc’s Ryan F. is a regular and recommends the laid-back, casual atmosphere of Kuru Kuru for those looking for a budget-friendly option to get their raw-fish fill. If you haven’t enjoyed conveyer belt sushi before, here the color of the plate marks the price of your dish. And while there is typically more than enough sushi to go around (and around, and around) if you can’t find what you want, the nearest server can help.

One of your group not into the raw fish rage? Kuru Kuru Sushi offers a selection of cooked dishes including noodles, miso soup and tempura. While you won’t have to wait to put in your order here, you’ll use that time waiting to be seated. Both locations --the first and original location is still in Aiea and a second recently opened in Kahala Mall – typically have a school of fish fiends waiting for their next fix.

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