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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7) Liliha Bakery

If you’re looking for something to go, grab a number and take your time perusing the seemingly endless racks of baked treats. Locals all have their own Liliha Bakery favorite – some crave their savory butter rolls while others long for their light-as-air long johns. But if you go crazy for cocoa we recommend their iconic cocoa puffs, which are light and delightful bites of chocolate cream-filled pastry topped with a healthy dollop of Chantilly icing. In fact, we’re so sure you’ll love them you can scoop up a pre-packed box from one of their refrigerators against the wall and head straight to the cashier. Because one cocoa puff is never quite enough.

While it’s traditionally known for its baked goods, Liliha Bakery also has a diner smoking with local favorites. It’s one of our favorite spots to barrel into after an afternoon surf sesh or carb out after a long hike, on heaping plates of eggs and their infamous pancakes (make sure to add the blueberries). And with their new location on Nimitz Highway it’s even more convenient to roll in on the way to the airport for one last taste of Hawai’i cocoa puff heaven to enjoy on the plane. 

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8) MW Restaurant

While relatively new, MW Restaurant has cooked up quite a name for itself concocting innovative and creative dishes for lunch, dinner and dessert - and everything in between. Located on Kapiolani Boulevard near Ala Moana Center, the eatery named for and owned by husband and wife duo Michelle and Wade, this dining hotspot keeps diners guessing with guest chefs and new dishes that pop up on a regular basis.

With experience that includes two decades at Alan Wongs, the two chefs are known for their uniquely composed dishes which are sous memorable and beautifully composed you'll have a difficult time deciding what to do first - snap a photo or dig in. Each dish brings the delicate and refined palate of Alan Wong's blended with a decidedly local flair - think Zippy's, where Wade also worked - with dishes like a roast-duck open-face sandwich, ahi poke or fried chicken. But one dish we're really hooked on is MW's mochi-crusted fish, a delicate filet covered in fried mochi.

But this restaurant's sweet spot is their dessert. We know everyone always says to leave room for the end of the meal - but that is never more true than at MW Restaurant. With a decadent array of artful options like the Kula Strawberry "Shave Ice" with haupia tapioca, strawberry kanten, mocha ice cream and strawberry-yuzu sorbet paired with shaved "hibiscus strawberry" or the "Floating Island", featuring lilikoi frozen soufflé, lilikoi sorbet, tropical fruit, poached meringue and pineapple elderflower consommé you'll find yourself floating on cloud nine.

MW Restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. and for dinner from 4 - 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday, and 4 - 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.


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9) Bread & Butter

You butter believe it. The new Bread & Butter, a café, lunch and wine bar in one, is steadily churning up a crowd of guests with a menu spotlighting local, Japanese and Argentine influences. Don't expect to find only butter and bread on the menu though - which features everything from their popular taro and banana pancakes at breakfast to individual-sized paella for dinner!

But at Bread & Butter their - pun intended - bread and butter isn't just carbs. We regularly pour ourselves over for their artisan roast Kona coffee and their exceptional line up of wines from the pinot bar. In fact their coffee program, created in partnership with Honolulu Coffee's master roaster, will perk you right up with a sip of their specialty Kona coffee.

If you can't wait to wine down after a long day, you'll want to hit up their pinot bar. Established with the help of Master Sommelier Roberto Viernes, one of only three Master Sommeliers in the state of Hawai'i, it offers a versatile selection of unique and specialty wines that that pair perfectly with the tapas-style menu.

After you've broken bread on favorites like the squid ink pasta, beef tongue curry and breakfast dashimaki tamago make a reservation for their new dinner service - which will feature dishes like whole quail stuffed with black truffle rice and homemade gnocchi and lamb chops with an espresso and balsamic reduction.

Bread & Butter is conveniently located next to Shokudo (they share the same owners as the masterminds behind that unforgettable honey toast) just across from Ala Moana Center.


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10) Izakaya Torae Torae

If you're fishing to freshen up your sushi routine we'd recommend swimming on over to Izakaya Torae Torae. The izakaya-style eatery offers an extensive menu overflowing with everything from salads to doburi bowls, to fresh sushi and specialty rolls.

Chef Hide Yoshimoto, a former chef at Droaku, handpicks everything from the fish to the fresh flowers that arrive on his finished plates. And that attention to detail can be found in every grain of rice. One of our favorite signature dishes is their pork belly kakuni, a slow-braised pork belly slow cooked in soy sauce and accompanied with ontama and daikon. You won't be able to help porking out as every heavenly bite melts in your mouth. An insider tip: call ahead and order the off-the-menu dashimaki tamago - an egg omelet, flavored with dashi with an unagi center.

While Izakaya Torae Torae has its own liquor license and serves drinks, you can still BYOB for a $20 corkage fee. Sushi roll on over to Izakaya Torae Torae located on McCully between Young and Beretania. It's open daily, except on Tuesdays, from 6 p.m. until midnight.


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11) 678 Hawaii

When you're in the mood for Korean BBQ, get cooking and head over to 678 Hawaii! Part of an international chain of yakiniku restaurants, 678 Hawaii gets grilling with a variety of cuts and types of meat traditionally found at your favorite Korean yakiniku.

What truly sets 678 Hawaii apart is the level of service and cleanliness. Here, with just the click of a button, your server will be notified and arrive to refill water, bring you a fresh pitcher of beer or another order of pig skin to flash fry. And without the pervasive smell of smoke wafting throughout the room you can wear your favorite dress and leave without your clothes and hair drenched in smoke. Each table has a high power air vent directly above the grill, sucking out the smoke and leaving behind only fresh, delicious grilled meat.

When pouring yourselves over, make sure to try a pitcher of their yogurt Soju, a sweet milky soju (Korean vodka-like rice liquor) drink -- a cool and refreshing compliment to the spicy Korean flavors and grilled meats. The restaurant prides itself on only using high quality cuts of meat from California and this attention to detail pervades the entire restaurant experience.

From the juicy meats to the unique grills with side compartments for your corn and cheese to the clean surroundings and attentive service, 678 makes sure that you feel taken care of. Feeling antsy? You can even make your mark on the walls around you while waiting for your meat to cook.

If you want to get your grill on reservations are strongly recommended. 678 Hawaii is located on Kapiolani Boulevard near the Atkinson Drive intersection and is open 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.


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