Food Finds: Waikiki

1) Marukame Udon

An easy stroll along Kuhio Avenue, Marukame Udon is steaming up Waikiki with their bowls of simple and tasty, fresh, house-made udon noodles. This cozy eatery has crowds of kama‘aina (local residents) and visitors lining up to order "cafeteria style" and load their trays with delicious Japanese comfort food.

If you're craving something warm and savory, Marukame Udon is the place to dip in for an affordable meal-on-the-go. "Splurge" and help yourself to a large bowl (for $6.25 a pop) which comes in seven different types including curry, niku (with thinly sliced beef), ontama (with a soft poached egg), kamaage (with a dipping sauce of sesame and ginger, and zaru (cold udon with a light dipping sauce). Our personal favorite is the zaru udon (perfect for a Hawaii's hot humid days) with a side of kakiage (thinly diced vegetables and tempura) and a soft boiled egg.

While you're waiting in line to pick your udon, musubi and tempura, you can get a taste for how your food is made. As entertaining as it is delicious, at Marukame you can watch the chefs roll out your udon noodles, fry tempura and roll musubi with deft hands as you work up your appetite. Grab a tray and get it udon!


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2) 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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3) 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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4) Duke's Waikiki

Duke out the long lines of O‘ahu diners and you'll find yourself handsomely rewarded with a seat at the award-winning Duke's Waikiki. This landmark Waikiki restaurant has been serving guests from around the world for dozens of years, evoking redolent reminders of Hawai‘i's brilliant sunsets, Waikiki Beach's gentle waves, swaying palm trees and healthy helpings of Duke's equally unforgettable Hula Pie.

Make a reservation early and kick off your slippers (flip flops) with a drink or two and a few pupus (appetizers) at the Barefoot Bar. Their lineup of live entertainment and parade of patrons makes it the perfect place to people watch, while digging into your dinner of fresh fish and their miles-long salad bar (if you're craving something on the lighter side).

And make sure to save room at the end for Duke's Waikiki's world-famous Kimo's Original Hula Pie (this pie-mazing dessert is one which travelers still wax poetic about years later). Whipped up with macadamia nut ice cream on a cookie crust with fudge, whipped cream and chopped macadamia nut to top it off, it's no wonder that Duke's serves up dozens of these pies daily. We call it our own little slice of Hawai‘i dessert heaven.


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5) Mai Tai Bar

Considered "my bar" by many kama‘aina (locals) the Mai Tai Bar at Ala Moana Center's Ho‘okipa Terrace is an award-winning happy hour hot spot. If you're looking for a happening hangout to rub shoulders with the local crowd, head on over to the Mai Tai Bar after 9 p.m. where the pitchers of beer will be flowing and the bar's lanai (patio area) will be pulsing with shorts, tank top and slipper clad residents looking to let loose.

Thanks to Ala Moana Center's plentiful parking, the Mai Tai Bar (just across from California Pizza Kitchen and Bubba Gump's) is almost always packed. Grab a group of friends to enjoy their $5 appetizers, like firecracker shrimp and onion rings, and $9 beer pitchers. With two happy hours daily (early and late) it's a dead tie on the best time to grab a mai tai.

At night, the Mai Tai Bar takes it up a notch, so if you're sensitive to sound, this isn't the place for you. Here, local groups jam away to island favorites, so throw on your favorite dress or aloha shirt, let down your hair and get ready to skank and skip your way over to the dance floor.


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6) Shirokiya

If you're looking for a taste of Japan in the islands, dip into Shirokiya at Ala Moana Center for a quick bite and beer. The perfect layover after a long day strolling through the world's largest outdoor shopping center, rest your bags (and weary feet!) in the cool comfort of their newly remodeled Yataimura food court. The eatery is a popular meeting place for kama‘aina getting together with friends and coworkers after a day at work and for visitors looking to peck and pick from Shirokiya's selection of freshly made ramen and bento.

Breaking the preconception that mall dining can be pricey, Shirokiya's Yataimura festive beer garden pours out pitchers on special from 5:30 - 10 p.m. We all cheer for $1 draft beer! For those looking for something a little more substantial for lunch or dinner, Shirokiya's rotating ramen vendors feature new noodles every two weeks. We recommend going with a group of friends and dining "family style." Nothing completes a day of retail therapy than sharing a selection from sushi to soba over an ice-cold pitcher of beer.

And once you've finished, you can work off your meal exercising your wallet exploring Shirokiya's selection of Japanese products. Their Sanrio collection - which include everything from stationary and pens to candies and bags - make the perfect gift for your niece or still-young-at-heart friends back home!


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7) Wasabi Bistro

Just a stone's throw from the Waikiki Parc, Wasabi Bistro has made itself at home in the heartbreakingly charming Breakers Hotel. The hotel's indoor-outdoor oasis is at once contemporary, casual and cool, blocking out the loud throngs bustling just outside its doors for the perfect dining escape.

Route your way to this retro restaurant to partake in sushi, sake and some serious teishoku specialties (like chicken katsu, hamburger steak and shrimp tempura). If you're still full from lunch you can dabble in Wasabi Bistro's appetizers (starting at about $5-$7) and share a sushi set, like their signature Wasabi Sushi Roll Platter. Can you say "oishi?"

A popular escape for local Waikiki workers, Wasabi Bistro is a nice escape from the traditional lunch routine. We love treating ourselves to their very reasonable daily lunch special whenever we can take a longer-than-average lunch break.


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8) Ramen Nakamura

When the Hawaiian Islands experiences a rainy day nothing hits the spot quite like a steaming bowl of Ramen Nakamura's noodles. And because they're conveniently located along Kalakaua Avenue you don't have to go far for a satisfying meal that will warm you up without burning a hole in your wallet.

If you're looking for something filling, Ramen Nakamura is known for their ox tail ramen, which is numero uno on Waikiki Parc's general manager, Julie A's list of favorite noodles. We like to order the full combo set, which at $18.99 may seem a little pricey but includes a bowl of oxtail ramen, small plate of fried rice and three pieces of gyoza.

While you're slurping up your meal you can scan through Ramen Nakamura's walls lined with autographed boards. And because they are open till 11:30 p.m. it's the perfect way to end the evening after night club or bar hopping through Waikiki.


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9) Sikdorak

Sick of traditional Korean? Those who love yakiniku can't stop yakking about Sikdorak, a yakiniku spot as hot as the grills you cook your food on.

Here, your meat is cooked to perfection. Why? Because you've cooked it! Take control of the grill (and quiet complaints from your significant other that you haven't cooked for them recently!) by serving up perfect, sizzling pieces of their favorite meat. If you're with a large group graze from Sikdorak's meaty selection, which includes tongue, barbeque chicken, short ribs, rib eye, brisket, tripe and spicy pork.

For less than $20 you can pork out on all the meat you can eat, plus your favorite Korean sides. Carry in a case of your favorite cold brew or bubbles (did we mention it's BYOB?) and you've got the perfect place to chill out. The best part is it doesn't even matter what time of day your craving yakiniku. Sikdorak is open 24 hours a day to meet your meat munchies.

A word of advice? This isn't your upscale yakiniku restaurant. Dress down in jeans and a tank. Not only do the grills heat this place up but your clothes will be soaked in Sikdorak's deliciously smoky essence.

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10) Sushi ii

For sushi connoisseurs looking for some of the freshest sushi and a fin-tastic selection of fish, swim over to Sushi ii. Tucked away in the old Samsung Plaza less than a block from Ala Moana Center, Sushi ii (pronounced ee, ii translates "good" in Japanese) serves up sushi that more than lives up to its name.

Owned and managed by local boy Garrett Wong who has some serious sushi street cred, here you'll find a selection of fish that will have you in a raw-food rapture. Enjoy everything from traditional favorites like maguro (tuna) and sake (salmon) to unique fish finds like live baby abalone - still wriggling in the dish - fresh moi, grilled anago (freshwater eel) and more.

If you're looking for a true fish feast order the omakase, which is considered by many the only real way to splash out. The chef's choice, omakase translates in Japanese to "I'll leave it to you," and starts at $60 for 10 pieces. Trust us, after a meal here you'll be happier than a clam.

Oh, and don't forget to tell Garrett we sent you.


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11) Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin

If you're craving katsu treat yourself to an authentic Japanese meal at Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin. Conceivably the best katsu in Hawai‘i, here even the pricey menu can't keep away pork-loving locals and tourists who continue to come in crowds.

With the taste and feel of a family-owned restaurant, this Tokyo-based restaurant chain offers a thoughtful menu with different takes on tonkatsu (a Japanese style fried pork cutlet). Here everything is steeped in quality, from the rice, which is cooked to the perfect consistency with Bincho charcoal and purified water, to the fresh pork and rich sauces. And no matter which pork you pick - whether its it's the thick cut pork loin katsu, katsu curry, katsu don or katsu loco moco - you'll squeal with delight at the crispy breading and mouth-wateringly most meat middle.

Reservations here are recommended. The compact restaurant can pack a two-hour wait on weekends. Plus, you'll want to arrive early for a chance to dig your snout (errr mouth) into their Kurobuta pork loin katsu. Made with premium-grade pork from Canada, Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin only makes 25 servings of this dish each day. When we can get our hoofs on it we're in hog heaven!


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12) Goofy Cafe + Dine

We don't goof around when it comes to the most important meal of the day. If you're serious about breakfast, fuel up at Goofy Café & Dine in Waikiki, which brings a local twist to the standard breakfast menu. And it's a menu you can enjoy any time of day since Goofy's serves breakfast from 7 a.m. - 11 p.m. daily!

While the name "Goofy" may have you channeling the popular Disney character, the café is actually named after the "goofy" foot surfing stance. And its location, just off Ala Moana Boulevard near Kobe Steak House, means that it's close to many popular south shore surf spots so it's easy to surf on in after catching a few waves.

Here guests can dine al fresco on fare focused on "local first organic whenever possible." In fact, their menu takes local one step farther, featuring a traceability report so that guests can see where their breakfast comes from. Many customer favorites like the Big Island Honey French Toast, Big Island Beef Loco Moco and Goofy's French Toast, all feature local ingredients.

Because Goofy Café doesn't have parking it's best to make the 15-minute stroll from the Waikiki Parc or hele over to the harbor for street parking. And since diners have gone, well, goofy for Goofy Café, prepare to wait for a table (which is also the perfect excuse for a morning stroll along the beach).


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