Food Finds: Downtown

1) Char Hung Sut

For steamed buns you can grab on the run, make a pit stop at Char Hung Sut, the perfect place to eat manapua literally etched into Chinatown's concrete jungle.

Step inside this little hole-in-the-wall and you'll find dozens of darling old ladies churning out perfectly wrapped dumplings and boxing buns faster than you can say "one dozen manapua to go." The perfect finger food for a picnic at the beach, a few mouth-watering manapua (Hawai‘i's rendition of char siu bao), at least a dozen savory pork hash and a taro or rice cake - or two -- will take your dining experience over the half moon. If you like your dim sum on the spicier side, don't forget to request a few cups of hot mustard -- these run $.05 each but are the perfect pork hash complement.

And with prices ranging from $0.65 to $1.25 for a manapua, a visit to this Honolulu hot spot won't burn through your wallet either.


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2) HASR Wine Co. and Bistro

After a long day exploring O‘ahu, decant in Downtown Honolulu at HASR Wine Co. and Bistro, a quaint courtyard eatery and wine shop bubbling over with some of the best wines from around the world and an aromatic French-inspired menu.

Run by Terry and Mike Kakazu, HASR stands for Highly Allocated (difficult-to-find wines) Spoiled Rotten (referring to Kakazu being able to acquire the wines). From 5 p.m. - 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday HASR Wine Co. pours over with complimentary wine tastings, providing the perfect opportunity to sample their vast selection of California wines before grabbing a bottle (or two) to enjoy over dinner.

And it's not a zin - err, sin - to sip and save! If you buy a bottle from HASR Wine Co. the restaurant will uncork it without their typical $15 bottle charge. That way you'll be able to pair your favorite Napa chardonnay with executive chef Rodney Uyehara's salmon tartar appetizer or ciopinno (our mouths are watering just thinking about it). And because you're on vacation, make it a point to take advantage of HASR Bistro's pau hana (happy hour) specials from 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. with live entertainment and open-air seating in the courtyard.


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3) Lucky Belly

In Hawai‘i ramen isn't something you slurp only when it's pouring rain and 60 degrees out (yes, island natives have a skewed perception on what makes for cold weather). If you're someone who has a deep appreciation for noodles - Lucky Belly is the place to be. Trust us, your belly will thank you.

For those who remember Mini Garden in Chinatown, new owners and Honolulu natives Dusty Grable and Jesse Cruz have transformed the dated space into a hip new place to grab a piping hot bowl of ramen, with a glass of sake or your favorite whiskey. Amongst the most popular items on this O‘ahu restaurant's very edited menu -- right now there are just a little over a dozen options to choose from -- are the Belly Bowl (which includes belly, smoked bacon and Kurobuta sausage) and their Pork Belly Bao (pork belly sandwiched between a super soft bao bun with sake hoisin and pickled cucumbers).

Because the tiny eatery can squeeze in only 50 customers at a time, you might want to put your name in and then take a stroll down the street to Restaurant Epic or JJ Dolans for a drink or two while you wait for a table to free up.


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4) Cafe Julia

Stretching out inside Downtown Honolulu's YWCA, Café Julia is working out Hawai‘i's dining scene with international cuisine that caters to every palate. The simple-yet-chic outdoor dining experience will have you flexing your stomach muscles as you enjoy local and popular menu options from loco moco to osso buco.

New, award-winning chef Almar Arcano - formerly of Hy's Steakhouse - just joined the Café Julia team in April 2013 and is looking to add muscle to the menu with options such as lobster bisque, chowder and escargot, in addition to current favorites such as chicken marsala and "The Emerson" an unconventional salad topped with corn, balsamic vinegar and potato chips.

And good news for those looking for a late afternoon place to sip and siesta. Café Julia has brought back their popular pau hana (happy hour) from 4 - 6 p.m. on Sundays and Wednesday through Friday.



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5) Mei Sum

No matter what time of day (or week) you're craving it Mei Sum in O‘ahu's Chinatown district is well known for dishing up small plates of delectable dim sum all day long. Don't know what to pick from their overwhelming menu? We're over-soyed by Mei Sum's chicken wings, scallop deep fried taro and secret, off-the-menu garlic eggplant.

For more than 10 years Mei Sum has been rolling out carts of Hong Kong-style dim sum to throngs of Honolulu residents. And this dim sum delicatessen makes ordering as simple as child's play with a menu chock full of photos.

In addition to traditional dim sum dishes, if you're dining family style you can also order entrees and Mei Sum's magnificent selection of noodle and rice dishes. And while the plates might be small, so are the prices. Dim sum dishes range from $2-3 (ish), which means you'd have to be dim not to figure out your bill's very low sum.


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6) Blue Tree Cafe

If you're looking for something on the lighter side, branch out and sip on something from Blue Tree Café. Though this Downtown O‘ahu café has only been open a few months it's regularly frequented by kama‘aina (local residents) for their made-to-order beverages, acai bowls and fresh pastries.

Sandwiched between Doraku and Chai's Bistro along Kapiolani Avenue this healthy-AND-delicious smoothie shop is making ice-cold drinks a hot commodity. Waikiki Parc's Julie A. likes to mix things up with their smoothies like Blue Tree Café's popular Very Verde (a mix of kale, avocado, spinach, banana, coconut water, hemp seed, chia seed and apples).

A central spot to swing by after an event at the Neal Blaisdell Center or a morning shopping at Ward Centers, the Aoki family - which also owns Doraku - is bringing a new meaning to fresh with build-your-own juices as well as made-in-house almond milk and fresh pastries including donuts and a selection of scones.

If you have time to sit back and sip your beverage - and can snag a seat - you'll want to find parking in the Pacifica parking structure or Blue Tree Café's lot across the street.


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7) The Pig and the Lady

Whenever we feel like pigging out on Vietnamese comfort food, our snout always leads us to one place - The Pig and the Lady. And now that the farmer's market fave has popped up a permanent restaurant in Chinatown at the Pacific Gateway Center it's hard to be ladylike while pigging out on our personal favorites like their banh mi and soups.

After years on the farmer's market circuit, Chef Andrew Le (the pig) and his mother, Loan Le (the lady), have cooked up a reputation for their eclectic menu of whimsical and tasty dishes inspired by their cultural heritage. The menu pays homage to the local food movement with options like the pho French dip banh mi (a banh-na-nas medley of roasted brisket, chimichurri and pho au jus) and namesake P&L pho (a rich bowl of smoked baco, brisket, marinated soft-boiled egg and green onion).

Hey, if Daniel Dae Kim is a fan, so are we (it's seriously that pho-nomenal!). The Pig and the Lady is currently open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, with a special brunch menu available on Saturdays.


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8) Highway Inn

When the Hawaiian-food hunger pangs strike, zip on over to Highway Inn. With a new, more convenient location in Kaka‘ako the more-than-60-year-old West-side institution is making it even easier to poi-k out on ohana-sized plates of naau stew.

At Highway Inn, buckle up and prepare to enjoy a meal that perfectly captures Hawai‘i's love for food and aloha. We always gas it over to Highway Inn for helpings of lau lau, pipikaula, butterfish collar, fried akule and their combo plates. But if you can hit the road earlier for breakfast or lunch, we go loco for their smokin' moco with a side order of poi pancakes and haupia sauce.

And even though Highway Inn puts the wow in their luau, try to save room for dessert. Their pastry chef - a celebrity in his own right - whips up some mean baked goods.

The original Highway Inn established by Seiichi and Sachiko Toguchi is still parked along Farrington Highway and now run by their great grandchildren.


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9) JJ Dolan's

Picking the best pizza spot isn't always as easy as pie. But for Honolulu natives, J.J. Dolans is a go-to for savory handcrafted slices paired with perfectly poured pints.

After a long day, J.J. Dolans is often abuzz with Downtown business professionals who come to kick back and relax in the casual and cozy atmosphere that is typical of Irish pubs. To go with your favorite brew or hand-poured beverage, the bar offers a selection of appetizers, but their pies are what keep guests coming back for amore.

Here, the pizza menu is filled with conventional pies - like the Margherita and Classic Pepperoni - as well as signature slices like their Scampi Pie, swimming in bay shrimp, mushrooms and scampi sauce. Can't decide? Go off the menu and order a half and half pizza or Build Your Own Bar Pie, which includes traditional pizza toppings as well as local favorites like Portuguese Sausage and Spam. So grab a seat lads and lasses and kick up your clogs for a quaint and cozy Chinatown experience.



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10) Kamehameha Bakery

"Donut" miss a visit to this iconic bakery, well loved by locals and visitors alike. Their team arrives in the wee hours of the morning to whip up fresh, piping hot batching of malasadas, donuts, and other delicious baked goods by the time they open at 2 a.m. If you're heading to a family gathering or simply looking for a snack en route to your next adventure, pop in for a baker's dozen of assorted treats. They're perfect for munching on in the car - just make sure to grab a few napkins before you go!

If you've been to Kamehameha Bakery before, you need to know that they've closed down their old shop on North School Street and are cooking up at new and larger location at City Square Shopping Center on Kalani Street. No longer a little hole-in-the-wall, the new shop has more parking and room to check out their super selection.

While it might be a new location, the old school charm of Kamehameha Bakery remains. Here, patrons are greeted with warm, friendly service and childhood favorites like traditional strawberry, poi, and glazed donuts. Grab a number and don't desert before you've grabbed us some dessert!

Kamehameha Bakery is open during the week from 2 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from 3 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends.


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11) Maguro Brothers

Poke around Kekaulike Market in Chinatown, and you'll find possibly the best poke bowl you've ever had. Maguro Brothers serves fresh and flavorful poke bowls daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Though there are places to sit in the market, it can get quite busy so be prepared to grab your bowl to go as you to enjoy picnicking at the beach or in the car en route to a fresh adventure!

Owned and run by brothers Junchiro and Ryojiro Tsuchiya, Maguro Brothers opened in late 2014 but already has locals hooked on their super fresh and tasty seafood options. Fishmongers at heart, the Tsuchiya's still spend their mornings hand picking their fish at the local fish auction, ensuring that each piece of poke and every plate lunch is up to their standard.

While the space and menu may be small, they have locals coming back again and again for their colorful plates of sashimi and tasty poke bowls. For those not peckish for poke, they also offer an assortment of sandwiches, cooked rice plates and rolls. And with prices starting at $5.95 for a small poke bowl and $7.75 for the maguro donburi, you'll be as bowled over by the affordable prices as you are by the taste. 



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12) Scratch Kitchen and Bake Shop

Scratch that itch for a delicious brunch with a visit to Scratch Kitchen and Bake Shop. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., the décor may seem simple but with a menu offering dishes like chilaquiles and cider braised pork belly & apple pasta, the food is far from average.

Before etching his name into O'ahu's breakfast scene, chef and owner Brian Chan previously made his mark at Restaurant Epic.  But at Scratch, Chan has left a lot of his Asian influences behind, trading in for Southern and Latin flavors and incorporating them into everything from hot sandwiches to hearty pancakes.

As you head out, grab something hot from the bakeshop, which features three to four specials daily including mouthwatering treats like Mexican chocolate brownies, cookies and the flakiest turnovers we've ever had. They make the perfect snack to enjoy in your car or back in your room after a long day.

Our tip? Remember to set your alarm. You'll want to arrive early to beat the rash of people - typically the Downtown business crowd during the week and laidback locals on the weekend - who can usually be found outside. But we promise, their "milk and cereal" pancakes are worth milking that wait. 



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13) Livestock Tavern

Like a scene straight out of a New York City tap house, Livestock Tavern is tearing up Honolulu's tavern scene. The sister restaurant to ramen rage, Lucky Belly (located just across the street) Livestock Tavern offers a regularly rotating menu of dishes from pork belly and prime rib to burgers and burrata.

If you're waiting your turn to be seated, moo-ve over to the bar. A tavern after all, is a modern-day alcohol den and Livestock Tavern lives up to its name. Sip on seasonal concoctions as unique and special as the ambiance. Here you can flirt from citrusy cocktails, to robust bitters with a menu full of names as creative and whimsical as the ambiance. Past seasonal cocktails have taken their names from Robert Frost poems or film adaptations, like The Graduate. And in our books, Livestock Tavern is valedictorian. 

Because their menu rotates seasonally its hard to say what you'll find on any given visit. During the winter months one of our favorite dishes is their stews - so rich and hearty, we promise it will fill you up and never let you down. However popular mainstays like the burger -- featuring a house-made bun, rich gruyere and sautéed onions it's one of the best we've ever had - and robust cobb salad have us joining the herd that regularly pack the place.

Located at 49 North Hotel Street, Livestock Tavern is open for lunch from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. and dinner from 5 p.m. - 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Reservations are strongly recommended for dinner.



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14) Fete

Cooking up a seasonal menu of New American cuisine in the heart of Honolulu's Chinatown district is Fete. This fresh take on a neighborhood restaurant effortlessly blends classical culinary technique with island flavors. In fact, it's one of our favorite places to step in for a bite after an early pau hana before heading back to your Waikiki beach hotel.

With modern furniture and delicious décor, Fete is a feast for the eyes and for the palate. After moving to the islands from New York, husband and wife duo Robynne Mai'i and Chuck Bussier opened the doors to Fete in March 2016. The eatery's location - at the corner of Nuuanu Avenue and Hotel Street - sits at the epicenter of Chinatown's bustling bar district and has kept Fete a fresh hotspot for business professionals meeting for an after-work meal or 20-somethings grabbing a bite after an evening barhopping.

If you're looking for a casual lunch spot in between exploring the area's one-of-a-kind boutiques and shops, we'd recommend Fete's salads and soups - since it's the simple things we're told Chef Mai'i pays extra care. And in fact the signature Fete Salad which features field greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers and crispy onions accompanied with a special gorgonzola dressing is perfect for a humid Hawaii day. Another one of our favorites on their dinner menu is the grilled pulpo, octopus brined in red wine for an hour then finished on the grill and paired with a fingerling potato salad. Whatever you do, just don't forget to save room for a scoop of their Guava Prosecco Sorbet for dessert.

Fete is open Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. - 10 pm. and on Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

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15) The Tchin Tchin! Bar


Looking for the perfect place to un-wine after a long day of Honolulu activities? Head to Chinatown and pour into Tchin Tchin - a lounge-style loft bar serving up Mediterranean-inspired apps and a selection of more than 200 vintages. 

Tchin Tchin, or "please please" when translated in Chinese, brings a new vibe to Chinatown's bar scene, providing a more posh - and yes, pleasing - locale for local businessmen, women and visitors, looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Perched above Bar 35 and Next Door -- yes, that's the name of the bar - an unmarked door transports you up a mysterious stairwell and into a big-city metropolitan oasis featuring exposed brick walls, leather sofas, multi-tiered chandeliers and an expansive lanai (outdoor patio). Sip in and ‘please please' your taste buds with a wine list offering 2 oz, tastes, 6 oz. pours and whole bottles, as well as a series of signature cocktails, and beers as well as one of the better whiskey selections on the island.

Here, you can fill up more than just your glass. The owners of other Chinatown hotspots Lucky Belly and Livestock Tavern, have cooked up a menu of city chic dishes and small plates including unforgettable cheese and charcuterie platters perfect for sharing. Looking for something a little more filling? Let your nose lead you to an order of their famed Stinky Grilled Cheese ($10) or grab an order of the Oxtail Rillettes ($11) featuring a peppered blackberry compote and toasted crostini. You'll want to tail all your friends about it.

Pop in anytime Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. till midnight. Reservations are strongly recommended for large groups.

Photos Courtesy of The Tchin Tchin Bar.


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