Food Finds: East Oahu

1) Ono Seafood

Don't blink or you'll miss this little shop situated on the ground level of a blue apartment building along Kapahulu Avenue. Few eateries in Hawai‘i live up to their name quite like Ono Seafood - a manini (mah-nee-nee or small) mom and pop store slicing up some of the most ono (delicious) cubes of poke (poh-keh) and fresh-from-the-sea delicacies around O‘ahu.

For a quick bite on the run, nothing hits the spot and is as quintessentially "Hawai‘i" as poke - or fresh, raw, cubed fish, seasoned with either Hawaiian salt, soy sauce or other type of seasoning. We regularly crave Ono Seafood's mouthwatering $7 poke bowls (seasoned cubed raw fish over a bowl or rice), which makes for a perfect snack or light meal any time of day. The only downside of Ono Seafood is the lack of seating - there is just one bench in front of the shop, which is typically packed if you stop by mid-day.

At Ono Seafood, the poke is made to order (unlike other places which prepare the dish in advance) and invites customers to select from their choice of fresh ingredients including white and green onion, ogo (seaweed), chili pepper, Hawaiian salt, shoyu (soy sauce), sesame oil or kukui nut. Though the price (market price typically ranges around $12 a pound) may cause sticker shock to some, this is one Hawai‘i seafood dish worth every penny.


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2) Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha

The perfect spot to chill out after a day sunning and snorkeling at Hanauma (hah-nah-ooh-mah) Bay or hiking Makapu‘u Light House, Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha (HOPA) at Aina Haina Shopping Center is a must-visit to get a taste of O‘ahu's aloha spirit. If you're lucky Uncle Clay (the proprietor which the shop is named after) will be in, taking the time to share his warm-your-soul customer service which will melt your heart (and the Hawai‘i heat) with his cool cups of homemade shave ice showered with fresh, all-natural local syrups. Be prepared to wait your turn though - Uncle takes the time to speak to each and every one of his customers!

A treat as characteristically cool as it is Hawai‘i, shave ice is a dish enjoyed around the world, but has a special place in the hearts and opus (oh-poohs or stomachs) of Hawai‘i residents who have shoveled up cups of the cold dish since small kid time.

At HOPA order your shave ice (in Hawai‘i they've shaved the "d" off shaved ice) with one of their cutting-edge culinary syrups - kale, sweet potato or green tea anyone? -- made to share the aloha spirit and magic of the islands one cup at a time. To top it off throw in a scoop of Tropical Dreams ice cream, HOPA's homemade mochi, fresh pineapple or strawberry, or their special Dream Sauce -- a dressing so good we literally drool about it in our sleep.

If you can't decide, take a walk on the wild side and experiment with one of their "special creations" like the Hawaiian Superman, a concoction named for the late local performer Israel Kamakawiwoole (Braddah Iz) the original Hawaiian Superman. This super-sized dish consists of a bowl of shave ice with half strawberry, half li hing syrups, soaked with dream sauce, and topped with all-natural li hing powder and seed.


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3) Leonard's Bakery

Serving up (arguably) the best malasadas in the islands since 1952, Leonard's Bakery's storefront along Kapahulu Avenue, just outside of Waikiki, is a Honolulu staple for potlucks, family gatherings, a Saturday afternoon snack and everything in between.

Queue up behind long lines of other donut devotees and grab a dozen (or more) fresh-from-the-kitchen malasadas at a price that won't burn through your wallet. ($1 a malasada? Yes please!)

If you're a malasada newbie, malasadas are Portuguese donuts - fried dough pastry dipped in granulated sugar. When Portuguese laborers immigrated to Hawai‘i in the 1800s to work on the plantations they brought their favorite traditional treat, which became known in the islands as malasadas. Leonard's mind-blowing malasadas are generous balls of golden dough, crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

Waikiki Parc's Todd. T's favorite is the cinnamon malasada. But you can't go wrong with Leonard's original (plain sugar), or if you feel like mixing it up, grab some with fillings like custard, dobash (chocolate) or haupia (coconut). And don't forget to drop a dozen off at our house afterward.


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4) Kona Brewing Company

If you're sailing over to O‘ahu's east side, set your course for Kona Brewing Company, one of the best places to grab a cold pint (or two) after a long day surfing Sandy's or sunning at Hanauma Bay.

This dining spot has anchored itself at Koko Marina Center in Hawai‘i Kai since 2003 and offers more than 24 beers on tap in addition to its tasty menu of pupu (appetizers), piping hot pizzas and fresh fish entrees. Here, diners can drink in lush views of the Ko‘olau Mountain Range and feast their ears on live local entertainment including traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music, blues and jazz every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening.

If you're a craft beer enthusiast, you'll want to order one of Kona Brewing Company's award-winning brews to pair with your meal. Year-round beers on tap include the Longboard Island Lager, Big Wave Golden Ale and Fire Rock Pale Ale. If you're in town between March and September sample one of their seasonal brews like the Waialua Wheat -- a light, tangy beer evoking bright citrus notes with a crisp hoppy finish.


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5) Bubbies

If you're in the moo-d for something sweet, stop in to Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream and Desserts in Hawaii Kai's Koko Marina Shopping Center. Churned in the islands, this quintessentially cool ice cream parlor whips up a frenzy of creamy concoctions blended with island flair and witty names.

Cool off after a long day at Sandy's or snorkeling at Hanauma Bay with mouthwatering creations like a Total Insanity - a vanilla ice cream sandwich, sandwiched between two fudge brownies and dipped in chocolate - twice. Or top the night off with dessert and nibble on specially made mochi ice cream, which comes in unique tropical flavors like azuki bean, mango, passion fruit, sakura (cherry blossom), guava, li hing mui, lychee and more.

Open from 10 a.m. till 11 p.m. Sunday thru Thursday and till 12 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, you can satisfy your sweet tooth any day of the week. And though you may miss their University location for it's close proximity to Waikiki, you won't shed a tear over the Hawaii Kai shop's abundant parking and short lines.

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6) Karai Crab

Karai crab is taking it up a notch, reinventing Hawai‘i's seafood scene offering fresh seafood with an Asian-inspired twist. A great spot for groups, you and your school of seafood-loving friends can dip in and get your hands dirty scooping up shell after shell.

In a sea of new seafood eateries, The Willows' Karai Crab stands out with a wide selection of more than nine seafood choices and one vegetarian option. But for seasoned locals, their selection of sauces including the Karai Combo (a wave of garlic butter and Cajun sauces) and tropical habanero (a spicy swirl of Hawaii flavors) has Karai Crab swimming away with from the competition.

If you can't decide, nothing makes Waikiki Parc's Liane V. happier than a clam than Karai Crab's Karai Combo with king crab and miso sake clams. Get it with French bread, which makes the perfect vessel to dip into Karai's sea of buttery sauces.


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7) Waialae Crack Seed Store

Once an island institution, the crack seed shops that once peppered neighborhoods throughout the island are quickly going the way of the dinosaur. But if you know where to find them a few nostalgic remnants of “small kid time” remain, like Waialae Crack Seed Store, which has been scooping up pounds of sweet, spicy, salty and sour treats for decades.

The term “crack seed” comes from the dehydrated and preserved fruits that can be found in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavors. Lined with glass jars overflowing with favorites from li hing mui (a sweet and salty dried plum candy) and mochi crunch (a Japanese cracker also known as kakimochi) to dried squid and cuttlefish, the Waialae Crack Seed Store transports the senses to a simpler time. Can’t figure out what to get? Be sure to ask for a sample (or two) from longtime owner Mr. Young, who is always happy to make sure you’re mui happy with your li hing.


If you’re looking to cool off, nothing puts the icing on a hot day like an “old school” icee. In fact, this shop whips up Waikiki Parc’s Todd. T’s favorite icy treat -- li hing mui vanilla icee – which features a scoop of wet li hing mui powder sandwiched between your favorite icee flavor!

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8) Agu Ramen

If you ask around, Agu Ramen is sure to boil to the top with rah-mazing reviews. This ramen hot spot has distinguished themselves from other O‘ahu noodle shops with their specialty soups and thin, Fukuoka-style noodles.

Inside, Agu's dramatic and fiery design features red accents and dark wood, which pairs perfectly with their standout spicy broth. Trust us, when they say spicy they mean spicy. Sweat on your brow, burning mouth spicy. They invite guests to choose the spiciness level from one to five (each level is an additional teaspoon of chili pepper). We recommend starting with level two - even level one can pique a sensitive palate.

If you can't decide from among the bevy of broths we promise you'll be bowled over by their Tonkotsu ramen, a soup prepared by boiling pork bones for 18 hours. And don't be embarrassed to pork out on their chashu - the premium-grade pork from Okinawa for which Agu Ramen is named. They're open till midnight on Fridays and Saturdays so after a long night on the town, their soupy, starchy bowls hit the spot! Here, you'll enjoy a meal that's good to the last drop.

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9) Koko Head Cafe

One of the state's top chefs, quite literally is Leeanne Wong, alumnus of the popular BRAVO tv show, Top Chef. And her new restaurant, tucked into the space recently occupied by 12th Avenue Grill, brings a sunny twist to your beloved breakfast faves.

Playing its part in Kaimuki's renaissance, Koko Head Café is the perfect neighborhood breakfast spot - only kicked up a notch. Here you'll get to try the dishes that taste and sound as though they've been dreamt up from a breakfast Quickfire challenge. Create a dish that combines breakfast and dessert? Wong has whipped up a French toast, rolled in cornflakes and served with a frosted flake gelato and sugared bacon. Show us a breakfast dumpling. Koko Head has a breakfast dumpling, which is a unique wrap on the traditional Korean mandu.

The sunny, seaside inspired décor is a great place to gather with friends for weekend brunch or duck in post-morning surf session. Just make sure to arrive early - particularly on the weekends when kama‘aina (local residents) swarm the joint - and pack quarters to pay the parking meters. We'd hate to have you pack your knives and go home without trying this place!


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10) Tamura's Fine Wine & Liquors

Peckish for poke? Join the schools of locals who are swimming over to Tamura's. While this seasoned shop is perhaps best known by kama‘aina for their affordably priced alcohol assortment, they're also bowling over shoppers with their fresh bowls - overflowing with popular toppings from poke to pipikaula.

Poke newbies may think it sounds fishy but for a quick bite on the run nothing is as quintessentially "Hawai‘i" as poke (poh-keh) - or fresh, raw, cubed fish, seasoned with either Hawaiian salt, soy sauce or other type of seasoning. What sets Tamura's apart from other poke places is that their options splash out from the norm. Here in addition to a selection of poke you can enhance your bowl with other treats like tempura, pipikaula, sea asparagus and kalua pig. In fact, your friends and family may think you've cracked up but we recommend adding some extra mini arare (rice cracker balls) to your bowl for the perfect salty crunch.

If you're en route to or from a day exploring O‘ahu, roll into one of Tamura's island-wide locations in Wahiawa, Hauula, Kapolei, Kaimuki, Aiea, or Kailua. It's the perfect place to bag a bottle of your favorite beverage to enjoy back in the room and scoop up a bowl of pipikaula (Hawai‘i's version of beef jerkey pronounced pee-pee-kow-lah) and poke. Just be sure to break open your bowl quickly - poke needs to be refrigerated and can go bad quickly in the Hawaiian heat.


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11) Via Gelato

Do you scream for ice cream? If so, get on over to Via Gelato, a little shop nestled in up-and-coming Kaimuki just off Wai‘alae Avenue. Here, they serve up a dozen options daily, featuring a sweet rotation of popular and seasonal flavors highlighting local ingredients.

This ice cream of the crop is the brainchild of local girl, Melissa Bow who initially started Via Gelato as a food truck when she returned to Hawai‘i after traveling to Italy. Bow has allowed her Hawai‘i upbringing to inspire some of the best flavors for her artisanal gelato including liliko‘i lemonade, macadamia nut and kalo haupia. Via Gelato also makes more "traditional" flavors like vanilla bean, strawberry and cookies and cream and offers espresso and sandwiches for those looking for something a little more substantial.

Via Gelato is closed Mondays but open Sundays and Tuesday-Thursday from 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. But if you want to scoop up a scoop of their popular Frosted Flakes flavor plan to arrive early - they have been known to sell out by late afternoon!


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12) Cafe Kaila

Before you spend the day exploring the island, bring your bunch for brunch at Café Kaila! Here, a simple menu belies dishes rich with fresh ingredients and oozing with aloha.

If you can't decide, stick with their starchy options like the Belgian waffles topped with fresh fruits or puffy pancakes, dusted in powdered sugar and topped with caramelized bananas or apples. And for late risers, they offer light and simple lunch entrees including soups, salads, pastas and paninis in addition to their bursting selection of breakfast options.

Just be prepared to park yourself here for up to an hour before being seated - especially on weekends. If you're lucky you'll be treated to samples of hot-off-the-griddle Belgian waffles to help sate your hunger as you wait to put in your order of scrambles and other breakfast specialties.

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13) Kaimuki Superette

Taking a fresh twist on the traditional deli, Kaimuki Superette brings local chef, Ed Kenney's take on fresh and local ingredients to O'ahu's east side. Also the owner of the celebrated Town restaurant (located just across the street), Kenney infuses products from local farmers and ranchers into an inspired lunch and dinner menu full of sandwiches and salads.

Putting the delicious in deli are options like the South Shore He'e roll, a buttery mix of creamy white sauce, octopus, and celery served in a soft roll, perfectly toasted for a light crunch or their open-face porchetta sandwich. For just $4 you can supersize your meal and add two sides to your sandwich, picking from fresh and creative options like roasted root, cumin and smoked yogurt salad, or kim chee stuffed cucumber.

Here, you may not get your laundry washed, dried and folded, but you'll enjoy a full-service restaurant, set amidst retro, hip décor. Or if you're looking for a super snack on the go, Kaimuki Superette's offers a selection of prepared options like their watermelon rind kim chee or olive oil cake with local fruit compote.


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14) Le Bistro

Looking for a romantic night on the town? A favorite standby amongst locals is Le Bistro, a romantic and classic French-inspired restaurant hidden in peaceful Niu Valley. Well worth the drive out of Waikiki, here you'll enjoy popular dishes like the exceptional escargot, delightful duck and mushrooms and luscious lamb chops glazed with vinegar. Le delicioso!

Open for dinner Wednesday through Monday from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Le Bistro is le hidden in an unassuming strip mall. But what it lacks on the outside, it makes up for on the inside, with twinkly lights and a cozy, ambiance, straight out of a French inn.

The perfect place to go for your last romantic meal in Honolulu, here you'll splurge on artfully prepared dishes. And in keeping with the theme you'll want to start with a bowl of their French onion soup. We just know you'll j'adore it.


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15) Imanas Tei

Your belly will be saying "arigato" (thank you) after a meal at this happening Japanese watering hole. A hidden gem, tucked away in the University area, Imanas Tei has been quietly serving up sushi and authentic Japanese dishes for years. If you're in the mood for sashimi and small plates, this is the izakaya for you.

Only open for dinner, Imanas Tei is where the Japanese go to get their Japanese food fixing. From misoyaki butterfish, to platters of super-fresh sashimi, Imanas Tei delivers of a bouquet of favorites that caters to every palate. If you're not in the mood to go raw, their nabemono is another favorite. Perfect for cooler nights, you'll cherish every bite of their chanko nabe - one of the most popular items on their menu - which arrives at the table raw and is cooked in the hot pot in front of you. The best part? Your server will expertly layer all the items into the boiling water so that each bite cooks perfectly from the bottom up.

Located just off King Street, it may be hard to spot this hole-in-the-wall. And while free parking is available in front, the restaurant shares a little parking lot, so spaces tend to be rarer than the raw fish inside. We recommend parking in the building next door behind Puck's Alley. Not only is it open to the public after 5 p.m., but if you sneak in for a late dinner, the parking attendant tends to sneak out early. In Japanese they call it parking "muryou desu," or free of charge. 



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16) Andy's Sandwiches & Smoothies

Island residents Andy and Norma Rodriguez have been keeping things fresh at their Manoa sandwich shop since 1977. Andy's Sandwiches & Smoothies is a beloved part of the neighborhood, serving comfort food that tastes every bit of the aloha and love put into it.

Here, daily specials include lasagna, tofu casserole, and curry. Breakfast options like omelets and pancakes are served between 7 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. But their name says it all - Andy's is known for their freshly made sandwiches. Perfect for picking up for a picnic or grabbing to enjoy back at your room, favorites include their hot pastrami, hot turkey mushroom and anything with the smoked ahi spread.

On your way out, pick up some pastries for desert or trail mix to snack on. Andy's is open daily from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., except Saturdays when they close up shop for the day.




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17) Mana Bu's

If you find rice balls bu-tiful then Mana Bu's on South King Street, is heaven. At Mana Bu's they hand craft musubi, using high-quality rice and delicious, fresh ingredients.

Also known as "o-musubi" in Japan, the popular rice ball is also un-bu-leivably popular in Hawai‘i. Each morning Mana Bu's has a line of hungry customers going out the door for their fresh musubi, which often run out well before the shop closes up at 1 p.m.  

Mana Bu's sticks to a strict timetable when it comes to musubi. They stock 12 different types of musubi when they first open at 6:30 a.m., and add four options at 7 a.m. If you want the full selection, roll on over at 7:30 a.m. to check out their offering of 35 different musubi.

Owners Manabu and Fumiyo Asaoka are well known for their musubi which feature different types of rice packed with fillings like ume, baked salmon, teri-spam, unagi and more. Their mana-ficent menu also features vegetable okazu - like broccoli salad, shoyu edamame and Japanese egg cake - and healthy desserts, with favorites including whole fresh strawberry mochi, custard pudding and cold zenzai with mochi. It's all so oishii.  



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18) Diamond Head Grill

The grill goes gourmet with a fresh take on local plate lunches at Diamond Head Market & Grill. Fire up the engine and head on over for hot dishes and fresh pastries, including everything from deli sandwiches and fried rice to their signature scones and sheet cake. It's a foodie gem that will have you coming back again and again.

Located on Monsarrat Avenue just outside of Waikiki, Diamond Head Market & Grill offers a to-die-for selection of your favorite local dishes at affordable prices. With a resume that includes the Governor's mansion, Chef Kelvin Ro knows a thing or two about how to cook up haute hot cuisine. And it shows in his plate lunch classics like the char siu pork, Portobello mushroom burger, and tangy Korean barbecue chicken - a signature dish paired with fried won tons and a side of kim chi.

Early birds can worm their way over for Diamond Head Market & Grill's award-winning breakfast served Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. - 11 a.m. Our faves include their fruit pancakes (choose from banana, coconut, pineapple, mac nut or blueberry), loco moco and ahi & eggs. 



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19) JJ Bistro & French Pastry

For a meal you'll j'adore, look no further than JJ Bistro & French Pastry. Cradled in cozy Kaimuki, this sweet bakery and cafe offers a unique fusion of cuisine and cakes to satisfy any craving.  

Head chef and owner Praseuth (JJ) Luangkhot is known for whipping up a creative menu that sculpts ingredients and paints flavors. A family owned business, you'll see JJ's children helping behind the counter and his lovely wife taking orders and serving up inspired French and Laotian dishes.

Uncork after a long day with your favorite bottle (it's BYOB!) paired with popular dishes like JJ Bistro's Fisherman's Pot Pie, Seafood Brioche, and Lobster Pad Thai. Or if you're feeling peckish opt for the four-course special, which serves up appetizer, entrée and dessert choices that are sure to please.  

But whatever you do, save room for dessert! We promise you'll oui-lly love the selection of pastries, fresh from the case, which includes a selection of bright fruit tarts, luscious tiramisu, and mouth-watering cheesecakes. And for any chocoholic, don't leave without an order of JJ Bistro's infamous Chocolate Pyramid. It truly is a wonder of the dessert world. 



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20) Bogart’s Café

Start your day off on the right foot at the award-winning Bogart’s Café and Espresso Bar. Originally an ice cream and shave ice parlor, this beaming little bistro scrambles up delicious breakfast and lunch selections all day long.

Rise and shine with a warm cup of steamy espresso, refreshing bowl of Acai -- prepared with only the freshest, seasonal fruit -- or reward yourself with their prize-winning breakfast creation, Bogart’s famous Breakfast Bagel. Prepared with a warm, toasted bagel of your choice, stacked with spinach, cheese, tomato and fluffy eggs, it has been named by Honolulu Magazine as the “Best Breakfast Bagel” in Honolulu.

Named after a pet Labrador Retriever, Bogart’s has become a well-recognized breakfast café and helps everyone from local residents to visitors put a shine in their morning. This sunny shop is open from 6 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. during the week and from 6 a.m. – 6 p.m. on weekends. It is conveniently located down the road from the world famous Diamond Head Crater – making it a perfect spot to walk into after a morning hike.

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21) The Nook Neighborhood Bistro

Tucked away in a little corner off of University Avenue, The Nook Neighborhood Bistro is one of the island's newest cafés to hit town. Peek in and you'll discover a quaint escape, celebrated by locals for its delicious dishes spotlighting fresh and local ingredients.

For those who crave their favorite breakfast dishes at all hours of the day, The Nook Neighborhood Bistro serves up perfect brunch options and cocktails all day long. They are known for scrambling up a new take on traditional dishes like the Kale Benedict which features a poached egg and sautéed kale stacked upon an English muffin and topped off with hollandaise. Or their not-so-classic dish, Mochiko Chicken and Waffles, featuring a local favorite, mochiko chicken paired with mochi waffles and bacon maple syrup.

While known for their sunnier breakfast options, The Nook recently launched dinner service. For starters, it's not corny to start with their Polenta Fries, which come with a spicy garlic Sriracha aioli. If you love pasta, we'd recommend going with their pillowy gnocchi or homemade pasta - both of which are a big plus in our books. 

Looking for something open late? The Nook has the corner market on this too, with a late night happy hour from 8:30 p.m. - 10 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and from 8:30 p.m. - 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Drinks start at $5 and also feature grinds like their Pastalone Nachos ($7) with plaintain chips and spicy Big Island beef or their Garlic Ahi Pasta ($10) with house-made linguine, chilies, garlic and shoyu.



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22) Central Bakery

Something new is rising out of Kahala. Central Bakery is one of the hottest new restaurants for diners noodling for delicious Italian cuisine. Celebrated for their Japanese flair incorporated into unique French-style dishes, you'll want to add this to your itinerary for a simple dinner date or relaxed meal with friends and family.

Central Bakery is known for buttering guests up with their selection of complimentary house breads accompanied with your choice of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, butter, cracked black pepper and salt. You'll have to work hard to not fill yourself before your choice of entrée arrives, especially with options like the Le Japan -- salmon, avocado, ham, lettuce and boiled egg stacked upon Japanese style white loaf bread - and the Genovese, an Italian style pasta dish served with grilled scallops and soaked in a basil sauce.  

Though its name may imply a well, central, location Central Bakery is a bit off the beaten path. Tucked away behind Kahala Mall, if you get lost just track down a friendly local and ask them to point you in the direction of Olive Tree Café, which is next door. Central Bakery is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily.

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