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) Sura Hawaii

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

What truly sets Sura 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, Sura 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. Sura 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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12) Taiyo Ramen

It won't take long to noodle out why locals love Taiyo Ramen. The shop's large portions and reasonable prices keep island residents and visitors alike slurping back again and again for more than 15 years.

Located in a tiny shopping plaza adjacent to Ala Moana Center along PIikoi Street, Taiyo Ramen has consistently been dishing out sumo-sized servings of Japanese-style ramen. And no matter your craving, this shop is sure to please, offering a menu with everything from traditional ramen and zaru soba to seafood udon and cold noodles. Not wanting to nosh on noodles? You'll be happy to pig out on rice dishes like pork fried rice, chicken katsu curry or shrimp fried rice.

If you're looking for something simple and family friendly you'll be bowled over by Taiyo's convenient location and hearty dishes. And after a long day of shopping or chilling out at the beach, Taiyo Ramen is open late, providing a great place to warm up and fill up without having to pay up.


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13) Chun Wah Kam

Wanna manapua? Make like a bun and roll on over to Chun Wah Kam, a family-run business which has been serving fresh and affordable local-style Chinese food since 1942. A popular pit stop for plate lunch or manapua, their tasty dishes and gigantic servings will have you dishing about this place to all your family and friends.

The Hawaii take on a traditional char siu bao, in the islands manapua are not just discernibly larger than those you would find in other parts of the world, but also come packed with other fillings. At Chun Wah Kam options include everything from traditional pork to honey garlic chicken, lup cheong, sweet potato and even pizza (filled with pork, pepperoni and mozzarella cheese) to azuki red beans and kalua pig.

And we're not sure how to say "super large" in Chinese, but if we did that is exactly what their plate lunches would be called. Even a mini plate with just one choice of starch and two choices of proteins - which includes a selection ranging from Cold Ginger Chicken and Beef Broccoli to Ma Po Pork Tofu and Okinawan Shoyu Pork - is more than enough for two to share. Chun Wah Kam has several locations on Oahu, but the one closest to Waikiki is on Pensacola Street across from Ala Moana Center.


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14) Morning Glass Coffee

Not a morning person? Gas it over for a glass of joe at Morning Glass Coffee in Manoa. Something is always brewing here, with their selection of freshly brewed coffees sourced from around the world as well as a breakfast and lunch menu focused on locally sourced ingredients and freshly prepared foods. After a visit here your glass will be empty but your energy level will be full!

Since Morning Glass Coffee opened just a stone's throw from Manoa Marketplace in 2011, residents have been pouring themselves over for made-to-order cups of their favorite caffeinated brew. Slide into one of the parking spots fronting the picturesque shop (which from the outside actually resembles more of a hut than anything else) and then sip on your choice of beverage. Some of our favorites include the Cortado (2 oz. espresso and 2 oz. steamed milk) or their Vietnamese Style Iced Coffee - a great way to cool off on a hot summer day.

Whether you're meeting a client for an informal meeting or friends or family for a brunch date we definitely recommend ordering something to pair with your drink. Here, menu items feature ingredients like fresh pork from Shinsato Farms, fruit from the North Shore of Oahu, Big Island tomatoes, Kulana Beef and milk from Hawaii Island and more. We won't have to egg you on to try some of our favorites like the Egg-a-Muffin, a homemade English muffin topped with applewood smoked bacon, tomato jam, an easy over egg, gruyere cheese and baby arugula or the Breakfast Burrito, a hearty roll of scrambled eggs, potatoes, roasted peppers and onions, aged Vermont cheddar and that day's featured meat.

Caffeine fiends can arrive at first light to snag a seat, since this spot is known to fill up quickly. Morning Glass Coffee opens weekdays at 7 a.m. and weekends at 7:30 a.m.


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15) Chef Chai's

Looking for a meal to Thai for? Chef Chai is an island restaurant celebrated for their diverse cuisine, which infuses owner Chai Chaowasaree's Thai influences into island dishes. Perfect for celebrating a special occasion or enjoying an elegant meal with your significant other, Chef Chai is known for dishing up delectable dishes like Oxtail a la Chai or the Miso Chilean Sea Bass. Put a fork in us, we're done!

Located off Kapiolani Boulevard just a few blocks from Waikiki, Chef Chai spices up the Honolulu dining scene with a more formal experience. Here, the modern ambiance served up is as beautiful as the dishes of food that arrive at the table.

Vegetarians will appreciate the Healthy Stir Fry with tofu ($22), which features an assortment of vegetables served with your choice of steamed rice or our personal favorite - the steamed coconut milk ginger brown rice. The Pacific Rim Cioppino ($35) with creamy coconut broth and Asian-Style Braised Kurobuta Pork Osso Bucco ($37) are other crowd favorites. To start, you can never go wrong with the Chef Chai's signature Fresh Ahi Tartar in Mini Waffle Cones ($15), a treat for your Instagram feed and your palate!

Chef Chai's is open for dinner daily from 4 p.m. - 11 p.m. If you already have dinner plans you'll be happy to hear to hear that Chef Chai has happy hour daily from 4 p.m. - 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. till close.


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16) Bellini Bistro and Bar

Popping up in Ward Village in Kaka'ako, just a few blocks from your Waikiki hotel deal, Bellini Bistro & Bar is a refined restaurant dishing out classic Italian favorites.

From the restaurateurs behind Maile's Thai Bistro in Hawa'ii Kai, Bellini Bistro & Bar is the sassy new spot you've been shopping for. After a day perusing Ward Village's shops or catching a matinee, meet friends for some family-style dining. When we're craving Italian comfort food, we pour ourselves over for an order for their Chicken Saltimbocca ($27), a dish featuring perfectly breaded chicken paired with spinach, mozzarella, and mushrooms in white wine butter reduction sauce. And if oxtail is your thing we must tail you about their Oxtail Osso Bucco ($27), featuring oxtail simmered and slow cooked in a savory medley of onions, carrots, celery and tomato stock.

A sure way to beat the Hawaiian heat is with a glass - or two - of Bellini Bistro & Bar's signature bellini cocktail -- a light and refreshing concoction mixing prosecco, elderflower liqueur, seltzer and white peach puree ($12).

Open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., you can pop into this bistro any day of the week. But with a bellini menu as dazzling as their décor, our favorite time to stop in is during their daily happy hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. when their bellinis are just $7.

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