Honolulu

Honolulu's Best New Restaurants of 2019

Courtesy of REAL Gastropub
Courtesy of REAL Gastropub
Courtesy of REAL Gastropub

With Texan transplants bringing succulently smoked Central Texas BBQ ribs to downtown Honolulu’s food trucks serving California street-style tacos, Honolulu’s dining scene just seems to be getting better. There’s kid-friendly newcomer Keiki, comfort Japanese classics at Rinka, one of Waikiki’s most exclusive fine dining establishments Mugen, and unfussy Hawaiian plate lunches at Oahu Grill — all to satisfy everyone’s budget and cravings. Here are 13 of the latest additions to Honolulu’s thriving culinary scene. 

MORE: Check out the 12 new restaurants we named best in the nation this year.

Rinka 

Kaka’ako
Comforting teishoku set lunches in this minimalist Japanese hotspot 
With spacious new digs in Ward Village, it’s now easier to get a table at this minimalist Japanese eatery that’s long been popular with Japanese expats and tourists looking to get an authentic slice of home on Oahu. While Restaurant Rinka turns into a full-fledged izakaya at night, serving up sushi and sashimi galore, a more budget-friendly option lies in their lunch menu. A selection of teishoku set lunches – a classic meal commonly served in Japanese households – offers a main entree, rice, pickles, miso soup, and chawanmushi, a savory egg custard. Two small sides are also included, with options ranging from natto with tofu, goma-ae (creamed spinach in a sesame dressing), kinpira renkon (lotus root), and tamago (Japanese-style omelet).

Halekulani Hotel
Halekulani Hotel
Halekulani Hotel

Halekulani Bakery & Restaurant 

Waikiki
Freshly baked pastries in the heart of Waikiki
Located in Halekūlani’s sister property, Halepuna Waikīkī by Halekūlani, the casual all-day bakery and restaurant offer not just delicious baked goodies. An early buffet breakfast begins daily at 6:30am and comes with an omelet bar, while a relaxed meal can be had until dinner ends at 8:30pm. The use of local ingredients plays an essential role in Halekulani Bakery & Restaurant’s menu; there’s even a sidebar on the lunch and dinner menus that indicate which local farms and dairies they source ingredients from. The clear winner, however, are the pastries – think lilikoi brioche, brownie bread, and Kona coffee kouign amann – by Executive Pastry Chef, Mark Freischmidt, which sold out during a series of pop-ups leading up to the opening. 

Courtesy of Aqua-Aston Hospitality
Courtesy of Aqua-Aston Hospitality
Courtesy of Aqua-Aston Hospitality

Mugen 

Waikiki
Honolulu’s latest Japanese-French fine dining establishment is perfect for date night
Helmed by Executive Chef Jason Yamaguchi (yes, he is renowned chef Roy Yamaguchi’s nephew), Mugen is Honolulu’s newest Japanese-French fine dining restaurant located at the über-chic, über-expensive Espacio hotel in Waikiki. A prix-fixe menu changes with the season and often includes indulgent offerings like Sasanian osetra caviar, Makanalani lamb, and Kona lobster pasta, all enhanced with Japanese flavors such as yuzu, xo plums, nori dust, and ume. And, paired with an extensive wine list – there are over 500-bottles of wine to choose from – a luxuriously intimate date night is almost guaranteed.

Courtesy of Mijung Lee
Courtesy of Mijung Lee
Courtesy of Mijung Lee

Sunset Smokehouse

Wahiawa 
From food truck to brick-and-mortar Central Texas-style BBQ
The popularity of Sunset Smokehouse began as a food truck by Sunset Beach on the North Shore. Fast forward to earlier this year when Texas-native, James Kim, opened up the eatery’s first brick-and-mortar location in Wahiawa. Focused on succulent meats that have been smoked for over 12 long hours, the bright, casual spot offers five types of meat of choice – beef brisket, beef ribs, pork spare ribs, pulled pork, and beef sausage. Pair it with any (or all!) of the freshly made sides ranging from a creamy or tangy coleslaw, potato salad, creamed corn, and hot pinto beans. For a relatively lighter meal, opt for the City Limits sandwich, made from a mix of chopped lean and fatty brisket, and an order of Texas sweet tea.

Keiki and the Pineapple 

Kaka’ako
A kid-friendly Kaka’ako café for the urban mom
This casual café is perhaps one of Honolulu’s kid-friendliest spots where parents can come enjoy their cups of coffee or warm chai lattes while their keiki get their play on. The space also offers weekly kid-friendly activities ranging from arts and crafts workshops and singing to storytime and live music. For a snack break, take your pick from the avocado toast, colorful acai bowls, fresh fruit smoothies or dessert toast made with Hawaiian sweet bread – the Unicorn Toast made with Shokupan bread, cream cheese, strawberries, pineapples, and drizzled with honey and rainbow sprinkles, is especially popular and Insta-worthy.

Oahu Grill 

Kaimuki
‘Ono family recipes at Kaimuki’s latest authentic Hawaiian food spot
For those looking for a sumptuous plate lunch, look no further than Kaimuki’s latest opening for Hawaiian food. Family recipes passed down from one generation to the next reign supreme on Oahu Grill’s menu of staples like freshly pounded poi, lomi salmon, garlic shrimp, kalua pig, and squid lu`au. You can be sure that meats are smoked with aromatic wood chips and not liquid smoke. A crowd favorite is the Tuesday special of chicken hekka, a savory long-rice noodle dish made with shredded chicken simmered in a shoyu sauce along with green beans and carrots. 

Billion Pocha 1201 

Ala Moana
Korean food and karaoke in a casual sports bar 
At the relatively underrated Billion Pocha 1201, there’s nothing better than ordering a serving of spicy chicken & cheese to go with your nighttime karaoke session. With an October soft opening, the neighborhood’s newest sports bar serves up steaming spicy Korean noodle stews, finger-licking, spicy chicken wings, and more. Coupled with a happy hour that offers $3 beers and $10 food specials from 2-8pm, your weeknight plans have just become soju-much better. 

Aloha Steak House 

Waikiki
Where sizzling steak meets the casual beach vibes of Waikiki
One of the newest additions to Honolulu’s vibrant dining scene, Aloha Steak House is a much needed, wallet-friendly meat palace in Waikiki. With a distinctly warm interior and industrial-style motif, this carnivore’s dream immediately transports diners to a casual beach house. The only difference is this one is serving up ounces of sizzling, flavorful cuts of beef. The menu’s pièce de résistance is the tomahawk steak, a more than 2-pound, “super-vigorous” grill of bone-in ribeye. If it’s sold out, which is usually the case if you’re there after 8pm, the ribeye with garlic shrimp is the next best thing. According to ASH, there are two ways to eat your meat: on-the-rice — where you put your piece of steak on a bed of white rice — or on-the-salad, where your steak goes atop a fresh greens. Whichever you choose, don’t forget to try the Maui sweet onion sauce. It’s addicting.

Waikiki Tea House
Waikiki Tea House
Waikiki Tea House

Waikiki Tea House 

Waikiki
New York’s beloved Lady M cakes make their island debut
Dessert lovers of Oahu will rejoice at the island’s latest cafe opening, Waikiki Tea House, because it brings a cherished and world-famous New York dessert to our shores: Lady M cakes. The cakes are loved for their light, creamy, and flavorful textures — each mille cake consists of 20 layers of crepes, with a layer of cream dividing each. Flavors include a signature cream (a favorite), green tea, and lilikoi. To wash down your cake, Waikiki Tea House also offers several hot and cold tea brews, including a few Instagram-worthy options like the rose tea latte. 

Courtesy of Ellemsee Media
Courtesy of Ellemsee Media
Courtesy of Ellemsee Media

Moke’s Bread & Breakfast 

Kaimuki
Kailua’s favorite breakfast fare comes to Kaimuki
The Kailua breakfast hotspot Moke’s Bread & Breakfast has finally come to our side of town, with its second location taking over the old Kan Zaman space in Kaimuki. The cafe’s claim to fame, and a must whether this is your first visit or your 100th, is an order of the lilikoi pancakes made from light and fluffy batter and smothered on top with a creamy lilikoi sauce. For a savory start to your day, the loco moké is a good option — it’s a twist on an island classic, the loco moco (served over white rice with two eggs over-easy and drenched in homemade brown gravy), and uses a house-cut ribeye instead of a traditional hamburger patty.

Tane Vegan Izakaya
Tane Vegan Izakaya
Tane Vegan Izakaya

Tane Vegan Izakaya 

Moiliili
A creative, plant-based spin on your usual sushi and izakaya favorites
Plant-based and vegan are usually not what you’d use to describe a sushi dinner, but your vocabulary is sure to change after a meal at Tase Vegan Izakaya. The latest izakaya to pop up on Oahu is unexpected, but it’s undoubtedly welcome in a landscape of meat, seafood, and, well, more meat. The menu at Tane is almost identical to its sister spot, Shizen in San Francisco — which is featured in the SF Michelin guide — and both were started by co-owner and chef Kin Lui. Start with the yuba salad with spicy miso dressing and tempura-battered shiitake mushrooms with faux-crab. Then continue to the spicy tofuna rolls, with minced tofu and cucumber topped with creamy avocado and chili “tobiko.”

Courtesy of  EARL Kaka'ako
Courtesy of EARL Kaka’ako
Courtesy of EARL Kaka’ako

EARL Kaka’ako 

Kaka’ako
EARL’s newest inventive sandwich offering
The second EARL’s (which stands for Eat a Real Lunch) location by Baltimore-born owner, Justin Parvizimotlagh, opened this March on Keawe Street in Kaka’ako and boasts an entirely new menu. In addition to a number of unique sandwiches and appetizers — standouts include the chorizo nachos, brisket gyro, and the short rib torta — the Kaka’ako location also offers Sunday brunch service, with a drool-worthy, made-for-Instagram menu. Look out for the meat-loaded Prime Jun, aka “the greatest breakfast sandwich of all time,” and a glazed donut packed inside with buttery fried chicken, bacon, hash brown crispies, and kale slaw. If you’re counting calories, this is not the place for you.

Courtesy of REAL Gastropub
Courtesy of REAL Gastropub
Courtesy of REAL Gastropub

REAL Gastropub 

Kaka’ako
Craft beer makes a comeback at this highly anticipated gastropub reopening
More than a year later, REAL Gastropub has finally opened up its doors in its new Kaka’ako location. What’s exciting about this reopening is not just the myriad beer options on tap (33 to be precise), but also production of on-site beers with the upcoming opening of Bent Tail Brewing. From the lechon-style pig wings and chorizo grilled cheese to the loaded Bent Tail burger and French onion hummus with cheesy naan, the expanded menu has options that perfectly complement the beer offerings.Sign up here for our daily Honolulu email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Wendy Awai-Dakroub is a Hawaii-based writer, restaurateur, franchise business consultant and founder of kid-friendly food and travel blog. Besides her love for travel and photography, she’s also “momager” to her kid-foodies Leah and Jaffer. Follow her on Twitter.

Honolulu

Actually Cool Things You Can Do in Honolulu This Winter

From festive light shows to forest bathing and chocolate making, we've got you covered.

Queen Kapiolani Hotel
Queen Kapiolani Hotel
Queen Kapiolani Hotel

You don’t have to spend these glorious warm and sunny days locked up indoors. Finding cool, safe things to do around Honolulu during the pandemic may be challenging, but it’s not impossible. With new activities popping up around the island this season, holiday traditions can still be enjoyed, albeit with strict social distancing guidelines in place. So read on for more details on all the fun things you can do this winter on Oahu.

Experience a drive-thru holiday light extravaganza

$$
Ongoing through January 9
Get ready to drive through a dazzling display of colorful LED lights choreographed to holiday music at “Show Aloha Land” at the Aloha Stadium. Over 1 million synchronized lights dance to holiday music favorites that play through your car radio as you enjoy a 15-20 minute leisurely drive through the light show. After the show, enjoy tasty eats from street food vendors conveniently stationed at the upper parking lot. Enjoy dinner and a show while you make memories watching the 50-foot Mega Christmas tree synchronized to 50 minutes of music. Open daily. Tickets are $50 per vehicle online, with proceeds going to charity. Use the promo code FHBHOLIDAY to receive 10% off Friday, Saturday, and Sunday shows after 9pm, and 20% off weekday shows (Monday-Thursday) after 9 pm. Guests must remain in their vehicles at all times and wear a face mask when interacting with staff. 

Kuana Torres Kahele
Kuana Torres Kahele
Kuana Torres Kahele

Learn Hula and lei making with Hawaii’s own Kuana Torres

$$
Ongoing
Who said you have to fly all the way to Hawaii to learn how to Hula? As virtual workshops become the new norm, more local artists and educators can share their talents with the world. Renowned Hawaiian musician, songwriter, dancer, and producer Kuana Torres now teaches and shares his love for Hula, lei making, and Hawaiian crafts online. His sell-out Hula classes are offered through Zoom at $40 per class, with beginner classes starting in February 2021. Students can also learn how to make Ni’ihau earrings, Kupe’e shell necklaces, bracelets, or discover the ancient art of tying different Hawaiian cordage types. Order your kit online and have it mailed directly to your home.

Queen Kapiolani Hotel
Queen Kapiolani Hotel
Queen Kapiolani Hotel

Have a glamorous stay at the Queen Kapi’olani Hotel

$$$
Ongoing

As mainland travelers gear up for their winter holidays in Hawaii, Waikiki is beginning to buzz all over again and the Queen Kapi’olani Hotel is reopening its doors with a fresh new look. Located across from the Honolulu Zoo, with spectacular views of Diamond Head and the famed Waikiki Beach Walls-this hotel is the ideal place for a romantic weekend or family staycation. Their Kama’aina (local) rates are affordable, starting at $133 per night, but hurry-these prices won’t last long. Grab your swimsuit and book early! Note that out-of-state travelers must successfully complete a pre-travel test or be subject to the state’s 14-day quarantine program.

Learn to paint with nature artist Patrick Ching

Free
Every Wednesday through December 25
From now till Christmas, Hawaii’s favorite nature artist will be hosting live Facebook Studio Art Shows every Wednesday at 5 pm. Patrick’s art shows feature an art lesson, a bit of scenic beauty, project updates, and music from his Waimānalo Beach studio. Ching shares helpful technical tips on painting for those who want to improve their technique or just spend a relaxing afternoon doing something different.

Koki's
Koki’s
Koki’s

Take a vegetarian Indian cooking class

$$
December 11, 18, and 25
Enjoy the lush green mountains of Manoa Valley while learning how to cook and create delicious dishes from India. At Koki’s Kitchen, all cooking equipment is provided and you’ll jump right into an entirely hands-on cooking experience with Chef Koki herself! The two-hour class is limited to five participants and comes with complimentary drinks. The best part: all the food prep is done before you arrive, so you can focus on learning and savoring your meal. Classes start at $75.
 

Drive-in to your favorite holiday movie

$$
December 10, 11, 17, and 18

The drive-in has returned in full force over the last few months, popping up in Kailua, Mililani, and now in Honolulu at the Ala Moana Center. Aloha Drive-In Movies screens your favorite Christmas flicks including Elf, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Die Hard. Select a showtime and buy your tickets online, then arrive early to get closer screen viewing. Snacks and drinks are available through pre-order, walk ups, or a QR code then delivered to your car. Pricing starts at $40 per vehicle, up to five people.
 

Make your own chocolate bar

$
Classes every Thursday

Learn everything about chocolate bar making on a one-hour tour where a guide will explain the process from bean to bar in the islands and offer tastings of cacao, as well as a flight of five popular chocolate flavors. Then, try your hand at making your own, incorporating fun flavors like spicy chipotle pepper and caramelized ginger.

Honolulu City Lights
Honolulu City Lights
Honolulu City Lights

Celebrate 35 years of Honolulu City Lights

Free
Throughout December

Honolulu’s stage will be set with all the season’s warmth and nostalgia as its famed Honolulu City Lights illuminate this holiday season. This year, Shaka Santa and Tutu Mele will be donning their face masks at Honolulu Hale, along with the city’s 50-foot, fully decorated Christmas tree. All activities at Honolulu City Lights will be modified, with picture taking in front of displays allowed only if practicing social distancing. Drive-by viewing experiences are encouraged for residents. Visit their website for weekly scheduled televised events.

Relax with a full moon crystal sound bath

$
December 29

Close out 2020 with a relaxing guided meditation and crystal bowl sound healing session led by Mayu Kawasaki. It’s been a stressful year, so use this opportunity to release any lingering tension and take a moment to embrace all that you accomplished and are grateful for. Bring your yoga mat or any props that will help you relax and rest deeply during the sound journey. Enjoy a complimentary cup of coconut kava and bring a pen and journal to capture any meditative thoughts. The two-hour session begins at 6:30pm and tickets are $33.

Eat, drink, and be merry at Kailua Night Market

Free
December 12 and 19, January 9 and 16, February 6 and 13
Pet adoptions, art, shopping, and delicious ono food are what you can expect at the Kailua Night Market, which takes place two Saturdays each month at 340 Uluniu Street in Kailua from 5 to 9 pm. Over the last two and a half years, Kailua’s family- and pet-friendly popup has become an essential market for promoting the small local businesses on O’ahu’s Windward side, showcasing local food vendors, retailers, and crafts from local entrepreneurs in a celebration of culture and connection. 

Blue Note Hawaii
Blue Note Hawaii
Blue Note Hawaii

Celebrate A Charlie Brown Christmas with Jazz Musicians

$$
Friday, December 25
You can’t call it Christmas without the Peanuts and their classic holiday shenanigans. Native New Yorker trumpeter Mike Lewis returns to Blue Note Hawaii with A Charlie Brown Christmas, featuring some of Hawaii’s best jazz musicians. The performance will showcase selections from the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, as written by legendary composer and pianist Vince Guaraldi. Time slots are filling up quickly so don’t miss the opportunity to book. Prices range from $25-$35 per person.
 

Run the Hawaii Kai Ultra Marathon

$
December 19 and 20

Challenge yourself with the longest run of your life at the Hawaii Kai Ultra Run. Choose whether to run a half marathon, full marathon, 30K, 50K, 50 Mile, 100K, or 100 Miles. This semi-annual run is held on Oahu’s far east end and designed to challenge new and advanced runners to take on further distances. Start times are flexible on either day with the run beginning at Kalama Valley Community Park. Regular entry is $30 with discounts available, but volunteers who commit to four hours or more will receive free registration and a free event t-shirt. Pre-registration is encouraged and same-day registration increases to $40, with no guarantee of event t-shirts still being available. Ice, drinks, and food are provided. 

Forest Bathing Hawai‘i
Forest Bathing Hawai‘i
Forest Bathing Hawai‘i

Experience Virtual Forest Bathing

$$
Every Thursday and Sunday through January

Join a live online-facilitated nature therapy session from the comfort of your living room, led by a certified forest therapy guide based in Honolulu. The guide will dial in from a trail or green space on the island of Oʻahu, allowing guests to virtually experience Hawaiʻi’s natural and healing beauty through their screens. Attendees will be invited to tune into their senses, slow down, and give their attention to the more-than-human world around them. Prices range from $15 to $25 and complimentary walks are available for first responders, healthcare, and essential workers by emailing [email protected] for a promo code.Sign up here for our daily Honolulu email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Wendy Awai-Dakroub is a Hawaii-based writer, restaurateur, franchise business consultant and founder of kid-friendly food and travel blog. Besides her love for travel and photography, she’s also “momager” to her kid-foodies Leah and Jaffer. Follow her on Twitter.

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