Honolulu: Why Go Now

Photo by Zetong Li / Unsplash

The capital of Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, is more than just a gateway airport. It’s in the midst of having a culinary moment. In every nook and cranny of the city, inspired chefs can be found experimenting with something new or revamping something old. That’s why right now is a perfect time to visit for the food and drinks. The waves can wait.

For breakfast

Egghead Breakfast & Love

Located in the middle of an industrial block near Ward Center, Egghead’s offers a stellar breakfast, from stacks of fluffy pancakes covered in a range of toppings, including tiramisu, to omelettes and benedicts, like a Mexican Benedict with house-made chorizo. Lunch options include a BLT, made with liliko’i dressing. The entire menu is sprinkled with Taiwanese flavors, reflected best in the bowl of shoyu-braised pork belly served with pickled veggies and a fried egg. Coffee drinks, teas and fresh-fruit smoothies round out your meal. Open Tuesday–Sunday, 7 am–3 pm.

Koko Head Café

Chef Lee Ann Wong competed on season one of Top Chef, making it to the top four, before traveling the world and finding particular inspiration in Oaxaca. The native New Yorker traded Manhattan for Honolulu in 2013 to open this popular, all-day brunch house, where the menu is as varied as her travels.

Start with a plate of the house dumplings of the day, a particular specialty, and add on a black sesame yuzu muffin or kimchi bacon cheddar scone. From there, the menu is divided into sweeter plates like cornflake French toast with billionaire’s bacon, and what Wong calls Kung Fu Fighting options, like Mama’s Udon and breakfast congee. Beware of Elvis’s Revenge of peanut butter, banana tempura, bacon, local honey and toasted coconut on a sweet bun—you’ll immediately need a nap. The skillets, too, are excellent, and brunch cocktails are equally compelling, freaturing an emphasis on local spirits and juices. Open daily 7 am–2:30 pm. They don’t take reservations.

For lunch and dinner

Livestock Tavern

Photo by Allie Smith / Unsplash

In Chinatown, classic American fare like burrata, hangar steak and burgers are mixed with seasonal cocktails conceived of in-house like Schwing, a mix of local agricole rum, dry gin, blueberry syrup, pink peppercorn and basil. The “Wayne’s World” inspiration continues in Party On, a cocktail made with mezcal, Cynar amaro, Cocchi Americano, brown sugar, pepper and Hawaii Bitters Co. Mai Tai bitters. Open Monday–Saturday for lunch from 11 am–2 pm, walk-in only, and supper 5 pm–10 pm, when reservations are recommended.

Lucky Belly

The Livestock Tavern team turns its attention to ramen at Lucky Belly across the street, as well as tempura shrimp tacos, pork and chicken sandwiches. The extensive sake list is deep and carefully crafted, while the Lucky Libations incorporate Japanese whiskies, shiso, cold-brew coffee, tea, sake, Hawaiian chili pepper-infused shochu and kaffir lime. Open for lunch Monday–Saturday 11 am–2 pm and dinner 5 pm–midnight. Thursday–Saturday, ‘The Window’ by Lucky Belly traffics in late-night sustenance from 10 pm–2:30 am. Follow the restaurant on Instagram to find out two of the three menu items served from the window every weekend, with the third item a surprise.

Mud Hen Water

Small plates find global inspiration in Ed Kenney’s latest sensation, located across from his other restaurant Town. Described by Honolulu Magazine as “the new Hawaii on a single menu,” Kenney’s culinary inspirations for Mud Hen can be found on menus that line the walls, from the Napa Valley’s French Laundry to Honolulu’s own Pig and the Lady. The farm-to-glass cocktails are another very good reason to visit.

Pig & the Lady

A game-changer to the culinary scene in Honolulu’s Chinatown, Pig & the Lady is Vietnamese cooking at its best, open for lunch weekdays from 10:30 am–2 pm, on Saturday from 10:30 am–3 pm, and dinner Tuesday–Saturday from 5:30 pm–10 pm. Chef Andrew Le, James Beard Foundation Rising Chef of the Year semifinalist, is “The Pig,” born and raised in Honolulu to Vietnamese parents. Mama Le, his mother, is “The Lady” and the heart and soul behind the family-style food. House specials include P&L Pho made with Big Island Beef, and a Pho French Dip with Manila clams. Everything is amazing, including the cocktails, like Don’t Sass Me, made from sesame simple syrup, barrel-aged genever, shiso and dandelion bitters.


A decade in, Ed Kenney’s Italian-Hawaiian benchmark Town, located in Kaimuki, never disappoints. It’s dedicated to relying on Hawaii-grown produce, proving to be a lifeline for many farms. The menu changes daily, reflective of the day’s bounty, with gnocchi tossed in sun chokes, capers and lemon, and mahi mahi made with local vegetables and a slice of Meyer lemon. The wine list is better than most, but beginning with a cocktail is a must. The Basil Gimlet is refreshingly good. It’s closed Sunday, it offers lunch from 11 am–2:30 pm and dinner 5:30 pm–9:30 pm, Friday and Saturday.

For drinks

Beer Lab

In the neighborhood of Manoa is this newly opened brewery, the effort of three nuclear engineering friends who work at Pearl Harbor. The trio offer six to eight rotating beers on tap, from porter made with Maui-grown coffee to a fresh, crisp saison. They rarely make the same beer twice. Bring your own food. Open Wednesday–Saturday, 4 pm–10 pm.

La Mariana Sailing Club

Founded in 1957 around the industrial outpost of Sand Island, not far from the port, this is thought to be the last original tiki bar in Honolulu. There’s a wealth of Hawaiiana within its confines. Lava Flows and Blue Hawaii’s figure on the menu, amidst a wide selection of fried foods, frozen margaritas, mai tais and zombies.

Published on April 7, 2016
Topics: Editor SpeakTravel GuidesTravel Trends