Over the past few years, Honolulu’s food and drink scene has grown into one of the country’s best, to go alongside its beach lounging, volcano hiking and world-class surf. Start at the Bishop Museum, where you can learn about the island’s fascinating history and unique geography, which have shaped a culinary story still being written.
Moku Kitchen is the newest venture from Peter Merriman, a pioneer in Hawaii farm-to-table cooking. This vast restaurant has something for everyone. It brings the islands’ Asian influences to American comfort food with dishes like banh mi burgers and bulgogi tacos. There’s also a riff on ham & pineapple pizza that features kalua pig, roasted pineapple and macadamia pesto. A smart wine list highlights organic, sustainable or biodynamic viticulture, and also offers fun descriptions like equating R. López de Heredia 2005 Viña Bosconia Reserva with Kanye West’s debut during the same year.
One of the most ambitious and anticipated Hawaiian restaurants in years, Senia opened in late 2016. Its focus on hospitality, community and food that blends local ingredients, Asian influences and American nostalgia proved a runaway success. The daily a la carte menu has spawned favorites like charred cabbage with shio kombu and green goddess dressing. The chef’s counter tasting menu offers the best Hawaiian ingredients from two of the country’s most inventive chefs, Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush. The extensive wine list is unique for Hawaii, focused on small producers, many previously unavailable in the state.
Hawaii boasts some of the best farmers markets in the country. In Honolulu, make sure not to miss the Saturday morning market at Kapiolani Community College.
The Pig & The Lady
This eatery in Honolulu’s Chinatown’s district refers to its cuisine as “cooking with Vietnamese sensibilities,” but this barely scratches the surface. Try smoked pork jowl with black garlic char siu sauce, pickled clementines and shiso, or the “Weekend @ Burmese” salad, with green papaya, sprouting seeds, preserved lemon and fermented lahpet (Burmese tea leaf) dressing. A “primal feast” for four features Balinese-style porchetta, grilled Kauai shrimp and raw oysters with various accompaniments. A newer, more casual branch at Ward Village, Piggy Smalls, serves a few Pig & Lady favorites along with banh mi sandwiches and noodle dishes.
An upscale New York City-style deli during the day, Bevy converts into one of Hawaii’s best cocktail bars after 4 pm. “Pele’s Morning Brew” combines rum and Bourbon with such island staples as pineapple, lilikoi (passion fruit), macadamia and coconut. The “Mai Thai” brings lemongrass and ginger to the islands’ signature cocktail. Custom punchbowls come in various sizes that serve up to 15 people. The dinner menu offers simple European-inspired dishes like arancini, grilled octopus, chicken scallopini and blistered padrón peppers. Its happy hour, offered Monday through Saturday from 4–7 pm, features $1.50 oysters, $5 sparkling wine and other specials.
Bar Leather Apron
Any bar whose co-owner and head bartender has won the Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival “World’s Best Mai Tai” competition can be trusted to be a serious cocktail destination. Bar Leather Apron is all that and more. Justin Park’s kiawe wood-smoked “E Ho’o Pau Mai Tai” features raisin-infused rum, coconut water syrup, spiced orgeat and absinthe. Cocktail creations change as different ingredients become available, like lilikoi, lehua (ohia blossom) honey, red shiso and yuzu. There’s also a core list of classic cocktails like the daiquiri made with Oahu’s own Koana Kea rhum agricole, lime and Demerara sugar. It also boasts one of the state’s largest whiskey collections, which includes rare Japanese bottlings.
Don’t leave Honolulu without trying a “plate lunch”, usually consisting of white rice, a scoop of macaroni salad and an entrée, like pit-roasted kalua pig, lau lau (meat steamed in ti leaves), or loco moco (a hamburger patty topped with a fried egg and brown gravy).
Vino Italian Tapas and Wine Bar
This casual Italian restaurant doubles as one of the city’s best wine bars. The master sommelier, Chuck Furuya, has long been a mentor for many of Hawaii’s wine professionals. His wine list hovers around 225 bottles, with 25 by the glass options available in 2-ounce pours for custom flights. Detailed tasting notes make even offbeat choices accessible to all. Pair these with Vino’s housemade pastas, including squash ravioli with jumbo shrimp, and Ligurian-style cavatelli with pesto and seasonal mushrooms. The menu also expertly updates the well-worn kale salad with Asian pears, shaved Maui onion, papaya and macadamia.
Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club
If you plan to stay in Waikiki, this new option is a stylish pick. Surfjack combines retro touches with art and furniture made by local artists. It also houses a terrific new restaurant, Mahina & Suns, from beloved local chef Ed Kenney.
Honolulu Fun Facts
Honolulu, like the rest of Hawaii, doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time.
It’s illegal in Honolulu to text while crossing the street.
‘Iolani Palace, which began construction in 1879, is the only royal palace in the U.S.
Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Bruno Mars, Lauren Graham, golfer Michelle Wie and Barack Obama were born in Honolulu.