As Hawaii’s most populated (and tourist-heavy) island, Oahu has some of the best restaurants in the entire state. And thanks to the melting pot of different backgrounds and cultures calling Oahu home, residents and visitors alike have the chance to enjoy a wide range of cuisines. Whether it’s a neighborhood spot filled with memories or the trendiest new place in town, there’s no shortage of restaurants on Oahu putting their spin on the island’s abundance of unique food.
It isn’t exactly hard to find excellent quality seafood on Oahu, and the chefs at Nico’s don’t have to go too far, either. Nico’s Pier 38 is located right next to the Honolulu Fish Auction, so they’re able to hand-pick the best selection of fresh Hawaiian fish each morning. The popular Furikake Pan Seared Ahi is cooked to order and paired with a delicious dipping sauce of ginger, garlic and cilantro, and the catch of the day special is always straight from the same day’s auction
One of the few restaurants in Hawaii with an actual dress code, Hy’s Steak House in east Waikiki offers some of the best steaks on the island, hand’s down. There’s a lot of history within the walls of this 40-year-old restaurant, making it a true local tradition when it comes to celebrating a special occasion. The massive, glass-enclosed grill in the heart of the main dining room is hard to miss; it’s full of native Hawaiian kiawe wood that gives the steak a unique smoky flavor. Such excellent food warrants top-notch, outstanding service, and Hy’s certainly delivers.
Chef Peter Merriman’s restaurant in the Ko’olina resort area on Oahu’s west side is known for putting the highest level of care into every item on their food and cocktail menus. You’ll find pieces of Hawaii spread throughout both, with thoughtful touches like house-baked sweet bread buns for the burgers and crust for the pizzas made from scratch in the kitchen. Monkeypod’s signature mai tai wins awards year after year for its refreshing combination of local Old Lahaina rums and house-made macadamia nut orgeat syrup topped with honey-lilikoi foam.
The Pig and the Lady in Honolulu’s Chinatown district and its smaller sister restaurant in Kaka’ako (aptly named: Piggy Smalls) both offer Vietnamese food with a modern twist. Open for lunch and dinner, each dish on the menu contains a unique mixture of colors and flavors with a bounty of small, yet thoughtful elements created with care. The decor is trendy, the atmosphere is lively and the pho is full of fresh hand-cut noodles. What’s not to love?
Don’t let the sweeping ocean views of Waikiki Beach at this open-air restaurant distract you too much—the only thing that rivals the views here is the menu. The kitchen at Hula Grill prides themselves on using the best local produce around. That means high-quality, fresh ingredients from Hawaii farms, and fish line-caught straight from the island waters. Don’t leave without trying their traditional Mai Tai made of freshly squeezed orange, guava, passion and pineapple juices. It’s worlds away from the cheap sugary cocktail you may have grown accustomed to at the tourist traps around the area.
Stepping inside the exclusive Vintage Cave in Honolulu, you’d never know you were on the bottom floor of a bustling shopping mall. With the cavernous stone architecture and an impressive collection of Italian artwork for decor, this is high-end fine dining at its best. Previously only open to those willing to shell out a small fortune on club membership, Vintage Cave recently began offering reservations for their coursed menus to the public as well. Choose from the Japan Wagyu French menu of 10-12 courses in the dining room or the Sushi Kaiseki menu of 20-25 courses at the private sushi counter
Roy Yamaguchi’s “Hawaii inspired Euro-Asian cuisine” at his namesake restaurants combine the best parts of Hawaiian, European, and Asian styles, all with locally sourced ingredients. The first Roy’s in Hawaii Kai is known for its stellar service, but his Beach House at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s north shore just can’t be beat when it comes to ambiance. A bit more casual than his other spots, Roy’s Beach House is located right on sandy Kuilima Cove with breathtaking views of the ocean.
This list wouldn’t be complete without revealing the best spot for Hawaiian food—and Helena’s isn’t just the best, it’s one of the oldest. Opened in 1946, Helena’s has perfected all the delicious Hawaiian staples like imu-cooked kalua pig, pipikaula style short ribs, lau lau, lomi salmon, opihi, squid luau and of course, poi. The casual restaurant even won a prestigious James Beard award in 2000. Honest, straightforward and made with aloha, Helena’s will more than satisfy your Hawaiian food craving in all the best ways.
One of the fancier restaurants on the island, La Mer is an open-aired French restaurant with ocean views and an extensive wine menu inside the elegant Halekulani Hotel. The romantic atmosphere is the best setting on the island to celebrate a special occasion or just enjoy being pampered. Either way, La Mer presents the perfect excuse to trade your board shorts for slacks and a dinner jacket, and enjoy some truly excellent cuisine.
Best Breakfast: Liliha Bakery
Having first opened its doors back in 1950, Liliha Bakery is nothing short of an Oahu landmark. The restaurant portion in the original location on Liliha Street consists of one lone counter offering local favorites like fluffy pancakes, sweet bread french toast, and eggs with Portuguese sausage. Nowadays, the spot is almost always crowded with people waiting in line for the chance to nab a precious seat. But fear not, Liliha has since opened two large restaurants in Honolulu with plenty of tables and (luckily) the same great quality food.
Koko Head Cafe is a casual brunch spot practically bursting with good vibes and good food. There is always a long list of specials on the wall, including the dumplings of the day — not a typical brunch item but delicious nonetheless. You’ll also find more familiar breakfast and brunch menu items, all with a unique twist. Don’t miss out on one of their locally inspired cocktails, either. A mixture of Japanese, Hawaiian, and American in a laid-back diner-setting, Koko Head cafe will appease everyone at the table.
Between the freshly caught local seafood and what’s flown in from nearby Japan, Oahu has plenty of options for great sushi. The best part of Sushi II is the blend of traditional and contemporary Japanese food; you can’t go wrong with the omakase or the hot menu items (think whole fried local fish and butter-sauteed abalone). It’s a hidden gem with a location that could definitely be described as “off the beaten path,” and favorite with local residents.
Tip: For something a little more lavish, try for a reservation at Sushi Ginza Onodera. The omakase will set you back at least $250 per person, but the expertly-prepared fresh fish and authentic Japanese experience is worth every penny. For a more casual experience head to Sansei in Waikiki — they have karaoke nights and a late night happy hour menu that doesn’t sacrifice quality.
In the heart of downtown Honolulu, Senia provides a menu that is constantly changing, attentive, and borderline-eccentric (in the best way possible). Every ingredient is thoughtfully arranged on the plate by someone who truly cares about food, and the proof is in the taste. Perhaps best of all, Senia’s atmosphere is both comfortable and intimate without being pretentious, with some great crowd-pleasers on the menu that are perfect for sharing.