Eat Like a Local in Oahu
Published: April 2009
By Shane Mitchell
Eat like a local at these 8 restaurants, shrimp carts, and roadside diners.
Diamond Head Market & Grill
What This informal joint in a residential neighborhood east of Waikiki is a takeout favorite.
Who Kelvin Ro used to cook at the governor’s mansion; now he serves dishes that pay homage to Hawaiian plate lunch classics such as teriyaki beef and char siu pork, along with occasional diversions like portobello mushroom burgers, grilled tuna steak with wasabi aioli, and a vegetable medley of kabocha squash, zucchini, and eggplant.
Don’t miss Chef Ro’s tangy Korean barbecued chicken, one of his signature dishes, is paired with fried pork wontons and spicy kimchi; wash it down with some Hawaiian lemonade, sweetened with tropical blossom honey from the Hawaii Island Honey Company. 3158 Monsarrat Ave.; 808/732-0077; lunch for two $15.
Nico’s at Pier 38
What Early risers know the best place for catching breakfast is this waterfront café on one of the commercial piers along Nimitz Highway, next to Honolulu’s daily fish auction.
Who Buoyant chef Nicolas Chaize, originally from Lyon, reinterprets island favorites for dockworkers and fishermen, who order fried rice with hot Portuguese sausage and kamaboko (Japanese fish cake) or French toast made with Molokai sweet bread from Kaneohe Bakery.
Don’t miss Chaize’s loco moco— the Hawaiian version of a Denny’s Grand Slam: white rice, two beef patties, and fried eggs, topped with a mushroom-onion gravy worthy of a Gallic grand-mère. Stick around for an alfresco lunch (ahi tuna belly, garlic-crusted mahimahi) under the green awning, and watch trawlers bobbing at the dock. 1133 N. Nimitz Hwy.; 808/540-1377; breakfast for two $12.
What One of the last drive-in restaurants in Honolulu, its parking lot is often filled with vans topped with surfboards. Rainbow is a favorite pit stop of beachcombers in flip-flops and office workers hoping to catch some rays on their lunch break.
Who Since 1961, the Ifuku family has owned and run this drive-in that serves traditional American favorites such as chili dogs and slush floats; their menu also includes popular plate- lunch specials such as barbecued ahi and chopped steak stir-fry.
Don’t miss The homey fried chicken cutlet smothered in brown gravy with two scoops of white rice, just like how Hawaiian "aunties" make it. 3308 Kanaina Ave.; 808/737-0177; lunch for two $14.
Side Street Inn
What A no-frills sports bar, Side Street is an after-hours hangout for Honolulu’s top chefs (Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi are regulars). It also provides workaday Honolulu with a hearty selection of fried pork chops, barbecued spare ribs, and the island’s creamiest macaroni salad.
Who Chef Colin Nishida buys chow fun noodles from a mom-and-pop shop in Honolulu’s Chinatown and serves organic microgreens grown in Waimanalo.
Don’t miss Grab a stool at the bar and try the potent cocktails (the house specialty is the Side Mui: vodka, Kahlúa, sour mix, and dried plum powder) and exceptional pu pus (bar snacks), from fried wontons to steamed Manila clams. 1225 Hopaka St.; 808/591-0253; dinner for two $50.
The North Shore
What A luncheonette with surfboards on the wall, and sandwiches made with fish right out of the sea.
WhoOwner Terry Thompson’s shop now has branches in Tokyo; only at the original location, however, are you guaranteed island-grown ingredients.
Don't miss The enormous charbroiled burgers topped with slices of fresh avocado or pineapple are popular with the protein-loving surf crowd, but the grilled mahimahi steak on a kaiser roll is the real catch. 66-160 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa; 808/637-6067; lunch for two $20.
Romy’s Kahuku prawns & shrimp
What A flaming-red shrimp shack, in Kahuku, near the Turtle Bay Resort, Romy’s serves up its signature giant prawns wok-seared in butter with generous chunks of toasted garlic—it’s a vampire-free zone.
Who The Aguinaldo family has run Romy’s for more than a decade and the adjacent aquaculture ponds for 15 years.
Don't missEnd your meal with a quintessential island dessert: sweet pineapple chunks dusted with dried Chinese plum powder. 56-781 Kamehameha Hwy., Kahuku; 808/232-2202; lunch for two $25.
Sharks Cove Grill
What An aquamarine-paneled truck parked in a palm-shaded gravel lot across the road from the eponymous cove, this propane-powered galley kitchen serves taro burgers and chicken salad to ravenous boarders who hang ten in nearby Waimea Bay.
Who Chef (and surfer) Willy Asprey raided his mother’s recipes for the Grill’s pesto shrimp skewers, and his grilled tuna skewers, drizzled with a creamy sesame-shoyu sauce, definitely merit the scenic drive to find him along Kamehameha Highway. Instead of the more typical macaroni salad, crunchy baby greens and brown rice herald a healthy shift in plate lunch side dishes.
Don't miss The Bash smoothie is a taste of some of the island’s freshest produce, with bananas, apple juice, strawberries, and honey. 59-712 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa; 808/638-8300; lunch for two $20.
What This family-owned shop in Sunset Beach is splashed with a deep-sea graffiti mural that looks as if it could have been painted by the Little Mermaid on acid.
Who The Nakamuras serve solid renditions of fish sandwiches and bento boxes of chicken katsu or teriyaki beef.
Don't missIt’s the silky chocolate pudding–coconut cream pie that keeps customers coming back. Sold whole or by the slice, this gooey dessert comes topped with decadent whipped cream. 59-024 Kamehameha Hwy., Sunset Beach; 808/638-5974; lunch for two $12.