What to Eat and See In Honolulu's Historic Chinatown

In this part of the city, some businesses embrace change while others hold tight to tradition. The key to exploring the neighborhood is to experience both.

Scenes from Honolulu's Chinatown, including women walking through the gate, and a plate of vegan pho
From left: Honolulu's Chinatown Gate; vegan pho and a hibiscus-shochu cocktail at the Pig & the Lady. Photo: From left: Marco Garcia; Lianne Rozelle

Honolulu's Chinatown has been many things since its founding in the 1840s: a nightlife destination, an arts hub, and one of the best spots in town to grab fresh lei. Most of it burned in 1900, in what is now known as the Great Chinatown Fire. Thousands of immigrants, who first arrived on Oahu to work on its sugar plantations, suddenly found themselves without homes. But from the ashes, Chinatown was reborn.

Its continuing evolution is evident in projects like the restoration of the Wo Fat Building, a landmark that until 2009 was home to the oldest restaurant in Hawaii. The boutique hospitality group Mighty Union will reopen it later this year as the 23-room Wo Fat Hotel & Restaurant.

Here are seven more favorites that show off Chinatown, old and new.

Memorabilia from a hotel and restaurant in Honolulu's Chinatown
Archival materials from Chinatown’s Wo Fat Building. Courtesy of Wo Fat Hotel

Sun Chong Co.

Sisters Ann Sung and Shirley Ing have been in the fruit business for more than 30 years; regulars, whose families have gone there for generations, even refer to their spot as "the two-sisters shop." Juicy Kaimana lychee, grown in Hilo, is a Hawaiian tradition and a best seller. sunchonghi.com.

The Pig & the Lady

Inspired by his upbringing, chef-owner Andrew Le serves a mix of traditional Vietnamese and Asian American food. Try the brisket banh mi "French dip," with a side of pho broth, or the Hanoi egg coffee: sweet whipped-yolk topping over hot Kona brew. thepigandthelady.com.

A box of fresh leis in progress at a lei shop in Hawaii
Fresh garlands at Lin's Lei Shop. Marco Garcia

Lin's Lei Shop

This family-owned store has made lei by hand since 1987. There are up to 25 styles to choose from, depending on the season, but summer is when the blooms are at their peak. Try pikake, a white flower from the jasmine family that's beloved for its beauty and sweet scent. linsleishop.com.

Pork hash in a styrofoam takeout container
The pork hash at Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery. Marco Garcia

Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery

The start of the Mid-Autumn Festival is marked by Sing Cheong Yuan's legendary moon cakes — with both traditional Chinese and local Hawaiian flavors, like sweet mango or taro mochi. Available year-round: pork hash, gau (a steamed rice pudding popular for Lunar New Year), baked manapua (Hawaii's Chinese-fusion pork bun), and pineapple cakes. @singcheongyuanbakery.

Native Books

This cozy bookstore specializes in literature about the traditions of the islands and the greater Pacific. Since 1990, founder Maile Meyer has created one of the largest collections of books in the endangered Hawaiian language. Pick up stories in translation (like "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland") or a picture book about kalo, Hawaii's sacred taro plant. nativebookshawaii.org.

Hula figurine and postcards at the Tin Can Mailman vintage shop in Hawaii
A vintage hula figurine and postcards from Tin Can Mailman. From left: Courtesy of Tin Can Mailman; Marco Garcia

Tin Can Mailman

Old menus, rainbow aloha shirts, and neat piles of black-and-white photographs welcome visitors to this vintage shop. Owner Christopher Oswalt sources Hawaiian antiques from both international collectors and flea markets around the island. tincanmailman.net.

Interior view of a bookshop in Hawaii
The showroom at Bās Bookshop, which stocks zines, art books, apparel, and more. Mark Kushimi/Courtesy of Bās Bookshop

Bās Bookshop

Inspired by Japanese design, Aly Ishikuni-Sasaki and Travis Sasaki opened Bās to bring a little bit of Tokyo to Chinatown. Inside you'll find artwork, clothing, zines, and a wide selection of books. The space doubles as a gallery and hosts regular talks by local artists. basbookshop.com.

A version of this story first appeared in the February 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Welcome to Chinatown.

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