Sun, surf, sand. A trip to the islands of Hawaii is all but guaranteed to include some quality time on its countless beaches. But the Aloha State – and in particular, the capital of Honolulu on Oahu island – is quickly becoming known as something else: a food paradise.
Locally, young chefs have wholly embraced the modern island’s unique heritage, where Asian flavours reflect a population who predominantly identifies as people of colour after a century of migrations. And Waikiki, the famous neighbourhood known for its hotel-lined sandbar, is so popular with Japanese visitors that it’s become perhaps the best place in the world for Japanese food outside Japan. Add in a smattering of Michelin-starred chefs who’ve flocked to the island with outposts of their acclaimed restaurants, and you have the perfect recipe for the food tour of a lifetime.
To get a taste of Honolulu’s new flavours, take a stroll along Kalakaua Avenue. The main boulevard takes you from the tourist bustle of Waikiki to the world’s biggest outdoor mall, and the food joints that locals love best.
As of publication, state officials note that ongoing volcanic activity on the island of Hawaii has not affected the safety of residents and travellers on other islands, including Oahu.
Hyatt Centric Waikiki Beach
This latest addition to Hyatt’s boutique brand was previously the Waikiki Trade Center, before a $30-million-plus (U.S.) renovation in early 2017. Retrofitting an existing property into a hotel can produce mixed results. Here, the Hyatt Centric uses its past life as office space to full advantage. The common areas are still fresh, designed with rattan and wood accents that evoke a rustic luxury. An outdoor wading-pool deck is a welcome backdrop for happy-hour drinking while the sunset turns shades of Hawaiian orange. It’s the rooms that are revelations: While there are a few awkward angles where a corner office might have sat, the former layout makes for one of the largest regular king suites you’ll ever see. (Certainly at least double something comparable in Manhattan, a fact worth stretching out for.) Added bonuses: Beach chairs and umbrellas are complimentary.
The hotel has 230 rooms and suites from US$225. 2255 Kuhio Ave., waikikibeach.centric.hyatt.com.
At Sushi Sho in the Ritz-Carlton, reservations made at least a few weeks in advance are a must to experience chef Keiji Nakazawa’s US$300 omekase – not bad compared with the months-long lineup for a table at his original Tokyo location. The wait at the 10-seat, two-seating spot is worth it for a chance to dine with the chef most famously known for rebuffing Michelin inspectors back home and eschewing the stars they’d have beared.
383 Kalaimoku St., ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/hawaii/waikiki/dining/sushi-sho.
For fish you can eat in sandals and a bathing suit, seek out the Maguro Brothers slinging poke and sashimi from a tiny storefront. Everything on the market-fresh menu is under $20. Just follow the line of eager eaters gleefully taking photos of their hard-earned takeout bags.
Pearl Waikiki Hotel, 415 Nahua St., instagram.com/magurobrothershawaii.
Sometimes you just want a steak. And sometimes you just want steak from a Michelin-starred chef. Michael Mina, who made his name in San Francisco and Las Vegas, has set up shop in Hawaii with Stripteak Waikiki. Here, plenty of local seafood complements USDA prime cuts from Allen Brothers. Try the $75 prix fixe or, better yet, its $40 counterpart at happy hour.
2330 Kalakaua Ave., stripsteakwaikiki.com.
Tim Ho Wan
Much like Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s pop hit, all the stars are indeed in Honolulu. The latest Michelin-approved restaurant to arrive on its shores is Tim Ho Wan, the revered – and affordable – dim sum institution from Hong Kong. Your dollar bills will be good here for dishes ranging from about $4 to $6.
2233 Kalakaua Ave., timhowanusa.com.
Chef David Chang often tells the story of his journeyman years spent in Japan learning about ramen. Broke and starving, he developed a fondness for Lawson Station, the ubiquitous Japanese convenience store akin to an upscale 7-11. In Waikiki, a Lawson outpost offers a rare chance to sample snacks from the daily life of Tokyo: oden, onigiri, rice bowls and an assortment of hot meals and baked goods make for a quick way to eat like David Chang before hitting the beach.
2365 Kalakaua Ave., hawaiilawson.com.
Waikiki Yokocho Gourmet Alley
Food halls are hot and Honolulu is no exception. At Waikiki Yokocho Gourmet Alley you can eat a dozen times over between separate restaurants specializing in curry, tempura, grilled meats and no fewer than four different ramen styles. Many of these Japanese imports draw lines elsewhere; don’t pass up the chance to stroll right in for a bowl of hearty Hokkaido-style noodles.
2250 Kalakaua Ave., waikiki-yokocho.com.
Work up an appetite while checking out the Ala Moana Center, Honolulu’s main shopping complex and one of the world’s largest outdoor malls. The whole alphabet is here, from Apple to Chanel, Versace to Zara. For happy hour, proceed directly to the attached Shirokiya Japan Village Walk, another Japanese food hall. But let’s not kid ourselves: The main draw is the bar service, which features $1 beer selections all day long.
It’s no mistake that seafood features prominently on menus here, where it’s caught daily. The good stuff is so plentiful, in fact, that it trickles all the way down to the grocery store. That’s right: In a pinch, don’t be afraid to hit up a location of Foodland (like the one at the Ala Moana Center) and ask for a few scoops of poke from the prepared-food counter. Mahalo, Hawaii, and thanks for all the fish.