Honolulu is located on the island of Oahu and is the largest city in Hawaii with more than 350,000 inhabitants.
This is my second trip to the city, and it’s already become one of my favorite cities in the world. The journey from Norway is long however. Once you’ve reached the West Coast of the United States, it’s still 5.5 hours of travel before landing in Hawaii, also known as the Sandwich Islands. It’s so worth it though!
Saying the word Hawaii you think of beaches, sun and palm trees. Hawaii have all that, but there is so much more.
When Erik and I visited Honolulu in January we stayed for nine days in a hotel and spent no more 5.5 hours on the beach in total. Not that we didn’t like spending time on one of the world’s finest beaches, as Waikiki is, there was just so much else we wanted to do.
Honolulu has it all, whether you’re into culture, art, shopping or good food.
There are two words you have to learn before coming to Hawaii: Aloha means «Hello» and «Mahalo er «thank you».
What makes Hawaii so special? Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures. The natives are the Polynesians. Missionaries from England and the United States arrived later, to run the plantations. In the 1850’s, the need for more people to work the plantations and in the sugar industry increased. Several thousand immigrants arrived from China (they came about 50 years before the other immigrants), Portugal, Japan, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Okinawa (Japanese Island) arrived in Hawaii over the next decades and their traditions and culture have shaped Honolulu into one of the most colorful and exciting cities I have ever visited.
Honolulu is the perfect combination of East and West. A kind of Japan in miniature. You forget that you are actually in the United States and The Aloha State, as the state is called.
In Honolulu it’s just as common to eat lovely Asian food as it is local Hawaiian food.
Traditional Hawaiian food is:
Poi. A slimy purée made of taro. This is a staple food like potato is to Scandinavians.
Laulau. Luau leaves are used to wrap food like pork and then steamed or placed in an underground oven, called an imu. Hot rocks are placed on the dish and covered in banana leaves and buried again. A few hours later the laulau is ready to eat.
Kalua Pig is the closest we get to pulled pork – only a thousand times better. The pork meat is placed in the oven called imu in the same way as the laulau. The most amazing smoky flavor you can imagine.
You can’t talk about Hawaiian food without mentioning poke. This has gradually become a trendy dish all over the world. It consists of raw fish cut into cubes and marinated in sea salt, onion, soy sauce and sesame oil. Interested in learning more about poke? Me and chef Oskar Sellin have made a book about Poke. It is available in most bookstores across Norway.
Lomi-lomi salmon is one of my favorites. Salmon, chopped onions, sea salt and tomatoes are mixed and eaten as an appetizer or as an accessory to other dishes.
Chicken long rice is a dish of mung bean noodles, chicken meat and ginger.
Spam is canned cooked pork. Nowhere in the world is this product sold more than in Hawaii. There is a very special dish made with spam, called the musubi. This is a sushi dish with rice at the bottom, slices of spam on top (which can be grilled, brushed with glaze or natural) wrapped with a strip of seaweed. It’s so popular that there are special musubi cafes in Honolulu. Did I forget to mention that there is also a spam festival in Honolulu every year? That’s right.
Poke is from Hawaii and the dish is sold everywhere.
These are some of the places where you can buy really good Poke: Tamashiro Market, Nico’s on pier 38 and Yama’s Fish Market
If you want to taste several of the authentic Hawaiian dishes in one place, a trip to Helena’s Hawaiian Food is recommended. Here you have the opportunity to taste poke, lomi, poi, kalua pig and their famous Pipikaula Shortribs. Expect to queue up to wait for a table.
For $5.5 a day you can ride the bus anywhere on the island which is a bargain. Although the traffic in Honolulu is a nightmare, you will arrive at your destination. Alternatively, you can rent bikes with the Biki city bikes from stalls all over the city. Personally I think there is too much traffic to ride a bike. For small trips in Waikiki or similar it’s absolutely fine, but if you’re going from one end of Honolulu to the other I would rather recommend the bus.
This is the tourist area of Honolulu. Don’t let that intimidate you. There are many culinary gems hidden here and you will also find the city’s best shopping if you’re looking for high end brands and chains.
Marukame Udon Waikiki
There’s a queue from early morning until late night. Why? Because they make the most amazing udon noodles. Udon are thick, elastic noodles made from wheat. They’re made on site and are served in various dishes. We tried Beef nikutama udon with eggs on two occasions. Light smoky taste, hearty and a wonderful aromatic broth, served with finely chopped beef fried with onion on top of the noodles. They also have a large selection of tempura. Marukame Udon has also opened restaurants in Honolulu Downtown and Los Angeles.
There are a couple of houses in Waikiki where a lot of exciting things happen. They can be found close to the canal in Seaside Ave. This is a bit off the tourist trail, and you’ll find three great restaurants there. There’s a lovely izakaya in the backyard of one of the houses.
Next door there’s an exquisite Japanese restaurant and on the floor above you’ll find one of Honolulu’s most exciting restaurants at the moment.
Izakaya Pau Hana Base is a small gem in the backyard. They offer small izakaya dishes and BBQ. The style is Japanese / Korean and you get delicious food here, as well as Japanese and Hawaiian beers and sake. We were here several times during our trip, a perfect place for a small snack (or a lot of food) and an ice cold beer.
ZIGU. This is a fairly new restaurant serving Japanese dishes made with only local Hawaiian ingredients. We ate an amazing potato salad made with smoked potatoes and eggs.
We also had a portion of super fresh tuna sashimi and mouth dripping pork belly with laulau and macadamia nuts. For dessert we shared a bowl of ice cream: Matcha, Kona coffee (the best coffee you can get in Hawaii), macadamia nuts and local honey. You can sit at a table, in the garden, or on seats along the kitchen counter with full access to the chefs.
Up the stairwell from Zigu you’ll find Paris.Hawaii. This is a real treasure in the Waikiki district. Chef Yuya Yamanaka from Hokkaido, Japan, has been working at Clown Bar, one of my favorite neo biostros in Paris. He has moved to Honolulu and opened the fine dining restaurant, using modern French techniques combined with local produce. There are only few seats in the restaurant, so it’s absolutely necessary to book a table.
Have a drink at the bar. They shake up craft cocktails and serve pupus (small dishes) if you prefer to spend the evening here rather than at the Chef’s table.
We could relate to our many Paris trips in the dishes we ate at Paris.Hawaii. Onion soup with sweet and local Maui onions, Choux pastry and Gruyère cheese melted at the bottom of the soup, instead of at the top.
Local Kauai shrimp with garlic butter made with black garlic is a dish you could have found at a bistro in Paris or in a Hawaiian food truck.
The most perfect interpretation of Paris and Hawaii is the dish they call PARIS.Poke. Poke is one of the most famous dishes from Hawaii. It consists of marinated fish cubes and other delicious ingredients. What is Paris known for foodwise? Tartar, of course.
Yuya combines these two dishes perfectly by smoking dice of beef.
Dice of ahi (yellowfin tuna) are marinated and mixed with beef and soft-boiled egg. The perfect dish.
We also got chicken from North Shore with laulau, puree of taro and a wonderful crab broth.
We tried a dish with oysters, kale and asparagus, kampachi from Kona with turnip and Hawaiian salt before the dish of the day was served: Steak with mushrooms and sauce. This is not the average Saturday steak we’re talking about. The meat is from Big Island and grilled with love over a Japanese hibachi using kiawe wood. The meat is served with local Hamakua mushrooms, horseradish cream, truffle crumbs, Hawaiian salt and Perigueux sauce (madeira and truffle sauce).
The desserts are not part of the menu that costs $ 85 (excluding drinks, tax and tips). The menu changes from season to season.
If I were to recommend a dessert I would choose the Kilauea Lava Cake with coconut lava cream. This is a dish with a show. There is liquid nitrogen and you get a smoking black lava cake with smoke and everything. Hawaii in a nutshell!
If you live in a lovely hotel, the breakfast is worth trying. I myself love to get out in the streets and start the day at one of the many amazing coffee bars in Honolulu. Leaving Hawaii you will for sure miss this daily dose of liquid black gold.
The best coffee shop at Waikiki is without a doubt Kona Coffee Purveyors. The cafe is located in the International Market Place.. You also get delicious pastries from b. Patisserie. Don’t miss the croissant with coconut and pineapple or banana and chocolate.
Kai coffee Hawaii is located inside the Hyatt Regency Waikiki and also serve very good local coffee and some pastries. They have a branch in Downtown as well.
831 coffeeshop is the cutest cafe in Waikiki. They serve fantastic coffee and you can choose from an impressive Hand Drip menu. The café is decorated with surfboards and vintage furniture. Here you can order the famous papaya boat filled with fresh berries and fruit. They also specialize in bagels and panini.
Next door is the seafood specialist Maguro Brothers Hawaii. The original outlet is located in Chinatown / Downtown. Read more about this further down in this article.
Mahina & Sun’s and Olive & Oliver are located at Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, the lovely boutique hotel we stayed at.
Mahina & Sun’sserves breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. Here you also get excellent cocktails. Chef Ed Kenney focuses on local and sustainable ingredients. That’s why, for example, you will not find bluefin tuna on the menu in the restaurant.
Olive & Oliver is a super cool concept store that sells coffee in the sweetest coffee cups you can imagine. Olive & Oliver has a larger store in the town of Kailua, located on the east side of Oahu.
Korean food is huge in Hawaii. Of course, this is due to the immigration from Korea to Hawaii for the last 100 years.
Ginza won is located in an alley in Waikiki. They serve real Korean food at a reasonable price. Try Korean BBQ.
Waikiki Yokocho is a Japanese food hall in the heart of Waikiki where you’ll only find Japanese eateries and bars. Here’s why I’ve given Honolulu the moniker Mini-Tokyo. The mall is full of places that sell Japanese specialties like ramen (they actually have their own department of the food hall called Ramen Road), gyoza, sashimi, sushi, tempura, okonomiyaki and yakiniku (grilled meat).
Mitsuwa Market (inside the International Market Place) is also a Japanese food market. They sell Japanese foods and drinks as well as some Hawaiian specialties that Japanese like: Musubi and poke. They have their own matcha tea shop where you only get products with matcha tea.
MoDo (in Mitsuwa Market) sells mochi donuts which is a unique product. Sweet, Instagram friendly cakes.
International Market Place is a lovely open air shopping center with nice shops and restaurants on the roof. Flour & Barley is a great place for getting a delicious brick oven pizza. The white pizza with local shrimp and grilled lemon was just perfect. I also had a super fresh Pineapple Cider. So good.
The best shave ice in Honolulu is from Island Vintage Shave Ice. They are located outside TheRoyal Hawaiian Center. Shave ice is «snow» scraped from big ice blocks using a Japanese kakigori machine brought over to Hawaii from Japan to cool down the workers on the plantations.
The shave ice is flavored with fruit syrups. The versions you get on Iceland Vintage Shave Ice are the gourmet versions of the original. You can choose ice cream or sweet bean paste as a filling and all fruit syrups are made with 100% natural ingredients. As a topping you get fresh fruit and fruit pearls that explode in your mouth. Such an amazing experience!
I would also recommend the Dole Pineapple Soft Serve. You’ll find it in many stores around Honolulu and they taste amazing! Imagine ripe and aromatic pineapple in the shape of ice cream. Yes, then you have a Dole Pineapple Soft Serve.
No visit to Hawaii without a couple of cocktails. After all, we are in the land of Tiki. On the venerable Moana Surfrider you can sit on the beautiful wooden porch and watch the sun go down into the Pacific Ocean while enjoying a delicious cocktail. They make really good cocktails at this place.
The place where the original Royal Mai Tai was served for the first time is available at Mai Tai Bar at TheRoyal Hawaiian . The pink hotel that has become the number one Instagram destination on Waikiki is actually the place where bartender Victor Bergeron (Trader Vic) in 1953 was hired to make a signature drink to the hotel called «The Pink Palace of the Pacific».
Royal Mai Tai is the original version Trader Vic made for the hotel and it includes pineapple and orange juice, orange curacao, orgeat and local room. You can also order the original Mai Tai drink that Trader Vic made in 1944.
That version is also served at House Without a Key at the Halekulani Hotel. This is Honolulu’s best Mai Tai, in my opinion. It is served with lots of crushed ice in order for it to stay cool for a long time and not get too diluted.
You’ve probably heard of Blue Hawaii? Both the drink and in relation to Elvis Presley? Elvis visited Hawaii on several occasions and the movie «Blue Hawaii» was filmed in Hawaii.
The cocktail «Blue Hawaii» was made by the bartender Harry Yee who worked at the Tropics Bar at Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu. It contains blue curacao, vodka, sweet & sour mix and soda.
Tip: All across Honolulu you can find ABC Stores on almost every corner. They sell Hawaiian shirts (or Aloha shirts as they are actually called), sunscreen, food, wine, snacks and everything you need.
Places I’d like to try inWaikiki:
• At the top of the International Market Place you’ll find the posh restaurant Herringbone. They serve oysters, bubbles, fresh seafood and other delicious and exclusive dishes.
• Tim ho Wan Waikiki inside the Royal Hawaiian Center are known for amazing Dim Sum.
• The Pink pancakes at The Royal Hawaiian.
• Bill Granger runs Bill’s Hawaii. eatery. The food is quite expensive and the question is whether it is worth spending so much in a city where the restaurant offer is as great as in Honolulu. The food looks lovely though.
• The Hideout at he The Laylowboutique hotel serves pupus (Hawaiian snacks), cocktails, Stumptown coffee (Portland brand), breakfast, lunch and dinner.
East of Waikiki is Kapahula Avenue, a long stretch of road that starts at the zoo and passes the canal and the mighty Diamond Head crater. You pass the Ala Wai golf course and the legendary Hawaiian shirt store, Bailey’s Antiques ans Aloha Shirts store with more than 15,000 shirts for sale. If you manage to detach yourself from this treat, you’ll have plenty of good food waiting.
Ono Seafood is said to make Honolulu’s best poke. If you don’t know what Poke is, I recommend you buy the book I wrote last year called «Poke! Colorful street food from Hawaii.» When I was in Honolulu two years ago doing research for the book, I ate at as many poke places I managed the few days I was in town. Ono Seafood was one of the places I never came around to visit. Luckily I tried Ono this time, and yes, they serve really good poke.
We tried the spicy tuna and there was a good kick to the fresh tuna cubes. Poke is food «on the go». Therefore, most poke places have only outlets and no restaurant. Ono Seafood has a couple of benches outside the store where you can eat.
Further up Kapahula avenue you reach a real gem. Leonard’s Bakery is a place that has made cakes since 1952 and they are known especially the Portuguese malasada (without holes). Because Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures, it makes sense to have a store specializing in malasadas. They also make other things, but it’s the malasada people line up for. They were first made for Fat Tuesday in 1953, and have been on the menu ever since. These days people from all over the world come to eat the lovely donuts filled with different goodies. The cakes are made to order and are smoking hot straight from the kitchen when your number is called.
Kono’s is next door to Leonard’s Bakery. This is the place to try the famous kalua pig dish, street food style. The pork has been baked for 12 hours on low heat. The result is the best pulled pork you’ve ever tasted.
You can choose from a huge meny of kalua pig in different dishes. We picked the sliders with guava bbq sauce and coleslaw. It might be of the best dish I’ve tasted in this category. So yum! Next time I’ll go for one of the tempting milkshakes on the menu. How about a milkshake with Coconut cream pie, Pineapple vanilla or Key lime pie?
Places I’d like to try in Kapahula Avenue:
• Sushi Ginza Onodera. The restaurant in New York City has got two Michelin stars and at Kapahula Avenue they have an omakase branch. If you’re looking for luxury sushi this is the place to go. They also have a teppanyaki restaurant on King Street.
Tonkatsu Tamafuji serves tonkatsu. Anyone who’s been to Japan knows the tasty dish of pork coated in panko crumbs, deep fried to perfection.
East of the highway where Kapahula Avenue ends, you should check out the Kaimuki district where lots of exciting and hip dining places have popped up the recent years.Concentrate primarily on Waialea avenue, where you’ll find lots of great places.
Mud Hen Water has been named one of America’s most essential eating places, according to Eater. Ed Kenney (Mahina & Sun’s in Waikiki) runs this place which is open in the evenings but also offers brunch on weekends. And that’s exactly what we tried when we were in Honolulu. It was a lovely experience.
We ordered «The Seaboard», containing wonderful smoked opah, preserved akule, pastrami-cured kahala, basket cheese, brown bread, soda crackers, marmelade. So delicious.
We couldn’t resist a gigantic portion of delicious and thin sourdough banana pancakes with whipped brown butter and pure maple syrup.
We ordered lemonade and coffee. The selection of cocktails on the brunch menu is very good, so if you’re planning on a lazy Sunday there is nothing wrong with ordering a nice drink.
I would love to return one day and try the evening menu. Mud Hen Water also has a small outdoor dining area.
Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors is not an eatery, but a gigantic store with Honolulu’s best selection of wine, sake and liquor. That’s not all however. There is also a deli where you can, among other things, choose from an impressive selection of awesome Poke.
Surf ’n Hula Hawaii is a cool vintage store selling kitchenware and tiki items. You just have to visit this store when you’re in the neighborhood.
Coffee Talk lies at the top of the hill, a relaxed, beautifully decorated neighborhood café, that serves coffee, sandwiches and salads.
Turn the corner and walk up 12. Avenue. Around the corner from Gecko Books & Comics(according to my husband this a really nice comic book store) lies the legendary Koko Head Café The specialties here are breakfast, brunch and lunch (07: 00-14: 30), made by celebrity chef Lee Anne Wong. She’s a Chinese-American who’s worked at a long list of well-known restaurants around the world. She’s been involved with countless food programs on TV and is also the Hawaiian Airlines executive chef. Originally from New York, Lee Ann moved to Honolulu in 2013.
At Koko Head Café you get cakes, pancakes, sandwiches, eggs and typical breakfast dishes, but also the brilliant concept of «today’s dumplings», small iron pans with exotic dishes representing the variety of culinary Hawaii. There is a little bit of Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Puerto Rican and Vietnamese in the dishes. Coffee and juice and everything one can expect from non-alcoholic drinks are served, but also cocktails and a Morning Milkshake with bourbon. Next time I’ll have one for sure.
Via Gelato makes homemade craft ice cream. Melissa Bow used to sell ice cream from a food truck, but now has a shop in Kaimuki and Ward Village Kaka’ako. Every day, 12 different ice creams are made from local ingredients such as coffee from fabulous Kona Coffee Purveyors, guava, coconut, pandan, matcha tea and so forth in Italian gelato style.
Places I’d like to try in Kaimuki:
• Restaurant X0. Asian fusion restaurant serving fried chicken and other delicious dishes.
• Happy Days is a Chinese neighbourhood classic and one of the places I’m really sorry not to have had time to visit. They’re open from early morning and specialize in dim sum and seafood. What’s not to like?
• The Surfing Pig is the sister restaurant of Kono’s (Kapahula Avenue), serving classic American / Hawaiian dishes like flatbreads, burgers, back ribs, crab cakes, fried rice, tataki and much more. This is also a great place for weekend brunch.
• Koa Pancake House is yet another classic place and they obviously serve pancakes, but also omelettes and other breakfast dishes diner style.
• 12th Ave Grill is an American brasserie serving meat and seafood from local producers.
This is the neighbourhood I know the least, an area of mostly shopping malls and offices. There are plenty of good places to eat inside the various shopping malls, but I’m not a big fan of eating at malls. This is probably much more common for Americans and Asians. In the Ala Moana area you’ll find Ward Village and the South Shore Market.
Foodland Farm is worth visiting to buy with local quality products and to have a look at the biggest poke selection in town.
At Ala Moana you will find Ward Village and the South Shore
Lucy’s Lab Creamery is located inside the cool little South Shore Market center. Here you’ll find small designer shops selling unique items made in Hawaii like clothes and jewelry. Lucy’s Lab Creamery sells ice cream to die for, with special flavors such as whiskey and bacon, blue sweet potato (Ube), Thai tea, lavender and honey and one that sums up the taste of a classic birthday cake. The ice creams are fabulous and I highly recommend taking a scoop or two to cool down.
Pa’ina Cafe is the place where the famous Poke bowl was invented. I visited when I was doing research for my book on poke two years ago. They serve delicious and very generous portions of the trendy dish.
Piggy Smalls offers outdoor seating, and one would like to sit outdoors when traveling from winter in Scandinavia on the other side of the globe. Trust me!
Piggy Smalls is the sister restaurant of The Pig & The Lady. The concept is modern Vietnamese with classic dishes like phô and ban mi, but also exciting dishes like today’s fish served with spicy watermelon, lemon grass mojo sauce, padron chili and mint and fennel salad. What a dish! The fish we got was a perfectly grilled salmon.
At Piggy Smalls or The Pig & The Lady you simply have to try the LFC wings served with money-sauce, coffee lime, peanuts, fried onions and a light coleslaw. Here you get sweet and sour Vietnamese flavors in the delicious, fried chicken wings. You’ll lick your fingers afterwards.
Places I’d like to try in Ala Moana:
• Scratch Kitchen and Meatery is a brunch place with a long line of people outside on weekends. They serve comfort food Hawaiian style like French toast with coconut Creme brulee, Pork adobo loco moco, grilled sandwiches and burgers.
• The brilliant OX: Every Wednesday they have the brilliant concept of «Bourbon & Bones» pairing bone marrow and a selection of bourbons or Japanese whiskeys.
• Nobu is also located in this area, never wrong if you fancy good sushi.
• Minori Craft Japanese Tavern: The Japanese taverna opened while I was in Honolulu, but unfortunately this was one of the places I didn’t have time to visit. They serve creative Japanese dishes.
Arriving at Ward Avenue you’ll see a big selection of auto repair shops and street art. Now the really exciting part of Honolulu opens up.
In the slightly dodgy part of the area you’ll find a weird concept called The Brewseum.
This is the brewery Home of the Brave Brewing Co combined with a World War II themed bar, a real hit with people interested in war history and beer.
This neighbourhood is home to several micro breweries, and you can go from place to place drinking local beer. These are a few places to check out:
Waikiki Brewing Company, Honolulu Beerworks, Aloha Beer Company, REAL gastropub / Bent Tail Brewing Company.
Street art is a significant attraction in the neighbourhood and you’ll meet people going on art safaris to see the finest works adorning warehouses, facades and sidewalks. The Pow! Wow! street art festival is arranged in February every year, and artists from all over the world come to Honolulu to paint their works of art that will be exhibited in the streets for a whole year. Check out Cooke Street and Pohukaina Street.
Salt is an area that is quite new, with trendy restaurants, bars and shops. There’s a specialist photo store and Honolulu’s best record store can be found on the second floor.
Butcher & Bird, the butcher, serves tempting lunch with produce from their own selection. The butcher also delivers to restaurants in the area, such as Moku Kitchen.
Moku Kitchen: This restaurant has a sustainable focus, offering a large selection of cocktails, a large selection of beers and wines on tap, delicious pizzas, barbecue dishes, fish, the best deviled eggs I have ever tasted and Asian / Hawaiian snacks. We went for a pizza with kalua pig and pineapple (hey, it’s fine with pineapple on pizza when you are in Hawaii. Otherwise too!) This is a very social and pleasant eatery with outdoor seating.
ARVO is the avocado-eating foodie’s wet dream. The Australian café shares location with the trendy flower shop, Paiko.
53 by the Sea is located below Salt towards the sea. The restaurant is beautifully situated overlooking Waikiki and Diamond Head. The style is fine dining and the ingredients used in the dishes are local. We had a three course lunch menu with a Chef’s trio to start with.
We got delicious, crispy prawns with curry avocado salsa, spicy poke soju ahi and roast beef with asparagus and horseradish cream. I must also mention the delicious bread we were served with pineapple butter. OMG.
We enjoyed a bottle of lovely rosé wine which matched our main courses. Exquisite fried fish with blue sweet potato puree (ube), carrot and lime foam. Erik had a perfectly cooked chicken with yuzu potato puree and soy ponzu sauce.
For dessert we had a delicious coconut panna cotta with forest berries and raspberry shave ice, shaved at the table.
Places I’d like to try in Kaka’ako:
• Cafe Duck Butt. This is a karaoke bar with food. An overly cool name makes this a place I want to visit.
• Bevy bar: Bar serving artisan cocktails and tempting snacks.
• Morning Glass (inside the shop Fishcake): Good coffee place serving breakfast and lunch.
The Pig and the Lady is Piggy Small’s main restaurant. The menu is a little different, but you get the chicken wings here too. Their ice cream menu with exciting flavor combinations is a must.
The Pig and the Lady’s neighbor Senia is Barack and Michelle Obama’s favorite restaurant in Honolulu. Chef Chris Kajioka and chef Anthony Rush worked together at Thomas Keller’s two star restaurant, Per Se, in New York.
You can choose à la carte in the main room or a tasting menu at Chef’s table. We chose à la carte enjoying every dish, suddenly hearing a Swede talk to us. Martin Mårtensson has worked at the restaurant since it opened in 2016. What a great guy!
The food at Senia is fantastic. We ordered some snacks and some larger dishes.
The dishes are perfect for sharing. We have small crackers made from squid ink with poke, ponzu and avocado. Èclairs filled with chicken liver, mushroom dust and persimmon was the next snack. Oh joy!
We follow up with grilled beets with endive, citrus and avocado before tucking into a mountain of bone marrow and beef cheek marmalade, sweet rolls, piccalilli and Hawaiian salt. What a fun dish to eat! Inside each roll, we add a little beef cheek marmelade, some piccalilli, bone marrow and a sprinkle of salt. Exquisite and fun.
The next dish is squid tempura with a delicious Japanese dashi, shiso and sunchoke. Our final dish was spaghetti arrabbiata served with baked peppers and lobster.
We shared a small and delicious desert: Cannelle and ice cream and cups of local quality coffee.
I highly recommend booking a table at Senia if you’re heading to Honolulu. Whether you sit at the Chef’s table or in the dining room, I guarantee you’ll have a wonderful dining experience. I also think the cocktails are worth trying.
Chinatown is such a special place. This is where you get an authentic taste of Asia. What makes Chinatown extra exciting is the mix of trendy shops and modern restaurants, bars and cafes mixed with authentic Asian restaurants and shops.
Fête is one of the few places in Honolulu serving natural wines. You also get delicious food here like pasta and meat dishes. The meat is delivered by local farmers and the same goes for the cheeses. The cocktail menu is tempting too.
Maguro Brothers inside the Kekaulike Market serve some of the best poke and sashimi dishes throughout the city. The brothers worked at the fish market in Honolulu, a place I visited the first time I was there. Now, they carefully select fish from the market every morning and prepare dishes at their small kitchen inside the Kekaulike Market in Chinatown. There are a couple of chairs and tables here too, but most people stop by to buy take-away.
The shop is open in the morning and closes at 15.00. From 5:30 pm they work in their shop in Waikiki.
The shop inside the Kekaulike Market is super charming. You sit among vegetable sellers while eating the freshest fish you can imagine. This was by far our best sashimi experience in Honolulu.
Happy Garden is an authentic Chinese place, specializing in dim sum. The window is filled with steaming hot bamboo baskets that lure customers in from the street and into the restaurant. It’s cheap, authentic and good.
The Manifest: Good cocktail bar which also has a large beer selection. A nice place to start the evening before going out to eat.
Places I’d like to try in Downtown / Chinatown:
• Bar Leather Apron: I’ve been to the bar, but without tasting the drinks. You need to book a table. This bar is known as the best cocktail bar in Honolulu and is run by bartender Justin Park.
• Lucky Belly Ramen is the place for good ramen.
• Little village noodle house: This is also one of the authentic North Chinese eateries serving noodles, rice dishes, dumplings, chicken, beef and duck and seafood dishes.
• The Tchin Tchin! Bar: Wine bar which also serves cocktails and snacks. The bar has outdoor seating on the roof.
• Brue Bar: Creative coffee drinks
We also went on an excursion to North Shore. The bus takes you there in an hour and a half and you can use the same day ticket that you buy in Honolulu no matter how far you want to go. On the way up to Haleiwa you drive past the Dole pineapple farm where you can stop to explore more if you are interested. Dole sells lots of amazing products. You’ll also find them in Honolulu and at the airport (where it’s more expensive).
Coming to Haleiwa, the small surfing town on the North Shore, you can go to the beach and watch the surfers, shop in the legendary surf shop Surf N Sea or eat shave ice at Matsumoto Shave Ice which has been doing this classic since 1951.
There are lots of shops and eateries in Haleiwa, but if you smell grilled chicken, head in that direction.
You’ll find Ray’s Kiawe Broiled chicken and it’s a must. Ray’s grilling whole chickens at Rotisserie spits over the local kiawe variety, selling it cheaply. It’s served with rice and pineapple slaw and is a perfect dish.
Another excursion would be to the east coast of Oahu. Kailua is a small beach town with cool shops and apparently good eateries and fantastic beaches. I haven’t been there but on my next trip to Hawaii I’ll be going for sure.