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4 fun foodie neighborhoods in Hawaii

Honolulu. Photo by Getty images An aerial view of Honolulu. | Photo by Getty images

Great food, shopping, and entertainment come together in these Oahu neighborhoods.

There’s more to Oahu than great beaches and Pearl Harbor. Hawaii’s most populous island—its nickname is “The Gathering Place”—is experiencing a culinary boom that enhances an already happening scene: local chefs, farmers, and artisans embracing locally grown ingredients; innovative techniques; and their multiethnic roots, including Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese influences. Here are four distinct Oahu neighborhoods spotlighting this delectable gathering of talent.


Old meets new in Chinatown, where an eclectic mix of imaginative restaurants and independent art galleries are found alongside antiques shops and bustling markets.

Shoppers peruse the vegetables and fruits in Maunakea Marketplace. | Photo by Rachel Ng

Shoppers peruse the vegetables and fruits in Maunakea Marketplace. | Photo by Rachel Ng

Per Se alums Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush brought New York’s fine dining sensibility to Oahu when they opened Restaurant Senia in 2016. Dishes like hot-smoked king salmon and charred cabbage with shio kombu (salted kelp) and green goddess dressing are culinary works of art. Entrées, $10–$24. 808-200-5412.

Gifted young chef Andrew Le delivers an elevated Vietnamese experience at the industrial-chic Pig and the Lady. Start with the addictive twice-fried chicken wings and roasted peanuts ($11), followed by the house-made pho with grass-fed, locally sourced beef and fresh rice noodles ($15 at lunch; $18 at dinner). 808-585-8255.

Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery is an old-school Chinese bakery that’s been a Chinatown staple since the ’70s. Die-hard fans rave that its manapuas (barbecue pork buns) are the best in town. 808-531-6688.

On the first Friday of every month, galleries, boutiques, and restaurants stay open later and Chinatown’s nightlife comes alive with free entertainment, music, art openings, and demonstrations.

The Maunakea Marketplace is a sensory hodgepodge of exotic fruits and vegetables, fresh seafood, meats and poultry, as well an international food court. 808-524-3409.

Sign up for a bean-to-bar chocolate-making class or learn about pairing chocolate with various spirits at Madre Chocolate. 808-377-6440.

Visitors can light incense and make an offering to Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, at Kuan Yin Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hawaii. The temple’s proximity to Foster Botanical Garden adds to the lush, serene setting. 808-533-6361.

Catch a concert, musical, or dance performance at the 1922 art deco Hawaii Theatre, on the state and national Registers of Historic Places. 808-528-0506.

Sip an In the Mood cocktail (Raynal brandy, lime juice, egg white, and bitters made with pineapple and kiawe wood) at the rooftop patio Tchin Tchin Bar. $10. 808-528-1888.


Recent culinary offerings make a pleasant surprise for visitors to this tourist mecca. The arrival of food halls such as Waikiki Yokocho Gourmet Alley (808-926-8093) and The Street (808-377-4402) means budget-conscious visitors now have more choices at mealtime.

A view of Waikiki and Diamond Head in Waikiki

A view of Waikiki and Diamond Head. | Photo by Rachel Ng

Spam musubi is a local go-to snack after an afternoon of surfing. At Musubi Cafe Iyasume, sticky rice is hand-molded around Hawaii’s favorite canned meat, along with toppings like kimchi, eel, cheese, or avocado and bacon. $1.88–$4.58. 808-921-0168.

Tour the historic Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort and Spa. Built in 1901, the majestic Beaux-Arts resort, nicknamed “The First Lady of Waikiki,” was the first hotel constructed in Waikiki. The Banyan wing is on the National Register of Historic Places. 11 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. Free. 808-922-3111;

At midcentury modern–inspired The Laylow, thoughtful touches include a welcome gift basket with candy, cookies, and flip-flops; fruit and infused water by the pool; complimentary shave ice; cruiser bikes; and ukulele lessons. Rates start at $299. 808-922-6600;

The relentless line outside Marugame Udon and Tempura might be intimidating but it moves quickly. Pick a broth for the thick house-made noodles ($3.75–$7.25) and add an assortment of crispy tempura items ($1.25–$1.75) from zucchini to pumpkin. 808-931-6000.

Shoppers and other visitors to the Royal Hawaiian Center can enjoy complimentary Hawaiian music and hula performances, ukulele lessons, and lauhala leaf–weaving classes.

The iconic dusty-rose Royal Hawaiian Resort (“The Pink Palace of the Pacific”) is home to ‘Aha‘aina, the only oceanfront luau in Waikiki. Take in ancient tales, mele (chants and song), and dance, and feast on slow-roasted kalua pig, poke (raw-seafood salad), and galbi ribs. Mondays and certain Thursdays. $187.43. 808-921-4600;

Patient and experienced instructors at Hans Hedemann teach first-time surfers to shred gentle waves in the crystal-clear waters off Waikiki. $75 for group lesson of three to four people. 808-924-7778.


At first glance, there’s not much to Kaimuki, one of Honolulu’s oldest residential neighborhoods. But looks can deceive. Peek behind the humble façade and you’ll discover a community with inventive eateries, darling boutiques, and old-timey charm. 

Farmers, artisans, and food vendors display their wares at KCC Farmers Market. | Photo by Dana Edmunds / Hawaii Tourism Authority

Farmers, artisans, and food vendors display their wares at KCC Farmers Market. | Photo by Dana Edmunds / Hawaii Tourism Authority

Brunch is served all day at Koko Head Cafe, helmed by former Top Chef contestant Lee Anne Wong. You can’t go wrong with the breakfast bibimbap (crispy rice topped with Portuguese sausage, kimchi, ong choy greens, carrots, fried egg, and more, nestled in a sizzling hot skillet). $16. 808-732-8920.

Chef Ed Kenney is a four-time James Beard semifinalist with a string of successful restaurants on Oahu. His fast-casual Kaimuki Superette is a bright and cheery café serving healthful seasonal salads, soups, and sandwiches on metal trays. Breakfast, $6 and up; lunch, $7 and up.

Every Saturday morning and Tuesday evening, farmers, artisans, and food vendors gather at the Kapiolani Community College parking lot for the KCC Farmers Market. Peruse island-made products such as honey, pickled vegetables, lilikoi (passion fruit) ice cream pops, and fresh-squeezed juices.

The beachy, eco-friendly Sugarcane is stocked with quaint jewelry, vintage housewares, plush throw pillows, and trendy clothes. 808-739-2263.

Want to snack like an umami-loving local? Substantial glass jars of assorted salted plums, dried squid, and candied fruit line the cramped Crack Seed Store. A Big44 Icee float with three scoops of ice cream is the perfect antidote to a hot day. 808-737-1022.

Kaimuki Dry Goods started out as a general store in the 1920s and now exclusively carries fabrics, patterns, and sewing supplies. Looking for an aloha-shirt pattern and a whimsical pizza-print fabric? Chances are you’ll find it here. 808-734-2141.

Oenophiles head to Tamura’s Fine Wine and Liquors for the well-curated wines, spirits, and cigars, while food connoisseurs head to the back of the store for a remarkable selection of poke, ranging from traditional tuna and salmon to hamachi, scallops, and crab. Free samples available. 808-735-7100.

At Pipeline Bakeshop and Creamery, light and fluffy malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts) are delivered straight from the fryer and dusted with sugar. $1.25 each. 808-738-8200.

North Shore

North Shore’s monster winter waves are legendary. Year round, the coastal area located 35 miles north of Waikiki also boasts beguiling shops and memorable meals.

The North Shore is renowned for its gigantic waves in winter.

The North Shore is renowned for its gigantic waves in winter. | Photo by Tor Johnson / Hawaii Tourism Authority

Stop by the Haleiwa Bowls stand along Kamehameha Highway for a refreshing Hapa Bowl, a frozen breakfast of blended acai, strawberries, blueberries, and bananas that’s topped generously with hemp granola, coconut flakes, bananas, and honey. $8–$11.

Shrimp trucks and shacks dot the North Shore coastline. Step up to the graffitied Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck and order the shrimp scampi that’s drenched in lemon butter and topped with copious amounts of chopped garlic. Feeling brave? Double down on the “No Refunds” hot and spicy shrimp for a fiery kick. $14. 808-293-1839.

Founded in 1951, Matsumoto’s Shave Ice is a North Shore institution serving inexpensive icy treats. Popular flavor combinations include strawberry, lemon, and pineapple. Make like a kamaaina (Hawaii born) and request a drizzle of condensed milk (an additional 50 cents). $3 for small. 808-637-4827.

Climb rope bridges, rappel down platforms, and zip-line over banana fields during Climb Works Keana Farms three-hour tour. $169. 808-200-7906.

The Polynesian Cultural Center’s well-choreographed show Hā: Breath of Life features  Polynesian dances, music, acrobatics, and fireworks. Island Buffet dinner and show, starting at $89.95. 800-367-7060.

Overlooking picturesque Kuilima Cove, Roy’s Beach House at the Turtle Bay Resort is but one of celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi’s many culinary ventures in Hawaii. His signature misoyaki butterfish (miso-marinated black cod) is served with greens and tomato for the sambal (condiment). $45. 808-293-7697;

Adjacent to the Polynesian Cultural Center, the Courtyard Marriott Oahu North Shore is a short drive to Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay, and the famous Banzai Pipeline surf reef break. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, Netflix access, a fitness center, and a waterfall pool. Rates start at $229. 808-293-4900;

Pose in front of artist Colette Miller’s iridescent Angel Wings. 62-620 Kamehameha Highway.

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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