When people come to Hawai’i and specifically O’ahu, they often choose to stay in Waikiki.
Waikiki is a neighborhood on the south side of the island famous for its beach, Waikiki Beach. What was once a popular spot for Hawaiian royals became a series of small hotels in the late 1800’s. With the visit of Robert Louis Stevenson, many from the Mainland United States started coming over to visit the island.
A proliferation of hotel construction by companies like Hilton as well as Duke Kahanamoku’s popularization of surfing at Waikiki Beach further led to a wave of tourism that continues to make a splash. Today, Waikiki is home to many of the large hotels on the island, high-end retailers, and a plethora of establishments focused on the tourism industry.
Because there are so many signs and people pining for attention, it can be hard to figure out what to eat. Here are some of my top recommendations in the Waikiki neighborhood of O’ahu.
For Brunch Time
Because we went after the dinner rush, there wasn’t much in the way of a line. We were quickly seated next to a cadre of international (mostly Japanese) visitors. Reading the reviews, this place gets busy during the actual brunch time so come early.
We ordered the Big Island Honey French Toast with tropical fruits and the Local Eggs Benedict.
Coming from the Mainland United States, be prepared for how sweet the fruit will be. Every time I come to Hawai’i, I’m amazed at how much sweeter fruit is here.
The french toast was lovely and the eggs benedict with the kalua pork was a nice compliment.
This shop overall reminded me of some of my favorite brunch places in San Diego. Overall, Heavenly Island Lifestyle is a solid choice, no matter when you choose to grab brunch.
For Lunch or a Snack
For those who don’t know, Hawai’i has a history of immigration from Asia. The result is a culture of food unlike many places around the world. One such food item that has become a local mainstay is the spam musubi.
Spam musubi (スパムむすび) is a slice of Spam, fried, on top of a bed of rice, often wrapped with a piece of toasted seaweed (のり). If you haven’t had it before, there are a few amazing shops that mix it up with things like homemade spam, teriyaki glaze, fried egg, and more.
In general, musubi’s are the perfect food for a lunch or snack on the go in Hawai’i because they’re portable. You can be out enjoying the waves, come back to your bag, and enjoy a rice ball. One of the best places to get musubi in the Waikiki district is Musubi Cafe Iyasume.
There are three locations currently. They open up fairly early in the morning which makes them easy to pick up before an adventure.
As you can see, they fit in the palm of your hand. More likely that not, you may want to get a couple of them to satiate your hunger. Luckily, they come in a variety of different flavors so you that you can experience a wide variety of profiles.
We got a spam and egg musubi, a similar-looking musubi with sour plum (ume) in it, and a more traditional musubi with sour plum. Each one was delicious in its own way and perfect for exploring sights around Waikiki Beach.
Kona Coffee Purveyors is one of the newer establishments to pop-up in Waikiki. It’s located on the outside of the new International Market Place.
We discovered it after walking by one day. The large floor to ceiling windows revealed delicious-looking pastries and over a dozen people lined up.
We took this as a sign to drop in and see what was going on.
They have many different types of pastries ranging from biscotti to lava cakes. Many of the pastries have a local flair to them with flavors like passionfruit (lilikoi) and black sesame seed.
Ultimately, because of our experience with kouign amann in New York, we setlled on a classic and black sesame kouign amann.
These pastries were amazing and super messy. Sometimes black sesame can overpower a dish, but the level of black sesame in this kouign amann was just right. Would go back and would definitely recommend!
Every time I go back to O’ahu, there’s a new dessert place that opens up. This time around I saw ice cream cones that looked like a piece of art and buns made into cute little animals.
Ultimately for dessert, I like to fall back on a few staples. In Waikiki, this staple is Henry’s Place.
Henry’s Place is a hole-in-the wall place with signs that seem to yell at you. The cups of ice cream and sorbet look very nondescript as they’re placed in styrofoam cups. The only real way to tell what is what is with the handwritten names written in bold markers on the outside.
Once you’ve figured out what you want and order, you’re in for a treat.
Not quite ice cream (creamy), not quite sorbet (icy), Henry’s is more like a combination of the two. This style is known as guri-guri. It’s a local style of ice cream that contains elements of fruit juices, condensed milk, and sometimes soda.
Come earlier in the evening for the widest selection of flavors out there. When I went last time, it was close to closing and they only had a few flavors (including Kalamansi Lime).
This place isn’t food-related, but it is located in Waikiki. Coming straight off the hit Netflix series, Terrace House: Aloha State (テラスハウス アロハ ステート), this is the shop owned by Avian Ku’s family—88 Tees.
You wouldn’t really know it walking by, but up these steps is a wide (if not somewhat messy) array of t-shirts. It was fun browsing through the shop and especially looking at the decor near the ceiling. Stop by if you’re interested in the show. Who knows, maybe Avian will be around.