Waikiki is the go to destination for many visiting Oahu, but that doesn’t mean that it has the best food. There are a few gems in this tourist district, but for even better food, you’ll want to venture out. Right outside of Waikiki is amazing food in the Moiliili and Kapuhulu neighborhoods. For more delicious choices, head northwest of Waikiki to Chinatown.
Here are some of my top recommendations near one of the oldest Chinatowns in the United States.
For Amazing Hawaiian Fare
If spam musubi represents what Hawaiian food has become, Helena’s Hawaiian Food represents what it has been traditionally. One of the draws is their Pipikaula style short ribs which are marinated in soy sauce and hung over night, before being cooked to order.
We ordered the Pipikaula style short ribs, kalua pork, lomi salmon, laulau, and a scoop of rice. They haupia (coconut pudding), onions, and red Hawaiian salt come on the side as long as they still have it available. This isn’t your traditional Mainland Hawaiian food of rice and meat.
From beginning to end, I was enjoying every part of this meal. To this day, it has to be one of my favorite places to get more traditional Hawaiian food.
Inside of Kekaulike Market, past freshly caught fish and picked produce, you’ll find a variety of eateries. One of these shops is Maguro Brothers. Maguro Brothers is no frills poke, meaning fresh, marinated sashimi on top of rice. The ume shisho poke was amazing when I dropped by.
They also have sushi bowls with giant pieces of sashimi in them. For the quality and amount of fish they give you, Maguro Brothers gets two big thumbs up from me. It can be a little difficult to get table space, as they only have four or so tables, but you can order to go.
For Boba Tea
Loving tea and boba, I made it a point to research boba tea shops on Oahu. Though there were a quite a few options, none of them really spoke to me as drinks that used fresher ingredients. That said, when I found Hana Tea, I was pleasantly surprised.
Hana Tea is the type of place that will include passionfruit seeds in your drink (not just syrup), have Four Season Tea (四李春茶 / si li chun cha) (not just oolong tea), and have the Chinese written aside the English translations (not just English).
If you’re looking to get your boba fix and want something fresh, give Hana Tea a try.
If you ask friends for recommendations in Hawaii, you’re bound to hear the name Liliha Bakery. Lililha Bakery is a mainstay on the island of Oahu, going back to 1950. They create a variety of baked goods but are most known for their Coco Puffs.
Coco Puffs are cream puffs filled with pudding. On top, they place a generous portion of chantilly in a variety of flavors. The original are chocolate pudding filled with plain chantilly on top.
At the time, they also had a matcha green tea version called the Green Tea Puff.
Having been on a mochi doughnut kick, we also picked up one of their mochi donuts.
The coldness of these puffs can be a little off-putting at first, but once you get past it, you’re in a for a treat. The pudding and chantilly cream are delectable. The whole Coco Puff is rich in taste, even one might suffice for two people if you just came from a big dinner.
There aren’t too many mochigashi places left in the United States so this one is both a pleasure to add and an amazing one, at that. Nisshodo Candy Store is located in the middle of warehouse buildings. The location is a little odd, but once you get inside, you’ll be treated to a wide variety of Japanese confections.
From more traditional types of wagashi like daifuku to more modern takes on mochi like peanut butter mochi, Nisshodo has a selection of mochi that’s bound to please.
You pay for the mochi by the piece and they can arrange the mochi in a box if you’re looking to give it in volume as a gift.
We picked up eight pieces of chichi dango (which is plain mochi, colored white and red, lightly sweetened, wrapped like candy).
We also got a melon, lilikoi (passionfruit), peanut butter, uguisu, and a manju. I’m more of a traditional mochi guy myself, so I loved the uguisu and manju. The lilikoi was super nice though.
With such unique and classic flavors, I can’t wait to go back again!
Hope this list helps add a little flavor to your visit to Oahu. If there are any places you think I should check out and add, let me know in the comments below!