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Hidden Honolulu: Explore the Best Secrets the City Has to Offer

We delve deep into underground passages, secret societies and mysteries—including a few we pass by every day without noticing—to bring you the best secrets the city has to offer.


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Foodie Finds

Whiskey Drinkers Club


Tucked away behind O’Toole’s Irish Pub in Chinatown, around the stage, past the bar and through a little door in the back, is the Celtic Room, a place for small gatherings. 


Once a month, O’Toole’s owner Bill Comerford hosts a whiskey tasting for club members and others interested enough to make a reservation to sample six whiskeys, inspired by holidays, special visiting guests, or whatever Comerford fancies.


“When people have questions, I try to answer them. If I can’t, I’ll just make it up anyway,” Comerford jokes. “On any given evening, we usually sample two Irish whiskeys, two that are Scotch, and then two American.”


At Comerford’s back-room tastings, it’s not about telling people what to expect in each sip, but more about teaching how to appreciate on their own. “Think of whiskeys like chocolate chip cookies. Everyone can make their own, but each cookie is different,” says Comerford. “And that’s how I recommend sampling whiskey too; not by pounding a shot but taking a little sip like you’re taking a bite of a cookie. How’s the taste and texture? What’s it like?”


His motto: Drink what you like, whether the bottle costs $200 or just $20. “If it’s $20,” says Comerford, “Hey, lucky you!”


$25 ($20 for members), 521-4712, irishpubhawaii.com


‘Awa or Kava, This Must Be the Place

Nothing against the acai-bowl, latte-centric places that also serve kava/‘awa, but preparing and drinking the root is a cultural experience. If that’s your vibe instead of a sugary Kavaccino, head over to Fiji Kava for a tasting and talk story session with avuncular owner Daya. A hole in the wall across from Honolulu Community College in the back of a Dillingham strip mall, the shop is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 10 p.m., and closed Wednesdays.

1007 Dillingham Blvd., Suite 107B, 295-2450


Evergreen appeal

Club Evergreen is best known for Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi’s big bar tab on the county dime. But if you crave quality sushi after 2 a.m., and if you really aren’t fazed by going to a buy-me-drink hostess bar, sit at the counter in the corner and talk only to the guy with the knives. 

1376 Kapi‘olani Blvd.


Skip the supermarket

Want to be the hero of your next barbecue? Venture into Maunakea Market in Chinatown for BM Meat Market’s lemongrass pork sausage. It’s often not on display, so you have to specifically ask for it, but your quest will be richly rewarded by juicy, herby meat that blows supermarket varieties away. This is fresh sausage, not cured, so grill long and low for the best results.  

1120 Maunakea St., #139, 541-9835


How do ewe take their coffee? 

Already a refuge from UH Mānoa for those who appreciate its strong coffee, tastefully eclectic but cluttered décor and eccentric, sometimes-prickly owner Dennis, Coffeeline hosts a wonderful home-style lamb dinner on Wednesday nights. It’s only for the customers Dennis deems worthy, so be sure to call ahead.  

1820 University Ave., 778-7909


Tour Monsanto’s brave new world

Learn from controversial agriculture giant Monsanto where new strains of genetically engineered corn are developed and tested. Besides hearing the other side of the story by diving into operations with a Monsanto employee, you’ll experience the eerie buzz of a high-security agriculture station.  

94-520 Kunia Road, Waipahu, 685-8300


Ask for the cold soup

We would never name names, but let’s just say that, if you ever happen to be at a Korean restaurant around the Ke‘eaumoku area, and it happens to be past the 2 a.m. legal cutoff for selling alcohol, and you happen to still be thirsty, well, it’s possible that you might be able to order a cold soup from the server, and it’s also possible that a soda can filled with chilled light beer might arrive at your table shortly thereafter. It’s a late-night blessing, so be cool about it, OK?


Miki’s at midnight 


It takes a brave restaurant to cater to the night owls, drag racers and ridiculously early risers of Pearl City. Some say it’s worth staying up just for Miki’s famous teri meatballs. Open 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. (4 a.m. on Fridays).  

1001 Lehua Ave., 455-1668


Off the Menu 

In this age of social media, it’s a shame how few secret menus are really secret; seems like the whole world knows to order the White Gummy Bear Smoothie from Jamba Juice or Animal Style fries from In-N-Out Burger. Still, there are some local off-the-menu items for those who search:


Mai Lan Vietnamese Restaurant

Mai Lan Vietnamese Restaurant on Ke‘eaumoku Street has a crab curry that’s not on the menu but all over social media. Yes, it’s that good.



Chocolate + Vanilla Bakery in Kaimukī

Chocolate + Vanilla Bakery in Kaimukī cuts off all the corners and sides of its super moist and delicious brownies and sells them separately. For $5 you get all the best parts!



Chart House Waikīkī

If you’re at Chart House Waikīkī and Guy Maynard is working, ask for the Pua Cocktail. It’s his concoction—named after his girlfriend—with elderflower liqueur, sweet and sour, Grand Marnier and lemon.




Kaiwa at Waikīkī Beachwalk has a special ochazuke—not on the menu because it’s a hassle to make—and omurice, a Japanese dish consisting of an omelet made with fried rice and usually topped with ketchup. Here, it comes with a savory sauce, more like tonkatsu or okonomiyaki.



Arancino di Mare and Arancino on Beachwalk

The linguine vongole with Manila clams and tomato concassé from Arancino di Mare and Arancino on Beachwalk in Waikīkī disappeared to make way for new dishes. But if you ask, the kitchen will prepare the not-on-the-menu-anymore dish.



Koko Head Café

Fans buzz about the secret menu at Lee Anne Wong’s Koko Head Café: volcano meatballs, twice-cooked Jidori chicken sandwiches and bananas on sticks. But what’s still under the radar? Her mega hash browns now come in five styles: ohayou, Reuben, mush gravy, lū‘au and volcano.



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Honolulu Magazine July 2020
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