Going Solo: An Introvert’s Guide to Dining in Honolulu
Sometimes one is the best number.
Photos: Martha Cheng
One of my favorite recent trends is silent book clubs—where everyone brings a book and reads together, quietly. It reminds me of elementary school’s sustained silent reading, but with booze. I dream of opening a bookstore and wine bar, a hub where people can gather to read. It’s a social introvert’s dream—hanging around others but not having to actually interact with them.
It’s the same reason I love dining solo. But not every restaurant is great for this. Ideal places are fast, offer people-watching opportunities, have a comfortable number of people—not so desolate that it feels the waitstaff is staring at you, but not so packed that you feel bad for taking up a table (Olive Tree, I love you, but you’re out when I’m on my own). They’re also quiet enough to hear your thoughts—because there are oh so many. Bar/counter seating is also a big plus.
Here are some of my favorite spots. But if you see me there, don’t say hi. Just kidding. Maybe.
With waits up to two hours for dinner, this place is way too busy at night for me to go alone. But during lunch, the crowds ease up and I come here to treat myself. Coming solo allows me to channel all my attention into the details that go into such a simple order of tonkatsu, from the trio of pickles to the chiffonade of cabbage to pork cutlet encased in a batter more ethereally crisp and light than any conversation I can conjure.
449 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 922-1212
The counter seats at this tempura place are perfect for solo diners. The service is quick and the tempura excellent—fried to an almost greaseless crisp (with the kama‘āina discount, it’s some of the best tempura in town for less than $15). Plus, you’re in Waikīkī Yokocho, where the entertainment includes watching people getting rowdy with the $3 whiskey sodas on tap at the bar in the center.
Basement of Waikīkī Yokocho, 2250 Kalākaua Ave., (808) 777-3551
Liliha Bakery (original location)
Liliha Bakery has been my go-to for solo dining the longest. It’s a no-brainer, with the counter seating, familiar longtime employees and comfort food, all together evoking wistful memories as companions, especially in the dark hours when no one else is awake.
515 N. Kuakini St., (808) 531-1651, lilihabakery.com
Mud Hen Water
Photo: Steve Czerniak
Steaks are one of my ideal date night meals, and it’s not often that I go out on my own for one. But occasionally, when I have a craving, I come to Mud Hen Water, where I can start with an Italian aperitivo and move on to a local grass-fed steak (the robustness and ropiness of this kind of beef matches my mood on these nights) with a glass of red wine. The best date night for one.
3452 Wai‘alae Ave., (808) 737-6000, mudhenwater.com
Photo: courtesy of Bills Hawai‘i
This is one of my favorites for ambience, with the tall, lofty ceilings, pretty tiled floors and the Aussie food aesthetic—the dewy, perfectly tousled equivalent of “I just woke up like this” on a plate, the effortless sort of way I imagine extraverts make small talk.
280 Beach Walk, (808) 922-1500, billshawaii.com
Piggy Smalls is one of the few places that has counter seating facing a window, so you can spy on people passing by. It’s also less hectic and busy than The Pig and the Lady’s Chinatown location for when I’m craving pho for one.
1200 Ala Moana Blvd., (808) 777-3588, thepigandthelady.com
SEE ALSO: First Look: Piggy Smalls
This place reminds me of the 24-hour soba shops in Tokyo’s subway stations, where you can get a bowl of noodles with hardly any human interaction (Japan—an introvert’s dream). OK, so there’s actual table (and counter) service at Inaba, the setting is a bit more refined and the soba is better, but still, the combination of nonintrusive service and a quick and comforting bowl of noodles is my antidote to overstimulation.
1610 S King St. Suite A, (808) 953-2070, inabahonolulu.com
I’ve already professed my love for Rigo’s wine program. And with the most interesting and affordable options for wines by the glass, it’s the best place to drink alone while not alone.
885 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 735-9760, rigohawaii.com