Late Night Dining in Hawaii
Eating at midnight or later isn’t just for party animals. A guide to late-night food that’s a step up from the same old ZipPacs.
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Chez Kenzo’s dining room is an atmospheric hideout, with a menu more than 100 items long.
After-hours dining is not just the realm of club kids, boozehounds and post-shift industry workers. Plenty of us enjoy the city with an after-movie dinner and dessert, linger in a restaurant to discuss changing the world into the wee hours, or need a late dinner escape after the kids are in bed.
No doubt, Honolulu rises early, meeting the dawn in the ocean and on the trail. But it’s also a town that likes to stay up late to socialize. Our strong ties to Asian cultures and their emphasis on around-the-clock dining ensure that there are plenty of izakayas and Korean barbecue to carry us through the night, while local bars in every neighborhood have always served exactly what we crave late at night, from dive/sports bar favorites Side Street Inn and Home Bar and Grill to newer gastropubs Salt and Pint and Jigger. Of course, there will always be Zippy’s, but, for nights when a chili chicken mix plate doesn’t measure up to the occasion, turn to these restaurants, all of which are open at least until midnight, many later.
Click here for a complete index to these late-night spots, including contact info and hours.
Where do chefs go? Click here to find their late-night haunts.
I thought I was alone in my need for late-night dessert. But, in exploring the after-hours world, I’ve found that, like vampires, the sugar-obsessed come out at night to feed. OK, they come out to feed at all hours, but somehow the late-night cravings seem more urgent, maybe because it’s so hard to get a good dessert late in this town. Your best bet seems to be some combination of ice cream and bread. Which sounds absurd and, when presented at Izakaya Naru, looks even more so: a baguette stuffed with vanilla ice cream. As a rustic version of a profiterole, though, it’s oddly satisfying. The coffee awamori is the best pairing for this; while awamori by itself is about as appealing as grain alcohol, Izakaya Naru infuses the Okinawan spirit with coffee, making it more palatable. It’s like the Okinawan version of a Red Bull and vodka—fuel for a night that is still young.
More refined: the dainty desserts at The Study at The Modern, where yuzu shave ice covers a mango pudding that tastes like it was plucked from a dim sum cart. The desserts tend to be light, even the chocolate and peanut butter tart topped with caramel Krispies. Past midnight, you can order from the room service menu, such as a chocolate mousse bar with crunchy sugar flakes. During the day, I wouldn’t go out of my way for these sweets, but at night, they satisfy.
Newcomer Chez Kenzo’s menu of Japanese fusion comfort food is more than 100 items long. Come dessert time, though, the decisions are easier. Of the six options, the parfait of green tea and vanilla ice cream, cornflakes, mochi, azuki and more, offers an inspired Japanese take on a halo-halo, a mix of cold, sweet, chewy and crunchy textures.
Grab and go in Chinatown
Chances are, if you’re downtown late at night, there’s going to be big trouble in little Chinatown if you don’t get some food in your belly, stat. Luckily, in the past year, two new places have introduced the genius, why-didn’t-this-happen-earlier, late-night window concept to Honolulu. Previously a popular food truck, Da Ala Cart is now set up at bar and club Lotus Downtown, serving skewers late night (10 and on) Wednesday to Saturday. Da Ala Cart owner Chris Kazunori Quisote grills the perfect late-night street food: pork belly, shiitake mushrooms, chicken wings, musubi stuffed with pork and miso, crisp and chewy mochi and, if you’re lucky, beef tongue.
From a window with a brown butcher-paper menu taped next to it, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., Lucky Belly serves $5 eats that are exactly the sort of thing you need after a late night in Chinatown: meatloaf sandwiches, barbecued pulled pork, pork kimchee fried rice (the menu changes weekly). Or, to escape madness in the streets, retreat into the stylish restaurant, open until midnight serving soul-satisfying ramen and cocktails that include classics such as the sidecar and innovations such as the M-Rock, complex and seductive with gin touched with absinthe and balsamic vinegar.
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