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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Korean

Forget New York, Seoul is the true city that never sleeps. Late-night dining is as much a part of Korean culture as brunch is to American; Koreans even have a term for it—yasik. Which explains why so many of Honolulu’s late-night options are Korean. Most know of Sorabol, open 24 hours, presenting the entire canon of Korean food, from Korean barbecue to hangover soup, a spicy beef and soybean paste-based soup. But I’ve never heard of any more magic combination of words than all-you-can-eat, BYOB, 24-hour, Korean barbecue, all associated with Sikdorak. (Caveat: Alcohol must be consumed by midnight.) Meats—ribeye steak, marinated kalbi, spicy pork, thinly-sliced brisket—are brought out to order. Don’t bother actually having conversations here; late-night philosophical discussions inevitably give way to Man v. Food antics. Here, it’s all about filling your stomach.

For a more civilized experience, head to Million Restaurant, with cozier booths and drop-down vacuum hoods sucking up smoke from pork belly and outside skirt steak grilling at your table. Million is no longer open 21 hours a day, as you might remember from your 3 a.m. party days, but still remains open until a respectable 2 a.m.

If you enjoy your Korean food served by short-skirted, pretty waitresses and to the soundtrack of loud K-pop, then head to Pandora Café, which we are assured is not a hostess bar (where a whole other realm of late-night eats exists, but we won’t go there). This dark bar serves Korean comfort food as well as sashimi and sushi prepared by a moonlighting Mitch’s sushi chef. The result: lobster sashimi and lobster miso soup a la Mitch’s, generous cuts of fish on the sashimi platter, and huge, meaty hamachi kama. If you miss Nobulnae fried chicken (Pandora Café took over the former Nobulnae space), the recipe lives on and you can still get the sweet, salty, cinnamon-spiced chicken here.
 

Quiet escape

Plenty of izakayas around town satiate the late-night crowd until midnight. When the rest close, Aki No No keeps the light on and the burners going. And, unlike many of its rowdy late-night counterparts, it offers a quiet, relaxed atmosphere for discussing the world’s problems, which can only be solved by ordering grilled smelt, presented and eaten whole, fried mochi and bacon-wrapped enoki. If, at the end of the night, the answers are still not found and your sake bottle is unfinished, Aki No No will store your bottle until you return.

Aki No No keeps your sake bottles for you.
Grilled smelt from Aki No No.

Ko's salmon and ikura kamameshi.


Ko took over the homey little restaurant that used to be garlic-focused Ninniku-ya and renovated it into a modern, bright white space.  The mango tree remains, growing through a hole cut in the roof, and little touches in the dining room, such as soft pillows and comfortable cushions in the booths, keep it cozy. Before 10 p.m., the only option is a prix-fixe menu (underwhelming the last time we tried), but after 10, the a la carte menu opens up comforting options such as a lotus root dumpling and salmon and ikura kamameshi (rice bowls cooked in a special iron pot and mixed tableside). Finish with a Japanese-style ice cream sandwich, the monaka, a wafer filled with vanilla ice cream and azuki bean. If you’re seeking an intimate late-night option for after-hours date nights or secret trysts, Ko is probably your best bet, where the calm is interrupted only by an overeager staff and the occasional motorcycle gunning down Waialae Avenue.
 

Aki No No's grilled bacon-wrapped enoki.
Restaurant Ko's monaka ice cream sandwich.
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,June

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