Afterthoughts: Lunch Break
Honolulu’s dining options change block to block.
One of the nicest perks of working in downtown Honolulu—counteracting the jammed-up traffic, exorbitant parking rates and overzealous jaywalking enforcement—is lunch.
Downtown excels at lunch, especially when paired with its sister, Chinatown. With scores of options within a few square blocks, you could eat at a different, delicious spot every day for a month and still have tons to explore.
illustration: kimberly salt
Trendy sit-down restaurants? Check. Hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop treasures? Check. Green-juice shops, full-on Hawaiian plates, shawarma? Check, check, check, and all just a few minutes’ walk from your Bishop Street office.
This will come as no surprise, but I’m a fan of lunch. I tend to go light and plain for breakfast, and I don’t eat dinner out too often, so lunch tends to be the highlight of my day, foodwise. After years of working downtown, I’ve developed quite a menu of favorite spots, enough for an informal two- or three-week rotation, so I don’t repeat myself too often and can always match a meal to my appetite on any given day—blockbuster to bite-size.
I recently moved offices (and jobs)—not too far, just a few blocks down the road. I’m now kitty-corner from Honolulu Hale. New jobs always involve a little adjustment, but one thing that hadn’t occurred to me was how my lunch options were going to change.
It turns out that walking from the Honolulu Hale area into the heart of Downtown (say, Bishop Street) and then back again feels like a hike. And forget about spots farther into Chinatown, including such hip Hotel Street eateries as Livestock Tavern and Fête. I’ll have you know I don’t physically have any trouble walking that far. I can walk all day, Jack. But the middle of a workday, especially in the heat of summer, is not when I would slot a half-hour workout. I’m just looking for a poke bowl and an iced tea—let’s skip the sweat.
The magic bullet here, of course, is a bicycle. I’ve got my own, but I suppose if you wanted to keep things simple, you could hop on one of the new Biki rentals. (The editorial team from sister entertainment website Frolic Hawai‘i has been doing just that, to extend their range for lunch spots, and I’ve been very entertained watching videos of them tooling around town in search of new lunch excitement.)
So, yes, I’ve been able to continue grabbing lunch downtown and in Chinatown, with the help of wheels. But I’ve also realized there’s no need to keep navigating that same old lunch circuit, with Bishop and Hotel as the center of my circle of possibilities. Now that I’m a little farther east, Kaka‘ako is just as close to me as Chinatown, promising an entire new little world of lunch options to discover.
I’ve been picking two or three new (to me) spots a week to sample. I’m just getting started, but so far I’ve dug the reuben at Bevy Market, the chicken katsu at Queen’s BBQ, the pho at Pho Nam. And then the other half of the week I’ll revisit old favorites. It’s a gentle, fun way to transition into a new routine, and I have renewed appreciation for just how much this city rewards even a little exploration.
As much as I love the downtown lunch scene, no longer working at its exact epicenter has proven easily navigable. And, hey, I could be marooned at some office building in one of O‘ahu’s lunch deserts. I’ve heard they exist, and the thought of having to choose between a Jack in the Box and a 7-Eleven for a nearby lunch is sobering. It might even be enough to make me start … packing home lunches.