33 New Restaurants to Watch for on O‘ahu in 2021
Expect more spicy Chinese, local beer and yes, more birria tacos.
Editor’s Update: We updated this list on Dec. 27, 2021.
On Honolulu’s dining front, 2021 opened with a bang. Here are 33 promising new and upcoming restaurants, cocktail bars, farmers market stands and food trucks that have caught our eye—and you can bet the list is still growing.
Aloha Beer Downtown
The Kaka‘ako brewery’s first expansion opened last week in the newly renovated Central Pacific Bank headquarters with six Aloha Beer styles on tap, plus flatbread pizzas, hot sandwiches, avocado toast and salads. Repeat: This is beer in a bank.
The ‘Ewa-based food truck’s birria tacos, churros and Jaritos are set to debut at a brick-and-mortar spot on Cooke Street in Kaka‘ako soon; the truck will roam.
Editor’s Update: Aloha Mamacita opened at 1130 N. Nimitz Highway, C110 on Nov. 6, 2021. (808) 650-0029
We posted earlier about this collab project between Senia’s Chris Kajioka and Bar Leather Apron’s Justin Park and Tom Park. One year later, furniture and light fixtures are in place at Bar Maze, named after the Japanese word for ‘mix,’ though there’s still no word on its opening date in Kaka‘ako.
The Collection, 600 Ala Moana Blvd., Kaka‘ako, @bar.maze
Two years after it was announced, this spot in Downtown’s 1902 Podmore building by Senia chef-partner Anthony Rush and wife Katherine Nomura is finally slated for a spring opening. The inspiration: “The great cocktail lounges that Anthony and I have had the privilege of enjoying when life has taken us to different parts of the world,” Nomura says, “notably The Connaught Bar, the Beaufort Bar, The Aviary, and The Nomad to name a few. During the day, it will be a restaurant for brunch.”
Editor’s Update: Podmore opened in August. Brunch launched at Podmore in December. Read more.
Beer Lab Kāhala
Kāhala craft beer fans, the opening of your new neighborhood pub has been pushed back from its early 2021 target, but the rapidly expanding chain (it’s in Mō‘ili‘ili, Waipi‘o and Pearlridge) is still working toward opening in the new Kāhala Mkt. by Foodland complex.
Editor’s Update: This project has not moved forward.
Chicken and Brisket
Promising “bold flavors, generous portions and a lot of meat,” this newcomer opened in December with fried chicken all ways (including gizzards), brisket all ways (including a brisket moco) and ribs, lechon and pork chops—all for pickup or delivery between noon and midnight. We can vouch for the fried chicken and Korean fried chicken, both juicy and legit.
Cocina de Roja
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2020 brought Honolulu birria tacos, birria saimin and birria bao buns. Apparently we still want more: Cocina de Roja took over part of Sweet Home Cafe’s Mō‘ili‘ili space in January with more birria beef tacos plus birria banh mi and birria pho.
2334 S. King St., @cocinaderoja
DT Steak House
Billing itself as “an authentic Taiwanese traditional steakhouse,” DT (for Dragon Tea, a boba shop in the same building) opens Jan. 24 at the corner of North School Street and Waiakamilo Road—the same neighborhood that’s now home to Rainbow Drive-In, Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ, Aloha Cones, Helena’s Hawaiian Foods and Mexico Restaurant. DT’s steaks will come on sizzling cast-iron platters with fried eggs, spaghetti and a choice of black pepper or mushroom sauce.
1339 N. School St., (808) 888-2800, dt-steak-house.business.site
Dell’s Kitchen & Bakery
Vein chef Dell Valdez’s upscale plate lunch spot shares the same space as Mio Pastalogy. With Masa Tsuda, chef at Kāhala’s shuttered Central Bakery Restaurant also in the kitchen, Japanese and local mains include light, crunchy karaage chicken, nori-shiso chicken, Maui-style short ribs, loco moco and salmon furikake katsu plates with rice and sides, all for $9.50 to $16.
Domo Café Kāhala
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To celebrate its brand new second location, sushi, sashimi, poke bowls and everything else on Domo Cafe’s new Kāhala menu are 20% off through Jan. 31, 2021.
SEE ALSO: Boba Where You Least Expect It
Morning Glass Coffee’s coming venture cryptically promises “highballs and vinyl” in the old Madre Chocolate space in Chinatown. Opening date is pending COVID considerations.
Editor’s Update: According to EP Bar’s Instagram, the opening date has been set for Jan. 4, 2022. Follow it for updates and watch this space for coverage.
8 N. Pauahi St., @ep.bar
Han no Daidokoro
The name’s hard to remember; the A5 wagyu Korean yakiniku focus isn’t. This glossy third outpost of a restaurant from Shibuya, Tokyo and Kawasaki, Japan soft-opened across from Whole Foods Kaka‘ako in mid-January.
1108 Auahi St., @hannodaidokoro_kakaako
Happy Belly Eatery
With an Asian fusion menu of shrimp katsu, country fried steak with chorizo gravy and more, Happy Belly is the newest addition to the food truck lineup in the Sears parking lot at Pearlridge Center.
98-1005 Moanalua Road, @happybellyeatery
Holey Grail Donuts
On a rapid roll, this taro-based doughnut truck that expanded to Kaka‘ako from its home base on Kaua‘i has opened a five-month pop-up at Ward Villages’ old Pa‘ina Cafe space. Holey Grail’s first brick-and-mortar features an open kitchen that lets the hungry see doughnut makers and baristas at work. A permanent shop is planned for the nearby Ae‘o building, home to Whole Foods and Rinka Japanese restaurant, while the doughnut truck will roam.
Editor’s Update: At the close of 2021, Holey Grail is still in the old Pa‘ina Café space but anticipates moving to its permanent spot early in 2022. Meanwhile, it’s expanding in Southern California.
Honolulu Skewer House
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Lamb skewers, black pork belly, beef-wrapped chives: The city’s only northern Chinese skewer specialist has moved from Makaloa to Kapahulu, with grilling now done at the table on self-rotating metal skewers.
567 Kapahulu Ave., @hnlskewerhouse
The third location of McCully’s OG soba and Japanese food specialist opened just blocks from its original location, in the old Teppanyaki Ginza Onodera spot.
Keaka Lee’s first solo restaurant is the culmination of nearly 15 years in kitchens like Alan Wong’s, Gramercy Tavern, Benu and The Pig & The Lady. Try the quiche lū‘au, koji-aged rib-eye steak and Naan Ya Business tikka masala (tip: A side of gluten-free fried pa‘i‘ai cakes goes amazingly with the curry).
This Instagram business by certified food handler Averi Oliveira pays homage to the old Your Kitchen’s sorely missed pork bowls, with monthly featured katsu musubi and an all-katsu soft-boiled egg bowl called the Yolko Ono. Order online and expect to pick up in Kaimukī.
Editor’s Update: Kawaii Bowls closed in July.
Former Diamond Dining president Hide Sakurai (Shokudo, Buho Cocina y Cantina) recently took over open-air Sky Waikīkī with revamped cocktails and an expanded food menu. Sky’s interior will reopen as an Italian eatery with Japanese celebrity chef Tsutomu Ochiai of La Bettola da Ochiai of Ginza, Tokyo, Sakurai says—after Japanese tourists return to Waikīkī. He’s hoping that means by fall 2021.
Editor’s Update: La Bettola has not opened yet.
2270 Kalākaua Ave., 19th floor, (808) 979-7590
Speaking of Buho, former head chef Arturo Silva and partner Justin Mizufuka are expanding with a second birria taco truck tentatively planned for Kaka‘ako—Hell Fire tacos and birria saimin included—as early as this month.
Editor’s Update: The owners did launch the second truck in Kaka‘ako, but having since opened @theclubhouse_mililani, they closed the second truck. The original truck is still at Pearlridge
Lōkahi Brewing Co.
Honolulu’s newest craft beer brewery is reported to be close to opening in the old Precision Radio building, possibly in February.
Editor’s Update: Lōkahi Brewing Co. opened May 1, 2021. Read more.
1160 S. King St., @lokahibrewing
Word is the Ke‘eaumoku area’s newest spot for poke, sushi bowls and assorted kim chee is solid on flavor. Of note: a poke-kim chee-natto bowl and a build-your-own option with two proteins and three sides.
1481 S. King St., (808) 260-4109, @mamakimshawaii
Will Hawai‘i ever have enough mochi doughnuts? No! Will Waikīkī? Hmm. These, by a subsidiary of Roberts Hawai‘i, come in Thai milk tea Oreo, ube cheesecake, haupia pie, matcha-cha, mocha mac and Melona flavors, all sold until noon daily.
Editor’s Update: Mochi Do has closed.
444 Niu St., @mochidohawaiibakery
SEE ALSO: Waikīkī Has a New Mochi Doughnut Shop
While details are few, fans who remember Onoya’s black garlic paitan ramen from Shirokiya and Waikīkī Yokocho are waiting for its new incarnation on Kapahulu Avenue.
Editor’s Update: Onoya opened in March. Read more.
Pint + Jigger at Ala Moana Hotel
Word that this OG Honolulu gastropub is coming back to life more than a year after its original Mō‘ili‘ili spot closed was some of the best news of last year. Also returning is its cocktail speakeasy alter ego, Harry’s Hardware Emporium. Tentative opening on the renovated lobby floor of the Ala Moana Hotel is this spring. Says co-owner and mixologist Dave Newman: “We’re gonna try to keep the feel and aesthetics of the original Pint so people who liked the original will feel right at home in the new one.”
Editor’s Update: Pint reports it’s hoping for a January opening. Get the latest on Instagram.
SEE ALSO: Pint + Jigger Is Reopening Next Spring
Brick Fire Tavern may have moved to Kaimukī, taking its Neapolitan-style pies with it, but that only means different kinds of pizzas are bubbling up in the Hotel Street shop frontage. Pizza Mamo’s specialties are Brooklyn- and Detroit-style pizza—one floppily foldable, which is de rigeur for pizza-eating in Brooklyn, the other rectangular, crispy-edged and topped with items like Wisconsin brick cheese and Ezzo pepperoni.
Rainbow Drive-In Waipahu
If you’re keeping count, the famous plate lunches with gravy all over are now on offer at five takeout counters around O‘ahu. The chain’s late-January opening in Waipahu marks the fourth franchise operation of the longtime Kapahulu icon.
That primo spot on Ala Moana Center’s mall level, where Tanioka’s Seafoods pop-up was? And Christmas Bar, Holiday Bar and Ninja Sushi? Serious spice is coming in the form of another Sichuan eatery. Think mala beef, chicken in chile sauce, stir-fried chile-vegetable pork intestines and spicy pork won tons. Everyone pronounces SXY as sexy, but it stands for “shu xiang yuan,” which SXY claims is a concise way of saying “a great gathering place for family and friends to enjoy delicious Szechuan cuisine.”
Editor’s Update: SXY Szechuan opened in February 2021. Read more.
1450 Ala Moana Blvd., sxy-szechuan.business.site
Sage Creamery truck
Ice cream wizard Zach Villanueva launched Sage Creamery on Instagram, which launched him into farmers markets, Kōkua Market Co-op and ChadLou’s Coffee Roasters. Now in the works is an ice cream truck, which means one day this spring, locally sourced pints like Strawberry Fields, North Shore Vanilla and Paniolo Hot Chocolate may show up on a street near you.
Editor’s Update: Still no word on the truck, but Sage is still at several farmers markets and eateries around Honolulu.
Cumin lamb, dan dan noodles, mapo tofu: With a chef from Sichuan Province, Legend Seafood Restaurant’s new sister eatery at Chinese Cultural Plaza is getting good buzz among Chinese food aficionados.
100 N. Beretania St., (808) 524-6877, @simplysichuan
Taqueria el Ranchero at Ka Makana Ali‘i
If you’re on Instagram, you probably know that this Wahiawā favorite is coming to Kapolei with its tacos, quesadillas, Taco Tuesday birria tacos and everything else this spring, since every one of its Instagram posts announces that it’s coming to Kapolei this spring.
Editor’s Update: The Kapolei location opened in fall 2021.
Tex 808 Moanalua
The Hawai‘i Kai eatery’s westward expansion brings Texas-style barbecue in the form of brisket, ribs, pulled pork and sausages to Moanalua Shopping Center.
Editor’s Update: Tex 808 opened in Moanalua, closed in Hawai‘i Kai, and opened a new spot in the fall at Waikīkī’s Laylow hotel.
New year, new boba. Hawai‘i’s latest is a massive chain from Taiwan, newly ensconced at Ala Moana Center. Those lines you see are for the signature Brown Sugar Deerioca Creme Brulee Milk, “Deerioca” referring to tapioca pearls. Other locations are in Taiwan, China, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the mainland.
Wicked Maine Lobster
Two brothers from Maine started selling lobster rolls and New England clam chowder at San Diego farmers markets. Six years later, Wicked Lobster has lobster-crab rolls, lobster mac and cheese, lobster tacos, queso lobster fries—at four brick-and-mortar locations, with more slated this year for southern California (including three in Los Angeles) and another opening this spring at Royal Hawaiian Center’s Pa‘ina Lānai food court.
Editor’s Update: Wicked Maine Lobster opened on Oct. 30, 2021.
Northwestern Chinese-style hand-pulled noodles are new at Honolulu farmers markets this month courtesy of Andrew Pressler, whose interest in Asian cuisines predates his stints as sous chef at The Pig & The Lady, his own Indo-Malaya pop-up dinners and Grondin French Latin Kitchen. Pressler makes each noodle bowl to order—including Malay curry pork, Sichuan beef and cumin lamb noodles — and you can customize your spice level.