Best of Honolulu 2019: The Best Food and Drink on O‘ahu

45 editorial and reader picks for the tastiest food and beverage in town.

Editor Picks


Best Farm-to-Cup Sparkling Water

sparkling water
Photo: David Croxford


Be forewarned. When presented with your first Gazoz sparkling water you’re bound to think, this is just too pretty to drink. The delicate edible blooms, rustic sprigs and vibrant fruit slices will have you considering it as a table centerpiece. Resist the urge and gulp it down anyway. Because what lies beneath is an effervescent delight bursting with fresh earthy flavors. Owner Danielle Shemesh pairs natural plant-based homemade syrups with fruits, herbs and flowers sourced from local growers—think spicy nasturtium flowers with lemongrass and baby calamansi or Meyer lemons with pink dragon fruit, lavender and basil—easily making her fizzy concoctions a farmers market favorite.Brie Thalmann

Instagram: @drinkgazoz, (808) 260-2757


Best Mochi

Photo: Steve Czerniak


There are places with fancier mochi, but Nisshodo Candy Store, nearing a century of business, soothes souls, young and old alike, in a way that other spots can’t. In 1921, Asataro Hirao, an emigrant from Hiroshima, left the sugar plantation fields to team up with friends from Japan and learn how to make Japanese confections. (One of his partners would go on to found the beloved Tasaka Guri Guri shop in Kahului.) Michael, his grandson who now helms the shop, says the concessions to newer tastes include liliko‘i and peanut butter mochi, but for the most part, the sweets arranged in the glass case are longtime favorites like the daifuku, stuffed with the classic red bean paste, and chi chi dango, soft like marshmallows and individually wrapped in paper twists. In addition to nostalgia, Nisshodo delivers the perfect texture in our minds—supple and smooth and yet with just enough resistance and chew.Martha Cheng

1095 Dillingham Blvd., Building I-5, (808) 847-1244,


SEE ALSO: Best of Honolulu 2019: The Best of Fitness and Outdoor on O‘ahu


Best Pick-Me-Up Cocktail

pint and jigger
Photo: Steve Czerniak


It’s 8 p.m. You thought your friends just wanted to go out for a quick bite, but now they’re talking about karaoke or, worse, dancing. You could knock back a Jägerbomb or vodka Red Bull, but you want something that tastes, you know, good. Enter the Talventi—a concoction of rye whiskey, Campari and a 72-hour cold-brew coffee using single-origin beans from Morning Glass—on tap at Pint + Jigger. Topped with a house-made vanilla whipped cream, it’s part digestif and part dessert, a party animal disguised as a nightcap. It also goes great with brunch (Friday through Sunday until 3 p.m.).Katrina Valcourt

1936 S. King St., (808) 744-9593,


BEST Locally Made Packaged Granola

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


For more than 30 years, Anahola Granola has dominated the local granola scene. It was first sold in small batches on Kaua‘i in 1986 by single mom Becky Burns and is now available statewide. “We make 3 to 4 tons of granola each week and sold 500,000 bags of granola and granola bars last year,” Burns says. We love the original, a flavor-packed combination of whole-grain rolled oats and local honey, sunflower seeds, walnuts, sesame seeds, coconut and vanilla.KV

(808) 335-5240,


SEE ALSO: 4 We Tried: We Search for the Best Local Granola on O‘ahu


BEST Halo Halo

halo halo


Magnolia Ice Cream & Treats may not have the most traditional halo halo (which translates to “mix mix” in Tagalog) but is anyone going to say no to the addition of puffed crispy rice? The dessert spot boasts a selection of variations on the menu and allows customers to tweak ingredients. Our favorite cup, the Mahalo-halo, includes ube ice cream, shave ice, colorful cubes of jelly, jackfruit, azuki beans, condensed milk, banana and coconut in different forms for a perfect summertime sweet.Katie Kenny

Multiple locations,


Best Bespoke Sausage

best sausages
Photo: Louis Sheer


Despite opening in a hard-to-spot second-story Kaka‘ako location, Butcher & Bird’s meat maestro, Charles Wakeman, has found plenty of takers for his delicate yet savory fresh sausages—particularly when tricked out on a bun with a variety of inventive gorgeous toppings. “First we got their trust with the classic stuff”—by which he means a kim chee kielbasa, chorizo with street corn and crema, a brat with house-made sauerkraut—“and now we hit them with the weird stuff,” he says, meaning specials like a ginger miso, a kalbi, a mac ’n’ cheese and a pastele “tamale” with green olives and plantains. We love weird when it tastes like this.Don Wallace

Salt at our Kaka‘ako, 324 Coral St., Suite 207, (808) 762-8095,


Best Food Hall

ala moana
Photo: James Nakamura


Within the past few years, the idea of a food court received a serious upgrade. No longer are they fast-food pit stops to refuel during shopping sprees—now they’re destinations in themselves. And just as you’d probably hit more than one store at a mall, the newest food courts in Honolulu invite grazing. Our favorite is Waikīkī Yokocho, which contains about a dozen eateries, including Nana’s Green Tea, aka the Starbucks of green tea, with 81 locations in Japan, serving a multilayered and multitextured matcha parfait, matcha soft serve and matcha drinks; Kaneko Hannosuke, with perfectly crisp tempura plates for just above $10 with a kama‘āina discount; and three different ramen shops. Begin or end your crawl with a whisky soda on tap from Nomu, the handsome bar in the center of it all.MC

2250 Kalākaua Ave., Lower Level 100, (808) 926-8093,


Best Seafood Tower

seafood tower


When a couple orders a seafood tower, any waiter worth his sea salt knows they have one thing on their mind: romance. That’s why your tour de fruits de mer should be served with a flourish, on a bed of seaweed and spilling over with fresh hyper-local seafood—the way it is at 53 By the Sea, where it arrives in a cloud of dry-ice smoke and a blow-away, truly local bounty of Kona abalone; Kona lobster; Kualoa Ranch oysters; Kaua‘i shrimp; sashimi of ‘ahi, Kona kampachi and tako; finger lime mignonette; liliko‘i cocktail sauce; kizami wasabi soy; and a bonus side of excellent french fries. At $72 it’s actually the cheapest tower out there, too. And the waitstaff understands if you don’t want to stay for dinner.DW

53 Ahui St., (808) 536-5353,


SEE ALSO: 3 We Tried: Who Has the Best Seafood Tower on O‘ahu?


Best Riff on Edamame on the Go

Photo: Getty Images


When it comes to edamame, the proof is in the texture. It can’t be too soggy or too crunchy. It must be cooked just right. After trying six other spins on the traditional snack, we found that Tanioka’s Seafoods & Catering is a clear winner. The soybeans hit that magical balance of not too firm or mushy, and the sweet garlic flavor (a recipe from a friend that was tweaked until the family gave its seal of approval) is consistent throughout the entire batch. At $7 per pound, it is pricey—compared to the others we tried, which ranged from $5 to $6 a pound—but worth it.Jayna Omaye

94-903 Farrington Highway, Waipahu, (808) 671-3779,



ube shoju
Photo: Shelley Shiroma


It’s not uncommon for local restaurants to combine ingredients from multiple cuisines, creating dishes and drinks that are unique to Hawai‘i. One of our favorite combos takes Filipino ube, mashed and roasted with butter daily, and mixes it with Korean soju. The result tastes like melted (and spiked) ube ice cream—perfect as a late-night treat, though we order it with kim chee fried rice, too. The inspiration came from Sean Saiki, one of Chingu’s business partners, who formerly owned YogurStory, famous for its violet ube pancakes. “It’s real ube,” says Chingu chef/partner Chris Oh, hence the creamy texture and lilac hue. We don’t need convincing—just a bigger glass.KV

1035 Kapi‘olani Blvd., (808) 592-1035,


Best Cake Doughnut

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


Take two bartenders, add a custom doughnut-making machine and out comes a Unicorn Butt Sneeze, otherwise known as a cake doughnut topped with lemon glaze and Fruity Pebbles. Don’t want cereal with your doughnut? Maybe you’ll prefer The Sunburnt Haole, which pairs lemon glaze with li hing, or the Hulk Smash, wearing a green mint glaze with crumbled Oreos. Former bartenders Brion Zablan and Nick Cornford founded Purvé Donut Stop in May 2018 and quickly built a following for doughnuts that crunch a little as you bite into their light cake-dough centers. Their playful vibe includes a colorful shop, company shirt that features a unicorn doing yoga and a dedication to trying new flavors. But get there early—they open at 6 a.m., make their doughnuts fresh and close up shop before dark. We told you they were bartenders, right?Robbie Dingeman

1234 Kona St., (808) 200-3978,


SEE ALSO: We Ate Our Way Through Every Doughnut at Purvé Donut Shop


Best Biryani



Last spring, Honolulu finally got a taste of Kamana Kitchen when it opened its fourth location in Downtown (the others are on the Big Island and Maui). As at many Indian restaurants, its menu is extensive, making it difficult to choose just one dish. You won’t go wrong with the biryani, though, which packs a ton of flavor from a dozen Indian spices, along with onion, mint, garlic and cilantro, into a dish of basmati rice, with soft bites of tomato adding an unexpected creaminess. Unlike in some other biryanis around town, the spices here complement each other without sacrificing their individuality. You can customize the spice level (mild has not quite a kick, but a poke) and your meat: chicken, lamb, shrimp or vegetarian. Available at lunch and dinner.KV

1104 Bishop St., (808) 537-5309,


SEE ALSO: First Look: Rangoon Burmese Kitchen


Best Cortado

Photo: Shelley Shiroma


A cortado can restore hope to a lackluster day. It is NOT a car equipped with fine Corinthian leather. The name comes from the Spanish word meaning cut—to describe a small cup of espresso served hot, simply cut with steamed milk. It’s common in Spain, Portugal and Cuba but less so in American coffee shops. And it often comes with a shot glass of seltzer. Brue Bar consistently executes this tiny but powerful drink just right: strong, small, a balance of coffee and milk to brighten your day without sending your blood sugar skyrocketing. You can feel the day start to improve from that first sip.RD

Multiple locations,


Best Meals-in-a-Biscuit

Photo: David Croxford


A first bite into a pão de queijo wakes your sensory detective: Is that mochi flour? Is that subtle aroma really Parmesan cheese? The big reveal: The flour is gluten-free cassava (aka tapioca)—an improvisation of Brazilian slaves in the 1800s. Between halves of the golden toasted bun are sandwich fillings (egg with bacon, ham or Portuguese sausage; tomato-basil-mozzarella; goat cheese, honey and candied walnut). Lately the filled buns, injected with roasted jalapeños and cream cheese or dulce de leche, are big sellers. Alessandra Klein and Stacey Schiller started tinkering with the dough in their kitchens in 1998; now Nosh Hawai‘i is a fixture at farmers markets and pop-ups and most recently, Whole Foods Kaka‘ako.DW

(808) 224-8631,


Best Flambé

Photo: Steve Czeriak


At Hy’s Steak House, the servers in their bow ties and tuxes know that a good flambé is as much about the pomp as it is the taste. Maybe even more. After all, a restaurant could just as easily let the cherries have their jubilee in the kitchen, but that’s like a play being performed in an empty theater. We love the spectacle of fire, a flare igniting the brandy-bathed cherries just a few feet from us, and how Hy’s, with its flambé carts more than 40 years old, plays up the drama, veteran waiters pouring liquid flame down a spiral of orange peel and creating a shower of sparks with cinnamon before spooning it all over vanilla ice cream—a song of ice and fire.MC

2440 Kūhiō Ave., (808) 922-5555,


Best Pat Bing Soo

pat bing so
Photo: Martha Cheng


En Hakkore’s pat bing soo is like a mashup of traditional Korean red bean shave ice, an acai bowl and an Italian affogato. First, there’s soft, silky ice dusted with roasted soybean powder and heaped with sweetened red beans, then a topping of fresh fruit, sliced almonds and mochi, plus a drizzle of condensed milk, and the thing that takes it over the top—a shot of espresso that comes on the side. Pour it over the entire bowl for a fruity, creamy, coffee slushy dessert.MC 

Inside 88 Pal Pal Super Market, 825 Ke‘eaumoku St., (808) 230-3513


Best Place to Grab a Beer with Your Dog

waikiki brewing
Photo: Katie Kenny


Thanks to the alfresco and spacious setup, outdoor space and pup-approved dog menu, Waikīkī Brewing Co.’s Kaka‘ako location is dog and owner heaven. While you and your human friends enjoy the more extensive (than its Waikīkī counterpart) barbecue menu paired with one of the many delicious beers brewed on-site, your fur babies have their pick of either grilled chicken strips or ground beef, both with white rice.KK

831 Queen St., (808) 591-0387,


SEE ALSO: The Most Dog-Friendly Bars and Restaurants on O‘ahu


Best Speakeasy

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


None of Honolulu’s speakeasies are very secret, but that doesn’t make them any less fun. Beyond a chance to use a password and walk through a hidden entrance, they offer drinks that aren’t available in their public-facing counterparts. None does it better than the 38-seat Harry’s Hardware Emporium, where we always order the Fortune Cookie Cocktail; a house-made fortune cookie reveals what type of drink your bartender will concoct for you. Owner Dave Newman (above) also recommends the Smoking Revolver, with cold brew, orange and chocolate bitters, sweet vermouth and mesquite smoke. Chandeliers and cozy armchairs belie its whimsy, found in slushies, a sideways dumbwaiter and our favorite detail: a free round of cookies and milk at last call.KV

Inside Pint + Jigger, 1936 S. King St., (808) 379-3887


Best Rice Boutique

rice factory
Photo: David Croxford


One of the quotidian pleasures in life is buying warm bread from the bakery, but until The Rice Factory arrived in Kaka‘ako, we didn’t know we’d been missing out on freshly milled, warm rice—uncooked rice, that is. How it works at The Rice Factory: Choose among seven varieties of rice, decide how many pounds you want and how refined you want it (there are five gradients, where 100% milled is white rice and 0% is brown), watch the assistants mill your batch and receive your package of warm rice. This is not a process for the impatient—unlike bread, after all that, you still have to go home and cook it. But the anticipation is worth it; Honolulu’s top restaurants including Sushi Sho, MW and Tonkatsu Tamafuji source their rice from here—signs indicate which restaurants prefer which variety, like celebrities endorsing their favorite brands.MC 

955 Kawaiaha‘o St., (808) 800-1520


Best Sliced Bread

Photo: David Croxford


Now, we love our artisanal bread but have to confess that nothing quite works like sliced bread for avocado toast, toad in the hole, PB&J and as that slab under your red-sauce ribs. So we were thrilled when Rodney Weddle of La Tour Bakehouse debuted his organic sprouted-grain bread last year at farmers markets. “It takes 32 hours for the grains to sprout,” says Weddle. “That and no processed flour makes it easier to digest and better for gluten sensitives.” The thick slices toast up to a nutty perfection—crisp on the outside, fluffy but substantial within. A Costco Top 10 local item, it goes for $5 to $6.50 at locations including Whole Foods Markets, some Safeways, and farmers markets at KCC, Downtown, Windward Mall and Mililani.DW

multiple locations,


Best Modern Takes on Iconic Cocktails

Photo: Steve Czerniak


The POGroni first appeared as a weekly special at Mahina & Sun’s but soon became a regular on the menu. Bar consultant Chris Taibi says it was inspired by Kaua‘i-based GK Pantry’s line of local fruit syrups and features passion fruit-orange-guava syrup, Maui’s Fid Street gin, vermouth and Aperol and another splash of liliko‘i juice to transform the Italian classic cocktail into the tropical cousin you want to meet.RD

412 Lewers St., (808) 924-5810,

  bar leather apron



Bar Leather Apron serves a yuzu mojito that strikes a minty balance of citrus and rum without tipping too sweet, as many mojitos do. If you thought this was just some frou-frou drink for a hot day, bartender Justin Park is here to dispel that notion. He mixes El Dorado 3-year-old rum with fresh lime, yuzu, grapefruit soda and mint and serves it in a Japanese tea cup.RD

745 Fort St. Mall, Suite 127, (808) 524-0808,




The crew of chef Roy Yamaguchi’s goen dining + bar came up with the Ko‘olau Sour, a bright cocktail named for the mountain range that defines the Windward Side. This drink can win over even nonwhiskey drinkers, and whiskey sour drinkers in particular. Turns out that rye combined with liliko‘i, accented with lemon pepper, equals a broadly appealing beverage.RD

573 Kailua Road, Kailua, (808) 263-4636,


Best Local Saltwater Taffy

diamond head taffy
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


Diamond Head Taffy Co.’s li hing flavor is a must try, plus the 12 other tropical concoctions the company sells, including lychee, guava, liliko‘i and coconut. “You’re normally not used to sour saltwater taffy,” says owner Keli‘i Manrique. “It’s an egg white and evaporated milk mixture, so it’s a lot softer and creamier than other taffy.” We recommend trying the Surfer Gift Box. At $15 online, it’s a tad expensive, but it comes with all 13 tropical flavors to share (or not) with your fellow saltwater taffy enthusiasts. Save a few dollars off the online price by catching them at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet or craft fairs.JO


Best CracK Seed Store

crack seed
Photo: David Croxford


We like to consider ourselves crack-seed connoisseurs. At our snack table there’s always something li-hing-ish, an open bag of kakimochi, and, most recently, lemon-peel-covered everything. So, when we set out to find the best crack seed shop, we set parameters. Had to have glass jars. Had to have da best rock salt plum, sweet li hing mui and pickled mango. And, of course, had to have that nostalgic, sweet-salty-sour aroma. The Kaimukī Crack Seed Store won by a landslide. Crack Seed Store’s rock salt plum was juicy and just salty enough, the sweet li hing mui a mean balance of sweet ’n’ sour and the pickled mango not too tart.Stacey Makiya

1156 Koko Head Ave., (808) 737-1022


Best Tofu “Cheese”

tofu cheese
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


Don’t look for an official entryway, receptionist or even menu at Mrs. Cheng’s Soybean Products—look to the list handwritten on cardboard taped on a nearby fridge. The door from the tight, tiny parking lot goes right into a commercial kitchen space flanked by industrial refrigerators. But the 35-year-old Kalihi company creates fresh tofu of all kinds: soft; firm; tofu pudding (delish when topped with maple syrup); soy milk; okara; and one item we haven’t found anyone else making locally, soy cheese. It’s not a cheese substitute, but the solid brown-edged brick baked tofu has the consistency of its namesake, perfect for slicing, dipping and snacking. “It’s very popular in Taiwan,” co-owner Mao-Chi Tzeng says, “but very few make it the traditional way because it’s very time-consuming.” And you can only find it in two stores in Chinatown. Toss slices in a mix of sesame oil and shoyu and feel free to consume the entire package in one sitting.—Christi Young

233 Kalihi St., (808) 841-2571


Best Farm-Fresh Sliders

otsuji farm
Photo: David Croxford


People wait in line for their name to be called for “sushi sliders,” served regularly at local farmers market booths. The $8 plate offers fresh kale prepared tempura style, topped with fresh ‘ahi, guacamole, spicy mayo, “a little eel sauce and green onions,” explains Jonas Otsuji of Otsuji Farm. His family has been farming 4.5 acres in East O‘ahu for years. Jonas, a sushi chef, came up with the sliders: “I learned a similar recipe using shiso leaves. We didn’t grow shiso leaves so we tried kale instead.” The sliders now sell more than the fresh produce, bringing in about 50% of the farm income, he says.RD

Multiple locations,


Best New Way to Eat Poi

ai love nalo
Photo: David Croxford


It used to be that there were just a few ways to eat poi: fresh or sour, one finger or two. But in recent years, chefs have been getting creative with one of Hawai‘i’s oldest staples. At ‘Ai Love Nalo, the Poi-fect Parfait gives the yogurt parfait a local twist by layering poi on top of a rainbow of fresh local produce—papaya, banana, pineapple, ‘ūala and avocado (no imported berries here!)—and topping it with granola, cacao-coconut flakes and honey. It converts poi haters and delights poi lovers. We call it poi polloi—poi for the masses.MC

41-1025 Kalaniana‘ole Highway, Waimānalo, (808) 888-9102,


Best Salt-and-Vinegar Wings

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


Some afternoons, you’ll find a crowd huddled around the deli case at Foodland locations. They’re likely waiting for one thing—a fresh round of salt-and-vinegar wings. After trying as many of the lip-smacking pūpū as we could find, we may be joining them. Foodland’s wings, launched in 2017, are now the top seller at its delis. Each offers the perfect seasoning-to-coating ratio, unlike the larger but fattier ones we found at other places, meaning the crispy skin finishes with an addictive tang that begs to be chased with an ice-cold beer. Foodland’s Sheryl Toda, senior director of marketing and corporate communications, says the stores make about 12,000 pounds of chicken wings every week, with some locations frying up more than 10 batches a day.—CY

multiple locations,


SEE ALSO: 3 We Tried (Twice): Who Has the Best Salt-and-Vinegar Wings on O‘ahu?


Best Egg Puffs

egg puff
Photo: Katie Kenny


The Hong Kong street food staple is slowly building a loyal following here on O‘ahu. The original plain waffle, made with a very eggy batter, resembles bubble wrap and is enjoyed warm and freshly pressed. But local bakeries and eateries are adopting the more photogenic version, with gelato and toppings added. If you’re new to the trend, Double Three in Kalihi is the best place to start thanks to its not-too-sweet waffle pastry and selection of Instagrammable add-ons. Choose to simply get the egg puffs on their own or pile them high with ice cream and colorful sweet toppings. Tip for newbies: At this hole-in-the-wall, order the original waffle, add chocolate ice cream and top it off with sprinkles and cookies. You’re welcome.KK

1284 Kalani St., D-1054A, (808) 650-2733, Instagram: @double.three_33


Best Custom Crispy Beef Jerky

beef jerky
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


We’ve sampled a lot of great local beef jerky lately, from the thinnest and crispiest chips to the chewier classics. But one company stands out because of its willingness to craft just about any custom flavor. Is it possible to find a flavor profile that’s too crazy for the creators of Jerky Labs Hawai‘i? Go ask company “mad scientist” Puna Kaneakua. He and others there have cooked up flavors that sound pretty normal: adobo, lemongrass and maple. But they keep going: garlic Parmesan chili, ginger wasabi, bruschetta and coconut curry. Kaneakua is always experimenting with new flavors, many of them proposed by now-regular customers. He even came up with a a HONOLULU Magazine flavor—regular or spicy huli huli—which is available online.RD

(808) 551-9227,


SEE ALSO: Our Must-Try Short List of 24 Hawai‘i-Made Beef Jerky Flavors


Reader Picks


Best Bakery

Liliha Bakery

Multiple locations,


Best Boba Tea

Taste Tea

Multiple locations,


Best Burger

Teddy’s Bigger Burgers

Multiple locations,


Best Coffee Shop


Multiple locations,


Best Delicatessen

Gulick Delicatessen

1512 Gulick Ave., (808) 847-1461


Best Diner

Big City Diner

Multiple locations,


Best Grocery Store


Multiple locations,


Best Local Beverage Company

Hawaiian Sun


Best Local Food Company

Photo: Courtesy of Choco Le‘a


Before Colins Kawai and Erin Kanno Uehara opened Choco Le‘a in 2010, this uncle and niece duo had to learn how to do it all themselves, from figuring out how to make truffles (using an old family recipe) to building a strong reputation. Today, their handmade dark chocolate truffles are a local favorite, available at their storefront in Mānoa Valley and several hotels. Choco Le‘a is a chocolate company with a mission: “We use our chocolates as a way to cultivate relationships—gifts for people visiting friends and family on the Mainland, visitors who want to bring back something exclusive from Hawai‘i, or a special set of chocolates that tells Mom and Dad, ‘I love you,’” says Uehara.James Charisma

2909 Lowrey Ave., (808) 371-2234, 


Best Local Snack Company

Wholesale Unlimited Inc.

Multiple locations,


Best Local Spirit/Beer

Maui Brewing Co.

Multiple locations,


Best Musubi

7-Eleven Hawai‘i

Multiple locations,


Best Place to Buy Poke


Multiple locations,


Best Wine Shop

Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors

Multiple locations,