Best of Honolulu 2020: The Best Food and Drinks on O‘ahu

47 editorial and reader picks for the tastiest food and beverage in town.
best food and drinks in hawaii

 

Best Cocktail to Raise Your Spirits

best food and drinks in hawaii
PHOTO: LEAH FRIEL

 

After spending months sheltered indoors, we're ready for a drink. One served in a porcelain half-skull may not be your first thought, but it should be. The over-the-top namesake cocktail of Skull & Crown Trading Co. comes with three types of rum, spicy John D. Taylor Velvet Falernum, cinnamon syrup made in-house, and fresh grapefruit and lime juice. It’s fruity, it’s on fire, it’s an affirmation of life. It also serves two, which means you get to enjoy this powerful drink with another critical thing possibly missing from your life for weeks: another person. James Charisma

62 N. Hotel St., (808) 372-9681, skullandcrowntrading.com, @skullandcrowntradingco

 


SEE ALSO: Best of Honolulu 2020: The Best Shopping on O‘ahu


 

Best Plate Lunch 

Reader Pick

best food and drink in hawaii
Photo: Courtesy of Rainbow Drive-In

 

Mix plate with gravy all over—if you’re a first-timer to Rainbow Drive-In, that’s what you get. After all, Rainbow’s is to plate lunch what gravy is to Rainbow’s: pretty much synonymous. And there’s no denying the volume, the comfort, the fact that everything comes out in seconds. Since local restaurant franchisees who grew up on Rainbow’s plates offered to expand the Kapahulu hot spot, new Rainbows have cropped up in Kalihi, at Pearlridge and in ‘Ewa. Now locals who used to make the trek to the midcentury flagship on Kapahulu Avenue are celebrating shorter drives for boneless chicken and chili plates. With tall cups of strawberry slush floats for dessert, of course. —Mari Taketa

Multiple locations, rainbowdrivein.com, @rainbowdrivein


 

Best Sourdough Waffle

best of honolulu food
PHOTO: Martha Cheng

Wicked HI Café’s sourdough waffles began as a living thing five years ago when Brandon Slowey, a beekeeper, mixed bee pollen, flour and water to create the starter that his twin sister, Brittany, mixes a portion of into every batch of waffles. No other commercial yeast or leavening goes into it, just a lot of time—the dough ferments for more than 30 hours and includes flour from Italy, vanilla bean, lots of butter and eggs, and, of course, honey. The result is akin to a caramelized, slightly chewy brioche with bits of crunchy pearl sugar throughout. Your greatest waffling will be choosing what to top it with: fruit and whipped cream, perhaps, or, for a salty-sweet pairing, bacon, egg and cheese. Make sure to go early, though—the waffles tend to sell out by early afternoon. —Martha Cheng

66-935 Kaukonahua Road, Waialua, (808) 637-3020, wickedhislushie.com, @wickedhicafe

 


SEE ALSO: Comfort Eats: Find Sourdough Waffles and Perfect Pizzas at Wicked HI Café


 

Best Local Seltzer

best of honolulu food
PHOTO: Courtesy of Maui Brewing Co.

With just 100 calories and very little sugar, the lure of hard seltzers sent sales skyrocketing for keto fans, carb avoiders and those who wistfully wished their sparkling water had just a drop of flavor—and 5% alcohol. A few local craft beer companies jumped onto the trend and our pick is Maui Hard Seltzer. The company tried out six flavors before launching last fall with POG, dragon fruit and citrus all flavored simply with fruit. The dragon fruit is our favorite, slightly sweet, not watery. Watch for a new açaí flavor and Mainland launch this summer. While you're cracking open a can, make sure to toast its parent company, Maui Brewing Co., which turns 15 this year. —Christi Young

mauihardseltzer.com, @mauihardseltzer

 


SEE ALSO: 3 We Tried: Who Makes the Best Local Hard Seltzers in Hawai‘i?


 

Best Smash Burger

best smash burger in hawaii
photo: JENNY SATHNGAM

 

There’s no shortage of great burgers in Honolulu, but smash burgers? They’re truly an art. The perfect smash burger remains juicy on the inside while the outside gets crisp from a quick sear as the patty is quite literally smashed onto the grill with the bottom of a spatula. The Daley gets it right with its local grass-fed beef patties, topped simply with diced onion, a slice of American cheese, and dijonnaise with diced pickles, sittin’ comfy on a fluffy potato bun from La Tour Bakehouse. Other burger joints may pack on the produce or fancy sauces, but you don’t want The Daley’s beefy beauty hiding under mounds of other ingredients. No matter how many other burgers I eat, The Daley’s is the one I always come back to. —Katrina Valcourt

1110 Nu‘uanu Ave., thedaleyburger.com, @thedaleyburger

 


SEE ALSO: 3 We Tried: In Search of the Best Smash Burger in Honolulu


 

Best Food Blocks

best food and drinks in hawaii

Kaimukī itself is a great neighborhood for eating, but in the block between 11th and 12th avenues, bounded by Wai‘alae and Harding avenues, there are more than a dozen eateries, ranging from neighborhood stalwarts Happy Days and Hale Vietnam to newer spots such as a town outpost of Moke’s Bread and Breakfast and Aki, which executes a wide-ranging Japanese menu with care and precision. On this block, comfort food comes in all cuisines, including Nepalese and Indian (Himalayan Kitchen), new American (12th Ave Grill), Japanese (Maguro Ya) and vegan (Vegan Hills). The greatest preserved gem on this block is Pillbox Pharmacy, which still scoops ice cream in flavors including rainbow sherbet, huckleberry and Moose Tracks (vanilla with fudge and chocolate peanut butter cups). —MC

 

best food and drinks in hawaii

Beach Walk is one of those short Waikīkī streets that appears out of nowhere (in this case, off Kalākaua Avenue) to take you through a portal into another Waikīkī, and then disappears just as abruptly (at Kālia Road). Along this street, you’ll find modern stylish spots including Tommy Bahama’s rooftop bar, and Bills Hawai‘i serving ricotta pancakes infused with an Aussie aesthetic. Then there’s Henry’s Place, a hole-in-the-wall with Styrofoam cups of sorbet, and Wasabi Bistro’s simple teishoku in the courtyard of the two-story Breakers Hotel built in 1954. Some restaurants drop you into Tokyo, both in flavor and in atmosphere. Beach Walk turns into a cake walk with a slice of crepe cake from Waikīkī Tea House—pair it with an iced coffee from Punchbowl Coffee, the cheerful red and white truck parked next door. —MC

 

best food and drinks in hawaii

‘Aiea holds its own when it comes to food. Besides Pearlridge Center, there are clusters of local restaurants throughout the former plantation town that’ll satisfy almost every hungry belly. Our favorite stretch is ‘Aiea Heights Drive from ‘Aiea Shopping Center down to Moanalua Road and Kauhale Street. You can find local staples like the best roast duck from Roast Duck Kitchen, the lemon crunch cake and tasty chicken at The Alley, all kinds of unique manapua fillings at ‘Aiea Manapua and bibim kook soo at Young’s Kalbee. Walk over to Samurai for soft serve and Ice Garden for shave ice and homemade mochi balls. There’s typically parking at ‘Aiea Shopping Center, and you can easily walk to some (or all) of them from there. —Jayna Omaye

 

ILLUSTRATIONS: JANELLE KALAWE-CHING

 


SEE ALSO: Best of Honolulu 2020: The Best Services on O‘ahu


 

Best Texas Barbecue

best of food
Photo: Thomas Obungen

 

Central Texas barbecue is one of the greatest cuisines in the world. It isn’t easy to make—those who take it on are called pitmasters, which gives you a sense of its unglamorous nature, tending to smoke and meat for upward of 14 hours. But James Kim of Sunset Smokehouse delivers. Slices of his brisket, edged in crispy charred fat, tremble at the touch, having yielded to a long, low and slow heat. Sounds saucy, no? But hold the sauce: The dry rub on the brisket and ribs married with the infusion of smoke and quality of meat Kim uses ensure a flavor deeply satisfying on its own. —MC

23 S. Kamehameha Highway, #102, Wahiawā, (808) 476-1405, sunsetq.com, @sunsetsmokehouse


 

Best Cooking Class with Local Ingredients

best food and drinks in hawaiiYou can cook a 100% locally caught/raised/grown meal at home. The community-supported fishery Local I‘a, which provides seafood to Fête and all of Ed Kenney’s establishments, hosts bimonthly cooking demos that will teach you how to make everything from seafood gumbo to venison frites to fish and chips. Led by the Honolulu-based nonprofit’s managing partner, Ashley Watts, the classes at Kaimukī Superette offer lessons on how to put together dinners as well as info on where to get all of the locally sourced ingredients (hint: weekly at the Local I‘a booth at O‘ahu farmers markets). The intimate setting also acts as a gathering place for environmentally conscious people to share BYO-local booze over an awesome meal. —Katie Kenny

localiahawaii.com, @localiahawaii

 


SEE ALSO: What to Expect From an Environmentally Friendly Cooking Class in Honolulu


 

Best Seafood Boil

boiled crab in hawaii
PHOTO: OLIVIER KONING

 

For eight crackin’ years, Karai Crab has been serving loyal locals and well-informed visitors bowls of garlicky and messy shellfish. Originally adjacent to The Willows on Hausten Street, the freshly rebranded crab boil eatery has taken its bag of seafood goodies to King Street. And it’s added an ocean of new friends to the menu. But if you want to go old-school just follow these steps. One: Choose garlic butter or the Cajun seasoning called the Karai Special. Two: Ask for spice level zero (because we’re not worthy). Three: Add snow crab legs. Go during happy hour so your chicken wing starter, garlic noodle side and beverages are significantly discounted. Strap on that bib, roll up your sleeves and get ready to dodge flying shells. —KK

1314 S. King St., Suite G2, (808) 952-6990, karaicrab.com, @karaicrab


 

Best Lemon Peel Gummies

lemon peel gummy crack seed
PHOTO: Courtesy of SUN CHONG GROCERY

Gummy candies covered in lemon peel have become all the rage in the Islands. But with so many shops selling them, which one is the best? We turned to Thomas Obungen, assistant editor for our sister site, Frolic Hawai‘i, and a self-proclaimed lemon peel gummy addict. After taking on the difficult task of tasting samples from all over, Obungen selected Sun Chong Grocery in Chinatown for its even coating of lemon peel and balanced flavor. Louisa Sung, the shop’s creative director, has been making the lemon peel gummies for two years, and they’ve quickly become a customer favorite. “It’s the perfect combination of sweet, salty and tart,” Sung says. “It has the nostalgia of my [favorite] childhood candy (li hing gummy bears) with a new and exciting twist.” (If you mention HONOLULU Magazine, the shop will give you a 20% discount in store.) —JO

127 N. Hotel St., (808) 537-3525, sunchonghi.com, @sunchonghawaii

 


SEE ALSO: 6 We Tried: We Search for the Best Lemon Peel Gummy Bears on O‘ahu


 

Best Movie Theater Cuisine

movie theater food
photo: courtesy of Consolidated Theatres

 

Trips to the big screen used to involve packing a bag big enough to fit your contraband burger, Spam musubi or drink. We even know someone who smuggled a steaming hot bowl of ramen in her bag. But now concession stands offer much more than popcorn, hot dogs and candy to stack on the side table of your reclining chair. Consolidated Theatres’ expanded menu in Kapolei, Mililani and Ward is a standout with amped up hot dogs, fresh-fried tempura green beans, loco mocos and mini Hawaiian Pie Co. pies. We even spotted a salad and bowls of fruit, if you wanted something a little lighter to go with your Maui Brewing Co. Bikini Blonde. Did we not mention the bar? Selection varies by location—but brace yourself for movie theater prices. And at least you can leave that suspicious backpack at home. —CY

Expanded concession and bar available at Mililani, ‘Ōlino and Ward locations. consolidatedtheatres.com, @consolidatedhi


 

Best Made-to-Order Chips

best food and drinks in hawaii
PHOTO: courtesy of Hawaiian Chip Company

The smell of chips frying beckons you into Hawaiian Chip Co.’s factory showroom. A staffer welcomes you before you get through the door, offering samples of a wide assortment of taro, sweet potato and potato chips. You can order a 5-ounce bag ($6.75) or 1-pound box ($17) and create your own mix with seasonings that include adobo, furikake and the tongue-numbing Kīlauea Fire. It takes about 10 minutes, owner Jimmy Chan explains, to make chips with taro, purple sweet potato or both, then flavor with any of 15 seasonings. “They can mix it up as they like,” he says with a broad smile. —Robbie Dingeman

1928 Republican St., (808) 845-9868, hawaiianchipcompany.com, @hawaiianchipcompany

 


SEE ALSO: Best of Honolulu 2020: The Best for Family on O‘ahu


 

Best Fast Casual Restaurant

best food and drinks in hawaii
photo: david croxford

 

As soon as we catch a glimpse of Kalapawai Market’s signature green building near Kailua Beach Park, our mouths start to water. That’s because the local family-owned company has been offering grab-and-go deli options for almost 90 years. Its popular Kailua Club—turkey, avocado, Monterey Jack cheese, veggies, mayo and mustard on multigrain bread—and other sandwiches and wraps are perfect picnic fuel. With the addition in recent years of Kalapawai Café & Deli locations in Kailua and Kapolei, full sit-down menus of gourmet comfort foods like burgers, pizzas, seafood and local brews may just make you want to stay awhile. —KV

Multiple locations, kalapawaimarket.com, @kalapawai_hawaii


 

Best Local Beverage/Coffee Company

Reader Pick

best food and drinks in hawaii
photo: courtesy Honolulu Coffee Company

 

At Honolulu Coffee Co., locally grown beans are roasted daily. Whether you’re sipping freshly brewed 100% Kona Extra Fancy at the flagship Honolulu Experience Center or picking up a bag of its beans, you’re supporting local farmers. The company specializes in Kona coffee, with premium varieties costing upward of $60 per 12-ounce bag, but there are also more affordable blends, seasonal coffees and espresso drinks at its cafés to keep you coming back for your next cup. —KV

Multiple locations, honolulucoffee.com, @honolulucoffee


 

Best Local Coffee Shop

Reader Pick

best food and drinks in hawaii
photo: courtesy Morning Brew Hawai‘i

 

Morning Brew Coffee & Bistro first opened in Kailua in 1995 and is known for good coffee—brewed, pour-over and nitro—along with tasty, affordable breakfast and lunch fare. Food favorites include the Brew Breakfast with naan, goat cheese and prosciutto, topped with a fried egg; and sandwiches, salads and wraps—meaty, veggie and vegan. Waffles, shakes and bowls round out the menu at both the Kailua and newer Kaka‘ako location. It’s a friendly low-key place to meet, busiest in the morning and at lunch. —RD

Multiple locations, morningbrewhawaii.com, @morningbrewkailua, @morningbrewkakaako

 


SEE ALSO: Boki’s Beans: A People’s History of Hawaiian Coffee


 

Best Locally Made Sake

best food and drinks in hawaii
PHOTO: Thomas Obungen

Once upon a time, when rice fields speckled the Islands, sake breweries were fixtures in Japanese neighborhoods. Since Honolulu Sake Brewery closed in the 1980s there have been none—until now. Islander Sake Brewery, the brainchild of Japanese sake scientist Chiaki Takahashi, debuted its first batch of junmai ginjo in March. The bold, sprightly, fresh nama sake sold out in two weeks to locals driving up to the tiny brewery in Kaka‘ako. Just-pressed, unpasteurized sake is unheard of in Hawai‘i, since every other label is imported. “Nobody is drinking fresh sake here,” says Tama Hirose, Takahashi’s business partner. “We thought it would be good for local people to have the experience.” Islander’s second batch was due out in May; at this writing, a third was in the works and a fourth was already being planned. —MT

753 Queen St., (808) 517-8188, islandersake.com, @islandersake


 

Best Fast Food

Reader Pick

They had us at apple pie, especially since we have the only fried version of the McDonald’s dessert left in the nation. (The rest are baked.) Add on the haupia and taro fried pies; Portuguese sausage, Spam and rice at breakfast; and always available fruit punch and it’s no wonder we’ve claimed this ubiquitous chain as our own. Foodland founder Maurice Sullivan brought the first golden arches to Hawai‘i in 1968; today there are 73 locations in the state (more than double any other fast-food chain). And more than 70% of them are locally owned franchises. —CY

Multiple locations, mcdonalds.com, @McDonaldsHawaii on Twitter

 


SEE ALSO: Why McDonald’s Hawai‘i Has the Only Fried Apple Pies in the Country


 

Best Fried Chicken Sandwich

best fried chicken sandwich in hawaii
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

 

Whether you hopped on the chicken sandwich train in the summer of 2019 or not, you definitely have an opinion on who has the best in town. The one to beat is the sandwich formerly known as the Nashville: the fried chicken po’ boy at Earl. The thick buttermilk-crusted chicken is deep fried, tossed in Frank’s Hot Sauce, topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle and remoulade sauce and placed in a warm, toasted hug of a bun. Prepare for a mess. Experience an awakening. —KK

Multiple locations, earlhawaii.com, @earlkaimuki and @earlkakaako

 


SEE ALSO: Taste Test: We Tried Every Sandwich on the Menu at Earl Kaka‘ako and Ranked Them


 

Best Vegetarian Poke

best food in hawaii 2020
PHOTO: ROBBIE DINGEMAN

 

It took two chefs to concoct the beet poke that beat out other faux fish. At Redfish Poke Bar by Foodland in Kaka‘ako, chef Reid Matsumura adds his own twist to the original beet poke served at Ala Moana Foodland Farms, dreamt up by Foodland sous chef Rebekah DeCosta. She wanted a dish for those who don’t eat fish that would have a traditional feel: “It’s that bright red color and it has that meatiness that ‘ahi would have,” DeCosta says. She uses tamari so it’s gluten-free as well as vegetarian and vegan. “It’s actually on our salad bar at the Ala Moana Foodland Farms and it’s always the most popular item,” she says. “I did a chef’s twist on it,” explains Matsumura, by adding a soy-sesame mix and ‘inamona. —RD

685 Auahi St., (808) 532-6420, redfishpoke.com, @redfishpoke


 

Best Fried Riff on a Loco Moco

best food in hawaii 2020
PHOTO: COURTESY HAWAIIAN FRESH FARMS

 

Combine fresh local ingredients into a hybrid of a Scotch egg and a loco moco to get the savory breakfast twist of a loco moco ball cooked up by Hawaiian Fresh Farms. Creative director Veronica Compean-Keener says the hearty umami bomb debuted about four years ago at the North Shore-based company’s farmers markets booths. “We wanted to create a different twist on a local classic,” she explains. The ball starts with a soft-cooked egg; grass-fed local ground beef is patted on and fried, then white or fried rice go on next; the ball is rolled in panko and fried again, and the dish receives the finishing flourishes of Hāmākua mushroom gravy and fresh garden herbs just before it’s plated. “We can sell anywhere from 50 to 100 in a market day,” she says. And it’s popular for catered events, too. —RD

(808) 321-1567, hawaiianfreshfarms.com, @hifreshfarms

 


SEE ALSO: Best of Honolulu 2020: The Best Fitness and Outdoor on O‘ahu


 

The Rest of the Best: Readers Picks

 

Best Bakery

  • Winner: Liliha Bakery

Multiple locations, lilihabakery.com, @lilihabakery

  • Finalist: Brug Bakery

Multiple locations, brugbakery.com, @brugbakery

 

Best Boba Tea

  • Winner: Taste Tea

Multiple locations, @tasteteainc

  • Finalist: Hana Tea

1111 Dillingham Blvd., hanatea808.com, @hanatea808

 

Best Burger

  • Winner: Teddy’s Bigger Burgers

Multiple locations, teddysbb.com, @teddysburgers

  • Finalist: Honolulu Burger Co.

1295 S. Beretania St., (808) 626-5202, honoluluburgerco.com, @honoluluburgerco

 

Best Fast Casual Restaurant

  • Finalist: Zippy’s

Multiple locations, zippys.com, @zippys

 

Best Fast Food

  • Finalist: Taco Bell

Multiple locations, tacobell.com, @tacobell

 

Best Grocery Store

  • Winner: Foodland

Multiple locations, foodland.com, @foodlandhi

  • Finalist: Whole Foods Market

Multiple locations, wholefoodsmarket.com, @wholefoods

 

Best Local Beverage/ Coffee Company

  • Finalist: Lion Coffee

1555 Kalani St., lioncoffee.com, @lioncoffeehi

 

Best Local Coffee Shop

  • Finalist: Island Vintage Coffee

Multiple locations, islandvintagecoffee.com, @islandvintagecoffee

 

Best Local Food Company

  • Winner: Zippy’s

Multiple locations, zippys.com, @zippys

  • Finalist: Foodland

Multiple locations, foodland.com, @foodlandhi

 

Best Local Snack Company

  • Winner: Wholesale Unlimited

Multiple locations, (808) 839-5258, wholesaleunlimitedhawaii.com, @wholesale.unlimited

  • Finalist: Lin’s Hawaiian Snacks

(808) 593-8611, linsmarkethawaii.com, @linshawaiiansnacks

 

Best Local Spirit/Beer

  • Winner: Maui Brewing Co.

Multiple locations, mauibrewingco.com, @mauibrewingco

  • Finalist: Honolulu Beerworks

328 Cooke St., (808) 589-2337, honolulubeerworks.com, @honolulubeer

 

Best Musubi

  • Winner: 7-Eleven Hawai‘i

Multiple locations, 7elevenhawaii.com, @7elevenhi

  • Finalist: Musubi Café Iyasume

Multiple locations, iyasumehawaii.com, @musubi_cafe_iyasume

 

Best Place to Buy Poke

  • Winner: Foodland

Multiple locations, foodland.com, @foodlandhi

  • Finalist: Tanioka’s Seafoods and Catering

94-903 Farrington Highway, Waipahu, (808) 671-3779, taniokas.com, @taniokas

 

Best Plate Lunch

  • Finalist: L&L Hawaiian Barbecue

Multiple locations, hawaiianbarbecue.com, @llhawaiianbbq

 

Best Wine Shop

  • Winner: Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors

Multiple locations, tamurasfinewine.com, @tamurasfinewine

  • Finalist: Fujioka’s Wine Times

Market City, 2919 Kapi‘olani Blvd., (808) 739-9463, fujiokaswine.com, @fujiokaswinetimes