La Bettola Is the New Italian Hot Spot in Waikīkī

It’s also the home of the OG uni pasta and good family-style portions next to the aquarium at ‘Alohilani Resort.


It’s tough out there. With the rising cost of living, dining out isn’t as frequent as we’d like it to be. But if there’s one thing that locals don’t mind spending good money on, it’s a celebration. For birthdays, life’s special moments or just because, we love to gather around food.


Since its grand opening on Aug. 15, La Bettola Waikīkī has become a top recommendation among foodies seeking a spot to celebrate. I say this because even though portions are generous, dinner hovers around $80 to $90 per person (with wine), more if you’re not careful. But the bill doesn’t come without a pedigree.


The eatery in the lobby of ‘Alohilani Resort is the first and only international location for Tsutomu Ochiai, a godfather of Italian cuisine in Japan who’s most famous for being the creator of uni pasta. Yes, that type of pedigree. Ochiai partnered with longtime Hawai‘i restaurateur Hide Sakurai to open La Bettola, which had been in the works in a different space before 2020. Other elements in ‘Alohilani’s lobby are a casual breakfast café and a resurrected Lobby Bar in the late evenings.


The restaurant’s Tokyo flagship, La Bettola da Ochiai, has a Michelin Bib Gourmand, which recognizes excellent food for moderate prices. Where in Tokyo, diners get a prix fixe menu, the format in Waikīkī is shared family-style plates. At both places, the approach is the same: simple recipes with quality ingredients.


Labettola Restaurant Credit Thomas Obungen

Photo: Thomas Obungen


The focus means the sunken dining room next to the hotel’s iconic Oceanarium becomes a lively osteria after 6 p.m. The single-page menu covers many highlights of Italy, from antipasto to large-plate proteins; a third of it is dedicated to pasta.


Labettola Proscuitto Credit Thomas Obungen

Photo: Thomas Obungen


Start with the 20-month aged Prosciutto di Parma, shaved paper thin on a Berkel fly wheel slicer and rippled around creamy burrata and peppery arugula ($24). Airy Sliced, as it’s called on the menu, will be the only way you want prosciutto going forward. Chef’s Favorite Bruschetta, made with Kamuela tomatoes, is a sublime bite of summer soaked in olive oil with hits of acidity, salt and aromatic basil on house-made brioche fingers ($5 each, minimum three per order).


Labettola Tsutomu Ochiai Credit Thomas Obungen

Photo: Thomas Obungen


The Fritto Misto di Mare ($24) is one of my favorites to share. The melange of Hokkaido scallops, squid, Kaua‘i shrimp and veggies in tempura-style crusts is a fresh seafood treatment that’s approachable for everyone.


Labettola Uni Pasta Credit Thomas Obungen 2

Photo: Thomas Obungen


After tasting Ochiai’s Spaghetti ai Riccio di Mare ($39) or uni pasta, I can see why it made waves at Italian restaurants in Japan, much like Nathan Tran’s soufflé pancakes at Cream Pot did in Hawai‘i in the 2010s. It was inspired by a dish Ochiai encountered in Sicily, then brought back to Japan and tweaked over the years. There’s nothing quite like it. Al dente spaghetti bonds with a garlicky cream sauce that brings out uni essence with equal parts sweetness and oceany brine.


SEE ALSO: How a Hawai‘i Restaurant Launched the Soufflé Pancake Craze


The Spaghetti alla Pescatora con Gamberetti is also worth forking over $45 for. Much like the perfect paella, each piece of langoustine, Manila clam, mussel, squid and blue crab is cooked for a different length of time to optimize its texture. The seafood bounty layered over spaghetti in a light tomato sauce is a good enough reason to post on your Insta. But the carnivore in me is partial to the Spaghetti al Ragu di Manzo ($34), wagyu beef bolognese topped with a ball of burrata cheese. It’s comforting and becomes the dish that keeps on giving, as the milky stracciatella mixes with the savory meat sauce.


Labettola Pescatora Con Gamberetti Credit Thomas Obungen 1

Photo: Thomas Obungen


For entrées, the Kurobuta Pork Milanese tomahawk pork chop ($48) should be a priority for your group. This thick, one-pound chop is remarkably tender. It eats like a marbled ribeye, but one that’s coated in breadcrumbs, fried and topped with cheese and tangy Madeira wine sauce. Weeks afterward, I still can’t stop thinking about it.


Labettola Kurobuta Porkchop Milanese Credit Thomas Obungen

Photo: Thomas Obungen


Of the desserts, the two I’m fond of come from opposite ends of the spectrum. The Island Snow Pavlova ($12) has ethereal kisses of strawberry, champagne espuma foam and pistachio gelato under a meringue. The Dolce Piña Colada ($12) is a tropical escape with shaved frozen pineapple “ice,” fresh pineapple, coconut panna cotta and liliko‘i jello in a tall martini glass.


Ochiai is known for allowing the flavors of quality ingredients to do all the talking—a lesson he learned when he visited Europe for the first time to learn French cuisine. After eating his way through Rome, Ochiai fixated on introducing these flavors to his homeland in the 1980s, a time when even basil and olive oil were hard to find in Japan. At one point in the 90s, his restaurant in Tokyo’s Ginza ward was considered the toughest reservation to land in the country.


I don’t predict that fervor will quite happen at La Bettola in Waikīkī, but once word gets around about its flavors and abundant portions, it will become a destination for those looking to celebrate something. Even if it’s just because.


Open daily from 6 to 11 a.m. and 5 to 10 p.m., ‘Alohilani Resort Waikīkī, 2490 Kalākaua Ave., (808) 921-6190,, @labettola808


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