A Physicists' Restaurant Guide to Honolulu

partially updated August 2012


The following is not comprehensive, nor does it pretend to be fair. We tried to list restaurants that may interest visitors. In general Hawaii is not a place to come to eat Haute Cuisine, though the culinary view has become very much improved in the last two decades, since the arrival of Roy's. Largely you should forget the Italian, French, Mexican, Greek, etc. places: you can do much better in LA, New York, or any other major city in the mainland U.S. Actually, several of our reviewers have now taken issue with this comment, since the quality of the better restaurants in Hawaii has indeed come up quite markedly in recent times and there are some rather good high end places with fusion quisine.

What Hawaii has in quantity and quality are Asian-style eating places, and now an increasing number of cross-cultural new cuisine places, some very exciting. The Thai, Chinese, and Japanese restaurants are particularly good. For good inexpensive food you cannot beat the small `mom and pop' establishments that abound everywhere. Order plate lunch or noodles and you will have authentic, generally good and very inexpensive fare. In fact one of our mathematician friends avers that Hawaii is the least expensive city in the US for restaurants because of these small unheralded places.

Note also that since this list was compiled by local physicists, we are somewhat biased against locations in Waikiki because of the hassle of going there (mainly parking). There are lots of fine restaurants in Waikiki, so for those staying at Waikiki hotels, maybe a good commercial guide would be helpful to you. Beware some of the highest end venues though, which in our view are not good value even though in spectacular locations.

We have not listed hours which change too often and are similar with most restaurants. It is always a good idea to phone in advance and particularly so on Sunday and Monday nights when some restaurants take a night off.


THAI

Keo's Mekong I

The first Thai restaurant from a family of Keo's restaurants, it remains the best by many judges. It is 1295 S. Beretania (591-8841/2). Mekong II (1726 S. King, 941-6184/6212), is also good. BYOB optional.

Keo's Thai Cuisine

Keo's at 2028 Kuhio Ave, in Waikiki is the fashionable member of the family dynasty, and a bit more expensive. Still, it is excellent, with elegant decor (mostly wonderful orchids) and very convenient to Waikiki and the UH. Definitely call for reservations at 951-9355.

Saeng's Thai Cuisine

At 315 Hahani in Kailua (Windward side), 263-9727, is also highly recommended by Walt. He says to try their Yum Nur, and that their chicken is particularly good.

Thai Taste

Inexpensive but excellent. Best dishes not on menu but oredered in advace. Xerxes recommends Hamook (fish cooked in banana leaf) and Nam Prit (salad). BYOB. Located at 1246 S. King, 596-8106.

Singha Thai in Waikiki

More upscale than most Thai and really very good, according to Xerxes. Located at 1910 Ala Moana Boulevard (941-2898), above California Pizza.

Chiang Mai

Convenient to the UH, this is Jan's favorite, Northern Thai cuisine. Vegetarians can eat well here. Across from Long's at 2239 South King Street (941-1151).


SUSHI BARS

Yanagi Sushi

Shige's current favorite, a bit crowded, and a favorite with Japanese business men. Good idea to phone for reservations (537-1525). Located about 15 min by car from Waikiki, at 762 Kapiolani.

Tokkuri-Tei

This is the favorite of sushi bar of Sandip and John and a number of others in physics, a very comfortable place with excellent sushi masters, and the venue of many Friday night seminars. It has a nice international feel as well as great sushi and other dishes. Santa-san has a cookbook and has invented many interesting new dishes. 449 Kapahulu Ave, with easy parking across after 6PM, but otherwise with valet in the basement. Phoning for a reservation on weekends is advisable and at any time to get the bar, at 739-2800 http://tokkuri-tei.com/contact/  Mention to proprietors Kazu-san or Santa-san that you are friends of the physics gang.


CHINESE

A word of warning from a friend who has been on a large variety of diplomatic postings around Asia: there are NO "good"/"nice" Chinese restaurants in Chinatown! Certainly not any suitable for a fancy occasion, in her knowledgable judgement.

Regal Chinese Restaurant

This is San Fu and Loretta's favorite Chinese restaurant (2005), and has a really good chef. Order the steamed oysters in black bean sauce. Many other seafood dishes. Also, the fat pork with taro is unique and excellent (John's favorite). 760 Palani Avenue, at the corner with Kapahulu, and there are several designated parking spaces on Palani. BYOB. Phone 737-3020.

Won Kee Seafood

Quite popular, but still very good, with some creative dishes. Adjacent to Chinese Cultural Plaza at 100 N. King (524-6877).

Doong Kong Lau-Hakke

Near Won Kee (around corner, on stream side of cultural center), this is Loretta Tuan's favorite sea food restaurant. Also, not expensive.

Dynasty I

Located in Discovery Bay Tower across from the Ilikai in Waikiki (947-3771), Dynasty I specializes in Hong Kong Style food. Don't confuse this restaurant with Dynasty II which is said to be quite inferior. Gets good marks from our diplomatic consultant.

Hee Hing

Located conveniently to Waikiki at 499 Kapahulu (upstairs, Koko Head side of street, phone 735-5544). The owner is James Lee, the same guy who owns the trendy new Sam Choy's restaurant nearby. Hee Hing has a side banquet room, serves a variety of regional cuisines, and has attentive waiters.

On On Cafe

Nice informal place with good inexpensive food. Hong Kong style, some excellent hot dishes. 909 Kapahulu, 735-4557.

Macao

Harry Yee's favorite down home, simple, very inexpensive cooking. In the sleazy area on Hotel Street, downtown. It is not fancy!

King Tsin

Walt Simmons favorite (he is the local expert on restaurants) for Szechuan cooking. At 1110 McCully, call 946-3273. Quite popular, so reservations advised. Modest prices.

Yen King

Located in the Kahala Mall shopping center, Walt rates this Szechuan style restaurant about as good as the King Tsin, but says not to eat there if the owner, Howard Ko, is not physically present (call 732-5505).

Fook Yuen Seafood Restaurant

Convenient to Waikiki, this is one of everyones new favorite Chinese restaurants (though Walt does not like it). It is upstairs in the McCully shopping Center just at the edge of Waikiki, corner of Kapiolani and McCully, mauka-Ewa corner. It has Hong Kong cooking, and the taro basket is unique. 973-0168 for reservations, and it is open until something like 2 AM.

Panda Cuisine

At 641 Keeaumoku, Diamond Head side of street, just mauka of Tower Records, upstairs (not so far from the physicists favorite sushi bar). Phone 947-1688. Very clean, good food, serves a variety of regional styles, and recommended by our diplomatic consultant. Do not confuse this restaurant with the tacky chain of fast food joints called Panda Express.


FILIPINO

Jo-Ni's of Hawaii

At 1314 N. King Street in Kalihi (842-7644), this is considered by many to be the best Filipino restaurant in town. Interesting, different, good, and inexpensive. Recommended by Josie.


KOREAN

Kim Chee II or III

Pretty good value, lots of food. BYOB. II is at 3569 Waialae (737-0006) and III at 1040 S. King (536-1426).


HAWAIIAN

People's Cafe

Hawaiian cuisine is to Polynesian cuisine, as British cooking is to that of Europe. But, if you really want to try it, this place is good and inexpensive. Something to try once. 1300 Pali Highway (536-5789) , makai (ocean side) of Vineyard.

Ono Cafe

This is nearer (726 Kapahulu) and not bad, but often crowded (737-2275). The theory group often goes there with visitors. We don't know why.


Aloha Tower Marketplace

We list this together, as there are a cluster of places in the rennovated Aloha Tower pier complex, downtown. The pier fronts on the harbor, and remains a working pier with lots of transient vessels and the huge passenger liners often docked alongside. The Independence and Constitution come in early Saturday AM, and sail around 9 - 10 PM Saturday evening, quite nice to see if you like ships.

It appears that the designers of this complex had the tourists mostly in mind, but in fact what we see is many locals enjoying this pleasant location. One particular favorite, for which we occasionally brave the afternoon traffic, is the microbrewery Gordon Biersch. This is located right on the point which has the best harbor view, where one can keep track of the tugs and such, and has excellent beer brewed on site. It is quite crowded on Friday nights as it has become a favorite watering hole for downtown workers unwinding from the week.

There are other places worthy of a visit as well, such as Scott's Seafood next to Biersch (terrific onion rings), and a decent Italian restaurant, Trilussa Trattoria, and many more. One highlight is that the market sponsors free concerts by a wide variety of local musicians, Hawaiian and Jazz mostly. One of the best bargains in the Islands!

Parking is a little hassle. Try to get into the enclosed pier area, though it is often full. You can get your ticket validated by any restaurant. The parking lot across from the entrance to the Marketplace is usually jammed as well. So, you may want to try farther Kokohead direction (East). If the parking near the sailing ships is full, then go further, out onto Ala Moana Boulevard and take the first right possible, into the International Trade Zone, where there are usually available parking meters, and it is only about five minutes walk back to Aloha Tower. It is a little remote, so I would suggest not to go there alone late at bar closing time.


SOME LOCAL FAVORITES

Hiroshi’s Eurasian Tapas

Located downtown in the Restaurant Row 500 Ala Moana Boulevard (call 553-4476 for reservations, a good idea on weekends particularly, http://hiroshihawaii.com/).  This is the favorite restaurant now of Sandip and John and others.  Hiroshi Fukui’s  creative small dishes are really worth the visit… this is a local restaurant we take out fancy visitors to with pride in the local eating scene.  Co-owner and master sommelier Chuck Furuya is no question one of the great wine dudes in the US… seriously.  Ask him for his ever interesting new finds from Europe and elsewhere… not always expensive either.  Most wine experts are phonies in my (jgl’s) experience; Chuck is the real thing, ad always fun to talk with.

Vino

Italian tapas and wine bar.  This place is directly adjacent to Hiroshi’s, and is less formal.  The orientation is more country tavern, and they often has tasting menus.  See their web page for possible special events.. http://www.vinohawaii.com/about.html

Roy's

The flagship of Roy Yamaguchi’s (http://www.roysrestaurant.com/) chain of nouvelle California Cuisine style is located in Hawaii Kai (East end of Oahu). Many have said it was probably the best restaurant on Oahu, maybe best restaurant within 2500 miles. Roy has won many awards and expanded into something like 50 locations, including one at 226 Lewers in Waikiki and one at Ko’Olina in West Oahu. Still, if you are an aficionado of the new Eurasian cuisine (or whatever it is called), this place is a must. JGL thinks they have slipped a bit since their initial glorious days, but still it is worth a trip.  The Hawaii Kai venue is annoyingly noisey upstairs, so you might want to sit in the bar below.  Nice sunset from there.  Some claim the Ko’Olima venue is now the best (one hour drive from Waikiki though).

Cliquo

This is perhaps the fanciest French restaurant in town. Well actually a bit out of town on Kam Highway, located in the Niu Valley shopping center (377-8854), about 10 minutes from UH. While both Walt and John like it very much it is expensive and some others think it not worth the price. We think it has a very good and reasonably priced French wine list though. The proprietors are indeed French, and a little pretentious, but the food is excellent.

Indigo

This Eurasian style establishment located in the heart of downtown at 1121 Nuuanu Street (521-2900), draws heavily on Thai cuisine. Lots of interesting spicing and unusual dishes. It has become a local favorite in recent years despite the somewhat seedy neighborhood (although it is next door to a Cop Shop) and difficult parking (so use the valet parking for $2). Ask to sit out back on the lanai. Reservations recommended.

Sam Choy's

They call their cooking Kona Cuisine, as Sam had great success with a small place in an industrial park near the Honokahau Harbor near Kona on the Big Island. The abundant and ebulliant Sam has become a well known local figure in the restaurant business, on TV and with a book. The cooking is of the new pan-cultural variety with an oriental leaning. The portions are large and prices reasonable. http://samchoyhawaii.com/

Kincaid's

This place is rated by Walt as the best local fish place. (Oddly, there are relatively few good fish restaurants in Hawaii, strange for a location with such terrric locally available fish?). Located upstairs in the Ward Warehoue (591-2005).

Assaggio's

Italian cuisine, recommended by Walt Simmons, at three locations none of which are near UH, unfortunately. One is across the Island in Kailua, about a half hour drive, at 354 Ulunui. Reservations are needed (261-2772). Another is in Hawaii Kai, 20 minutes away at off traffic time, at 7192 Kalanianaole Highway (396-0756/7). Another venue is out in Mililani, at 95-1249 Meheula Parkway (623-5115).

Paesano's

In the Manoa Shopping Center, near UH and adjacent to IfA (988-5932). This was a long standing favorite of some folks, though more tradiational American-Italian, with oriental tilt. It has recently undergone change of management, so we would welcome a new review.

Buzz's Steak House in Kailua

There are several Buzz's, but this one has unmatched ambiance, and not bad food. Very pleasant. 413 Kawailoa Road, 262-4661. Bill Clinton ate there in November 1994.

K C Drive In

A local favorite for many years. Has a large menu. One can sit down inside. Has a large and inexpensive menu. Not pretentious, it is just what it is. Try a waffle dog and ono shake. Noodles are good too. Corner of Kapahulu and Harding (737-5581).

W&M Burgers

JGL's favorite local burger stand (just Diamond Head of City Mill Hardware, at 3104 Waialae, 1/2 mile from UH, 734-3350). Order Royal Burger, french fries. Macaroni salad good too, but add shoyu (soy sauce).

NEAR THE UNIVERSITY

Puck's Alley Area

There is a mall at the corner of University and King street (10 min walk from the U) which has numerous restaurants in and around it. You can get passable gyros, hero sandwiches, and inexpensive Korean, Chinese (Chinese Menu, Dim Sum across street) and Vietnamese food in that area. Bubbie's ice cream is fantastic, and his espresso keeps one fired up. There are also several bars with a student flavor. The University Movie Theater is conveniently accross the street.

Anna Banana's, two blocks ewa (west) on Beretania, is an eclectic, noisy bar frequented by university folks, elderly hippy construction workers, and bikers (Hawaiian style: they dress up and ride to the bar). Live music on weekends, with dancing, upstairs. The Salza band on Sunday nights is great fun.

Manoa Shopping Center

Mauka of the university, near (100 m) the Institute for Astronomy, this small mall contains a very nice sandwich shop, good espresso bar, plate lunch establishment, Subway sandwiches, a pizza place, a Korean cafe, a nice pub, a sweet shop, a Safeway grocery store, travel agency, and a Long's Drugs. What else could one want?.


Contributors to this eclectic review have been: Jan Bruce, Josephine Bolosan, John Learned, Shige Matsuno, Sandip Pakvasa, Walt Simmons, Xerxes Tata, San Fu Tuan. If you are pleased by the list you can take any of them out to dinner, if not then sorry. For errors, John Learned gets the blame. Last partial update, 8/12 by jgl.