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10 restaurants vital to Honolulu

A photo of Red logo
by Noelle Chun
Updated March 30, 2023

Honolulu is a city of contrasts. Of sand and sea, yes. But the palm-fringed Hawaiian capital is also known for a rich and complex food scene, swirled with Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and Filipino flavors, among others. Even when the names of the dishes they serve are recognizable, the city’s best restaurants shine by creating one-of-a-kind renditions.

A James Beard Award-winning chef in downtown Honolulu—the first Native Hawaiian woman to receive that honor—dishes up pristine fish plates and bavettes. Cantonese fare gets the island treatment at a longstanding King Street cafe. Crowds flock to a chic Italian restaurant in Kahala for its signature uni pasta.

New hits and old faithfuls define Honolulu’s eclectic dining scene. Read on for a guide to the 10 restaurants essential to Hawaiʻi’s largest city.

A photo of House Without a Key restaurant
4.6
4.6 (3279)
$31 to $50
Contemporary American
Waikiki
About the restaurant
It’s hard to imagine a more quintessentially Waikīkī setting than House without a Key. Located in the historic Halekulani hotel in Waikīkī, the restaurant’s patio is set against a dramatic swoop of sand and sea leading up to majestic Diamond Head. The New American menu is equally iconic with the signature mai tai and cloud-like coconut cake and dishes such as char siu coconut baby back ribs and herb-crusted skirt steak, not to mention. Open-air dining is at the heart of the House Without a Key experience so diners can appreciate the cool Hawaiian tradewinds. Choose between the fully covered main dining room, newly opened Earl’s for a seat in front of the bartender, or the lānai (patio), which brings people closest to the main stage for nightly Hawaiian music and hula dancing. The scenic spot is popular for sunset drinks and pūpūs (small plates), though it’s also open for full-fledged lunch and dinner.
Top review
ctm29vip
Dined 1 day ago
Very nice. Thomas was excellent and my ribeye was cooked perfectly. Thank you all!
A photo of Fête restaurant
4.8
4.8 (3436)
$31 to $50
Contemporary American
Honolulu
About the restaurant
In 2022, Hawaiʻi received its first James Beard award in 19 years with Robynne Maii’s Fête. Set in Honolulu’s trendy Chinatown district, Fête combines a Brooklyn-inspired approach (New American techniques, farm-to-table fare) to food with local flavors. The acclaimed menu is focused on sustainable, locally sourced ingredients from community partners. Chef Maii’s signatures include pristine housemade pastas, fish plates, and beautiful bavettes.
Top review
TheGaloppingGormond2022vip
Dined 7 days ago
We come here often and if you are considering eating here, we can recommend, without exception, whatever the fresh catch of the day is. Include the special beet salad (if they have it). But first- Start with a cocktail, the French dude behind the bar makes one of the best in the world, high praise I know, but it's true. Be sure to finish with their incomparable rocky road ice cream. Rinse & repeat.
A photo of Merriman's Honolulu restaurant
4.7
4.7 (3672)
$31 to $50
Hawaii Regional Cuisine
Honolulu
About the restaurant
Peter Merriman (one of the original pioneers of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement) has an impressive restaurant empire that stretches across Oʻahu, the Big Island, Kauaʻi, and Maui, all with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. His Honolulu outpost is located in Oʻahu’s trendy Kakaʻako neighborhood, a sunny spot for the dining room’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Find local classics on the menu, such as macadamia nut-crusted fish, and house specialities including tako (octopus) served escargot-style with toasted slices of baguette and cognac-parsley-garlic butter. To all that, add an acclaimed wine list—Merriman’s was singled out as one of Wine Enthusiast’s best restaurants in 2019—and you’ve got the formula for an evergreen hit.
Top review
OpenTable Diner
Dined 1 day ago
The chicken dish was amazing, big enough for two. The wagyu burger with truffles was excellent! The service was awesome!
A photo of MW Restaurant restaurant
4.8
4.8 (3112)
$31 to $50
Seafood
Honolulu
About the restaurant
Husband-and-wife duo Michelle Karr-Ueoka and Wade Ueoka are the forces behind this Honolulu mainstay. The elegant Ala Moana dining room entices diners with its sophisticated local dishes. Go for the five-course tasting menu or the a la carte option that features the MW’s signature mochi-crusted Kona kampachi. Don’t miss pastry chef Karr-Ueoka’s impeccable desserts, including feathery mango shaved ice and decadent chocolate cake.
Top review
OpenTable Dinervip
Dined 5 days ago
This was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in years. Every single dish was incredible and the hospitality was A++. They were also super accommodating of our large group and added more to each starter so that we can all enjoy. Couldn’t recommend this restaurant enough!!!!
A photo of Original Roy's, Hawaii Kai restaurant
4.8
4.8 (3052)
$50 and over
Hawaii Regional Cuisine
Honolulu
About the restaurant
Today, you’ll find Roy’s Hawaiian fusion restaurants sprawled across the mainland in California, Arizona, and Florida. But it all began in this original breezy dining room in Hawaiʻi Kai. As one of the founding members of the Hawaiʻi Regional Cuisine movement in the early 1990s, chef Roy Yamaguchi celebrates the melting pot of cultures in Hawaiʻi, mixing Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and Filipino flavors, among others. The results include blackened ahi and crispy whole tai snapper, which you can still order today.
Top review
OpenTable Diner
Dined 1 day ago
The service was excellent and very attentive. The food was excellent. I had the Butterfish. Craving it now.
A photo of Mud Hen Water restaurant
4.7
4.7 (1324)
$30 and under
Contemporary American
Honolulu
About the restaurant
Mud Hen Water is lauded chef Ed Kenny’s love song to Hawaiian food. The decades-long restaurateur (who earned local cred via Honolulu magazine’s Haleʻaina awards) remains steadfast in his commitment to a farm-to-table philosophy and adds modern twists to traditional dishes. Kenny’s riffs on familiar Island favorites include Molokaʻi venison lau lau and preserved akule (a local shallow-water ocean fish). During the day, the sun-drenched dining room and breezy outdoor lānai—ideal for a leisurely pancake brunch—make for one of the prettiest perches in town.
Top review
angeramos
Dined on May 15, 2024
it was SO good. i was repeatedly impressed by the food, drinks, and service.
A photo of La Mer at Halekulani restaurant
4.8
4.8 (2112)
$50 and over
French
Waikiki
About the restaurant
La Mer belongs to a vanguard of high-end places that define fine dining in the Islands. Today, it is Hawaiʻi’s only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes 5 Star restaurant. Classic French food graces tables with shimmering seaside views at sunset. Expect an elaborate symphony of kampachi tartare, filet de canard roti, souffles, and a cavalcade of cheeses as you listen to the gentle roar of the ocean. Opt for the full tasting menu experience—complete with caviar supplements and wine pairings—or choose your own way on the equally celebrated a la carte menu.
Top review
BillDvip
Dined 6 days ago
Wonderful, creative dishes. Knowledgeable, helpful, friendly, attentive servers. Perhaps the best dinner experience I ever had.
A photo of Sushi Sasabune Hawaii restaurant
4.8
4.8 (953)
$50 and over
Sushi
Honolulu
About the restaurant
“Trust us!” claims a sign at Sushi Sasabune. With no menus, no set prices, and no soy sauce on the tables, the restaurant’s sign foreshadows what’s to come. Diners are encouraged to sit back and enjoy the ride with chef Seiji Kumagawa as their unflinching guide. Kumagawa creates a customized omakase course for each guest, typically spanning 13 to 15 courses, with a focus on nigiri using local fish. Though it’s set against bustling King Street, Sushi Sasabune is a cozy retreat in Honolulu. Seats are limited, so be sure to reserve well in advance.
Top review
jami3ann
Dined on May 12, 2024
My husband and I had the pleasure of dining at Sasabune and it was an exceptional experience from start to finish. The staff were incredibly attentive and knowledgeable, providing impeccable service throughout the evening. The highlight, of course, was the food. Each dish was a masterpiece, beautifully presented and bursting with flavor. The chef's creativity and attention to detail were evident in every bite. Each course surpassed our expectations. The use of fresh, high-quality ingredients was apparent, making each dish a delight. Overall, Sasabune offers an outstanding dining experience that is sure to impress. Whether you're celebrating a special occasion or simply looking for an unforgettable meal, this restaurant is a must-visit! Highly recommended!
A photo of Arancino at The Kahala restaurant
4.7
4.7 (1216)
$50 and over
Italian
Honolulu
About the restaurant
Since owner Ichiro Inamura opened its original Waikīkī location in 1998, Arancino has won hearts as a crowd favorite, most recently earning OpenTable’s Dinerʻs Choice Award (in addition to other distinctions including Honolulu magazine’s Hale’aina Award for best Italian food). Japanese-owned Italian restaurants are part of a well-loved dining genre in Hawaiʻi, and Arancinoʻs Kahala location is one of the Island’s most elegant examples of it. The menu is equal parts comforting and playful with dishes such as a signature uni pasta with white wine and tomato cream sauce and cacio e pepe presented tableside in a flaming pecorino wheel. Though Arancino’s Honolulu location came first, the restaurant has since expanded to Osaka and Kyoto in Japan—a testament to its popularity.
Top review
IraG
Dined on May 18, 2024
Excellent service and great food. Paolo is an excellent server
A photo of Yakitori Hachibei - Chinatown Hawaii restaurant
4.4
4.4 (687)
$31 to $50
Japanese
Honolulu
About the restaurant
An open-fire charcoal grill provides the dramatic centerpiece for Yakitori Hachibei. The restaurant’s hearth uses traditional Japanese techniques to dole out yakitori—succulent morsels of chicken, pork, beef, and vegetables grilled on wooden sticks. Find typical skewers such as chicken breast, quail eggs, and tsukune (minced chicken with chives and onions), alongside Hachibei specialties including foie gras and beef sukiyaki. Ending a meal with a bowl of paitan ramen is practically mandatory. In addition to the spectacular Japanese fare, Hachibei’s softly lit interiors and exposed brick walls make it one of most sought-after dinner spots in town.
Top review
NeliaflorCvip
Dined 5 days ago
Service was top notch. Very kind and polite service
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