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Oahu's Melting Pot Cooks Up Delicious Cusine

Information about the multi-cultural cuisine of the island of Oahu in Hawaii.

The cuisine on Oahu is as tantalizing and unique as the many different races and ethnicities of people who make up the island. A person could eat his or her way through Oahu for weeks, tasting different ethnic foods, without sampling the same flavors twice. Oahu is the only place in the world that has such a multitude of cuisines, each with an exotic historical and cultural background.

When talking about food on Oahu, terms such as plate lunch, bento and okazuya are used to describe the type of place and style of food based on the different origin of the food.

Plate lunch is local to Hawaii and automatically assumes there are two scoops of rice and one scoop of macaroni salad. Plate lunches, a favorite "feel-good" fast food tradition, are served from mom and pop lunch wagons and neighborhood lunch counters. These home-cooked meals offer "comfort food" on the go and are the preferred lunch staple for businessmen, laborers, students and tourists. A five minute wait and about five dollars buys an entree (beef teriyaki, roast pork, shoyu chicken, hamburger steak, beef curry, mahi mahi and meat loaf are the most popular), white rice and macaroni salad, all smothered in rich savory gravy.

Plate lunches have been popular in Hawaii since the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, when plantation workers would bring the lunch that their wives made to work in tin boxes and pails with sections for the different dishes. The single men would either have lunch prepared by the plantation wives or they would purchase it from the plantation store nearby. This also is how lunch wagons got started by providing simple and fast meals that people could eat on the go.

For the Japanese immigrants, the lunch box was called a bento. Today, the mention of bento conjures up an image of a lunch that includes rice, pickles and a few other samplings of food in a neatly sectioned container. The other word often heard when talking about food in Hawaii is okazuya. Although the term comes from Japan, the food is not limited to just Japanese. Okazuyas are found throughout neighborhoods all over Oahu and is a place where customers can pick and choose their own combination of ethnic foods in one shop.

In addition to the different ethnic style of food, the types run the gambit to include food from the early immigrants (Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Portuguese) to other cultures that have brought their food to our beautiful island of Oahu (Vietnamese, French, Thai, Indian, Mexican, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern).

Local chefs that have taken advantage of the bounty of the sea and land of Hawaii, have developed a type of food called Hawaiian Regional Cuisine (HRC), which offers world-class dining. HRC uses fresh island ingredients and a creative blend of Asian, Euro-American and Polynesian culinary techniques. Some of the best Oahu chefs including Alan Wong, Roy Yamaguchi, Glenn Chu, Tom Wong and Sam Choy have spearheaded the promotion of the Hawaiian Islands’ culinary revolution worldwide.

Oahu also offers fine dining restaurants which feature dishes from around the world, and some restaurants have even combined the best of both worlds to create new epicurean delights unique to Hawaii. For those visitors seeking a romantic dinner overlooking breathtaking views of the ocean or the sparkling Honolulu city lights, Oahu has all of this and more.

The diversity of food is woven together with the aloha spirit reflecting the spirit of the people of Oahu and the food they eat. With so many options of food to choose from on Oahu, itineraries can be developed just around eating. The following is just a tempting sample of restaurants to explore from budget plate lunches to fine dining on the island of Oahu:

Plate Lunch Eateries

Grace’s Inn remains traditional and hearty. Plates include basic meat or fish, two scoops of rice and macaroni salad. The teriyaki beef is a favorite.
Address: 1296 South Beretania Street; Phone: (808) 593-2202

Helena’s Hawaiian Food is the only restaurant outside of Waikiki to win the prestigious James Beard Award. Highlights of Helena’s menu include tripe stew, squid luau, short ribs (pipikaula style) and fried butterfish collar.
Address: 1240 North School Street; Phone: (808) 845-8044

L & L Drive Inn has several locations on Oahu. Favorite menu items include barbecue chicken, pork katsu, breaded pork chops, loco moco and garlic shrimp.
Address: 2320 South King Street (central location); Phone: (808) 951-8333

Masu’s Massive Plate Lunch is known for its huge plate lunch servings. The varied daily menu features a special plate named for a local VIP or celebrity and can be anything from lobster tail to chicken katsu.
Address: 1808 Liliha Street; Phone: (808) 524-4260

Ono Hawaiian Food is regularly voted the best restaurant serving Hawaiian food. Portions are big and include menu items such as kalua pig, lomi lomi salmon, chicken long rice, poi, pipi kaula (beef jerk) and haupia (coconut) pudding.
Address: 726 Kapahulu Avenue; Phone: (808) 737-2275

Rainbow Drive-In’s most popular menu item is the mixed plate featuring two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, teriyaki meat, chicken and mahi mahi, all smothered in brown gravy.
Address: 3308 Kanaina Avenue; Phone: (808) 737-0177

Tsukenjo Lunch House is made up of one establishment and two wagons. Popular items are shoyu chicken, chicken long rice, lau lau, spareribs and tripe stew.
Address: 705 Cooke Street; Phone: (808) 597-8151

Okazuyas Ebisu Catering Service receives the most requests from customers for sushi, shrimp tempura, sweet potato tempura, chow fun and corn beef hash.
Address: 1915 South King Street; Phone: (808) 941-6055

Fukuya often sells out its top menu items including chow fun, chow mein, chicken, barbeque meat, fried ahi, fried mahi mahi and tempura.
Address: 2710 South King Street; Phone: (808) 946-2073

Mitsuba Delicatessan’s specialties include noodles, sushi (maki, egg, crab and hot dog) shoyu chicken and shrimp tempura.
Address: 1218 North King Street; Phone: (808) 841-3864

New Wave Kitchen is new to the scene, but already has a faithful following. Popular menu items include garlic chicken, chow fun, fried rice, miso soup, tempura and poke.
Address: 568 Halekauwila Street; Phone: (808) 540-1010

Hawaii Regional Cuisine Restaurants

Alan Wong’s Restaurant is known for fun flavors to savor such as ice cream with linguine; steamed opakapaka lau lau with ginger onion sauce or shredded kalua pig wrapped in taro pancake on poi vinaigrette with lomi tomato relish, to name just a few.
Address: 1857 South King Street, 5th Floor; Phone: (808) 949-2526

Indigo Eurasian Cuisine’s Glenn Chu will tempt your taste buds with crispy goat cheese won ton with four fruit sauce, spicy lamb shumai dumplings with ginger mint sauce and East-West chicken curry with bananas.
Address: 1121 Nuuanu Avenue, Suite 105; Phone: (808) 521-2900

Roy’s Restaurant pairs unlikely flavors with Chef Roy Yamaguchi's mesquite smoked Peking-style duck in a ginger lilikoi sauce; seafood and chicken tortellini or steam kettle pork with garlic spinach, whipped white beans and kiawe smoked bacon sauce.
Address: 6600 Kalanianaole Highway; Phone: (808) 396-7697

Sam Choy’s two Oahu restaurants are Sam Choy’s Diamond Head and Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch & Crab. At Sam Choy’s Diamond Head on Kapahulu Avenue, indulge in this Oahu-born chef’s Pokai Bay fried poke (seasoned raw fish) and seafood lau lau; oven roasted duck with Kau orange; or sauteed pork loin with kapakahi potatoes and country bean sauce. Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch & Crab, located in Iwilei, features his famous Stew Omelette, Flaming Wok Stir-Fried dishes and a variety of seasonal crab entrees including Steamed Florida Golden Crab legs, Alaskan King Crab legs and Steamed Kona Crab.
Address: 449 Kapahulu Avenue, #201; Phone: (808) 732-8645
Address: 580 North Nimitz Highway; Phone: (808) 545-7979

3660 On the Rise is a small restaurant in the Kaimuki neighborhood. Chef and owner Russell Siu delights diners with dishes like ahi katsu and jasmine tea-steamed fillet of opakapaka with coriander butter sauce, while his wife and co-owner creates delectable desserts such as the highly recommended and requested mile-high pie.
Address: 3660 Waialae Avenue; Phone: (808) 737-1177

After three years on Maui, George Marvrothalassitis returned to Oahu and opened Chef Mavro Restaurant. The menu features Hawaii Regional Cuisine influenced by his native province. Guests can choose from three pri-fixe or a la carte menus. And for those who are not wine connoisseurs, Chef Mavro has selected wines that best complement each dish. Chef Mavro received the 2003 James Beard Award.
Address: 1969 S. King Street; Phone: (808) 944-4714

Award-winner Chef Padovani opened Padovani’s Bistro & Wine Bar in November 1998. Guests will be delighted with his French-Mediterranean and Hawaii Regional Cuisine influences and an ambience that captures the romance of an earlier era in Hawaii. The upstairs wine bar provides an intimate after-dinner "club" atmosphere.
Address: 1956 Ala Moana Boulevard; Phone: (808) 543-3519

Fine Dining

Specializing in award-winning cuisine, L’Uraku, features a medley of fresh, locally grown products, Japanese spices and European influences in a festive atmosphere. Select from an array of appetizers, salads, pastas, seafood, meat, poultry, vegetarian dishes and desserts.
Address: 1341 Kapiolani Boulevard; Phone: (808) 955-0552

Hoku’s, the award-winning signature restaurant in the Kahala Mandarin Oriental, offers Oahu’s most innovative dining with panoramic views of the Pacific. An open kitchen serving ethnically diverse cuisine features fiery hot woks, a kiawe wood grill, tandoori oven and wood-burning pizza oven. Chef Wayne Hirabayashi was born and raised in Hawaii, and is a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Experience his personal culinary spin on ethnic cuisines refined with fresh island ingredients.
Address: 5000 Kahala Avenue; Phone: (808) 739-8888

Ciao Mein in the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa offers the best of two worlds with award-winning Chinese and Italian cuisine under one roof. Popular amongst locals and world travelers alike, menu items include the szechuan eggplant and a vast array of desserts.
Address: 2424 Kalakaua Avenue; Phone: (808) 923-1234

One of the most unique private dining venues you will find in Honolulu is at the Diamond Head Grill located in the W Honolulu hotel set across from Kapiolani Park with Diamond Head Crater as the backdrop. While lounging on contemporary and stylish furniture, the evening eases into a leisurely meal with excellent service, quality music and the creations of Executive Chef, Todd Wells.
Address: 2885 Kalakaua Avenue, 2nd Floor; Phone: (808) 922-3734

Experience contemporary island cuisine with a Thai accent at Chai’s Island Bistro at Aloha Tower Marketplace. Owner-chef Chai Chaowasaree is well-known for his incredible Thai dishes with a Hawaii regional twist. The grilled Mahi Mahi with Thai Red Curry Sauce is just one of the dishes at Chai’s that bring together the flavors of two regions on one plate. Chai’s also has gained a reputation for showcasing some of the island’s best musicians nightly.
Address: 1 Aloha Tower Drive; Phone: (808) 585-0011

Local style restaurants Don Ho’s Island Grill located harbor side on the ground floor of Aloha Tower Marketplace is an island-style eatery, with a decor of tiki torches, grass skirts and mini surfboards. Open for lunch and dinner, Don Ho’s serves inexpensive family dishes, including roast pork, spit-roasted chicken and surfboard pizzas.
Address: 1 Aloha Tower Drive; Phone: (808) 528-0807

Kakaako Kitchen serves quality gourmet plate lunches that feature fresh, locally grown produce. All baked-goods and delicious desserts are made in-house daily. Owner, Chef Russell Siu (also owns 3660 On the Rise), decided to open Kakaako Kitchen so that visitors and locals alike could experience the best of what locals call the "plate lunch."
Address: Ward Center, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd.; Phone: (808) 596-7488

No visit to Waikiki is complete without experiencing Duke’s Canoe Club, located in the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach. A spectacular beachfront location, lively atmosphere, and the freshest fish and steaks have made Duke’s the most popular gathering place on Waikiki Beach. Here, on the site of the original Outrigger Canoe Club, we honor Hawaii’s great ocean sportsman, Duke Kahanamoku. The aloha spirit lives on at Duke’s.
Address: 2335 Kalakaua Avenue; Phone: (808) 922-2268

Oahu is also home to a host of new eateries that have sprung up in the past few years. Here’s a sampling:

Buca di Beppo is a neighborhood Italian restaurant featuring large portions of immigrant Southern Italian food in portions meant for sharing. Join in on the fun and enjoy all the flavors of Italy right down to the elaborate décor. Located street level at the Ward Entertainment Center.
Address: Ward Entertainment Center; Phone: (808) 591-0800

Paying tribute to the original pioneers of Argentina, the Gauchos, is the theme surrounding Gaucho Grill located on the first floor of the Ward Entertainment Center. This eatery specializes in beautiful Argentine steaks, as well as an eclectic mix of grilled Argentinean specialties including sausages, mollejas, chorizos, empanadas and vegetables accompanied by hearty homemade Argentinean wines and mouth-watering desserts.
Address: Ward Entertainment Center; Phone: (808) 593-9906

Quick service gourmet soups, signature sandwiches, salads, pastas, rotisserie chicken and Wolfgang Puck’s famous wood-fire pizzas can all be found at Wolfgang Puck Express in the Ward Entertainment Center. The exhibition kitchen is open to guests to provide an exciting dining experience.
Address: Ward Entertainment Center; Phone: (808) 593-8528

Tiki’s Grill & Bar, located in the newly renovated Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, has already become a popular dining hotspot in Waikiki. The restaurant opened its doors in October 2002 and features a blend of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine with American casual fare created by Chef Fred D’Angelo. Its signature bar features a 30-foot manmade volcano. Address: Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel; Phone: (808) 923-8454 Meritage’s Chef and partner, Mariano Lalica decided not to go with the Pacific Regional Cuisine trend when he opened Meritage in October 2002. Although there’s a little hint of island flare to his dishes, the restaurant mainly serves a blend of French and Italian cuisine. The generous portions and affordable prices continue to welcome return customers and delight new ones.
Address: Restaurant Row; Phone: (808) 529-8686

Cabanas Seaside Grill in the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hawaii opened in May 2003 featuring an innovative beachfront cabana setting. A poolside café by day and intimate dining under the stars at night, the restaurant is perfect for any occasion.
Address: 5000 Kahala Avenue; Phone: (808) 739-8888

Ocean House Restaurant, located in the Outrigger Reef Hotel, offers oceanfront dining in a casually elegant, open-air atmosphere. The décor is plantation style and the restaurant features Pacific Rim Cuisine, including a selection of fresh island seafood, juicy prime rib and homemade pasta.
Address: 2169 Kalia Road; Phone: (808) 923-2277

Marbella, with a sophisticated brightly colored interior, treats diners to an array of flavors, serving Mediterranean food with a contemporary and Egyptian flair. Located across from the Hawaii Convention Center just minutes from Waikiki.
Address: 1680 Kapiolani Blvd.; Phone: (808) 943-4353

Arancino di Mare, scheduled to open in 2003 at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort, will offer authentic Italian pasta dishes and warm homemade pizzas, providing guests with a little slice of Italy in Waikiki. Enjoy an intimate meal indoors, or a world-class outdoor café dining experience, while watching the sun set over world-famous Waikiki Beach.
2552 Kalakaua Avenue; Phone: (808) 922-6611

Article provided courtesy of the Oahu Visitor's Bureau

See also:
- More About Dining on Oahu

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