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February 24, 2015
Celia Sin-Tien Cheng

Our Honolulu City Guide continues to grow with new cravings including two new restaurants, Kaimuki Superette and Izakaya Torae Torae, my new favorite sushi restaurant, an artisanal chocolatier, comfort noodles, and a poke classic.

I spent part of my childhood in Honolulu, and in recent years I have been returning twice a year. While many tropical locations around the world can be characterized as paradisiacal, in my mind, none compare to the Hawaiian islands. Blessed by tropical weather, beautiful natural wonders and serene oceans, Hawaii is an ideal place to relax and decompress.

Our list of recommendations below are categorized by neighborhoods. Enjoy!


(Clockwise from top left) Portuguese Sausage Fried Rice / Egg with Polenta / Octopus Salad / Local Fish & Pa'i'ai / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng A. Town

Chef-owner Ed Kenney started a culinary renaissance in Hawaii when he opened Town in 2005. Up until then, each time I returned to my childhood home, I was disappointed with food that I could relate to nostalgically, but not as examples of culinary excellence. The islands are abundant with fresh local produce, and Kenney started... full article

Ahi Club Sandwich / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng B. Kaimuki Superette

Ed Kenney opened Kaimuki Superette last year, diagonally across the street from Town. A great lunch option, Superette mainly serves sandwiches, side salads, and housemade fresh pastas and sauces to go (when available). The sandwiches and sides are bursting with freshness and local flavors, especially the ahi club sandwich and he’e (octopus)... full article

Spicy Ahi Poke / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng C. Ono Seafood

While in Kaimuki, where Town is located, it’s worth your while to stop by Ono Seafood to try its poke (pronounced POH-kay, not pohk). It’s mainly take-out, but I’d suggest using the outside seating to devour your poke before the rice gets cold. The combination of seasoned fresh raw fish on that warm rice is just heavenly.

Spicy Ahi Poke / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng D. Tamura's Fine Wines and Liquors

Tamura’s, one of Honolulu’s biggest liquor stores, used to be a grocery store, so it’s no surprise that it’s kept some traditional grocery elements, including a whole deli counter with a wide selection of poke. It’s a match made in heaven, if you ask me! Pick up some poke along with your wines; it’s the ideal happy-hour food. And grab a... full article

Malasadas / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng E. Leonard's Bakery

Leonard’s Bakery is Hawaii’s pride and joy when it comes to malasadas, the Portuguese fried dough that has become a staple in Hawaiian cuisine (along with Portuguese sausage). You can choose the standard malasadas coated in sugar, cinnamon sugar or li hing mui (savory dried plum powder), or the malasada puffs filled with custard, dobash... full article

Madre Chocolate Bars / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng F. Madre Chocolate

Chinatown was a hip part of the city even before the arrival of new restaurants like Lucky Belly (ramen), Livestock Tavern (seasonal New American), The Pig and the Lady (modern Vietnamese) and Grondin (French-Latin). It remains a diverse and fun place to visit with its mix of old-school Asian eateries and grocers, lei stands, chic cocktail... full article

Crabmeat Noodles / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng G. Pho 97

Vietnamese joint Pho 97 is on the opposite spectrum of the hipster scene in Chinatown: It’s a very pared-down local favorite with sparse décor, and the service is not particularly friendly. You come to Pho 97 for the food — especially the crabmeat noodles with fish balls, pig’s blood, shrimp, trotters and tomato. It’s so... full article

Uni Ikura Otoro Don / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng H. Izakaya Torae Torae

Chef Hide Yoshimoto (who formerly headed Doraku — first in Waikiki, then on Kapiolani) is now rocking it at his new venture, Izakaya Torae Torae. Yoshimoto’s signature use of lots of heavy flavors, combinations of ingredients, and dressings seems more Hawaiian in style than traditional Japanese, but the special mini donburi with... full article

Negitoro (Scallion with Fatty Tuna) / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng I. Sasabune Honolulu

The Sasabune in Hawaii is much better than the one in New York. This one has been around for ten years so it’s definitely an established restaurant with its own rules. I am still dying to try the original Sasabune in L.A., which opened twenty-seven years ago. At Honolulu’s Sasabune, besides the “trust me” slogan, which is the common... full article

Oden / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng J. Hakkei

Hakkei is a relatively new home-style Japanese restaurant that was recommended by a chef friend. The original Hakkei is a hot spring resort in Okayama, Japan. Part of the draw of Japanese hot springs is the cuisine served at the inn where you stay. The food is comforting, intricate and varied. In this regard, the Hakkei in... full article

Fish and Eggs / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng K. Longhi's

One of my favorite breakfasts in Honolulu is at Longhi’s in Ala Moana. The fish and eggs (with beurre blanc) totally satiate that island craving for something fresh and hearty at the same time. The white fish varies depending on what the daily local catch is, but it’s always onolicious!

King Crab / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng L. Sushi Ii

I visited Sushi Ii on my last two trips to Honolulu, and while the strip-mall experience isn’t exactly glamorous, I was very impressed with the freshness and treatment of the fish. I love when sushi chefs change my obstinate mind into liking something I previously thought I disliked; Yasuda-san (Sushi Yasuda) made me a raw shrimp lover, and... full article

Grilled Yellowtail Collar / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng M. Rinka

Rinka is a new izakaya that has an extensive menu, including sushi/sashimi, grilled treats, shabu shabu and hot pot. Besides the delicious food, I was delighted by the service and the staff’s attention to detail. From the tuna and avocado appetizer to grilled yellowtail collar, the presentation was beautiful and the overall experience was very pleasant. I look forward to repeat visits here.

Da Poi Cup / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng N. The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong

The Pineapple Room, located inside Macy’s in Ala Moana shopping center, is the more casual outpost of Alan Wong’s — the eponymous restaurant of one of Hawaii’s most famous celebrity chefs. “Da Poi Cup” is a classic signature dish. Poi, a taro-based Hawaiian staple, is not for everyone. It has a gooey consistency like pudding and a... full article

Coconut with Chocolate Filling Mochi / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng O. Fujiya

One of the best Japanese sweets and snack stores in Hawaii is Fujiya. They have the freshest mochi, made daily. I recommend the chi chi dango (in regular, haupia, blueberry and chocolate flavors), as well as the fresh mochi, especially the coconut with chocolate filling or peanut butter and banana. These are simple treats but so delicious.

Frozen Cocktail / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng P. Halekulani's House Without a Key

There’s nothing more civilized and pleasant than having a drink at the Halekulani’s Room Without a Key beach-side bar, during sunset. A hula dancer and local Hawaiian singers against the backdrop of the setting sun is one of the most striking and lovely views one can experience. Tropical drinks like the strawberry daiquiri or the... full article

Omelette / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng Q. Morning Glass Coffee

Morning Glass opened last summer in Manoa and attracted an instant following as the only café on the island to serve Stumptown Coffee. With the choice of the Stumptown or local Hawaiian coffee of the day, you know you’ll be getting a good cup of joe. Morning Glass’s omelettes, served in cast iron pans, have the most perfect... full article

Honolulu Coffee Co. / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng R. Honolulu Coffee Co

Cyn’s favorite coffee is the Iced Americano from the Honolulu Coffee Co. The elegant and locally heartfelt logo was actually designed by Louise Fili – but of course!

L'Enfant et Les Sortilèges / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng S. Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House

My love for art was fostered by many childhood visits to Honolulu’s modern art museum, which is now part of the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Spalding House. The museum is located on a hill in Makiki Heights and has a mesmerizing permanent installation of David Hockney’s “L’Enfant et les sortilèges.” Adapted from his original stage design for... full article

Shangri La / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng T. Honolulu Museum of Art Shangri La

The Honolulu Museum of Art is also home to North America’s most extensive Islamic art collection: Shangri La. Shangri La was the residence of the late heiress Doris Duke who was enamored with Islamic art and amassed an extraordinary collection based on her own research. If you are visiting Honolulu, be sure to plan ahead; Shangri La is not to... full article

Halekulani Ocean View Room / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng U. Halekulani

When I was growing up in Hawaii, Halekulani was always THE top hotel in Honolulu, with a natural air of elegance, unparalleled service and great restaurants. After over 20 years of traveling and living around the world, I am proud to say that Halekulani has not diminished in stature. It just keeps getting better. The service at Halekulani is the... full article

Surf Boards / Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng V. The Modern Honolulu

Stay and Shop

Expectations for hotel general/sundry stores are usually pretty low. So the few times I’ve come across stores that made my mouth drop and my eyes pop, I’ve been giddy as all get out. The year-and-a-half old Modern Honolulu’s store is a visual stunner. Its well-curated selection even had me pining for a smart men’s swim... full article

Daily Catch BLT Set with Taro Chips, Salad and One Side at Mission Social Hall & Cafe / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng W. Mission Social Hall & Cafe

Mission Social Hall & Café, the little café inside the Mission Houses Museum, is one of my favorite finds of 2016. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch only, and I try to go there every chance I get. God bless chef Mark Noguchi and his team at Pili Group, who opened the café in 2015 with the mission to reconnect with the historic... full article

Seafood Pancake at Budnamujip Honolulu / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng X. Budnamujip

For years, Cyn and I have passed by Budnamujip but never tried it —the windows are completely covered, so you can’t peek inside to see what it’s like, or what people are eating. A Korean barbeque restaurant with a reputation for being expensive, Budnamujip hails from Seoul, and the only location outside of Korea is in Honolulu. This... full article

Uni Spaghetti at Arancino at the Kahala / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng Y. Arancino at the Kahala

I celebrated my last birthday at Arancino with one of my favorite pairings, uni spaghetti and champagne. The service at the Kahala Hotel is excellent, and while Arancino at the Kahala is the only restaurant on property that does not have a view of the ocean, you can enjoy a walk and the view on property and the beach... full article

Zucchini Fettuccine with Macadamia Nut Alfredo Sauce at Greens and Vines / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng Z. Greens and Vines

Because the local produce is so fresh and healthy, Hawaii is quite vegetarian-friendly — the vegetables at farmer’s markets are a treat, and relatively inexpensive. Then there’s the health food store and market Down To Earth, and the wonderful vegan restaurant Greens & Vines. Chef/owner Sylvia Thompson has created a menu with wonderful... full article

Cilantro Lime Chicken Tacos at Nordstrom Habitant Bar Ala Moana / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng 1. Nordstrom Habitant Bar

We also found the chicken tacos at Nordstrom’s Habitant Bar to be the best pupu in town, warranting repeat visits during our stay (not to mention that the new Nordstrom in the Ewa wing is much nicer than the old one).

Salad, Pa'i'ai, Octopus Hot Dog, Vegetables at Mud Hen Water / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng 2. Mud Hen Water

Chef Alika Chung, who heads Mud Hen Water, is always coming up with playful dishes, like the fried half chicken with Szechuan salt and the smoke meat carbonara. Hawaiian culture and cuisine is such a melting pot of Asian, American, and local flavors, and chefs like Chung are so good at grasping what flavors and ingredients work... full article

Stripsteak Burger 3. Stripsteak

At Stripsteak, Michael Minna’s steakhouse, the food is exceptional. Everything I tried tasted perfect, from the ahi tuna tartare to the burger and side of creamed spinach. The ahi tuna tartare is actually the best “poke” I’ve had in Hawaii, with a beautiful balance of well-seasoned fresh ahi and masterfully cooked rice. The prix... full article

Kaki Fry Lunch Set at Rokkaku Hamakatsu in Ala Moana Shopping Center Honolulu / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng 4. Rokkaku Hamakatsu

In Ala Moana Shopping Center, Rokkaku Hamakatsu is the best choice for Japanese lunch. Whether it’s tonkatsu, noodles, or sashimi, the restaurant has a good variety of high-quality lunch sets, and the zen and soothing décor make for a pleasant atmosphere — you wouldn’t really know you’re in a mall. I’m glad that they finally have some... full article