Gyu-Kaku has been my favorite restaurant since I was 14 and I still make it a point to go there every time I go back to Hawaii.
1. Gyu-Kaku, $$
1221 Kapiolani Blvd #105, Honolulu, HI 96814. Call: (808) 589-2989
Although it’s a chain with locations all over the U.S., the Gyu-Kaku restaurants in Hawaii feel a lot more intimate and fun—most likely due to the friendly, welcoming staff and the tons of locals that roll through there every day.
It’s a super hip and trendy Japanese yakiniku restaurant where you order small portions of amazing beef cuts such as kobe style rib eye, kalbi, beef tongue and filet mignon marinated in your choice of delicious sauces, which you cook yourself at the table. There are chicken, pork, seafood and vegetable options available for the grill as well! The desserts are the best like the doriyaki pancakes or the yakimochi that you cook for a hot second (literally) and then eat with amazing green tea or vanilla ice cream.
The staff is always fun and friendly—not to mention the guy waiters are always cute!—and it feels like they’re there to party with you and make sure you have a good time. Gyu-kaku is always poppin’—in both the Waikiki and Ala Moana locations— because it’s the perfect place for a casual dinner, a date, pre-drinks or even for drinks in general and posting up for the night as their cocktails are bomb as well as their happy hour.
2. Shokudo, $$
1585 Kapiolani Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96814. Call: (808) 941-3701
Honey toast is a one-of-a-kind delectable dessert creation—a thick piece of toast cut into cubes and drizzled with honey and served with ice cream—and Honolulu locals know just what it is and where to get it. At Shokudo, a super popular, stylish bar and restaurant, you’ll find it packed with folks night and day, every day of the week. Everything is delicious here with mainly classic Japanese dining entrees such as udon, sashimi and salmon teriyaki, but the real winners are the amazingly unique appetizers like the mochi cheese gratin and chicken teriyaki quesadilla. The drink options are great too with yummy cocktails like vodka sodas, saketinis and mojitos with scrumptious flavors like yuzu, lychee and Calpico. And of course, you have to have the honey toast for dessert!
The restaurant has a sweet, convenient downtown location right next to Ala Moana and the happy hour is awesome as it offers the best dishes and cocktails for only $3-5 each! It’s definitely a must-visit for those hanging around downtown Honolulu for a day.
3. The Pineapple Room, $$
The Pineapple Room is the more casual counterpart of famous Hawaii Regional Cuisine chef Alan Wong’s flagship restaurant. Located on the third floor of Macy’s in Ala Moana Shopping Center, The Pineapple Room is a welcoming space, modeled in a Hawaiian plantation style atmosphere. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant serves favorite local dishes with a gourmet twist such as the loco moco with veal jus, furukake crusted salmon and the kalua pig BLT. There are classic local dessert dishes like the scrumptious haupia tapioca with coconut shave ice and homemade malasadas. Stop by The Pineapple Room at Macy’s for a delicious meal after a long day of shopping, where you can relax and taste the local flavors from Hawaii from one of the islands’ most renowned top chefs.
4. Roy’s, $$$
When locals want to celebrate something special or eat somewhere a little swankier, they don their best aloha shirts and muumuus and go to Roy’s, the signature restaurant of renowned Hawaii Regional Cuisine chef Roy Yamaguchi. Like most things in Hawaii, Roy’s is high class without being overly fancy. It’s an elegant, quiet venue to have dinner with a date or with family members. There’s also a bar area where one can simply hang out and eat without needing a reservation (not to mention a very decent happy hour!). Known as one of the originators of Hawaii fusion, the menu at Roy’s features simple entrees of fish, meat and sashimi prepared with elegant garnishes and fresh local grown produce. There are multiple locations on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island with the original one being the Hawaii Kai restaurant, located on the east side of Oahu.
5. Mariposa, $$$
Level Three, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96814. Call: (808) 951-3420
Located on the top floor of Neiman Marcus in Ala Moana Shopping Center, Mariposa is a gorgeous and sunny restaurant decorated in a laidback island plantation style. It has open lanai (balcony) seating that overlooks the ocean from Ala Moana Beach Park. It’s the place to go for a stylish and classy lunch featuring gourmet sandwiches and posh salads or to have dinner in a breezy and pleasant ambience while the sun sets in the background.
6. Like Like Drive-Inn, $
745 Keeaumoku St, Honolulu, HI 96814. Call: (808) 941-2515
This beloved diner is a symbolic Honolulu establishment that’s been around for more than 50 years, serving homemade local favorites every day and for 24 hours a day on the weekend. This is where you go for an omelet or a hamburger steak with gravy and rice when you’re drinking and out and about at 3 in the morning. Honolulu locals have been coming to Like Like Drive Inn for generations and aren’t going to stop coming for as long as it’s open. It serves classic comfort food like burgers, steak, spaghetti and pie. It also serves Hawaii’s favorite comfort food such as fried rice, loco moco, chili and saimin. For the true local experience in Honolulu, stumble into this welcoming, no nonsense diner for a super casual meal surrounded by the city’s residents in their most authentic habitat.