East meets West in the Hawaiian Islands, and Waikiki’s culinary landscape reflects the best of both worlds.
From beachfront fine dining to iconic all-American diners, bento boxes and sunset Mia Tais, here are ten top places to eat and drink in Waikiki that will give you a taste of everything the Hawaii food scene has to offer.
The beach bar and bistro
Duke’s Waikiki beach bar and bistro at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort is a Waikiki icon, and a shrine to surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku. The lunch buffet is also legendary. Wander in off the beach at any time and enjoy live music in the sandy alfresco dining area, while longboarders ride the waves in the background. Life doesn’t get much better than this.
The special occasion
Halekulani is one of Hawaii’s top hotels, and is renowned for its tranquil elegance. The dining options at the hotel are superb, including beachfront Orchids. You can style it up or down here depending on the time of day (although take note that tank tops, beachwear and thongs are a no-no at any time). It’s top spot for a relaxed brunch, while dinner is a more stylish affair. There’s a strong emphasis on seafood.
Tip: Leave room for dessert. They are sensational!
Ocean House Waikiki at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort is another of the great places to eat and drink in Waikiki that enjoys a great possie by the beach. The service and ambience at this plantation-style eatery are top-notch, and the menu offers a great selection of favourites from the garden, sea and farm.
Tip: The Hawaiian Sea Salt Slow Roasted Angus Prime Rib is superb.
Top spots for Japanese
If you like Japanese food you have come to the right place. There are more Japanese restaurants in Hawaii than any other style of international cuisine, which makes choosing the best options rather tricky. Located on the third floor of the Royal Hawaiian Center, Doraku Sushi gets rave reviews. The vibe is hip and lots of fun. For something more traditional, head for the Park Shore Waikiki – home to Yoshitsune, which is dependable and reasonably priced. For amazing udon noodle soups, take a seat at the counter at Marukame Udon and tuck in.
The best spam musubi
OK, so if you haven’t consumed spam (ham in a can) since the 1970s, prepare to step back in time in Waikiki. Spam musubi (spam, sushi rice and nori) is a popular snack in Hawaii and pops up with frightening regularity. As they say: when in Rome, and one of the tops spots to try this delicacy is the iMusubi Cafe Iyasume. They also do great bento boxes.
Tip: Pair your spam musubi with eggs for brunch.
The dining indulgence
The Cheesecake Factory is as good as it sounds and it’s a magnet for Aussies visiting Waikiki. The menu is ridiculously huge, with generous servings to match. Most meals are actually big enough for two adults to share, so it’s easy on the wallet but not so great on the hips with an extensive and delicious selection of cheesecakes to choose from for dessert.
Tip: The Cheesecake Factory doesn’t take bookings. Arrive no later than 6pm to queue for a table. It’s worth the wait.
The all-American diner
If it’s your first visit to the USA, Denny’s 24-hour diner on Lewers Street has a booth with your name on it. Denny’s does an extensive all-American menu and you can eat breakfast around the clock. It’s just like the diners you see in the movies.
Tip: Try the ‘Grand Slamwich’: scrambled egg, crumbled sausage, bacon, ham and American cheese, all on grilled potato bread with a maple spice spread, served with hash browns.
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The happy hour
The happy hour is a time-honoured tradition in many of Waikiki’s best bars. Head up to the Top of Waikiki revolving restaurant, which offers cocktails and specially priced bar snacks and appetisers from 5pm, served in cool retro surroundings. The 360-degree views are breathtaking. Get there early to snaffle a prized spot at the bar.
The local’s choice
Tiki’s Grill & Bar is popular with locals and tourists alike. It’s one level up from the street (next to the pool of the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel) and offers great views over the busy beachfront below. The menu offers Pacific Rim inspired cuisine with an island twist. The cocktails are sweet and delicious and the vibe is always good.
Tip: This is a busy place – especially around sunset, so get there early to nab a good spot.
The sunset cruise
Join the party crowd on the 1.5 hour, all-you-can-drink-for-$50 sunset catamaran cruise with Sail Holokai. The iconic orange and white cat leaves most evenings from the shore in front of the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort.
It’s always beer o’clock at the Yard House on Lewers Street. The bar boasts a whopping selection of 130 options on tap. However, liquid refreshment isn’t the only attraction here. The Yard House also offers an amazing (and well-priced!) menu of street food dishes, fresh salads, steaks and burgers, that will satisfy everyone.
Tip: Try some of the limited edition drafts, which change from week to week.
Do you have any tips for top places to eat and drink in Waikiki? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Jade Harrison is a presenter on the Tour the World travel series on Network Ten and a freelance travel writer, and has travelled to New Zealand, Hawaii, Canada, USA, Mexico, the UK, Europe, Thailand, Brazil, India and Nepal – including a trek to Annapurna Base Camp! Jade loves all aspects of travelling and adventure – from roughing it in the Himalayas, to backpacking through Europe, to enjoying some five-star luxury along the way. Writing for The Big Bus tour and travel guide is a chance to indulge in the culture and landscapes of new destinations and Jade enjoys bringing that experience to life for readers.